As various 53-man roster projections start coming out, it’s reasonable to ask if special teams requirements have been taken into account.
Based on talent, you might not expect players such as Vyncint Smith, BJ Bello or Matthias Farley to be on the final roster but special teams coordinator Brant Boyer might feel otherwise.
Among the roles for which there may not be any obvious candidates are the primary gunner roles on the punt coverage unit, especially now that last year’s first choices are not available. Trenton Cannon is gone and Josh Bellamy is out for the season. In addition, Darryl Roberts and Maurice Canady, who saw action in that role when Cannon and Bellamy were hurt, are also gone.
The team may be compelled to carry a player on the 53-man roster even if gunner is basically their only role, as they did with Charone Peake a few years ago. With the added flexibility granted by this season’s temporary rules, could this lead to someone unexpected seeing more main roster time than anticipated?
Let’s assess which players have experience in this role.
Of the players currently on the roster, Vyncint Smith and Arthur Maulet saw the most action at the gunner positions last year. Maulet played there in the first half of the year and Smith did in the second half. They only combined for five special teams tackles, although Maulet score a touchdown on a muffed punt. Maulet was no longer used in the gunner position once he moved into a starting cornerback role.
Despite the recent news that Smith will require surgery on a core muscle injury, he should still be a factor if he can return early in the season.
Safety Matthias Farley and wide receiver Jeff Smith each also filled in at the gunner position briefly. It should be noted, in light of Smith’s recent work on offense with the first team, that he was pretty effective in his limited work, forcing two fair catches and downing a punt inside the five as he was consistently the first man down.
Other players with good experience at the gunner position
Two of the Jets’ rookie class have plenty of experience in a primary gunner role. Safety Ashtyn Davis had extensive experience in that role at Cal, although he did it less and less as his importance on defense increased over the course of his career. He had 11 special teams tackles in his freshman year. Undrafted wide receiver George Campbell was also employed as a primary gunner and could be a candidate to see some work in a specialist role.
In terms of veterans on the roster with extensive experience at the gunner positions, cornerback Nate Hairston and wide receiver Jehu Chesson have both had some good moments in this role.
Hairston, however, wasn’t used in that role last season and may not be a favorite of Boyer because some of his other special teams work was spotty at best. He’s also arguably a poor fit for the Jets’ defensive system which might mean he isn’t on the final roster anyway.
Both Chesson and Campbell do a good job of getting downfield but did have some issues with missed tackles.
Undrafted defensive back Javelin Guidry could be a good candidate to be groomed for this role, as he ran a sub-4.3 at the combine. He only played sparingly in that role at Utah.
Other Jets with limited experience at the position include Braxton Berrios, Josh Malone, Bennett Jackson, Bless Austin and Lamar Jackson. Austin will be hoping he’ll be in the mix to start, which will mean he’s not an option.
Essentially any back-up at the cornerback or receiver position could end up being used in this role. It’s also not unheard of for running backs to also play the position, although there aren’t any obvious candidate on the Jets roster. Each of their reserve running backs only really has experience as a punt protector on the coverage unit. Reserve safeties could also be options with Jackson, Davis and Farley already noted above.
The most likely candidates from the players expected to make the final roster are probably Davis, Maulet and Vyncint Smith. The latter may not be available for the first few weeks though, due to injury.
The likes of Farley and Hairston - if they make the team - could be useful reserves. However, this season’s special rules might make it easier to temporarily elevate a specialist from the practice squad so that could mean someone like Campbell, Guidry or Jeff Smith gets a shot.
Cannon appeared to be developing into a potential elite gunner, so his loss could sting. However, if Boyer was able to develop Cannon so well, perhaps he will have similar success with someone unexpected from this year’s candidates.