In this second installment of the best players in Jets history we look at some iconic players from the Super Bowl era and defensive standouts from later years. Again, these players are some of the best in Jets history but for some reason fell painfully short of making the top twelve.
This article discusses some of the players I have ranked somewhere between 13th and 30th in team history which is my honorable mention category. The honorable mention category will be in a series of posts before we move to the best of the best. These players within this honorable mention category are not ranked. You can decide where each player fits in you own order of Gang Green nobility.
Emerson Boozer RB 1966-1975
Boozer was a two time All American at Maryland State College (now Maryland Eastern Shore University) where he rushed for over 2,500 yards and 22 TDs averaging 6.8 yards a carry. Boozer was the Jets 6th round draft choice in 1966 in the AFL Draft (#46 overall) and was also drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL in the 7th round (#98 overall) in the same year.
Boozer decided to sign with the Jets thinking he had a better chance to succeed in the new league and that he could form a strong one two punch with the young Matt Snell who was drafted a couple years earlier out of Ohio State.
Things looked great right away as Boozer was a Pro Bowl player as a rookie then the following year he was thrust into the featured role when Snell went down with an injury early in the season. Boozer has 10 rushing TDs midway through the season and was drawing comparisons to the great Gayle Sayers when he incurred a catastrophic knee injury which ended his season. The Jets team doctor in 1966 was Dr. James A. Nicholas who at the time was probably the best, most skilled orthopedic surgeon in the country. He felt that Boozer’s injury was one of the worst he had ever seen or worked on.
Boozer was never the same physically but worked hard to make it back for the next season and was again voted to the Pro Bowl despite his limitations. He learned how to become the lead blocker and often led the way on Matt Snell’s runs. Here he is gaining a first down in the first game of 1968 (the Jets’ Super Bowl season) against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Boozer spent his entire 10 year career with the Jets, and his 52 rushing TDs are 2nd all-time in Jets history to Curtis Martin. His 65 total TDs ranks 3rd all time. Had Boozer had suffered a horrific injury I am sure he would have been one of my top 12 Jets players of all time.
Shaun Ellis DE 2000-2010
Shaun Ellis came to the Jets from the Tennessee Volunteers where he was part of a perfect season in 1998 and won the National Championship in the Fiesta Bowl. Ellis accumulated 105 total tackles, including 22 for a loss and 12.5 sacks in his three seasons in Knoxville. He also forced three fumbles and intercepted one pass, returning it 90 yards for a touchdown, the fifth-longest INT return in school history.
The Jets made Ellis their first of four 1st round draft picks they had in the 2000 NFL Draft. Ellis was chosen with the pick that the Jets received when they allowed Bill Belichick to move from the Jets to the New England Patriots. You could say the Patriots got the better end of that deal, but Belichick was not going to coach for the Jets. In the end the Jets received a pick that turned out to be a top 30 player in franchise history so they could have done much worse.
Ellis spent the following 11 seasons playing for the Jets. Known by his teammates as the “Big Cat” Ellis was a force for the Jets as a defensive end, but he played up and down the line. He was a fundamentally sound defensive player. As an end he held the edge first before racing after the QB. When he played on the interior he was gap sound leaving opposing RBs no lanes in which to exploit. He was a team player who could of had much better stats had he freelanced, but the defense as a whole would certainly have suffered.
Here he is playing as a 1 Tech facing a double team in a 3 man rush against the hated New England Patriots.
Here he gets great push up the middle, splits the double team, and takes down Tom Brady on 3rd down in the red zone. Ellis was always known as a strong team leader on the field and in the locker room. He was a 2 time Pro Bowl player and he is third all time in sacks (72.5) in Jets history. He is also 8th in team history with 404 solo tackles which ranks 1st among all the defensive linemen for the Jets.
Ellis was as reliable as he was versatile. In his 11 years with the Jets he started at least 15 games in a season 9 times. In total Ellis played in 170 of a possible 176 games during his Jets tenure while playing a physically demanding position that often gets cut, crack backed or blindsided.
Bill Baird DB 1963-1969
Billy Baird was a smart, athletically gifted player who became one of the best defensive backs in Jets history. He was an all around performer in college at San Francisco State where he was a running back and kick returner. He also played all over the defensive backfield.
San Francisco State was not (and still isn’t) considered a hotbed of football so Baird became a Jet by mere chance rather than because of great scouting.
Back in 1962 when the Jets were still called the Titans and their Super Bowl winning coach Weeb Eubank was the coach of the Baltimore Colts. Baird got a tryout when the Colts practiced at the high school field where he was working. As Billy Baird himself tells the story...
“I was the then student-teaching and coaching at Lincoln High School, and they gave me a special tryout while they were practicing. Which in itself was a miracle because no teams ever did that. I signed with the Colts in November of ‘62 and went to (training) camp in July of ‘63. And in that period of time, Weeb had left the Colts and gone to the Jets.”
“Don Shula was the new coach of the Colts and I stayed until the last cut. I got released and Charley Winner, who was the defensive coordinator and defensive backfield coach, was Weeb’s son-in-law. Weeb knew me from the tryout, and Charley’s recommendation is how I got from the Colts to the Jets.”
Baird took it from there as he spent his entire 7 year career with the Jets. He never missed a game.
Baird was a solid tackler and a superior ball hawk. He bait throws then scramble up to intercept the ball.
Even though he played only seven seasons for the Jets he holds the franchise record for career interceptions with 34 which is 9 more than Darrelle Revis in 10 less career games.
Baird played all over the secondary, but he was primarily a safety usually on the right side in a two deep formation. He did come up and play man coverage on some defensive schemes. He never had less than 3 interceptions in any season and had a high of 8 back in 1964.
