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Top 5 players to keep an eye on in 2017

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
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
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new york jets
new york jets

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

The New York Jets will indeed have a rough season in 2017 but here are the top five players to keep an eye on.

In what will likely be the New York Jets second consecutive losing season and their seventh straight season without qualifying for the NFL Playoffs, fans need a reason to tune in every week. The Jets will be lucky to win a handful of football games but there are a few talented players that should make the season somewhat tolerable.

It’s all about ushering in a youth movement and builds towards the future. There will be growing pains and it won’t be easy but at the end of the day, the Jets are doing the right thing in getting rid of overpaid and unproductive veterans and giving younger players valuable regular season experience.

Without further ado, here are the top five players Jets fans should have their eye throughout the rebuilding year.

Next: 5. Safety Jamal Adams

new york jets
new york jets

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

5. Safety Jamal Adams

The Jets certainly needed an injection of youth in their secondary after they were seemingly torched every week last season for big plays and touchdowns, so the chances were high that their first round picks in this year’s draft would be either a cornerback or safety. The options included two Ohio State Buckeyes in cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Malik Hooker, and of course Jamal Adams whom they ended up pulling the trigger on.

The Jets were incredibly happy and surprised when the 6’0 foot 214-pound star out of LSU was still on the board when they picked at No. 6 and wasted no time when making the decision to make him the foundation of their long-term plan.

With veteran leaders such as David Harris, Eric Decker, Brandon Marshall, and Darrelle Revis no longer in the fold, the Jets are expecting Adams, who was a captain at LSU to be a voice in the locker room and fill the leadership void that has been leftover. Being an immediate starter as a rookie is a lot to ask in and of its own, and also asking Adams to be one the team’s main leaders, especially on defense, means his plate will be full, but the early reports are that Adams is a humble kid who can handle a lot, and never backs down from a challenge.

There were some draft experts, and scouts who thought Adams was the second best player in the draft behind outside linebacker Myles Garrett of Texas A & M, so landing him at No. 6 could turn out to be a real steal for the Jets. Remember, it was during the 2015 NFL Draft in Mike Maccagnan’s first year as general manager when he made one of his first big splashes by selecting Leonard Williams with the 6th overall pick, who many believed was the most talented overall player in that year’s class.

During his first two years in the league, Williams has cemented himself as a cornerstone player along the defensive line, and if the Jets get lucky, Adams could be another franchise player that the Jets were fortunate enough to have fallen into their lap.

Next: 4. Linebacker Darron Lee

new york jets
new york jets

Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Jets linebacker Darron Lee (50) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

4. Linebacker Darron Lee

The next player who Jets fans should be excited about watching grow and develop is Darron Lee, especially following the release of Harris. The move makes Lee the No. 1 inside linebacker on the team, which is quite a turn of events considering Lee started only 9 of the 13 games that he appeared in during his rookie season. But the Jets have high hopes for last year’s first round pick and expect him to show signs this upcoming season of being a staple at the position for years to come.

Lee has all the physical tools needed to be a star in the NFL and is a very solid building block for a young team that needs to begin to see some of their young talents develop into form. At 6’1 218 pounds, Lee has ideal size for the position, but his best trait is probably his electrifying speed.

At last year’s combine, Lee posted the best 40 time of all the linebackers with 4.50. He certainly took his lumps as a rookie but also showed plenty of burst, and firepower that makes you believe that he’s ceiling is as high as anybody on the Jets roster.

If Lee can stay healthy, cause he did miss three games last season, and master a few more skills such as learning how to better cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield, he’ll become a fan favorite in no time.

With few other experienced players at the position (Demario Davis the only other player of note), the Jets are going to be relying heavily on Lee to not only became the leader of the unit, but to live up to his first-round hype, and became the explosive player that he has the ability to become.

Next: 3. Safety Marcus Maye

3. Safety Marcus Maye

The Jets continued their secondary overhaul when they used their second pick in this year’s draft on another SEC player in Florida’s safety Marcus Maye. Maye was a four-year starter for the Gators and got a reputation as being a ball hawk safety, who only totaled five interceptions during his collegiate career, but also had six forced fumbles including four in one season during his junior year back in 2015.

Maye was also a consistently solid tackler, who has a good nose for the ball and was praised by his coaches and teammates for being a smart player that always does the little things well, and can do almost anything that you ask of him.

Known to be a very good cover safety, his cover skills will come in handy this upcoming season. The Jets were one of the worst pass defenses in the league, and it seemed like they were constantly getting burned over the top by busted coverages. They are hoping Maye can fix some of those issues up immediately upon arrival.

