5 things that should be on the Jets Christmas wish list
By Justin Fried
The New York Jets have made a lot of progress this year and appear just a few upgrades away from being a competitive team. So in the true spirit of Christmas, let’s take a look at what should be on Jets fan’s wish lists for the upcoming 2018 season.
Consider this a plea to the Christmas powers that be.
We’ve been nice, we’ve seldom been naughty, and we most certainly have been patient. We’ve checked our list, and we have surely checked it twice. So please General Manager Mike MacCagna-Claus, bring all us New York Jets fans some Christmas joy and make our holiday wishes come true this offseason.
We know you have the resources. You’ve long been known as an excellent talent evaluator and with three draft picks in the first two rounds, including a likely top-10 selection, there should already be a couple of presents waiting to be wrapped up and delivered to the homes of Jets fans all around the world.
Christmas shopping should be a breeze as with nearly $100 million in cap space, even the shiniest of frosty free agents shouldn’t be too costly to fulfill our holiday wishes and desires. Even your elves hard at work in
the North Pole
East Rutherford have been doing their part to ensure the success of this franchise.
Now the sleigh is under your control. The reindeer are all saddled up and ready for takeoff. Rudolph’s nose is bright red and he’s ready to roll. It’s up to you to deliver the presents and save Jets Christmas.
With that, let’s take a look at the five things Jets fans most yearn for this holiday season.
Next: 5. An Adequate Return Man
5. An Adequate Return Man
Since the departure of former special teams coach Mike Westhoff back in 2012, the Jets special teams units have struggled and perhaps none more than the return game.
As of the time of writing, the Jets currently sit second-to-last in average punt return yards with an embarrassing 4.7 yards per return. The team fairs a little better on kick returns but still rank in the bottom half of the league with just over 20 yards per return.
With that information, it’s clear the answer likely isn’t on the current roster. The numbers have gotten a little better since JoJo Natson has taken over return duties, but despite being elusive and shifty, the undersized underdog has his weaknesses.
At 5’7″ and weighing in at just 153 pounds, Natson is likely one of the smallest players to ever play in the NFL. His small frame allows him to evade would-be tacklers but also proves detrimental in that it doesn’t take too much to bring him down. Too often do we see Natson tackled on the first contact despite the head full of steam he starts with.
Simply put, if he doesn’t make you miss he’s not going to run through you.
The most positive thing to say about Natson is that he’s at least been safe with the ball. You don’t have to look too far back to see the most recent special teams blunder in the return game as back in Week 2, the now-infamous Kalif Raymond muffed a punt against the Oakland Raiders which proved to be the catalyst for the ultimate downfall of the game. In only two games with the Jets, Raymond muffed three punts.
The now former-Jet, current-Giant is just one member of a long list of failed Jets return men over the years and the team really hasn’t had a dynamic return man since the days of Leon Washington.
So please Santa, this is one of those want, not need gifts. It’s time to make kickoffs interesting again and make punt returns a spectacle of excitement rather than an exercise of pure stress.
Bring the Jets a return man in 2018.
Next: 4. A Starting Caliber Center
4. A Starting Caliber Center
If there’s one position that Jets fans have been spoiled with over the years it’s center. From the recent success of all-time greats Nick Mangold and Kevin Mawae to the days of yesteryear with Jim Sweeney and Joe Fields, it seems as if the Jets have always had good-to-great caliber players at the center position.
Based on this year alone, Wesley Johnson isn’t likely to be the one to continue that trend.
Johnson has been the weakest part of a Jets offensive line that’s been perhaps the weakest overall unit on the team. While the tackles have been shaky and the guards have been lackluster there’s been no greater disappointment than the performance of the former Pittsburgh Steeler 5th-round pick.
The 4th-year pro currently sports an ugly 32.1 PFF rating, which ranks him as the 34th best center in the NFL. To put that in perspective, there are only 32 starting centers in the league which means that some backups currently project as better options than Johnson.
If advanced analytics aren’t your thing, a simple eye test should do the trick. The Jets O-Line has failed to get a push up front all year long and the Jets have been unable to run in-between the tackles most weeks. Johnson fails to provide any interior presence and the team’s run game has struggled extensively as a result.
It’s been a rough season for the 26-year-old center and his performance has likely earned him a spot on the dreaded Jets 2017 naughty list.
The Jets don’t necessarily need another future member of the team’s Ring of Honor ala Mawae and likely soon-to-be Mangold. All they need is someone who’s considered a starting caliber player at the position.
Wesley Johnson has been the Ebenezer Scrooge of the team’s offensive line and Jets fans should be hoping the ghost of Christmas future brings them a new center come 2018.
Next: 3. A Shutdown Cornerback
3. A Shutdown Cornerback
Much like the center position, Jets fans were as spoiled as a rotten cup of eggnog over the past decade or so at cornerback. For years Gang Green’s secondary played host to one of the most dominant players to ever call himself a cornerback in Darrelle Revis.
But Revis Island is no more. The once Alcatraz-inspired supremacy faded away until it was nothing short of a Hawaiian island vacation. And while Claiborne Island showed flashes of the latter’s dominance early in the season, it’s been more tropical resort than maximum security prison as of late as well.
