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A way too early 53-man roster prediction

Oct 23, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (81) runs for a touchdown after catching a pass from Geno Smith (not shown) during the first half of their game against the Baltimore Ravens at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 23, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (81) runs for a touchdown after catching a pass from Geno Smith (not shown) during the first half of their game against the Baltimore Ravens at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
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new york jets
new york jets

Oct 23, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (81) runs for a touchdown after catching a pass from Geno Smith (not shown) during the first half of their game against the Baltimore Ravens at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Jets have an intriguing training camp and preseason ahead given their youth. With that being said, their 53-man roster could be full of surprises.

The month of June is officially here which means OTA workouts are underway. Teams across the NFL are getting a feel for themselves on the field and rosters are essentially set in stone until August. One of those teams learning more about themselves is the New York Jets.

After a surprising 10-6 campaign in 2015, nothing has gone right for Todd Bowles‘ group as they have quickly fallen back into rebuilding mode. This year’s roster is by no means terrible, although it’s nowhere near as strong as it was two years ago.

The big difference is general manager Mike Maccagnan’s willingness to blow the team up and build through the draft. Guys in the 2017 NFL Draft class like Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye and ArDarius Stewart can earn immediate snaps and perhaps make an impact down the road. It’s obvious that Maccagnan is more worried about the future than right now.

Despite that being the case, he does have important decisions to make in the coming months. Which players does he keep and which players get cut? Let’s try to figure out those answers in an early 53-man roster prediction for the Jets.

Next: Quarterbacks

new york jets
new york jets

May 23, 2017; Florham Park, NY, USA; New York Jets quarterbacks Josh McCown (15), Christian Hackenberg (5) and Bryce Petty (9) run during organized team activities at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterbacks (3): Josh McCown, Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg

It’s not difficult to figure out who the Jets are keeping at quarterback. They have just three on the roster, so all of them will stay put. Long-time veteran Josh McCown is the new face who will mentor Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. New York is his seventh team with the other six being Arizona, Oakland, Carolina, Chicago, Tampa Bay and Cleveland.

Petty, on the other hand, is coming off season-ending surgery to repair an injury he suffered in Week 16. The Baylor product ended 2016 with 809 yards, three touchdowns and seven interceptions on a 56.4 percent completion percentage. Those aren’t the numbers the coaching staff was looking for in year one. He has all of training camp and the preseason to rebound, but he faces a steep slope.

The quarterback facing the biggest uphill battle is Hackenberg. The 2016 second-round selection was so raw to the point where he couldn’t even get his feet wet in his rookie season. However, things do seem different in 2017 because multiple sources say he’s improving. We’ll see how true those reports are throughout the summer.

Next: Running Backs

Dec 17, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets running back Bilal Powell (29) runs the ball against Miami Dolphins cornerback Bobby McCain (28) during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Running backs (3): Matt Forte, Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire

Gang Green’s backfield is without question the heart and soul of their offense. A mess at quarterback and the departure of Brandon Marshall leaves offensive coordinator John Morton little to work with in the passing game. This will certainly put a huge monkey on the shoulders of Matt Forte and another one on Bilal Powell’s.

What gives the two a chance to keep New York’s offense afloat is their versatility. Both backs are productive on the ground and through the air. Forte finished last season rushing for 813 yards and seven touchdowns along with 263 receiving yards and one touchdown. Powell had 722 rushing yards and three touchdowns with 388 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Sixth-round pick Elijah McGuire will add depth to the group and keep the two-headed monster fresh. Like Forte and Powell, he can run and catch the football effectively. He brings more to the table than Brandon Wilds and Romar Morris, which slots him in third on the depth chart. Is he going to be a factor as a rookie? Probably not, although he’s a sure bet to make the team barring injury.

Next: Wide Receivers

Oct 23, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (81) runs for a touchdown after catching a pass from Geno Smith (not shown) during the first half of their game against the Baltimore Ravens at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Wide receivers (7): Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson, ArDarius Stewart, Chad Hansen, Chris Harper, Charone Peake, Devin Street

Cover your eyes. Eric Decker is gone, so the receiving core projects to be one of New York’s worst units in 2017. It also projects to be an interesting one to watch throughout the offseason. The Jets currently have 13 wideouts and at the most seven spots to fill. This puts a great deal of pressure on Maccagnan to pick the right guys when you consider the help the starting quarterback will need.

The locks to make the final 53 are Quincy Enunwa, Stewart, and Chad Hansen. Enunwa holds the most value while Stewart and Hansen were just drafted. The other four spots are up for grabs. Robby Anderson was a diamond in the rough last year, so it’d be surprising to see him go even after his May arrest. Charone Peake has enough talent to stick around and Chris Harper should temporarily replace the suspended Jalin Marshall on special teams.

That seventh spot, if there is one, will be the center of attention. Myles White, Gabe Marks, Deshon Foxx, Frankie Hammond and KD Cannon don’t have enough game experience to be kept. The recently signed Devin Street will be the last guy unless Cannon flashes some of the potential he had leading up to the draft.