In addition to being a good cover safety with a knack for the football, Maye also showed his versatility throughout his days in a Gator uniform and could play multiple positions for the Jets in the future. He’s a defensive back that again, will execute any assignment given to him well.

Scouts are also impressed with Maye’s ability to play the run, and with the team releasing their leading tackler from a year ago in Harris, they will be looking for someone to fill his shoes as Maye could be that guy. He has all the traits of a player who will develop into a consistent starter across Adams for years to come, and a position that was one of the team’s many weak links last year now appears to be one of their few strengths.

Next: 2. Wide Receiver Quincy Enunwa

new york jets
new york jets

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

2. Wide Receiver Quincy Enunwa

With the Jets top two wide receivers from a year ago no longer on the team in Marshall and Decker, all eyes will be on Quincy Enunwa to pick up the slack and continue his development. Enunwa entered last season as the team’s No. 3 receiving option, but due to Decker’s injury, he spent most of the season lined up across Marshall as the team’s No. 2 receiving option, and actually outperformed the former Pro Bowler as he put up more yards and touchdowns in what was a down year for Marshall.

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A 6th round pick back in 2014, Enunwa has already outperformed expectations and is far more than anybody could have ever expected from the former Nebraska Cornhusker, as he’s shown improvement each year since coming into the league.

However, the Jets will now be asking Enunwa to become their No. 1 target in the passing game, the jump from being the No. 3 to the No. 2 is nothing compared to going straight to No. 1.

Each and every week Enunwa will be matched up against the oppositions top corner, and will no longer have proven commodities such as Marshall and Decker to take some of the pressure off him and create favorable matchups.

With guys like the second year pro Robby Anderson, and rookies Ardarius Stewart and Chad Hansen slated behind Enunwa on the depth chart, in just a two-year span Enunwa has gone from an afterthought who was suspended four games in 2015 for performance enhancing drugs to now the team’s most experienced playmaker.

This definitely shows you just far the Jets have fallen, but also the belief that this regime has in his ability to become a top-tier player at the position. Enunwa is certainly capable of making jaw-dropping plays like this touchdown pass that he reeled in during last season’s Week 12 loss to the New England Patriots.

Enunwa’s ability to not only be a productive possession receiver who moves the chains but be reliable on third down will make him a household name in 2017. He can also take the top off the defense, and at 6’2 he may not have the size that some of the other top receivers in the league possess, but he proved on multiple occasions last year that he can hold his own with ease and win those tough one on one matchups. The Jets are hoping that Enunwa is just getting started and that by the end of the year they can confidently label him as their No. 1 receiver for the next decade.

Next: 1. Running Back Bilal Powell

new york jets
new york jets

Oct 30, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; New York Jets running back Bilal Powell (29) runs the ball during the second half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Jets won 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

1. Running Back Bilal Powell

Unlike the wide receiver position, along with the rest of the roster, the Jets are deciding to keep their veteran running back in Matt Forte along for the rebuilding ride, but for the first time in his career, he will be asked to take a back seat. Forte will see his touches limited this upcoming season.

The reason why is that the Jets want to find out if Powell, who will be entering his seventh year in the NFL, can actually be the bell cow back for their offense instead of a nice change of pace runner, who also contributes to the passing game.

Powell has never been asked to be an offense’s lead back and has started just 20 of the 74 games that he has appeared throughout his career. Whether it was Shonn Greene, LaDainian Tomlinson, Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson or the aforementioned Forte, there’s always been somebody above Powell on the depth chart.

But all that’s about to change, and if Powell can show that he’s able to handle the increased workload, he could very well be in for a nice pay day in the near future. Whether or not that hefty pay check comes from the rebuilding Jets is a decision that will be determined at a later date, but Mike Maccagnan and company have clearly seen enough from Powell during their first two years in charge to make him this year’s featured back.

You could easily make the argument that Powell has been one of the team’s most valuable players the last few seasons, and his absence is 2015’s Week 17 loss to the Buffalo Bills is one of the main reasons why the Jets fell short of the playoffs that year.

Must Read: Top 4 wide receivers that may replace Eric Decker

Powell had really picked up steam the previous few weeks, mainly as a receiver out of the backfield, but in order to be a lead back you must be able to handle the wear and tear week in week out that running backs take, and Powell has yet to prove he can handle that role. Partly because he simply hasn’t been given the opportunity to do so. However, with Forte being 31 years of age, and rookie Elijah McGuire the only other viable running back currently on the roster, Powell will get every opportunity to show the Jets and the rest of the league what he’s really worth in 2017.

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