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2017 Report Card: Grading every Jets positional group

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 08: Head coach Todd Bowles of the New York Jets looks on in the second half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 8, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 08: Head coach Todd Bowles of the New York Jets looks on in the second half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 8, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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CLEVELAND, OH – OCTOBER 08: Head coach Todd Bowles of the New York Jets looks on in the second half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 8, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH – OCTOBER 08: Head coach Todd Bowles of the New York Jets looks on in the second half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 8, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

2017 was a year of development for the New York Jets as the team was able to gauge its current strengths and weaknesses as the season progressed. Which positional groups are assets and which are the team’s biggest detriments?

The New York Jets somehow managed to simultaneously overachieve and underachieve during the course of the 2017 season.

The team was given virtually no shot to compete heading into the year with many analysts even predicting a 0-16 season. Which let’s be fair, is very difficult to do. A team would have to be inept on so many levels to actually finish a season without a win that it’s damn near impossible.

Here’s looking at you Cleveland.

Regardless, the Jets started off the season 0-2 with ugly losses to the Buffalo Bills and the Oakland Raiders and the writing appeared to be on the wall for yet another lost season. After all, the media would tell you this was a team whose offense was “historically awful” and quite possibly could have had the worst NFL roster in the past decade. These are quotes, not hyperboles.

Then something unfeasible happened. The Jets won a game. And then another one. Soon, the Jets found themselves at 3-2 and tied for the lead in the AFC East. The impossible had occurred and the tide of opinions had shifted with quarterback Josh McCown being hailed a savior and head coach Todd Bowles labeled a genius.

But as was expected, the Jets did ultimately come back down to earth losing five of their next six and finishing the season off with a four-game losing streak. In fact, the Jets won just two games the remainder of the season after their surprising 3-2 start. Now some of this could very well be attributed to the loss of McCown late in the season and perhaps some of it is the Jets luck eventually running out. It should also be noted that almost every game in which McCown played the team was competitive throughout and the Jets likely would’ve won anywhere from two to four more games if not for numerous fourth-quarter meltdowns.

When all is set and done, we could look back on this season as one of change. Call it a new beginning.

The Jets now have themselves a foundation of young players to build around and despite how the season ended, they go into next year with momentum based solely off the fact that they know they could compete with the good teams in this league. And not only could they compete with them, they could beat them too. Three of the Jets five wins this season came against AFC playoff teams.

This team should only get better (hopefully) going into next season and with the young core of players they now have on both sides of the ball, this season has been an instrumental developmental year for a rebuilding franchise.

But not all is well. Some changes need to be made to improve certain positions that are detrimental to the performance of this team on Sundays. And with that, let’s get our red pens out because it’s time to assign grades to each Jets positional group and complete the 2017 New York Jets report card.

Next: Quarterbacks

FOXBORO, MA – DECEMBER 31: Christian Hackenberg #5, Josh McCown #15, and Bryce Petty #9 of the New York Jets walk onto the field before the game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 31, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA – DECEMBER 31: Christian Hackenberg #5, Josh McCown #15, and Bryce Petty #9 of the New York Jets walk onto the field before the game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 31, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Quarterbacks

Breaking down the Jets 2017 quarterback situation is like reading Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities.” Or rather “A Tale of Two Teams.”

On one hand, Josh McCown exceeded essentially everyone’s expectations throwing for 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions while completing a staggering 67.3 percent of his passes in 13 games started. Both his touchdown number and his completion percentage were career highs, at age 38 nonetheless. While he certainly had his share of struggles, particularly with his fourth-quarter deficiencies, McCown was a team leader and an all-around gamer whose ability to keep the team in games proved unmatched by any other quarterback on the roster.

