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Top 10 players to watch in 2016

Nov 22, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; New York Jets strong safety Marcus Williams (20) smiles after a defensive play during the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. The Texans defeated the Jets 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 22, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; New York Jets strong safety Marcus Williams (20) smiles after a defensive play during the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. The Texans defeated the Jets 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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Nov 22, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; New York Jets strong safety Marcus Williams (20) smiles after a defensive play during the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. The Texans defeated the Jets 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The expectations for the New York Jets are through the roof after their impressive 10-6 campaign. Here are the top 10 players to watch heading into 2016.

The New York Jets finished the 2015 season with a 10-6 record and despite missing the NFL Playoffs, really impressed with their play. Are the Jets prepared for an encore performance?

Related Story: Predicting final record of 2016

The NFL schedule makers sure think so because they gave the Jets the maximum amount of prime time games (five games). So what 10 players could bring the Jets back to that same success?

Defense is the name of the game and if it’s anything the current Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos have proved, it’s that the best defense can stop any top offense.

Without further ado, here are the top 10 players to keep an eye on during the upcoming season season.

Next: 10. One former first round pick has to prove himself

Aug 4, 2014; Cortland, NY, USA; New York Jets cornerback Dee Milliner (27) walks out to the field prior to the start of training camp at SUNY Cortland. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

10. Cornerback Dee Milliner

We start with a player that might not even be on the roster according to some reports (Top 10 players who will not make final roster). The one thing that has never been denied is Dee Milliner’s talent.

The problem has been the frustrating injury history that has plagued him since his days at Alabama. The Jets’ brass is running out of patience and that shouldn’t be surprising since this regime didn’t even draft Milliner.

He’s nothing more than bad leftovers that were still in the fridge when John Idzik and Rex Ryan left. There’s no doubt the Jets could use a top 10 pick kind of talent at the cornerback position.

Especially since the inevitable purge is on the horizon, Antonio Cromartie was already released and Darrelle Revis is getting up there in age. If Milliner makes the roster, this is his last chance to show the Jets they didn’t make a mistake drafting him.

Next: 9. The loss was so big it'll take two guys

Dec 6, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert (2) is rushed by by Chicago Bears defensive end Jarvis Jenkins (96) in the second quarter of their game at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

9. Defensive Linemen Jarvis Jenkins and Steve McLendon

The Jets biggest loss this off-season literally (he was 350 pounds) and figuratively was their run-stuffing nose tackle Damon Harrison. The Jets stressed prior to the free agency period commencing, that they really wanted him back.

Unfortunately, bigger money drew him away to the blue side of New York with the Giants. With limited funds, the Jets had to opt for value over price.

This resulted in the Jets adding Jarvis Jenkins from the Chicago Bears and Steve McLendon from the Pittsburgh Steelers. But is two really better than one?

Ultimately, the proof will be in the pudding, despite playing in less than 50% of the defensive snaps, Harrison was invaluable to the Jets record-breaking rush defense over the last several years. Time will tell if McLendon and Jenkins can minimize the loss.

Next: 8. Was last year a fluke?

Dec 19, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; New York Jets strong safety Marcus Williams (20) celebrates with teammates after making an interception during the fourth quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

8. Cornerback Marcus Williams

The Jets finally found a diamond in the rough in Marcus Williams. Last season, Williams intercepted as many passes as the entire defense of the Baltimore Ravens (six interceptions).

Though there’s a big difference between covering the third or fourth receiver compared to covering the team’s number one or number two target. Williams will be in a competition with Buster Skrine for the number two starting job on the outside.

Was last year a flash in the pan for Williams? The Jets are banking on Williams continuing to develop his skills and they’re going to need it.

When Williams in limited action stepped in for an injured Revis last season, he got exposed a little bit. Williams development will be a major story-line throughout the off-season programs as well as game action this Fall.

Next: 7. Will the injuries continue in year two?

Sep 27, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Eric Rowe (32) intercepts a pass intended for New York Jets wide receiver Devin Smith (19) and rolls into the end zone for a touchback during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

7. Wide Receiver Devin Smith

It was easy for fans of the Jets to scream at Devin Smith last season. He dropped a few easy passes, fumbled a kickoff return and he got injured early in camp.

But because of that injury, he missed critical time that could’ve helped his overall development. On top of that Smith comes from a somewhat gimmicky offense at Ohio State.

Also for the most part, the Buckeyes only asked him to run the vertical routes because that is what Smith was good at. Smith is a second-round pick with a lot of talent, he won’t be in danger of being released or anything crazy like that.

But expectations are high for Smith to continue his rehab and to add a vertical element to the Jets’ passing attack. Look for Smith to avoid a sophomore slump and make a bigger impact in year two.

Next: 6. Was last year a sign of things to come?