Next: Tight Ends

new york jets
new york jets

December 31, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Clemson Tigers tight end Jordan Leggett (16) against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2016 CFP semifinal at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Tight ends (3): Jordan Leggett, Eric Tomlinson, Brian Parker

If we’re talking about New York’s biggest weakness, it has to be the tight end position. The position totaled no touchdowns in 2016 and the same can easily happen again. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is the lone talent in the group and he’s serving a two-week suspension, putting fifth-rounder Jordan Leggett at the top of the depth chart. Morton would be hard pressed to ask a lot of the rookie in the first few contests.

This leaves everyone wondering who else could step up. The real question should be who else can make the roster. Eric Tomlinson spent time with Philadelphia and Houston before joining the Jets last year. He played 135 snaps, 118 of which were for blocking purposes, so he could return in 2017 to play that role. The other three tight ends have minimal experience.

Brian Parker has one career reception and it was with Kansas City in November of 2015. He originally signed with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent that offseason. Youngsters Jason Vander Laan and Anthony Firkser are on the outside looking in. If Maccagnan really wanted to, he could keep only two tight ends because of how weak the position is. Three is the more likely outcome though.

Next: Offensive Line

Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Jets guard James Carpenter (77) and guard Brian Winters (67) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Jets 28-3. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive line (8): Kelvin Beachum, James Carpenter, Wesley Johnson, Brian Winters, Ben Ijalana, Brandon Shell, Dakota Dozier, Brent Qvale

The offensive line is one of the easier units to predict. Eight is the perfect number to keep and their best guys stand out clearly. James Carpenter and Brian Winters performed like two of the best guards in football in 2016, so you can put the mortgage on them to crack the final 53. At tackle, the newly acquired Kelvin Beachum and the re-signed Ben Ijalana project to be the starters. Wesley Johnson will replace Nick Mangold at center.

Sophomore Brandon Shell is coming off an underrated year in which he took over at right tackle in the last four weeks. He played 204 snaps and earned a 79.9 grade on Pro Football Focus. Dakota Dozier had a similar conclusion to the season. He saw a total of 144 snaps and earned a 74.5 grade on PFF. Brent Qvale is another backup who produced in the small amount of playing time he received. He earned a 66 grade in 347 snaps.

Many may be asking what about Jonotthan Harrison? Well, he played 453 snaps with Indianapolis in 2016 and struggled mightily. PFF gave him a 41.8 overall grade, a 35.1 in pass blocking and a 50 in run blocking. Those grades won’t help your case. Jeff Adams, Javarius Leamon, Craig Watts, Ben Braden, Chris Bordelon and Alex Balducci make up the rest of the offensive line. Their goal should be to make the practice squad in this crowded bunch.

Next: Defensive Line

May 23, 2017; Florham Park, NY, USA; New York Jets nose tackle Leonard Williams (92) stretches during their organized team activities at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive line (6): Leonard Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Steve McLendon, Deon Simon, Mike Pennel

Ah, the unit that has been Gang Green’s rock since 2013. I assume Maccagnan will keep six here. Four are obvious picks to make the team with the other two up for grabs. You won’t find many trios better than Leonard Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Sheldon Richardson. Yes, none of them can play nose tackle and Richardson has his off-the-field issues, but it doesn’t slow the group down.

Steve McLendon is New York’s plug in the middle. He fought injury and played in only 11 games last year, however, he set a career-high in sacks with 3.5. Imagine what he could’ve given the defense in a full 16 games. Since his age and health are a factor, Deon Simon has to be the main candidate to back him up in 2017. He saw 204 snaps last season and became one of the Jets’ best run stuffers, earning a 74.8 grade in that department on PFF.

You can expect Mike Pennel, Lawrence Thomas, Anthony Johnson, Claude Pelon, Patrick Gamble and Brandin Bryant to battle it out for the sixth spot. Pennel should be considered the favorite with Thomas and Johnson as his competition. Pelon and Bryant have a mere one year under their belt while Gamble is an undrafted free agent. Gamble should be looked at as the dark horse because he had fifth-round grades from many scouts across the league.

Next: Outside Linebacker

Oct 30, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; New York Jets outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin (55) makes a diving interception during the second half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Jets won 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Outside linebacker (5): Lorenzo Mauldin, Jordan Jenkins, Julian Stanford, Corey Lemonier, Dylan Donahue

The Jets have a plethora of eight pass rushers competing for what will most likely be five spots. Lorenzo Mauldin and Jordan Jenkins are without question going to be the two starters. Mauldin was taken in the third round in 2015 and Jenkins went in the third in 2016. They combined for just five sacks last season, although they’re expecting a huge rebound in 2017 under a heavy workload.

Julian Stanford and Corey Lemonier are two of the more experienced outside linebackers on the roster. Stanford played for Jacksonville and Detroit prior to signing with New York last offseason. Lemonier spent three years with the 49ers and half of 2016 with the Browns before joining the Jets in December. They both fit Bowles’ system and set examples for the youngsters.

Fifth-round selection Dylan Donahue will make the team by default. No general manager would cut a player they just took in the middle of the draft. This means Freddie Bishop, Josh Martin, and Frank Beltre are competing with Stanford and Lemonier for those two spots. It could go in a variety of ways, but I have to give the edge to the two veterans because of the scheme fit and their capabilities as locker room guys/mentors.

