Sep 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) reacts in the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals at MetLife Stadium. The Bengals defeated the Jets 23-22. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports
It’s clearly a rebuilding year for the New York Jets, but they still need a foundation with which to build upon. Here are the top five players that must shine in 2017 for that foundation to be successful.
The New York Jets are preparing for the upcoming season and Woody Johnson has said that the final record doesn’t necessarily make or break the Todd Bowles/Mike Maccagnan regime in New York. In fact, according to Newsday’s Bob Glauber, Johnson said this:
“I judge it by the progress of the individual players and as a team. That’s what I look for.”
He’s right. This season isn’t ultimately about the win-loss record, but it’s about how the players look together.
There are several players on this roster that need to step up their game in 2017. Some have a lot to prove, and others just need to take their games to another level.
Let’s look at the top five key players for the Jets that need to shine this upcoming season.
Next: 5. Jamal Adams
Apr 28, 2017; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets first round draft pick Jamal Adams speaks during a press conference at the Atlantic Health Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
5. Safety Jamal Adams
When Adams entered the 2017 NFL Draft one thing seemed to stick out in the analysis by scouts. In fact, it was the first thing listed on his strengths by NFL.com:
“Natural-born leader of men”
Safety is considered the quarterback of the defense, especially the secondary. The safety sets the tone and makes the defensive coverage calls.
The Jets need him to step up into that leadership role almost immediately. Adams will have to be a force against the run and an enforcer in the middle of the field.
Yes, he’s young, but he needs to step up into the leadership role so the Jets have something to build upon on defense. They need a sheriff patrolling the middle.
Next: 4. Morris Claiborne
Oct 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne (24) intercepts the ball during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium. The Dallas Cowboys won 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
4. Cornerback Morris Claiborne
The best ability in sports isn’t who can jump high, run fast, etc. The best ability is availability.
In the last four seasons, Claiborne has missed 32 games for the Cowboys. The Jets need him to be available for all 16 games this season.
Claiborne has the ability to take half of the field away without being a force in terms of interceptions. He’s aggressive at the line of scrimmage and can stay stride-for-stride with any receiver.
He’s a shutdown corner by any stretch of the imagination. He just needs to stay healthy and on the field.
Next: 3. Muhammad Wilkerson
3. Defensive End Muhammad Wilkerson
2015 was a banner year for Wilkerson. He had a career high in sacks with 12, and he added 11 tackles for loss.
He seemed to be very happy after the Jets rewarded him with a five-year/$86M contract. With that said, he needs to step up his game in 2017, because the Jets have an out in 2018.
Wilkerson needs to show that 2015 wasn’t a fluke because the Jets can cut him post June 1, 2018, and save themselves $17M and only cost themselves $6M in 2019 and $3M in 2020. The Jets played bad on defense as a whole, but if Wilkerson wants to keep his money, he better give the Jets a lot more in 2017 than he did in 2016.
He has the skills to do what he needs to do, and with the additional help on the backend, he should be able to be a force alongside Leonard Williams. That tandem can be special.
Next: 2. 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
2. Quarterback Bryce Petty
The Jets have been looking for the man at quarterback since Joe Namath departed. There’s been a hole in this organization at that position at what seems like an eternity.
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According to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, Bowles said this on what direction the Jets plan to go in at quarterback once training camp arrives:
“They’ll all get a chance to play and we’ll make that decision, going forward, when training camp starts as we see production from certain people.”
In reality, it’s probably Petty’s to lose, and someone else will take it. Petty needs to take the bull by the horns and announce his presence early. The Jets need a quarterback who has the arm to get their weapons the football in space and run while providing them with a deep threat down the sidelines.
Petty is that guy. He opens up so much for the offense with his incredible arm strength. Petty needs to step up and take the job that’s rightfully his.
Next: 1. Quincy Enunwa
Nov 27, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (81) reaches for the ball as New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler (21) defends during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
1. Wide Receiver Quincy Enunwa
Number one and two on this list actually go hand-in-hand, but Enunwa is number one because of the impact he can have on Petty. Enunwa has the third-most NFL experience on the receiving core.
Enunwa needs to be the sure-handed go-to guy for the Jets in 2017. He had only four drops on 105 targets in 2016.
Having a guy like that among young receivers could be the key to success on offense for the Jets. If Petty has a guy he can trust, it will make things that much better.
Enunwa is a possession receiver, and he can help Petty build his confidence as a quarterback. He is the linchpin for this offense.