Morris Claiborne’s issues likely haven’t been all performance related as since he suffered a foot injury ahead of the Jets Thursday night game against the Buffalo Bills, Claiborne simply hasn’t been the same player. Early in the year, Claiborne was a true number one cornerback so it’s not as if the former 6th overall pick doesn’t have that potential.
Injuries have been the story of Claiborne’s NFL career as the six-year veteran has struggled to stay on the field since his rookie season and is yet to play a full 16-game season. And therein lies the problem with Claiborne.
He’s a very solid player when healthy, but both the Dallas Cowboys and Jets have found it difficult to rely on him as a top-tier cornerback due to his inability to remain healthy for the duration of an NFL season.
For that reason, the Jets must upgrade the cornerback position this upcoming offseason. And what better way to do that than by getting a shutdown player to pair with Claiborne?
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This may seem like a lot to ask for but one quick glance at the majority of the top defenses in this league shows that having an elite cornerback is essential if a team wants to have a great defensive unit. The Minnesota Vikings have Xavier Rhodes, the Jacksonville Jaguars have Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, and the Denver Broncos have Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib.
Thus, if Santa Claus truly is coming to town, Jets fans would greatly appreciate it if he brought a shutdown cornerback with him.
Next: 2. An Elite Edge Rusher
2. An Elite Edge Rusher
The list of failed Jets pass rushing acquisitions is filled with more disappointments than times you’ve heard Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” this holiday season. Unless you’ve somehow been able to avoid the undeniable catchiness that comes with Miss Carey’s delightful holiday tune, that number is likely pretty high.
From the first round busts of Vernon Gholston and Quinton Coples to the mid-round picks such as Lorenzo Mauldin to failed redemption projects like Aaron Maybin, the Jets have a long, dark history of underachieving edge rushers since the team switched over to a 3-4 defense under former head coach Eric Mangini. It’s time for Santa to spread some of his pass rushing Christmas cheer and bring the Jets a shiny new edge rusher come next year.
The current state of Jets edge rushers is a hollow void that’s weakly filled by outside linebackers disguised as actual pass rushers. Second-year player Jordan Jenkins is a solid, if unspectacular starter at outside backer but he’s a lot more valuable as a run stopper and edge setter than as a true pass rusher. Opposite Jenkins has been veteran Josh Martin for most of the season and much like Jenkins, Martin has failed to provide any pressure on opposing quarterbacks accounting for just 1.5 sacks on the season.
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The remainder of the outside linebackers on the roster form a barren wasteland of irrelevance occupied by Freddie Bishop, Obum Gwacham, and David Bass who have all done next-to-nothing for the majority of the season, save for a couple splash plays by Bass early in the year.
Getting a true edge rusher would ultimately have a domino effect as well. The Jets have one of the brighter, young defensive stars in the league in Leonard Williams. Williams, fresh off a seven-sack season and a Pro Bowl appearance, was expected to have a breakout 2017 campaign but his surprising lack of relevance is largely due to the lack of an edge rusher presence. The former first-round pick is constantly double-teamed on the majority of plays and adding a pass rusher on the edge that actually demands attention would help to free up Williams and allow him to become the dominant player we all know he could be.
So this one’s dedicated to all the Vic Beasley’s and the Von Miller’s out there. As the wonderful Mariah Carey once sang in her oh-so-catchy melody, “All I want for Christmas is you.”
Next: 1. A Franchise Quarterback
1. A Franchise Quarterback
This plea may seem futile.
After all, the Jets have been searching for the one for over 40 years now. Not since Joe Namath have Jets fans been witness to a true franchise quarterback. From the eras of Richard Todd and Ken O’Brien, to the Boomer Esiason and Vinny Testaverde days, all the way through the Chad Pennington and Mark Sanchez epochs, up until the modern regimes involving Geno Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and most recently Josh McCown, the Jets quarterback history is a vacuity of “what-ifs,” “has-beens,” and “never-weres.”
There have been draft busts, washed-up veterans, journeyman backups, competent starters, and game-managers but the Jets have failed to find themselves a franchise quarterback for three-quarters of the franchise’s existence.
Josh McCown is a great story. He’s a 38-year-old veteran who just had the best year of his career leading an overachieving Jets team to heights nobody would have expected this season. Despite what their record may indicate, the Jets have played a level much better than the five wins they currently have.
But McCown isn’t the answer. And based on everything we’ve seen so far from Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg it’s pretty clear that they aren’t the answers either. But the answer is out there.
Maybe it’s a first-round talent lurking at the top of most draft boards. Perhaps it’s a mid-round steal hiding in the depths of the strong upcoming quarterback class. Possibly it’s even a coveted free agent target that may or may not get franchise tagged again. Whoever it may be, and wherever he may be, we ask you Mr. MacCagna-claus that you bring him to us and make our ultimate Christmas wish come true.
This fanbase has suffered for far too long. We’ve endured the embarrassment that was the “Butt Fumble.” We’ve watched as our young starting quarterback got legitimately knocked out by his teammate only to lose his job to a one-year wonder “wannabe ZZ Top” member. We are starved for greatness.
On this cold December night, we ask that the Christmas powers that be not only bring us good tidings but a franchise quarterback too.
I appreciate every one of you who sat through and read all of those awful Christmas puns. This is my only creative outlet.
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Happy Holidays from all of us here at The Jet Press and may 2018 bring us even more fun, exciting Jets football!