Dec 17, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty (9) looks to pass against the Miami Dolphins during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Jets have many starting spots to fill, and almost all of them are up for grabs going into 2017. Here are some early predictions at who will start at every position on the team.
The coaching staff of the New York Jets has big decisions to make for 2017. Their jobs are on the line this season, despite what Woody Johnson told Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk in January:
I don’t really like mandates because they normally don’t work – lines in the sand or whatever. You don’t want to judge it that way. The way we’ll judge it is getting better each and every year, and seeing it in our players, our young players – are they getting better or are they going the other way.
The first piece of the puzzle in getting the starters in place. They will set the tone for the games. The Jets started many games on the wrong foot in 2016. That set them back considerably, and they couldn’t dig themselves out.
The culture of winning isn’t just about gritting it out when behind. It’s about establishing an identity and using it to your advantage from the first snap to the last.
The coaches’ jobs are to put the team in the best position to win. Frankly, they didn’t do that in 2016. There are currently 91 players on the Jets roster, including their unsigned draft picks. They must trim their roster to 75 by August 30 and 53 by September 3.
Of those 53, 26 will be starters on offense and defense. Let’s see who will make the cut. Also, please note, this list will represent the starters for most of the season, not the ones who will start on opening Sunday.
December 11, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty (9) during the third quarter 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
Quarterback: Bryce Petty
Despite the fact that the team has declared there will be a true quarterback competition, it feels like Josh McCown has no chance of becoming the starter. The team was built for a quarterback with a strong arm, and one that can attack all three levels of the defense despite small windows.
The Jets made a huge mistake re-signing Ryan Fitzpatrick, and in doing so, set the organization back. Petty has the arm strength and the accuracy to attack the defense on all three levels.
He also has dangerous legs and can become a running threat, if necessary. That will also open up some receivers as well.
Petty has the skills to be an NFL quarterback. He just needs a full season to prove he’s capable of doing it under the pressure of real games.
Next: Running Back
Jan 1, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets running back Bilal Powell (29) runs the ball against the Buffalo Bills during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Running Back: Bilal Powell
Powell turns 29-years-old on October 27, and despite this, there’s not a lot of tread on his tires. The most the Jets have used him is 58.8 percent of the snaps in 2012, and the highest number of carries he’s had is 176 in 2013.
It’s okay for the Jets to go with running back by committee in 2017, but Powell must start and get the bulk of the snaps. Having a weapon like Powell with a young quarterback is essential to the growth of the quarterback.
Powell can run up to middle and on the outside. He also provides a young quarterback with a good security blanket out of the backfield.
It’s time for Powell to break of his shell. Matt Forte isn’t the answer because he’s too old and brittle.
Next: Wide Receiver
Jan 1, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (81) celebrates his first down against the Buffalo Bills in the 4th quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
Wide Receiver: Quincy Enunwa
When the Jets have been at their best, they’ve had a big (for the time) wide receiver who’s reliable on one side of the line of scrimmage. In the 60s, George Sauer was that guy; the 80s belonged to Wesley Walker; Keyshawn Johnson was the man in the 90s; and in 2010 and 2011 the mantle belonged to two players, Braylon Edwards and Plaxico Burress.
In 2017, Enunwa is that guy, because of his size, he can break tackles, block and do all the little things. In addition, he has some speed.
Having a go-to-guy at receiver is key to the success of a young quarterback. So, Enunwa will have to work on one major issue from 2016, 12 dropped passes.
Enunwa was the beneficiary of 26 percent of the wide receiver targets in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus. That number probably won’t go down in 2017.
Next: Tight End
Dec 11, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; New York Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (88) carries the ball ahead of San Francisco 49ers strong safety Antoine Bethea (41) during the fourth quarter at Levi’s Stadium. The New York Jets defeated the San Francisco 49ers 23-17. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Tight End: Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Seferian-Jenkins won’t start on opening Sunday because as reported by Gary Phillips of Jets Wire, he was suspended for the first two games of the season. However, he will be a regular starter once he returns.
Seferian-Jenkins is a quality blocker and can catch the football. He has a career catch rate of 56.7 percent and a drop rate of 8.2 percent. Having Seferian-Jenkins will give Petty another security blanket.
