Feb 2, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiverEric Decker
(87) before Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Here we are at the beginning of April, with the big money free agents having all found their new homes, for the most part, it is time to take this break between free agency and the Draft to look at where the Jets have improved, as well as where they haven’t. Remember this is just a snapshot of where the Jets are on April 3rd, one month before the draft and five months before the season begins. For the sake of brevity I will only go through the starters and key reserves.
QB – Geno Smith, Michael Vick, Matt Simms – This group has gotten better than a year ago and that would have been so even if they hadn’t added the number one ranked free agent quarterback on the market in Michael Vick. The reason being is the improvement in the final month of the season of Geno Smith and the natural progression that happens from year one to year two. For example, Mark Sanchez went from 12 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in his rookie year to 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in year two. Expect Smith’s confidence to grow, his knowledge of the offense both in his reads and knowing when to run to improve and with more weapons his accuracy should increase as well. Smith also needs to make sure he makes those improvements because a competition with Vick is forthcoming. If Smith beats out Vick, I think he will and reading the tea leaves so does the organization, Smith will still have to be on his toes because Vick is a viable backup who can win games if Smith is injures or falters. With Simms as the backup there was no real threat to pull Smith and nowhere to go when he was struggling, now there is. Vick knows the offense from his time in Philadelphia, is mobile like Smith and still has the ability to succeed in the league. Vick is also turnover-prone and injury-prone so he isn’t perfect either. However for a guy labeled turnover-prone he has 128 career touchdowns to 85 interceptions which is great in comparison to the numbers Jets quarterbacks have put up in the last two years.
RB – Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Mike Goodson – For right now this group is unchanged from the group that led the league in rushing for the final six weeks of the season. Ivory and Powell were a good tandem with Ivory wearing away at defenses and Powell being a change of pace runner who can catch out of the backfield as well as be a pass blocker on 3rd down. What the team is looking for is a back with speed to score from anywhere on the field that is also durable enough to handle the load if Chris Ivory gets injured again. The few glimpses we saw of Mike Goodson showed that he can be that guy but his legal troubles continue to drag on with the case most likely going to trial right before the season starts. The Jets have been looking at backs like Donald Brown, Maurice Jones-Drew and most currently Chris Johnson in free agency but if the price isn’t right they can certainly look to fill the need in the draft with a player such as Dri Archer, who is coming in to visit the Jets on April 17.
Verdict: None so far, but most likely improved because they got only five quarters of play from Goodson last year.
WR – Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley, David Nelson, Stephen Hill, Jacoby Ford, Greg Salas – Signing Eric Decker, the number one ranked free agent wide receiver, already guarantees that this year’s group will be better than last year’s mess. Decker is 6’3″ tall, can get down the field (averages approximately 15 yards per catch), and has had back to back 80+ catch seasons. More impressively, in 2011 he had 44 receptions and eight touchdowns with Tim Tebow throwing to him. In three years as a starter he has 32 touchdowns already which is a huge number. The Jets are not done with this position either, this is one of the best wide receiver drafts of all-time and the Jets will most likely draft 1 or 2 to add to the receiving core. They could also take a flyer on Sidney Rice. Jacoby Ford will mainly be a special teams player possibly filling the kick and/or punt returner role but with 4.28 speed he may get some gadget plays to get him in space as a receiver.
Verdict: Improved already and probably will improve much more by the start of the season
Feb 2, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Seattle Seahawks tackleBreno Giacomini
(68) celebrates as he hoist the Lombardi Trophy against the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium. Seattle Seahawks won 43-8. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
TE: Jeff Cumberland, Zach Sudfeld, Chris Pantale – Cumberland resigned with the Jets on a very team friendly deal and has a chance to break out this year and realize his potential. The goal for the Jets at the position is to get a dual threat tight end in the draft and take away most of Cumberland’s blocking responsibilities, letting him split out wide and find favorable match ups. He will also be helped by an improved wide receiving core which will force defenses to focus their attention elsewhere. He must catch the ball when thrown to him as he drops way too many balls. Cumberland will be a good number two tight end. The Jets will most likely have one of these five players as their number one tight end: Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Troy Niklas or CJ Fiedorowicz. The last three have the most experience playing in-line. Kellen Winslow Jr. will not be back. His season on the field showed signs of promise but it was a nightmare off the field.
Verdict: Not Improved, but needs to be revisited after the draft to get a better grasp of whether it will be improved by the start of the season.
OL: D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Brian Winters, Nick Mangold, Willie Colon, Breno Giacomini, Oday Aboushi, William Campbell, Ben Ijalana, Dalton Freeman – The Jets have kept the group together with the exception of swapping Austin Howard for Breno Giacomini. Giacomini was the starting right tackle for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks the last couple of years and although his play grades out pretty much the same as Austin Howard, he has a nasty streak like Willie Colon and that attitude is what wins in the trenches. The resigning of Willie Colon was very important because he became the vocal leader of the line and big reason the line jelled in the last month and a half of the season. The Jets led the league in rushing the last six weeks of the year and kept Geno Smith upright, which allowed the young signal-caller to show his improvement in the final month. Getting Dalton Freeman back goes unnoticed but his emergence in camp last year showed that he can be a valuable backup to Nick Mangold in case of injury, which is something the Jets haven’t had. Whether the line will be improved or not will depend on whether Winters takes the lessons he learned as a rookie and comes back better and whether Campbell, Aboushi and Ijalana progressed far enough from their 1st year to challenge Winters if he struggles or replace Colon if he gets injured. The Jets brought in Rich Ornberger this week. Ornberger, a Long Island native, played in 13 games last year for the Chargers and has bounced around with the Patriots and Cardinals. He would be a quality backup at the guard position if signed.
Verdict: Slightly improved. I think Giacomini’s intangibles make him a slightly better choice at right tackle than Howard, especially at Howard’s new salary. Also, Winters should be much improved with a year’s experience, adjusting to the speed of the NFL game and his new position.
It isn’t the big splashy moves that most want, except for Vick and Decker, but the Jets have gotten better on offense. They’re better because their rookie quarterback isn’t a rookie anymore, they’re better because they brought in a quality backup to push Smith and they’re better because they got a playmaker in Decker. They are better because their young lineman got a year of experience and they aren’t done yet, with 12 draft picks and some good free agents still out there, there is plenty of room to improve even more.