Feb 2, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate (81) celebrates after beating the Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
There are less than four weeks until the combine and five weeks until free agency begins and this period is as close as the NFL gets to an offseason. So before all the fireworks start I might as well get my predictions in on what the opening day starting lineup will be for the Jets in September. Today I will start with offense and on Monday I will cover defense and special teams.
QB – Geno Smith – With a full offseason under his belt Geno Smith will hopefully build on his successes over the final month of the season and come back with a better understanding of the offense, what NFL defenses look like and what they are trying to do to him as well as the speed of the game. With better understanding comes quicker decision-making and better decisions and that will help him reduce his turnovers and improve his accuracy. The Jets will bring in Chad Henne to challenge Smith but it will become quickly apparent that Smith is ready to be the man with Henne as a capable backup.
RB – Chris Ivory – Ivory showed that he is the number one back when healthy and can be the back that runs it 20+ times per game. He gets better as the game wears on and his deceptive quickness helps him break big runs. Ivory won’t catch the ball out of the backfield but that’s not his role, his role is to run the football to rack up 1st downs. He is a big reason why the Jets were undefeated when leading at halftime in 2013. Powell will return and will spell Ivory on occasion as well as occupying the 3rd down back role.
WR – Golden Tate, Odell Beckham Jr., Jeremy Kerley – The Jets need wide receivers who can get open and make plays and with the exception of Kerley and David Nelson no one was getting separation on a consistent basis. Enter Golden Tate who led the Seahawks in receptions with 64 for 898 yards (14 yards per catch). Tate has a knack for finding the holes in zones and making the big catch when Russell Wilson scrambles to extend plays. His presence will be a big help for Geno Smith. Beckham Jr. is an explosive player that wins quickly at the line of scrimmage and can run any route effectively. He averaged almost 20 yards per receptions in his final season at LSU and that was against SEC corners. 83% of his catches went for 1st downs which is an amazing number. Jeremy Kerley was the Jets most valuable player in 2013. They were 8-4 with him and 0-4 without him. He was Geno Smith’s security blanket and much like Tate just has a knack for getting open, especially on 3rd down to extend drives. He led the team with 43 receptions for 523 yards despite missing 4 games. He is not the deep threat Beckham is but Kerley is lethal in the short to intermediate passing game.
TE – Troy Niklas – Niklas is an interesting prospect. He is 6’7″ tall and 270 lbs and nicknamed Hercules by his teammates at Notre Dame. Last season he had 32 receptions for 498 yards and 5 touchdowns. Mainly used as a blocker Niklas is just scratching the surface as a receiver. He would be an immediate help as a red zone target with the ability to challenge a defense down the seam. Jeff Cumberland will return as the other tight end and in formations where both are featured it will create mismatches for defenses.
OL – D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Brian Winters, Nick Mangold, Willie Colon, Austin Howard – The same group should return for another year as they were starting to gel in the season’s last month. The Jets led the league in rushing the last 6 weeks of the season and the improvement of Geno Smith was greatly helped by the line keeping him upright and handing him a cleaner pocket. Brian Winters needs to improve as he was the weak link in the line in 2013. He started to come at the end of the year as the game slowed down for him, he battled through injury, a position change from tackle to guard and a huge step up in competition from Kent State to the NFL and those transitions take time. Winters was thrust into a starting role and had a baptism by fire mostly because the only other option was Vladimir Ducasse. If Colon’s injury prevents him from being ready the Jets will pounce on either Jon Asamoah of the Chiefs or Travelle Wharton of the Panthers who are both free agents. Expect the Jets to upgrade their offense line depth depending on how far along they feel Aboushi, Campbell and Freeman are during mini-camps.
This offense would be able to be versatile and attack opposing defenses with very diverse game plans. With the addition of Niklas and his blocking from the tight end position the Jets can continue to be a power running team. Add Cumberland and you have two athletic tight ends that can stretch a defense. With Tate, Kerley, Beckham, Nelson and Hill you can spread a defense out and take advantage of mismatches and run a quality hurry up offense. Having Hill as a 5th wide receiver would take the pressure off of him and allow to not be a focus of opposing defenses. Add Smith’s running ability and this is an a much improved offense that has weapons and the ability to put up points.