In the spirit of the preseason, I decided to put together my 53-man roster prediction prior to the beginning of the exhibition games.
QUARTERBACK: Sam Darnold, Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater
I do think that Darnold will win the Week 1 job and that Bridgewater will ultimately be traded, but it feels hasty to trade him before the season just for the sake of it. When injuries begin piling up during the year, the trade market at the quarterback position could grow more intense. Besides, you have to consider that the team needs to throw somebody out there during preseason. They are not going to want to play their near-40, $10 million quarterback more than one series. They are also not going to want to play their prized #3 pick throughout the entire preseason. Somebody needs to tak
If Darnold is the Week 1 starter, it definitely is a must to get value out of Bridgewater before his contract runs out without him throwing a pass, but I think that move is more likely to come during the season than before it.
RUNNING BACK: Bilal Powell, Isaiah Crowell, Elijah McGuire, Trenton Cannon, Dimitri Flowers (fullback)
Powell and Crowell are locks and figure to carry the lion’s share of rushing attempts throughout the year. McGuire’s foot injury was reported to keep him out a length of 3-6 weeks, and since it was already over a week ago, it seems likely he’ll back for Week 1.
I do think Cannon finds his way on to the roster, bringing the running back total to 4. If he can continue his training camp performance into the preseason, I don’t see a problem with carrying four backs to get a fresh, athletic playmaker on the roster. It will be tough for him to find carries early on, though. I think the team would feature him at least as a kick returner.
I think Flowers makes the roster as a fullback. The Jets did feature the position last year, with the converted defensive tackle Lawrence Thomas. I didn’t think he did well at the position and felt like there were plays where yards were left on the field with him out there. I think Flowers’ versatility will give him a good shot of beating out Thomas.
WIDE RECEIVER: Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, Jermaine Kearse, Terrelle Pryor, Chad Hansen, Andre Roberts
Anderson is an obvious lock, and I think Enunwa and Kearse are as well. If the team believes Pryor is healthy, then it would take a lot of proving for someone to overcome the upside Pryor showed in Cleveland in 2016 and kick him off of the Week 1 roster. The Jets did also guarantee Pryor $2 million.
I think Hansen makes the roster and challenges for a starting spot as the season goes on. His buzz has been unusually strong all offseason, and I liked what he showed in his limited time last year. He has the potential to be a big-bodied intermediate threat on the outside. This is projection based on little production in the NFL, but hey! Surprises happen every year, and Hansen is my dark horse.
I think Stewart will be really pressed to find touches and I’m not sure there is enough room for him to sneak on to the roster. It was discouraging to see him struggle last year at exactly what he was projected to be good at; manufacturing yards in the open field with the ball in his hands. Stewart averaged 19.2 yards per kick return, which was 41st of 43 players with 9+ returns. He also only turned 15.4% of his targets into first downs, which was 158th of 161 WRs with 13+ targets. He also has a two-game PED suspension. Safe to declare that Stewart’s chances of ever contributing to the Jets are quickly declining.
Roberts makes it as a punt returner.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Kelvin Beachum, James Carpenter, Spencer Long, Brian Winters, Brandon Shell, Brent Qvale, Dakota Dozier, Travis Swanson, Ben Ijalana
Ijalana seems to have taken the reps lost from Beachum, who has been missing time due to a foot injury. Carpenter, Long, Winters, and Shell are locks as the only somewhat proven starters on the roster.
The team seems to like Dozier and Qvale, so I think they make the roster. Swanson also has starting experience in the league so he should be the backup center.
Antonio Garcia is an intriguing wild card picked up by the Jets after becoming a third round pick of the Patriots one year ago, but he apparently has really struggled throughout camp. On such a weak depth chart, he absolutely could still make a play for a roster spot with an improved preseason.
Dakoda Shepley, an undrafted free agent out of Canada, is currently listed as the backup left guard. Jonotthan Harrison, who relieved Wesley Johnson at center towards the end of 2017, is currently listed ahead of Swanson as the backup center. Of course, depth charts mean nothing at this point, but those two depth chart choices are interesting to note. The offensive line competition will be interesting to watch. None of these players beyond the staring lineup have earned the right to anything in the league, so the competition should be fierce and wide open.
TIGHT END: Eric Tomlinson, Clive Walford, Chris Herndon
I think the team likes Tomlinson’s blocking versatility, and his experience with the team and really in the league overall should make him a favorite to earn the most playing time from the jump. Walford was never really featured in Oakland but posted good efficiency numbers when he did, and I like his ability to make acrobatic catches. He’s a solid blocker to boot.
I think Walford’s experience makes him the lead candidate to fill the role that Will Tye did back in Week 1 last year, if you remember. Herndon has generated hype all camp and it feels like he’ll take over the role as the season wears on, but as the aforementioned Tye hogged the early targets before being cut, I think Walford is the go-to receiving tight end to start the year.
I loved the Jordan Leggett pick, but he just can’t stay on the field or generate buzz when he is on it. Performance with the lights on in preseason matters tremendously more than practice, so we’ll see if Leggett can get out there and make a difference, but his chances are dropping by the day.
Neal Sterling has also generated some buzz, and as I’ve gone over a few times this offseason, he had a strong finish to 2017. However, I think Sterling is too stuck in the middle. He doesn’t offer the career production that Walford does, as Walford has 768 yards and 6 TDs; Sterling, 192 yards and 0 TDs. He also doesn’t offer the perceived upside or the potential organizational favoritism that Herndon or Leggett do as recent draft selections.