He can also help in the running game, which is a plus. The Jets currently do not have a fullback on their roster, and that means they will have to rely on tight ends to block.
He can also stay in-line when they use Jordan Leggett in the slot. This team is now more versatile than ever before thanks to a much-improved tight end situation.
Next: Left Tackle
Nov 27, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) drops to pass as Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander (57) rushes and tackle Kelvin Beachum (68) blocks during the first quarter at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Left Tackle: Kelvin Beachum
It’s safe to say that the Ben Ijalana experiment is over, otherwise, the Jets wouldn’t have signed Beachum. That doesn’t mean Ijalana won’t play on the line, just not at left tackle.
They need to find a stable left tackle because unlike what most people think, left tackle is the most important position on offense. The left tackle protects the blind side of the quarterback (if he’s right handed, and most are), and the left tackle holds off the rush the quarterback can’t see coming.
Protecting that allows the quarterback to get the football off and protect strip fumbles while the quarterback is loading up to throw the ball. So, while the quarterback is the most important position on the field, the left tackle is most important to him, and thus, the most important player on offense.
Beachum needs to stay healthy, but the Jets paid him $8M annually for the next three season. So, he probably will start.
Next: Left Guard
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
Left Guard: James Carpenter
According to Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus:
The one bright spot on this line was the play of LG James Carpenter
PFF gave Carpenter an overall grade of 83.0, a pass blocking grade of 88.1, and a run blocking grade of 76.1. Those grades ranked him in the top 30 in the NFL in all three categories, top 20 in overall and top 10 in pass blocking.
There’s no doubt he was the best offensive lineman for the Jets in 2016, and he will be close to that in 2017. The Jets need him to be at his best as the rest of the line is transitioning.
Carpenter is only 28-years-old, which means he could have plenty of good years ahead of him. He could be a staple at left guard for years.
Oct 30, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; New York Jets offensive guard Wesley Johnson (76) during the second half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Jets won 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Center: Wesley Johnson
The center position is actually the easiest one to predict, because Johnson is the only player listed on the official Jets roster page as a center. That said, there is one other player on the roster with experience at center, Jonotthan Harrison.
Harrison may give Johnson a run for his money in training camp, but he will be more useful to this team on the bench due to his versatility. Based on the assessment of Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus:
One game against the hapless 49ers aside, C Wesley Johnson struggled in relief of Nick Mangold
At 26 years-old, though, he may have been just too inexperienced to step into that role. It was a seamless transition from Mawae to Mangold, and it may just take some time for Johnson to become the center he’s capable of.
Johnson will be one of the players that owner Woody Johnson is looking to show growth. He will and the Jets offense will show it.
Next: Right Guard
Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Jets guard Dakota Dozier (70) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Right Guard: Dakota Dozier
According to the final assessment of his NFL.com draft profile, Dozier has so far lived up to his potential:
A tough, gritty, road grader capable of paving the way in the run game, Dozier will require some technique refinement in pass protection, yet possesses clear starter potential with continued development.
Dozier has now proven the scouts right in their assessment, and he will start for the Jets in 2017. He will help the Jets in the running game and keep Petty clean in the passing game.
The Jets are trying to build toward the future and Dozier will be the building block of a solid offensive line on the inside. Much like baseball, the middle of the football field is very important to the success of the team.
There’s no doubt Dozier can have a good career. 2017 will just be the beginning.
Next: Right Tackle
Dec 11, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; New York Jets tackle Ben Ijalana (71) celebrates with kicker Nick Folk (2) and punter Lac Edwards (4) after Folk’s field goal against the San Francisco 49ers during the fourth quarter at Levi’s Stadium. The New York Jets defeated the San Francisco 49ers 23-17. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Right Tackle: Ben Ijalana
Even though he played left tackle for Villanova, it seems like Ijalana was over-matched at the left tackle position. With a young quarterback, the Jets can’t take the chance of damaging their psyche, and the move to the right side will be prudent.
Ijalana can play tackle because he has decent footwork. However, he belongs on the right side, because he gets beat enough to warrant the move.
The former second-round pick has some skills that need to show up on Sundays. Otherwise, he won’t play past 2017.
For now, he’s the starting left tackle. However, his leash will be short.
