Nov 8, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin (55) reacts during the third quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Preseason football is here and the New York Jets are starting off the preseason against the Jacksonville Jaguars as here are the top 10 players to keep an eye on.
The New York Jets did have more good than bad in 2015, but the bad was bad enough to cost them a spot in the NFL Playoffs. They made some key changes to the offense, added some youth to the defense and overhauled their special teams.
There are plenty of players to watch going into the first preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Some of the key players are new, and some are young and trying to make a name for themselves, while others are savvy veterans.
Let’s take a look at the top 10 players trying to help this team fly high in 2016.
Next: 10. The Australian with a booming leg
Feb 24, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Sam Houston State kicker Loc Edwards speaks to the media during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
10. Lachlan Edwards
Even with only three years of college punting under his belt, Edwards made a name for himself in Aussie Rules Football down under, and has experience putting a ball where he wants off his foot. He won the Australian equivalent of a state title in 2009, and played Aussie Rules Football for one year in college in Australia before coming to the United States.
He was drafted in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and while Tom Hackett was signed as an undrafted free agent, Hackett was waived early on in training camp, and the job now belongs to Edwards. That actually puts more pressure on him to succeed.
The Jets had one of the worst punting units in the league in 2015. They were last in net return average, tied for 14th in punts inside the 20 and tied for 27th in forced fair catches (with only one team worse).
The leg of Edwards should help that, but he needs to more consistent with hang time. That can be fixed with coaching. So the Jets should be in good hands.
Next: 9. An undrafted kicker
Dec 26, 2015; Bronx, NY, USA; Duke Blue Devils place kicker Ross Martin (35) kicks a field goal against the Indiana Hoosiers during the 2015 New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium . Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
9. Ross Martin
Martin had 290 career attempts of extra points and field goals in his career at Duke. He only missed 16 of them (one extra point and 15 field goals), and he scored 100 points in three of four seasons at Duke, missing by only three points in his sophomore season.
In his final two seasons at Duke, Martin was 13-16 from 40+ yards away and only missed one of ten attempts from 50+ in all four years. The Jets missed six attempts from 40+ last season.
Like the punts by Edwards, Martin didn’t get enough hang time on his kickoffs which led to a poor kickoff average of 59.9 yards in his college career. With good coaching, just like with Edwards, that can be corrected.
Martin has a solid NFL kicking leg, and he should win the job coming out of training camp. The Jets will have a rookie punter and kicker, which should make special teams interesting in 2016.
Next: 8. Is Father Time catching up to him?
Yes, Revis is on this list, and it hurts to even consider him for this list. With that said, he had a lingering wrist injury late in the season, and it seemed to bother him greatly.
Some have even questioned if he lost a step, as he was beaten consistently by the young top-flight receivers like DeAndre Hopkins in Houston. Maybe Father Time is catching up to him, or maybe it was just the injury.
Even with what appeared to be a down year, Revis had five interceptions, four fumble recoveries (a new career high), 30 combined tackles and nine assists. Revis needs to show he is healthy for another long season ahead.
If Revis plays, it will be interesting to see how he does and if he doesn’t, it might be best to wait another week or so before he sees preseason action to ensure he’s ready once the regular season arrives.
Next: 7. Rookie brought in to help pass rush
Apr 28, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Darron Lee (Ohio State) after being selected by the New York Jets as the number twenty overall pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at Auditorium Theatre. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
7. Darron Lee
The 20th overall pick of the Jets was brought in to help the average pass rush. Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson had 12 sacks, but the rest of the team had 18.
Lee was drafted to improve the rest of the team. Opponents will have to account for Lee’s speed and quickness, and thus it will open things up for defensive linemen like Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams.
There are only so many double teams available. Lee will be able to get to the quarterback, be a good run stopper and he has good man-to-man skills.
Lee may not put up the sack numbers, but he will be utilized in many ways. Pay close attention to what is said about him, because he will be an integral part of the defense in 2016.
Next: 6. Injury plague top-ten bust
Sep 14, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson (87) catches a 33 yard pass with New York Jets cornerback Dee Milliner (27) defending during the second half of a game at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
6. Dee Milliner
Milliner is a bust, but that’s not due to a lack of ability to play in this league. It’s only because he has been injured the last two seasons.
He is the biggest question mark on the defense going into 2016. He was picked ninth overall in the 2013 NFL Draft, but has only played 21 games in three seasons.
Milliner will be challenging for the No. 3 cornerback spot in training camp, and if he can stay healthy, he may be able to finally live up to his pre-draft expectations.
Milliner could be playing for a spot in 2017 as well, because it looks like Revis could be transitioning to safety and slowing down a little. They need him to step up to the plate to add depth to cornerback.