McCown never tried to do too much with the ball in his hands. He was well aware of his limitations, as was the coaching staff. As a result, the offensive game plan was tailored to emphasize his strengths and mask his weaknesses at the same time. His play this season was critical in the development of second-year receiver Robby Anderson and the re-emergence of the tight end position with Austin Seferian-Jenkins leading the way. McCown was never going to lead the Jets to the Super Bowl, but to have the type of year he had at 38 years of age after years of mediocrity and scrutiny, it says something special about McCown’s character and perseverance.

Bryce Petty, on the other hand, was an entirely different story. Now, this isn’t meant to be a makeshift roast session for the 26-year-old signal-caller, but there’s no question that the Jets were an entirely different team under the leadership of Petty.

Petty’s character has been well-documented. He’s a nice guy who can be a good leader on a team and he proved that during his time with the Baylor Bears in college. But he’s not an NFL quarterback.

His inability to lead the Jets offense with any sort of consistency was almost as startling as his appalling rate of inaccuracy. Petty completed just 48 percent of his passes over his three games started and threw for just one touchdown and three interceptions. While Petty was primarily careful with the football, he lacked the ability to make plays on offense and squandered way too many opportunities to actually leave the Jets competitive in his starts.

The score may have been close at points in his starts, but the games never felt within reach. Overall, the offense was an ugly conglomeration of incompetence and ineptitude when Petty was under center.

Petty’s performances are going to bring down the overall quarterback grade for the team but rest assured McCown by himself would likely grade out a bit higher. But alas, this grade must account for all 16 games of quarterback play so the following mark is set accordingly.

Final Grade: B

Next: Running Backs

NEW ORLEANS, LA – DECEMBER 17: Bilal Powell #29 of the New York Jets scores a touchdown as Rafael Bush #25 of the New Orleans Saints defends during the first half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 17, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA – DECEMBER 17: Bilal Powell #29 of the New York Jets scores a touchdown as Rafael Bush #25 of the New Orleans Saints defends during the first half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 17, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Running Backs

It can be hard to truly gauge how the Jets running backs actually did in 2017 because of the talent of the offensive line they were tasked with running behind. There was almost no push upfront for the majority of games which led to the Jets either switching to outside stretches or just abandoning the run game altogether. Ultimately, a running back is only as good as his offensive line, so it’s nearly impossible to grade the players on what they accomplished this year.

But let’s try and do it anyways.

The Jets primarily used a three-back committee of Bilal Powell, Matt Forte, and Elijah McGuire. Fullback Lawrence Thomas was used sparingly and the team even got limited use out of former New Orleans Saints running back Travaris Cadet before releasing him, but they played so little that they won’t factor into the grading.

Powell was the most utilized running back for the Jets and his 772 rushing yards more than doubled the second place finisher. The seventh-year veteran was efficient with his carries notching a team-high 4.3 yards per carry to go along with five touchdowns on the ground. While this was a step down from his fantastic 5.5 yards per carry that he put up last season, 4.3 is nothing to scoff at especially when you take in to account the line he was running behind.

Forte was the next most active back playing 12 games while rushing for 381 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged just 3.7 yards per touch which was the second lowest of his storied career. The veteran was most useful in the passing game where he was the team’s fourth-leading receiver tallying 37 catches for 293 yards and a touchdown. Forte likely had too big of a role this season as he was clearly a couple steps slower than his younger counterparts and his only true value came as a change-of-pace back or as a reliable receiver.

The Jets rookie who gained the most playing time on offense was 6th-round pick Elijah McGuire. The UL Lafayette product rushed 88 times during the course of his rookie season for a total of 315 yards and a touchdown. He also added 17 receptions for 177 yards and another score through the air. Much like Powell and Forte, McGuire proved capable of contributing both in the running and passing games and it’s that sort of versatility that could help him carve out a bigger role on this team going forward.

Ultimately, none of the Jets running backs stood out in particular and it’s evident there’s no star among the group. That being said, the team was able to get solid contributions out of three different running backs and was able to structure the offense around that. The Jets should be happy with both Powell and McGuire moving forward, but Forte has almost assuredly played his last game in Green and White.