Next: Tight End
Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers tight end Jordan Leggett (16) runs the ball during the third quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Tight End: Jordan Leggett
Yes, the Jets will be running their base offense out of two tight end sets. The Jets don’t have a fullback on their roster, and Chan Gailey is gone.
That means they will run quite a few 12 personnel (1 back, two tight ends). Leggett was drafted primarily for pass catching and his run after the catch ability, but he does have limited ability in blocking, which can improve on this level.
The Jets as a team only had 1,653 yards after the catch last season. Their tight ends gave them a grand total of zero touchdowns in 2016.
Leggett gave Clemson 15 touchdowns, and that means the Jets could see the end zone a lot more in 2017. Expect him to be a factor early and often.
Next: Wide Receiver
Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver ArDarius Stewart (13) runs past Clemson Tigers linebacker Kendall Joseph (34) in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Wide Receiver: ArDarius Stewart
The situation with Robby Anderson is fluid, and will likely lead him to be cut if there are truth to the allegations. Either way, the Jets want to rebuild the right way, which means more reps to their other younger wide receivers that have potential to make big plays.
Stewart is a complete wide receiver. He can burn you deep with speed, and he has run after the catch ability also.
He is also as tough as nails. He can block on the perimeter opening the outside for the Jets running backs.
Stewart is the perfect complement to Enunwa. The Jets will now have two wide receivers that can block, so running to the outside shouldn’t be a problem.
Next: Defensive End
Defensive End: Muhammad Wilkerson
The Jets will likely move their defensive linemen all around. With that said, Wilkerson will likely play closer to where a 4-3 defensive tackle would play in the 4i (off the inside shoulder of the tackle) technique because of his combination of size and athleticism.
This also would be a good strategy for the Jets, because it’ll open one-on-one opportunities for the outside linebacker on that side to be one-on-one. You always want the more athletic player lined up against the tackle to create mismatches.
Wilkerson will either get double-teamed, and if that happens the outside linebacker is lined up against the tight end, or single-teamed, in which case, most likely he will be lined up against a guard. It will be a matchup nightmare.
As long as the backend of the Jets’ defense holds up, the matchups will favor the Jets in the long-run. That may help lead to wins.
Next: Nose Tackle
Jan 1, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive tackle Deon Simon (93) tackles Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel (3) after he scrambles during the 2nd quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
Nose Tackle: Deon Simon
When you play a 3-4 defense, you don’t need a defensive tackle who can get sacks, but they’re a plus. You need a space eater who can get off blocks and stop the run.
At 6’4, 332 lbs., Simon is the space eater the Jets need. Simon will eat up blocks so the defensive ends and outside linebackers can get to the quarterback on passing downs, and so the inside linebackers can more easily stop the run.
He will likely be double-teamed by the center and guard, which will open things up for the others on the line. Simon won’t light up the stat sheet, but he will do his job.
When he does his job well, you will see the inside linebackers pile up tackles. He’s the perfect fit for a nose tackle in the Jets 3-4 scheme.
Next: Defensive End
Dec 5, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) is sacked by New York Jets defensive tackle Leonard Williams (92) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Defensive End: Leonard Williams
This is where the Jets should take the young ascending player over the veteran with the big contract. The Jets are locked into Sheldon Richardson’s contract, but that doesn’t mean they should compound the problem by starting him.
Williams was a bright spot on an otherwise bad defense. He definitely is on the rise, and the Jets should do nothing to hinder his ascent to where he can be.
After starting in 15 of the Jets 16 games in 2015 and recording three sacks and seven tackles for loss, he started in all 16 in 2016. He finished the season with two forced fumbles, seven sacks, and 11 tackles for loss.
Richardson is trouble in the locker room, and there’s no need for a guy to start who should be there beyond 2017. Let Williams start and continue to wreck the league.
Next: Outside Linebacker
Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Jets linebacker Darron Lee (50) tackles Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Outside Linebacker: Darron Lee
One of the biggest mistakes the Jets made was to move Lee from his more natural position of outside linebacker to the inside. Even though the NFL is trending toward more athletic inside linebackers like Lee, his size (6’1”, 232 lbs.) and build aren’t conducive to the matchup against NFL guards.
