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Top 10 players who must return to Jets in 2017

Nov 22, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker (87) warms up prior to a game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Houston won 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 22, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker (87) warms up prior to a game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Houston won 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
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Nov 22, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker (87) warms up prior to a game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Houston won 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

As the New York Jets prepare for the offseason ahead, they must keep these top ten players for 2017.

The 2016 season of the New York Jets was one of their worst in franchise history. A 5-11 record may not seem that bad, but expectations heading into the year were sky-high. For this team to crumble the way it did is stunning.

The original 53-man roster was loaded with talent and primed for another run at a playoff berth. Instead, injuries, lack of effort and poor coaching put Gang Green in a hole they couldn’t dig out of. They managed to make a fool of themselves in several blowout losses as well.

What hurts the Jets most is bad contracts. General manager Mike Maccagnan was forced to put the team together how he did. John Idzik’s conservative spending forced Maccagnan to break the bank to avoid a salary cap penalty.

Now, New York is left in a sticky situation. The roster will be purged, although the right moves need to be made or else 2017 can be even worse. Here are top 10 players the Jets would be dumb not to bring back. But first, here’s an honorable mention.

Next: Honorable mention: Offensive Guard James Carpenter

Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Jets guard James Carpenter (77) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Jets 28-3. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Honorable mention: Offensive Guard James Carpenter

There’s no hiding that New York’s offensive line is in shambles. Ryan Clady and Nick Mangold are letting health issues get to them, Brian Winters is a free agent who may not be worth retaining and Breno Giacomini is a destined cap casualty.

James Carpenter is the only guy in this unit you can trust week in and week out. He’s one of the best run blocking guards in football and he’s a Super Bowl champion. He did regress slightly from his impressive 2015 campaign, however, the Clady and Mangold injuries left him with minimal help.

The bottom line is that the Jets would be ridiculous to cut Carpenter to save $4.1M. The value he brings to the table is much more important than additional cap space. This team simply needs productive players on the field and without him, the line has no foundation.

Next: 10. Wide Receiver Robby Anderson

Nov 27, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Robby Anderson (11) runs the ball against the New England Patriots during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

10. Wide Receiver Robby Anderson

Robby Anderson is a true diamond in the rough for New York. The undrafted free agent has come a long way since the summer. Many expected him to ride the pine after a tremendous preseason to get him on the Week 1 roster, but he earned snaps and took advantage of the opportunity.

The Temple product finished the year with 42 catches for 587 yards and two touchdowns. In an offense that struggled mightily at quarterback, that’s not too shabby for a No. 3 wideout. Depending on what Maccagnan does with Brandon Marshall, Anderson may stay put on the depth chart.

This is a no-brainer for the Jets. Whoever starts at quarterback must have a plethora of weapons at his disposal in order to develop. The only question will be if Anderson can stay efficient under the new offensive coordinator.

Next: 9. Wide Receiver Quincy Enunwa

Jan 1, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (81) leaps over Buffalo Bills cornerback Ronald Darby (28) in the 2nd quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

9. Wide Receiver Quincy Enunwa

Another receiver Gang Green deserves to hold their head high on is Quincy Enunwa. He’s one of the few good selections Idzik made in his two seasons as general manager. The 2014 sixth-round pick has molded into a dependable wideout and one who’s really dangerous after the catch.

Enunwa finished 2016 with 58 receptions for 857 yards and four touchdowns. Like Anderson, those numbers are great for a guy who wasn’t supposed to be significantly featured in the offense. Or should I say the offense that was supposed to be?

Given his meaning to the team and cheap salary, Enunwa is a lock to make the 2017 roster. He worked well with all three quarterbacks that were used and he’s a leader in the locker room. He’s a player the Jets should be happy to have in the organization.

Next: 8. Safety Calvin Pryor

December 11, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; New York Jets strong safety Calvin Pryor (25) before the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium. The Jets defeated the 49ers 23-17 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

8. Safety Calvin Pryor

Calvin Pryor is a valuable piece to the defense whether you like it or not. The ‘Louisville Slugger’ gives effort from spring voluntary workouts until the season’s conclusion. The only thing you can knock him for is his inability to stay on the field.

Pryor racked up 62 tackles, six pass deflections and a forced fumble in 2016. You could make the case that his stat line isn’t of a first-round caliber, but he put up similar numbers in his other two years. He can consistently tackle, blitz, contain tight ends and lay the boom to break up passes.

His lunch pail mentality makes him the ideal strong safety. He’s due to be a free agent in 2018, although it’s hard to imagine him being unaffordable. New York needs to hang onto Pryor as trading him would make their defense and roster even more flawed.

Next: 7. Running Back Bilal Powell

Nov 6, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New York Jets running back Bilal Powell (29) carries the ball past Miami Dolphins cornerback Tony Lippett (36) during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

7. Running Back Bilal Powell

What’s there not to like about Bilal Powell? He stepped up in a big way in back to back years and showed he’s capable of a starting role. He handled it in 2013 and if the Jets choose to move Matt Forte, he’ll be the bell cow once again.

The veteran continues to prove he can do it all for Gang Green’s offense. He finished the year with 722 yards and three touchdowns on 131 carries. He totaled 58 catches for 388 yards and two touchdowns as well.