Jan 3, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) runs the ball after a catch while being defended by New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) during the second half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Bills beat the Jets 22 to 17. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

6. Cornerback Darrelle Revis

Was last year a sign of things to come? A lot of Jets fans, coaches and analysts are wondering if the end of Revis Island is near. An unknown wrist injury that wasn’t treated could’ve played a part in Revis getting toasted in Week 17.

But it’s a scary thought for a team that just invested $70M in the cornerback to be what he was for the Jets back in 2009. While he may not be that same elite cornerback that he once was, he’s still a very good corner.

By very good, that equates to a top-five corner in this league. The Jets’ coaching staff put Revis in some bad positions last year and really ate their pride.

That became painfully evident in the Jets matchup with the Houston Texans last season. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins had a field day and the Jets refused to double team him which cost them dearly.

Next: 5. Is this guy the face of the franchise?

Nov 1, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) looks to throw a pass against the Oakland Raiders in the third quarter at O.co Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Jets 34-20. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

5. Quarterback Geno Smith

Whether you love him or hate him, currently, Geno Smith is the starting quarterback for the Jets. And if things don’t change by the start of the regular season, including but not limited too wild punches to the jaw, he could be the next face of the franchise.

Smith will remain the starter, so fans should start to embrace the fact that this is a legitimate possibility. Which means with Smith entering the last year of his rookie deal, he’s not only playing for the Jets next season but his future.

He will be auditioning for the other 31 teams in this league and the more this Ryan Fitzpatrick contract situation continues to play out, the more likely he won’t be back with the team.

Smith has never had the weapons that would currently be at his disposal. Maybe Smith will take advantage of this opportunity and the Jets won’t have to turn to Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg this upcoming season.

Next: 4. There are high expectations for this second year player

Nov 29, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin (55) hits Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) In the 2nd half at MetLife Stadium.The Jets defeated the Dolphins 38-20. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

4. Outside Linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin

So far, the highest expectations on this team are set on second year man Lorenzo Mauldin out of Louisville. Head coach Todd Bowles thinks that Mauldin will go from situational pass rusher to full time starter.

Looking at what the Jets did at the position, it’s a near lock that Mauldin will start at one of the outside spots. The Jets need an edge rusher that can push double digit sack territory.

Perhaps Mauldin can be that guy since in a limited role, he ended up with four sacks. He’s got the desire, the motivation and the opportunity as it’s time to put it all together.

If Mauldin doesn’t step up to the plate, the Jets will have to rely on a handful of other guys like Freddie Bishop (CFL pickup), Mike Catapano or they could bring back Calvin Pace. Mauldin is important to this defense improving in 2016.

Next: 3. Can he still be the guy?

Dec 20, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) catches a touchdown pass against the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth quarter at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings win 38-17. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

3. Running Back Matt Forte

The Jets had the 10th best rushing attack last season with a running back by committee approach. Even with the addition of Matt Forte, that’ll still be the case in 2016.

But Forte will have to take on a bigger role than Chris Ivory played last season. Particularly when it comes to the passing game.

Forte is the most complete back in the NFL, he’s one of the best pass blockers and pass catchers out of the backfield. Forte is vital, regardless of who is playing quarterback because he can do so many things for a team on offense.

Forte could easily have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving and he’s gotten close to 100+ receptions before as well. The Jets haven’t had a back of this caliber in a very long time and his presence will be a welcomed addition.

Next: 2. All the pressure is on Sheldon

Oct 18, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (91) celebrates with defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) after a sack against Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (not pictured) during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

2. Defensive Lineman Sheldon Richardson

The pressure is on for Sheldon Richardson and that can’t be understated. The Jets are playing a dangerous game of musical chairs here with their defensive line.

As the music continues to play, the Jets are attempting to get rid of a chair in the room. They have Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams, and Richardson.

Williams just got drafted so he’s guaranteed his chair and now it seems their is an inevitable power struggle between who stays and who goes between Richardson and Wilkerson. Richardson needs to prove that he has the higher ceiling on the field and that he can be a golden boy off of it and the Jets are counting on him to take that next step.

Wilkerson is the consummate professional, a team leader and has never had any off the field issues. While Richardson is a bit of a hot-head, outspoken and has had several incidents off the field.

Next: 1. The biggest guy to watch in 2016

Dec 14, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; Denver Broncos tackle Ryan Clady (78) smiles on the sideline during the fourth quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

1. Offensive Tackle Ryan Clady

The most important player to watch for 2016 for the Jets is none other than Ryan Clady. The Jets offensive line issues are all too real.

The Jets are counting on a guy who has essentially missed two of the last three seasons on him being healthy all season long. A recipe for failure for sure, especially because the Jets don’t really have a plan B on the roster.

It didn’t help that in the draft the team only selected one lineman and it came in the fifth round. Clady is arguably as important as whoever ends up playing quarterback for this team.

More jets: Predicting final record of 2016

If Clady remains healthy, he has a higher ceiling than that of the freshly retired D’Brickashaw Ferguson. If Clady gets injured, the Jets are screwed and whoever is playing quarterback should buy the best life insurance offered on planet Earth.

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