Overall, a solid, if unspectacular year for the Jets running backs which lays a fine groundwork for the rushing attack next year.

Final Grade: B-

Next: Wide Receivers

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – SEPTEMBER 24: Robby Anderson #11 of the New York Jets catches a touchdown pass against the Miami Dolphins during the first half of an NFL game at MetLife Stadium on September 24, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – SEPTEMBER 24: Robby Anderson #11 of the New York Jets catches a touchdown pass against the Miami Dolphins during the first half of an NFL game at MetLife Stadium on September 24, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Wide Receivers

There may not be any position that came under more scrutiny before the start of the season than the Jets receiving corps. Some even claimed that it could be the worst wide receiver unit in all of football. Well, much like other aspects of their game, the Jets were able to prove their doubters wrong and overachieve at a position many thought to be one of the team’s biggest weaknesses.

Robby Anderson was the breakout star of the unit developing into an elite deep-threat receiver as well as improving his all-around receiver traits as well. Anderson always had the speed to be a good vertical threat in the receiving game, but he wasn’t polished enough at the position to be considered a true number one target.

That all changed in 2017.

Anderson improved tremendously over the course of the offseason and the entire year with his initial release becoming one of the best in the game. The former undrafted free agent has the ability to beat defenders off the line of scrimmage with a quick first step and blow past them with his top-level speed. For that reason, there isn’t a cornerback in the league who Anderson can’t beat on a deep ball.

His partner in crime, Jermaine Kearse, was acquired just before the season started in a steal of a trade that sent troubled defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson packing to Seattle in exchange for Kearse and a second-round pick. The veteran receiver put up career highs in virtually every major receiving category and proved valuable as a reliable possession receiver week in and week out.

The Jets also received contributions from Jeremy Kerley, Chad Hansen, ArDarius Stewart, and even JoJo Natson who was primarily used as a returner. Kerley and Hansen were useful as reliable receivers who showed good hands while Stewart and Natson were used predominantly as speedy playmakers, albeit in very reduced roles.

After Kerley’s midseason suspension, the Jets likely could’ve done more to get rookies Hansen and Stewart involved in the offense. Still, the talent is apparent. It just remains to be seen how the team will further utilize them going forward.

At the end of the day, most people would have laughed at the idea of the Jets having two receivers over 800 yards this season. Heck, Anderson fell just short of 1000! Not too shabby for the so-called “worst receiving unit in the NFL.”

Final Grade: B+

Next: Tight Ends

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 12: Austin Seferian-Jenkins #88 of the New York Jets celebrates from the sideline in the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans during a preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 12, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 12: Austin Seferian-Jenkins #88 of the New York Jets celebrates from the sideline in the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans during a preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 12, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Tight Ends

The tight end position was revived in 2017 after showing little signs of life for the past two seasons. Under previous offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, Jets tight ends accounted for just 26 receptions over the past seasons. To put that in perspective, 57 different tight ends caught more passes than that over that span. In Gailey’s first season, Jets tight ends combined for just eight catches.

Eight. Not 18. Not 80. Eight.

First-year offensive coordinator John Morton promised more production out of the tight end position this year than we had seen in years past and the former New Orleans Saints coach held true to his word. In 2017, Jets tight ends recorded a total of 68 catches over the course of the season which is more than two-and-a-half times the number from the past two seasons combined.

The unit was led by the reemerging Austin Seferian-Jenkins who made the effort to turn his life around this offseason and his career followed suit. Seferian-Jenkins more than doubled his career high in catches and also set career marks in receiving yards and likely should have in touchdowns as well if not for a few……questionable calls. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneer racked up 357 yards on 50 catches which is the most by a Jets tight end since Dustin Keller back in 2011.

Elsewhere, the Jets found a solid contribution from the underrated Eric Tomlinson as a blocker. Tomlinson proved invaluable in the Jets rushing attack and also pitched in occasionally as a pass catcher. Veteran Will Tye provided depth at the position early on in the season and Neal Sterling finished the year on a positive note as the Jets leading receiver in the final week of the season.