The injury he suffered caused him to miss some crucial time during his rookie campaign. There was no need for the move at that time.
Lee would be more effective as an outside linebacker, as he would be able to use his speed and athleticism to beat tackles and tight ends. He would be freer to stop the run.
He would also help the pass defense by having someone faster and more athletic get to the quarterback from the outside rather than not being able to get off blocks of guards. Lee would flourish in that role.
Next: Inside Linebacker
Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Jets linebacker Bruce Carter (54) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Inside Linebacker: Bruce Carter
The writing is on the wall that David Harris’s days are numbered in green and white. Similarly to Richardson, but for completely different reasons, it’s time to cut his playing time down.
When he was in Dallas, Carter was a tackling machine. When the Cowboys gave him an opportunity to play, he recorded 70 tackles in 2012, 96 tackles in 2013, and 80 tackles in 2014.
With the front they have on the Jets, there’s no doubt he can wreak havoc on run defense, and slow down the Jets opponents. Alongside the other linebackers, he can be a force in the passing game.
He’s very similar to Harris, in that, he will do his job and be a leader on the field in that way. They don’t necessarily need him to get sacks, but he can.
Next: Inside Linebacker
Aug 27, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin (55) tackels New York Giants running back Orleans Darkwa (26) in the 2nd half at MetLife Stadium. New York Giants defeat the New York Jets 21-20. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports
Inside Linebacker: Lorenzo Mauldin
Mauldin has the perfect combination of size and speed to be a matchup problem for guards. The big difference between him and Lee is that he has the strength to fend off the blocks.
Mauldin has only four starts in his NFL career. With that said, he’s played 607 snaps in his career, which is 29.06 percent of the Jets defensive snaps in that time.
In those snaps, Mauldin has two passes defended, one interception and 6.5 sacks. That’s decent production given the fact that he has only four starts and 607 plays.
If you put him in the middle of the Jets current defense, with the pass rushers and coverage personnel they have, he can be even more productive. That defense can allow Mauldin to be at his best.
Next: Outside Linebacker
December 11, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; New York Jets outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins (48) during the first quarter 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
Outside Linebacker: Jordan Jenkins
Imagine this pass rush team: Lee, Jenkins, Wilkerson, and Williams. You’d think you’re playing fantasy football, but that’s what the Jets actually have.
With that team, they have a player who has already produced multiple double-digit sack seasons, one guy who had seven sacks last season, and two young and hungry linebackers who could produce 10+ combined. The Jets are always at their best when the team is recording sacks.
Jenkins has the ability to stop the run, but more importantly, attack the quarterback in the passing game. He will need the defensive backfield to do their jobs and cover long enough, but he has the talent to play outside linebacker.
Jenkins will benefit from playing behind either Wilkerson or Leonard because that will give him enough one-on-one opportunities. This will help him in the long-run.
Jan 15, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Jared Cook (89) catches a pass against Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne (24) and strong safety Barry Church (42) during the third quarter in the NFC Divisional playoff game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Cornerback: Morris Claiborne
Claiborne is the epitome of a cover corner without the interceptions. It’s not necessarily about interceptions for him, because he locks down his man, and doesn’t allow his man to get the football.
Interceptions are nice and flashy, but allowing a low completion percentage and not allowing targeted footballs to get to your man are just as good. It prevents opponents from moving the chains.
The only issue with Claiborne is health. In his NFL career, he’s already missed 33 games, and that’s 41.25 percent of the potential games he could’ve played in.
They need him to stay healthy and lock down half of th field, because he’s going to play opposite of a player who hasn’t started much in his career. Availability is the greatest ability, and it’s crucial for this defense.
Safety: Jamal Adams
The biggest thing that sticks out about Adams in his NFL.com draft profile is this:
Natural-born leader of men
It was the first thing listed on the profile. Adams will become a leader in this locker room quickly, both vocally and in his play.
The only thing that he needs to calm down in his game is his aggressiveness because pro quarterbacks will eat him alive if he consistently bites on the play fake. Otherwise, his game is great.
He will play downhill against the run and step into the lane to take passes away. He will also attack screen passes with vigor to keep the yardage limited or even break up those passes.
Having a coverage guy like this in the backfield helps the front seven get home. That will lead to hurried passes and pass breakups and/or interceptions.