Next: 5. A young player who needs to continue to grow
Nov 29, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive end Leonard Williams (92) rushes the quarterback during the first half at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Dolphins 38-20. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
The Jets got really lucky that Williams fell to No. 6 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft as he had a decent season in 2015. Now it’s time to see if he can take the next step.
He has strength and quickness to get to the quarterback. He finished 2015 with three sacks, 29 combined tackles and 34 assists, but this season he will have to show why he should’ve been picked higher.
Williams should be able to achieve double digits sacks with Wilkerson getting a lot of attention. Him taking the next step will also help the young defensive backs, because it will cause a timing issue.
Williams will be an important piece if the Jets want to succeed against a tough schedule that awaits in 2016. The rotation of Williams, Richardson and Wilkerson will be a tough match-up for many teams.
Next: 4. The bearded magic man
Nov 22, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) walks away from Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates (6) after the two met at midfield following a game at NRG Stadium. Houston won 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
On SNY’s Jets Nation: Inside Training Camp, former Jets’ special teams coordinator, Mike Westhoff pointed something out very important to the strategy against the Jets:
"“Buffalo figured out a recipe of how to play them. They put everyone inside and said ‘Go ahead and throw the ball outside, because we don’t think you can do it.'”"
When they interviewed head coach Todd Bowles later in the show, he quickly pointed out to Westhoff, when Westhoff asked him about the Buffalo game, that Buffalo wasn’t the only team employing that strategy, and that they have added a few “wrinkles” to the offense to counter the strategy.
“FitzMagic” will need to find a way to combat his arm strength issues and use his brain, because Bowles is 100% right. Teams figured out quickly that Fitzpatrick couldn’t throw deep on the perimeter, and the Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots, Bills (twice) and Houston Texans took advantage of that.
Fitzpatrick held on to the 11th hour to get the fully guaranteed $12M, one-year deal, and because of that he shouldn’t be allowed to struggle early. He has to come out strong early on, or his seat will get hotter than the Arizona desert in August.
Next: 3. A young quarterback with a lot to prove
Aug 21, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty (9) looks to pass the ball during the first half of their game against the Atlanta Falcons at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
3. Bryce Petty
Normally on a list like this, a third-string quarterback wouldn’t be ahead of the incumbent starter, but Petty has the talent to make it in the NFL. He has the cannon for an arm that Fitzpatrick doesn’t.
He did come out of a one-read system, which hurts him, and word out of training camp last season was that he was having trouble grasping the NFL offense. With that said, he could challenge quarterback Geno Smith for the No. 2 two spot on the depth chart.
If he can show coaches he can grasp the offense, and he can read NFL defenses, he could unseat Geno. If that happens, Smith won’t be in a Jets uniform for long after they break camp.
Petty has the size and athleticism to make it in the NFL. It’s just a matter of what he has learned in the year on the bench and this offseason on whether or not he makes the roster.
Next: 2. A quarterback who wants to prove he belongs
Nov 1, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) looks to throw a pass against the Oakland Raiders in the second quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
2. Geno Smith
Throughout mini-camp the coaches said Smith has shown maturity and improvement. He’s also said the right things after Fitzpatrick re-signed. Here’s what Smith said about it in an article written by Rich Cimini of ESPN.com:
"“It’s no disrespect to anyone, but I’m auditioning for this team and 31 other teams in the NFL. I’m not disappointed. I’m kind of pissed off, but it’s not a detrimental thing. It’s not something where I’m pissed off at anyone, because we all want to be in there. … This just adds fuel to the fire, but not in a negative way.”"
There is a scenario in which Smith could be playing for his job here in 2017 and beyond. Let’s say he gets the backup gig over Petty, and Fitzpatrick gets hurt or his play is so poor that he gets benched, it could open another opportunity for him.
If he were to come in and play well, the Jets could consider re-signing him in the offseason. Smith seems to be more mature and if his game has improved enough, his career as a starter might not be over.
Next: 1. A young stud with a lot to prove
Aug 13, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; New York Jets outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin (55) gets past Detroit Lions tackle Michael Williams (73) during the second quarter in a preseason NFL football game at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Mauldin seems to be on everyone’s radar as the one to step it up this year. In limited action, with 15 games played and one start, he was able to get four sacks.
The Jets have a lot of youth and speed in their linebacker core, and Mauldin is at the forefront. He has an active motor that doesn’t stop, and he can be a three-down linebacker with the ability to get to the quarterback and stop the run.
He’s very keen on ball awareness as well. So, expect big things as the defensive front will get a lot of attention from Jets’ opponents this season.
Mauldin could get near double digits in sacks, and he will help the run defense. The combination of Mauldin and Wilkerson could be formidable and a tough one to stop.