As the Jets begin their 2017 season, here are ten big questions that will help determine the team's fate in the present and the future.
1. Who is next up after Josh McCown?
Josh McCown will get the first crack at the quarterback position for the Jets, but it is difficult to find anybody who believes he will be a 16 game starter. His propensity to take big hits along with the ineffectiveness that has plagued most of his career make it likely the Jets will have a different starting quarterback at some point this year. The question is whether it will be Christian Hackenberg or Bryce Petty. The Jets have a higher Draft pick invested in Hackenberg, and they gave him the lion's share of preseason reps with the first team offense. I think any neutral observer would have to conclude, however, that Petty is the better of the two quarterbacks at this point in time. Will that be enough to make him the second quarterback?
2. Can Bilal Powell handle being the man?
Powell is probably the most explosive player the Jets have on offense. He finally seems likely to get extensive playing time this year. The story of his Jets career to this point has been the team bringing in other backs to reduce his playing time (Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson, Matt Forte). Now it is Powell's time. Can he handle it? He has never gotten more than 212 touches from scrimmage in a season. It is one thing to be productive in a limited role. It is another to still have the energy in November and December after taking pounding after pounding in the early going of the season.
3. How many growing pains will there be for the young safeties?
The Jets have a highly touted safety duo, but Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye are both rookies. That kind of inexperience as the last line of defense might lend the team prone to the types of breakdowns we saw so frequently last year. How quickly can these guys adapt to the NFL.
4. What to make of Darron Lee?
I don't think the Jets originally planned on using Lee as much as they eventually did last year. Injuries forced their hand, and Lee even admitted he felt like he was essentially trying to drink water out of a fire hydrant in trying to learn the system and play at the same time. Those excuses are gone this year. It is time for Lee to sink or swim.
5. Will any unheralded players break out?
To turn the franchise around, the Jets are going to need some players who are late round Draft picks or unheralded free agent signings to develop into good players. Juston Burris, Dylan Donahue, Brandon Shell, and Wesley Johnson are some of the names to watch.
6. Can Morris Claiborne give the Jets a full quality season?
Todd Bowles' defense requires a top man to man corner to work correctly. Claiborne is the only realistic hope the team has of providing this. His career has had more downs than ups since being drafted in the top ten in 2012. He has struggled both to stay healthy and to be effective. Last year with Dallas, he finally showed signs of making good on his promise, but he wasn't able to stay on the field for the full year.
7. Can Muhammad Wilkerson bounce back?
Wilkerson's 2016 was a disaster. After receiving a big contract, he did little to justify it performing like a nonfactor on the field and creating multiple distractions in the locker room. At his best, Wilkerson is one of the most versatile and difficult matchups in the league on the defensive line. He could be an All Pro. If he repeats last season, he could be a cut in the spring.
8. Can Kelvin Beachum find his old form?
Beachum was a quality left tackle with the Steelers. He didn't look like the same kind of athlete last year with the Jaguars recovering from a serious knee injury. Some players take two full years before they look the same. Some players never look the same. After seeing Beachum up close, the Jaguars didn't seem to think he could bounce back. The Jets are gambling that he can and hold down a cornerstone position at a relative discount.
9. Is Todd Bowles on the hot seat?
The Jets say they are taking a patient, long-term approach to building their roster. The backlash that comes with losing big has a way of changing that. The front office hasn't really given Bowles a fighting chance with the roster he has been given. Fair or not, it is relatively common to see the coach pay for the team's struggles in a situation like this. We will find out whether Bowles can survive another rocky year.
10. Are the Jets going to be in a position to finally draft a franchise quarterback by the end of the year?
We know the hype around the quarterback class of 2018. Will the Jets be bad enough to land one of the elite players in the Draft? Will any of them see their Draft stock hurt by injury or lack of performance? Will new quarterbacks push their way to the top of the class? Will some of the top players skip the 2018 Draft for another year at school? We will have to wait and see.