May 5, 2017; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets safety Marcus Maye (26) during New York Jets mini rookie camp at Jets Atlantic Health Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Safety: Marcus Maye
To borrow a blackjack term, the Jets doubled down on the safety position with their first two draft picks, and it’s easy to see why. While they are both young, they’re both going to start.
The fact that both players can play either safety position and either single high or two deep zones are key to the success of the Jets defense. They both are great players in the box, so that will also help disguise coverages for the Jets.
Maye isn’t as aggressive to stop the run as his counterpart in the defensive backfield with the green and white. So, that will help the back four in the long-run.
His ability to cover alongside Adams will help the defensive front get sacks or at least cause timing issues. He will make his presence known early and often, which will keep the Jets in games.
Sep 15, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New York Jets cornerback Marcus Williams (20) intercepts a pass intended for Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) during the second half at New Era Field. The Jets beat the Bills 37-31. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Cornerback: Marcus Williams
Williams was sitting on top of the world going into 2016. He had a breakout season in 2015 with six interceptions, but last year he regressed. The Jets moved him all over, and it’s clear he wasn’t comfortable moving from one side to the other.
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According to Eliot Crist of Pro Football Focus, when he played right cornerback, he allowed a passer rating of 71.5 when he was the primary defender, but his overall numbers weren’t that good. He allowed a passer rating of 118.3, was one of six corners to allow a touchdown on 10+ percent of his coverage and allowed 7.97 yards after catch per reception in 2016.
He’s definitely more comfortable at playing on the right side, and Claiborne is more comfortable at playing on the left, as 90.5 percent of his plays came on the left side. So, their pairing works out perfectly. It seems like the Jets will have a good defensive backfield and one that’s formidable.
Teams may have a tough time passing on this defense, and that bodes well for them. That ability will keep them in games, and it may help them win a game or two.
Jan 1, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Arizona Cardinals placekicker Chandler Catanzaro (7) attempts a field goal as punter Matt Wile (6) holds the ball during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Kicker: Chandler Catanzaro
Ross Martin couldn’t beat out Nick Folk for the job last season, and it looks like he won’t be able to beat out another veteran. Catanzaro has scored 357 points in his brief three-year career. That’s around seven points per game, and he’s made 89.75 of all of his field goals and extra points.
Of his 14 career missed field goals, 10 have come from 40+ yards. He’s been almost money from 39 yards and in.
For Martin, it’s tough luck running into another solid veteran. Catanzaro will give the Jets kicking game some stability, though, which it hasn’t had with Folk.
The Jets finally have a kicker they can trust. Now, their special teams unit can start to give the Jets some points too.
Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Jets punter Lachlan Edwards (4) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Jets 28-3. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Punter: Lachlan Edwards
This position belongs to Edwards because there are no other punters on the roster. With that said, he needs a lot of improvement on his 2016 rookie campaign.
The key to punting in the NFL is pinning teams back and not allowing them to return punts. His overall punt average was 37.3 yards with 24 punts inside the 20-yard line.
He had some decent hang time forcing 22 fair catches, which ranked him tied for 11th in the NFL, and he only had four touchbacks. There was one glaring stat, though.
He was one of only six punters to allow a punt to be blocked, though. He showed some signs of being a good NFL punter, but he needs work to get into the elite.
Next: Kick/Punt Returner
Nov 14, 2015; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange wide receiver Brisly Estime (9) avoids a tackle by Clemson Tigers cornerback Adrian Baker (21) during the fourth quarter of a game at the Carrier Dome. Clemson won 37-27. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Kick/Punt Returner: Brisly Estime
There’s a special art to returning kicks and punts. It’s not just about speed and burning by the defenders.
That’s why you should have an experienced return man on your roster. When the undrafted free agents were signed, the Jets targeted Estime just for that reason.
According to Spotrac, the Jets signed Estime to a three-year deal worth $1.67M. The thing that stood out the most was that he had 40 kickoff returns and 31 punt returns as a junior and senior with the Orange.
In his college career, he averaged 20.3 yards per kickoff return and 18 yards per punt return and scored two touchdowns. Estime’s ability to find the hole and run through it will earn him a spot as the return specialist for the Jets in 2017.