Maccagnan would be flat out dumb to get rid of Powell. His cap number is just $4.63M and cutting/trading him saves $173,334. New York should be proud to have a loyal guy like him in the rebuilding process.

Next: 6. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg

Jan 1, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Christian Hackenberg (5) watches from the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

6. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg

The Jets didn’t let second-round rookie Christian Hackenberg sniff the field. While many think this was wrong to do after the Bryce Petty injury, the coaching staff actually made a great decision here. We all know he’s a project and the weak offensive line could’ve gotten him injured.

Hackenberg played in a system at Penn State, unlike any NFL offense. The recruiting penalties left the school with minimal talent and as a result, he had plenty of issues building off his 2013 season. The loss of head coach Bill O’Brien wasn’t helpful either.

With all that said, New York should continue to keep Hackenberg stashed. If they don’t like the way Petty is progressing, they’d have their next man up. Maccagnan just has to make sure the new offensive coordinator’s scheme suits him.

Next: 5. Quarterback Bryce Petty

Dec 17, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty (9) throws a pass during warm ups before a game against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

5. Quarterback Bryce Petty

This guy has to be on the list. The Jets announced their plan to groom Petty and see what he was made of in the final four outings. He pretty much played in only two of them, so no one has a full assessment on him yet.

His sophomore campaign was obviously full of ups, downs, and surprises. He completed 56.4 percent of his passes for 809 yards, three touchdowns and seven interceptions in the six contests he played in. Those numbers aren’t what the coaching staff is looking for, but it’s all part of the process they must be patient with.

For the time being, Petty should be the team’s starter in 2017. Unless Maccagnan finds his long-term answer in round one of this year’s draft, they need to continue evaluating him. The quarterback position shouldn’t be a revolving door.

Next: 4. Linebacker Darron Lee

4. Linebacker Darron Lee

Head coach Todd Bowles‘ defense took a major step down in 2016, however, there are positives you can pull from this group. One of those positives is the production of Darron Lee. The Jets took the Ohio State Buckeye with their first round pick and it’s without a doubt paying off.

Lee racked up 73 tackles, three pass deflections, and a sack in his 13-game rookie season. That stat line is nothing short of incredible for his role in the defense and how crummy New York was. He does have to work on his coverage skills, but this is a huge first step.

If you’re a Jets fan, you have to be excited about Lee. The entire offseason will be dedicated to building the future and he’s already part of it. David Harris‘ replacement is in the house.

Next: 3. Wide Receiver Eric Decker

Sep 15, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker (87) jumps to make a catch while being defended by Buffalo Bills cornerback Ronald Darby (28) during the second half at New Era Field. The Jets beat the Bills 37 to 31. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

3. Wide Receiver Eric Decker

Eric Decker’s absence was a strong contribution to the struggles on that side of the football. The 29-year-old is Gang Green’s clear-cut No. 2 wideout and a big part of their 2015 success. Fitzpatrick and he were simply on a mission.

Decker had one of his best years catching 80 passes for 1,027 yards and 12 touchdowns. He had monster seasons in 2012 and 2013 in Denver, but those were with Peyton Manning. He proved in 2015 that he doesn’t need stardom at quarterback to perform well.

Maccagnan knows better than to dump one of the team’s best players. Cutting him would save $5.2M, although he’s well worth his $8.75M cap number. He deserves a raise because of how much they missed him.

Next: 2. Defensive End Muhammad Wilkerson

Oct 2, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) celebrates after a blocked pass in the second half at MetLife Stadium. Seattle Seahawks defeat the New York Jets 27-17. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

2. Defensive End Muhammad Wilkerson

Muhammad Wilkerson is the face of the franchise and one of the best in the business. He signed that five-year $86M deal in July for a reason. He struggled this past season posting 58 tackles and 4.5 sacks, however, he was bothered by the leg injury he suffered in Week 17 of last year.

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With Sheldon Richardson acting up both on and off the field, the Jets need Wilkerson to keep the unit stable. Richardson is the one who has to be traded. Trading Wilkerson would lose $9.3M towards their 2017 cap room anyway.

New York is extremely lucky to have this guy. He should be able to get after the quarterback and plug the run more effectively in 2017. There’s nothing like having a dynamic defensive lineman in your organization.

Next: 1. Defensive End Leonard Williams

Sep 15, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New York Jets defensive tackle Leonard Williams (92) before the game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

1. Defensive End Leonard Williams

Speaking of dynamic defensive linemen, Leonard Williams falls in that category. The 2015 sixth-overall pick has turned into one of the league’s youngest stars and Gang Green’s most prized player. He can play anywhere on the line and he brings it 24/7.

The USC Trojan had 68 tackles and seven sacks on the season. For a guy who plays in a 3-4 defense, seven sacks is quite the accomplishment. Steve McLendon was sidelined for several weeks with a hamstring injury and Williams filled the void sufficiently.

Next: Woody Johnson handling Todd Bowles correctly with Jets

Why would the Jets even think about getting rid of this dude? If Richardson gets traded and the quarterback situation is still a disaster, a long-term extension is well in the realm of possibility. Williams and Wilkerson are undisputedly the two pieces to build around.

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