Next: Inside Linebacker

Inside linebacker (4): Darron LeeDemario Davis, Bruce Carter, Connor Harris

Inside linebacker was another position that took a blow with the releasing of David Harris. The group is now left with Darron Lee and Demario Davis as their starters, which actually isn’t too big of a drop-off. Davis was acquired in a trade that sent Calvin Pryor to Cleveland. In his time with the Jets from 2012-15, he racked up 349 tackles in a full 64 games. Lee looks to bounce back from a below-average rookie campaign.

Bruce Carter was brought back in the beginning of May and he’ll most likely remain on the roster throughout the season. The veteran was one of New York’s best special teamers and experienced players in the unit last year. He’s now the oldest inside linebacker they have at 29. Maccagnan has no other choice but to hold onto him when you look at the lack of depth at the position.

What fans do have a reason to be excited about is undrafted free agent Connor Harris. He’s only 6’0,” 235 lbs., however, he can provide a team with uber production. The Lindenwood Lion played snaps on special teams, defense and he even carried the ball at the goal line. He’s certainly more appealing than Randell Johnson who failed to see the field in 2016. Spencer Paysinger may be too late to the party to find a spot.

Next: Cornerbacks

Oct 23, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets cornerback Marcus Williams (20) breaks up a pass intended for Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Chris Moore (10) during the second half at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Ravens 24-16. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Cornerbacks (6): Morris Claiborne, Marcus Williams, Buster Skrine, Juston Burris, Darryl RobertsDerrick Jones

Cornerback is an area many expected Maccagan to blow up more than he did. He, of course, cut Darrelle Revis who became a shell of himself in 2016, but that’s really it. Morris Claiborne will do his best to fill his shoes, which shouldn’t be hard if we’re looking at last season. Marcus Williams unsurprisingly stayed put and so did Buster Skrine, who may be on his final strike.

Juston Burris is in line to make the roster after an encouraging rookie year. PFF gave him a 71 overall grade in the 188 snaps he played. You can expect him to chip in at CB2 with Williams. Darryl Roberts was one of the Jets’ unsung heroes in 2016. He believe it or not saw 286 snaps and gave Gang Green plenty of help against the run. Although, he did struggle in coverage, largely due in part to being thrown to the wolves in the banged up secondary.

Now the question is how many corners does Maccagnan take? I’m thinking six, but it could become seven. Derrick Jones should make the team since he was drafted a month ago. Jeremy Clark is destined to begin the season on the PUP list, so Maccagnan may opt to wait for his return before bringing the unit to seven. If he doesn’t want to wait, a guy like Xavier Coleman can make the cut over the always-injured Dexter McDougle.

Next: Safeties

May 23, 2017; Florham Park, NY, USA; New York Jets safety Jamal Adams (33) runs a drill during their organized team activities at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Safeties (5): Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, Rontez Miles, Ronald MartinDoug Middleton

The Jets are now talented at safety, however, it’s still a work in progress. It’ll take time for Adams and Maye to become that tandem they’re supposed to be. The decision to move Pryor only helps because it speeds up their progression. What also helps the rookies is the lack of quality depth at the position. It does hurt the unit as a whole though.

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Take Rontez Miles for example. Yes, he brings his lunch pail on defense and special teams, but is he someone to lean on consistently?

The same can be asked about Ronald Martin. The LSU product is an in-the-box safety who can be a pure thumper every now and then. It’s a matter of whether these players can be relied on weekly or not.

What additionally has to be pondered is if Maccagnan keeps five safeties or not. If he doesn’t keep five, then he’ll more likely than not keep seven corners. I do think he’ll keep five, which is why I have Doug Middleton making the final 53. He can be a factor backing up Maye at free safety since he’s the lone guy with experience at that spot. Just like at corner, it all depends on how many Maccagnan keeps.

Next: Special Teams

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

Special Teams (3): Chandler Catanzaro, Lachlan Edwards, Tanner Purdum

New York’s special teams won’t look too different from 2016’s. Long snapper Tanner Purdum was brought back on a one-year deal. He’s the last remaining member of the 2010-11 AFC Championship runner-up team after the Harris release. He has spent the past seven seasons in green and white for a reason.

The ever so reliable Nick Folk was cut at the beginning of the offseason and it saved the team just north of $3M. He was replaced by Chandler Catanzaro. The Clemson graduate spent three years with Arizona and as a result, he kicked in several playoff games. The Jets can use all of the postseason experience they can get. It’s sometimes tough to trust Catanzaro even on chip shots, although he has a boot and that’s important when you’re kicking in the Meadowlands.

Must Read: Early expectations for 2017 NFL Draft class of the Jets

Punter Lachlan Edwards is in solid shape to make the roster despite his rough rookie campaign. The Australian shanked a number of punts and muffed a snap that was recovered by the Ravens for a touchdown. He can’t make bonehead plays like that if he wants to stick around any longer. He went in the seventh round of last year’s draft, so it’s hard to see Maccagnan searching elsewhere this soon.

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