Baird went into coaching after he retired at the high school and college levels. He later spent 4 years as the defensive backs coach for the Jets between 1981-84.
Baird stays in touch with many of his Jets teammates recalling, “Our team was a unique team. Now we’re looking 50 years later, we were a close team. We were a close team then and we still are a close team now, those that are still alive.”
Laveranues Coles WR 2000-2002 & 2005-2008
In the same year the Jets drafted 4 first round picks (the first being the aforementioned Ellis) the Jets drafted Laveranues Coles in the 3rd round. His selection was not without controversy. He had transgressions in college that ended with him being kicked off his top ranked college program.
The Jets spent more time than most teams investigating. They felt that he was a good kid who made some bad choices. In the end it was Bill Parcells who decided to draft Coles. As Coles recalls it made him feel better about the situation and it was done so in typical Parcells fashion.
“It meant a lot,” Coles explained. “I heard about how the story went down before they drafted me, (Wide receivers coach) Todd Haley said he didn’t want to coach me. (Head coach) Al Groh said he didn’t want to coach me. And Parcells basically slammed the table and said, ‘Well, it ain’t your decision, it’s mine. Take the kid.’ Then he looked over at Steve Yarnell, who was the head of security and did a background check on me and said, ‘If he screws up, it’s on you.’”
The Jets were drafting a WR in the 3rd round who had 1st round type talent. It was important since the Jets needed a receiver. Coles went on to say, “I actually was still thrusted into the limelight a bit because you’re coming off of a year where Keyshawn Johnson had just departed (via a trade to Tampa Bay). Everybody was wondering who’s going to replace Keyshawn. And it was funny, one of the main things that they said to me when they drafted me was, ‘Let me tell you something before the media calls you. You’re not here to replace Keyshawn. Let them know you’re going to play special teams and help the team out the best you can.’ But in the back of my mind, I’m like, ‘Man, I’m replacing him. I’m coming in to play wideout.’”
A knee injury his first year limited Coles his first year to a mere 42 targets. The next year the Jets had hired Herm Edwards as head coach, and he told Coles, “I’m going to give you a chance. If you’re going to play for me, I’m going to give you a fair shot.”
Coles started all 32 games the next two years and rewarded Edwards with 148 receptions, 12 TDs and over 2,000 yards receiving. After three years with the Jets the team from Washington signed Coles to a big contract, but the Jets still had hopes he would return. Two years later they traded Santana Moss to Washington for Coles.
Over the next four years Coles used his guile and speed to make his mark as one of the best receivers in Jets history. Here he is taking a pass from Vinny for a TD against the Patriots.
The speedy and shifty Coles ranks 4th all time with 459 receptions just ahead of Wesley Walker who played in 49 more games than Coles. Coles also ranks 5th all time in receiving yardage (5,941 yards) and receiving TDs (37). He was the Jets team MVP in 2006.
Coles along with Curtis Martin and Wayne Chrebet helped propel the Jets to 5 winning season and 4 playoff appearances in 7 years. This came despite the fact that the Jets had a carousel of QBs that included Vinny Testaverde, Ray Lucas, Chad Pennington, Brooks Bollinger, Jay Fiedler, Kliff Kingsbury, Kellen Clemens, and Brett Farve.
Through it all Coles was a fan favorite. It is something he still feels is very special to this day. When asked what he is most proud of in his career he said “I would say the fact that people from New York still give me love like I still play, I was just at the Draft, and the fans still recognize me, are still excited to see me like I still played. So that’s the best thing, that I haven’t been forgotten. It really means the world to me.”
That wraps up our 2nd installment of the Jets Greatest Players
So far the list includes
This list and the ones to follow will be 4 players at a time until we reach the top 12.
I realize that some of you may not agree with this list which is natural since everyone views players differently. I myself had a hard time fitting each player into a confined place in the hierarchy since different positions are considered more valuable than others but you have to take into consideration length of service along with value to the team.
Two things of note
Pro bowls earned by players were not always a determining factor in making this list. Those of you who were watching the NFL in the 70’s, 80s, 90s and 2000s will remember that the pro bowl back then was voted on by players + media, the fans were not involved. Many times this was more of a popularity contest than an actual awarding players who performed exceedingly well. Some players would make the team on name recognition alone. Remember Brett Favre made the pro bowl when he was with the Jets and he threw 22 TD and 22 INTs that year.
Most top players made it but some snubs would happen every year. Big name players would get in along with some of the players who worked with the NFLPA and were known team reps. It was like a payback for their efforts. It was not a perfect system and it would be difficult to make it that way but some players who made the team where not always the best players that year.
AV (approximate value)
This is a term that is used now to try and give a single value for a player. This is a very arbitrary number that takes into account things like pro bowls for players like offensive linemen that don’t accrue stats. Also it give a higher weight to stats without figuring out the type of offense, the power of the team and if a (for example) receiver had a quality QB and offensive line that could protect his QB.
It was a system devised by an associate mathematician at the University of the South in Tennessee named Doug Drinen in 2008. He didn’t watch any game film to devise his theory he just fixed values to certain stats and figured out the numbers. I take the AV figures with a grain of salt as they come from a calculator and not from actually watching football. Also it doesn’t take into account different eras of football of field conditions, rule changes or a thousand other factors that go into how a player performs on the field. I don’t know how you can conclude what a players value is when you never saw him play.
Anyway I don’t just make my determinations by stats, there are numerous other factors that go into the analysis. I hope you do the same; not so you agree with me but just so you have a better informed opinion.
The next list will follow shortly
Let me know what you think...