CORNERBACK: Trumaine Johnson, Morris Claiborne, Buster Skrine, Darryl Roberts, Derrick Jones, Parry Nickerson
Jones, the 204th overall pick in the sixth round of last year’s draft by the Jets, has probably been the defensive star of camp. His name has come up early and often, making plenty of plays in the secondary. With a good preseason, Jones has a wide open door to earn rotational reps on a cornerback depth chart that lacks depth at the bottom.
Everybody seems to sleep on Darryl Roberts but I liked what he did last year. Roberts only gave up 2 touchdowns last year on 57 targets by my charting - and both of those were in garbage time of Jets victories. He had some very rough games, but on the whole, he did a great job attacking ball carriers underneath and kept from allowing any meaningful scores to #2 and #3 receivers. I think Roberts is a solid depth piece who the Jets will find themselves happy to have as a backup.
Nickerson seemed like a steal in the sixth round and is yet another young Maccagnan draft pick who has had a good camp. Nickerson projects to the slot with his lack of size, but has the tenacity and ball skills to thrive there.
Jeremy Clark, the 6’3 Michigan alum who was another draft selection from 2017, could also make a play for a spot.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Leonard Williams, Steve McLendon, Nathan Shepherd, Mike Pennel, Henry Anderson, Xavier Cooper
I am really excited to watch this unit. The Jets have taken a unique approach in building it this offseason, putting together a very deep committee that figures to see a multitude of players earn regular playing time.
Leonard Williams is the obvious every-down star, but beyond him there are a lot of unique talents. McLendon was vastly underrated last year and played sneaky good football across the line, expanding his game beyond the nose tackle position. Nathan Shepherd, at almost 25 years old (older than Leonard Williams) and possessing a body capable of dominating offensive lines, has impressed early on and could be a Day 1 starter. He has the potential to be a game-wrecking 3-technique if he can translate his game up two notches from Fort Hays State.
Mike Pennel got a healthy deal this offseason ($10.5M total, $4.5M guaranteed) and had a strong year at nose tackle in 2017. Henry Anderson has battled durability concerns but is an efficient producer as a pass rusher while possessing a very high motor. Cooper also flashed pass-rushing potential on the inside last year.
Folorunso Fatukasi, a sixth round pick this year, will start out on the practice squad.
I can’t wait to see how the Jets mix and match with this group.
SAFETY: Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, J.J. Wilcox, Terrence Brooks
Adams and Maye are obvious locks. The Jets carried two backup safeties for much of last season. Wilcox has starting experience in the league, so I think he has an edge to make the roster as a reserve.
With Rontez Miles out due to injury, I think Terrence Brooks takes his spot with a chance to lock it down for the year. Brooks ranked third on the team, right behind Miles, in special teams snaps last season. Miles was one of the league’s leaders in special teams tackles, and I think Brooks, with his 4.41 speed, has the potential to be equally productive in Miles’ gunner role.
Doug Middleton seems to be the lead candidate for a roster spot outside of Wilcox and Brooks.
INSIDE LINEBACKER: Darron Lee, Avery Williamson, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Kevin Minter
Lee and Williamson are the starters Day 1, but I am curious to see how the team uses Pierre-Louis and Minter. As I broke down in an earlier article, Pierre-Louis has the potential to be a useful chess piece in coverage. Both Lee and Williamson can tend to struggle in coverage, especially against running backs. Will Pierre-Louis be used to plug those holes on third downs?
Minter has starting experience and played under Todd Bowles from 2013-14 in Arizona. He took off after Bowles left, racking up 175 tackles, 6 passes defended, and 4 sacks over 32 consecutive starts from 2015-16. Minter tanked in Cincinnati last year, but is a classic thumping inside linebacker who could be a quality backup for the elite run-stopping Williamson.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: Josh Martin, Jordan Jenkins, David Bass, Lorenzo Mauldin
This group is tough to look at. Outside of Jenkins’ run-stopping ability, there is so little enticing here. I think Martin makes the roster as a starting outside linebacker simply because he had a lot of time there last year and there is little competition. He is a good special teams player and had decent production as a weakside edge defender last year. He quietly snuck into the top ten in defensive snaps (43.8%).
Bass was the team’s most productive edge pass rusher last year and that alone should buy him a roster spot in my opinion. Beyond him, it’s a frenzy of wild cards. I think Mauldin makes it based on the potential he showed a couple of years ago, but guys like Frankie Luvu (UDFA), Brandon Copeland, and Dylan Donahue could push him. I wasn’t impressed with Donahue last year and I don’t think his off-field struggles will do him any favors.
SPECIALISTS: Thomas Hennessy, Lachlan Edwards, Cairo Santos
If you don’t know Hennessy, that’s a good thing because he didn’t do anything last year that made his name come up on the broadcast.
Edwards bounced back from a poor rookie season to have an average sophomore year. He clearly has some serious booming ability, so we’ll have to see if career arcs for punters exist in the NFL and find out if Edwards can take a leap forward for a second consecutive year.
Santos is an average kicker. He is being pushed by former Texas A&M kicker Taylor Bertolet. Based on the training camp rumblings, it doesn’t seem there is a competition here, but once again what matters most is what goes down when the lights are up.
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