Unfortunately, although Seferian-Jenkins did start the year off strong, the former second-round pick wasn’t able to capitalize on his hot start in the second half of the season as his numbers began to tail off. Perhaps the team could’ve utilized him more on downfield routes as 7.1 yards per reception is extremely low for a guy of Seferian-Jenkins stature. He has the potential to use his large frame to box out defenders and make plays over the middle of the field if used appropriately and that’s certainly something the Jets should look to improve going into next year.

All in all, a good year for the Jets tight ends but the misuse of Seferian-Jenkins keeps this grade from being any higher.

Final Grade: B

Next: Offensive Line

DENVER, CO – DECEMBER 10: The New York Jets offense lines up behind center Wesley Johnson #76 of the New York Jets int he second quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 10, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO – DECEMBER 10: The New York Jets offense lines up behind center Wesley Johnson #76 of the New York Jets int he second quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 10, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Offensive Line

The Jets offensive line proved to not only be the most disappointing positional group of 2017 but the worst overall unit on the team.

There was certainly a concern among the Jets faithful over the offensive line heading into the year but most didn’t believe it would be as bad as it was this past season. Maybe its deficiencies were looked over due to the team’s lack of talent elsewhere or maybe fans just thought things would work itself out over the course of the season. Needless to say, they didn’t.

The Jets finished tied for the seventh most sacks allowed in the league with 47 and it’s hard to win with production like that. To further emphasize the importance of the offensive line, consider the fact that none of the teams that allowed more sacks than the Jets reached the postseason. The team also finished in the bottom half of the league in both rushing yards and yards per attempt. Those numbers would likely be lower too if not for a couple of stellar outings from the running game that proved to just be outliers.

Center Wesley Johnson was the team’s primary culprit as he finished the season with a Pro Football Focus grade of 31.3 which rated him as the 36th best center out of 32 starters at the position. If that math doesn’t add up, there’s a very good reason why. Johnson is not a starting caliber center. As such, the Jets will likely look to replace him this coming offseason.

The Jets two guards had two of the more disappointing seasons out of any players as, after career years in the season prior, both regressed significantly. Left guard James Carpenter wasn’t able to open up as many holes for the run game as in previous seasons as perhaps the switch from a more spread-based offense under Gailey to John Morton‘s West Coast offense affected him more than we would’ve previously thought. After all, Carpenter struggled during his time in Seattle where they ran primarily West Coast offenses. Just a thought.

Opposite Carpenter was 5th-year pro Brian Winters who had just been signed to a contract extension this past winter before becoming a penalty machine this year. Winters finished second on the team with eight penalties in probably his worst year as a professional. Some of this could very well be blamed on an abdominal injury he suffered in the team’s second game of the year which likely hindered his performance for the rest of the season. Whatever the reasons may be, the Jets need more production out of their guards next year.

The Jets tackles were the two best players on the offensive line as free agent acquisition Kelvin Beachum and second-year player Brandon Shell both had solid seasons. While neither were dominant players at their position, the duo proved to be reliable in both pass protection and run blocking earning the two highest PFF grades as a result. Beachum proved his worth as a free agent signing and Shell continued his development which has come along very nicely so far.

Despite the success at the tackle position, the Jets interior offensive line brought the rest of the unit down this season and is ultimately the reason for such a low grade. If not for a couple of excellent performances from the running game, the grade would likely be even lower. Powell saves the day once again.

Final Grade: D

Next: Defensive Line

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – OCTOBER 15: Defensive end Leonard Williams #92 of the New York Jets reacts against the New England Patriots during the second half of their game at MetLife Stadium on October 15, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – OCTOBER 15: Defensive end Leonard Williams #92 of the New York Jets reacts against the New England Patriots during the second half of their game at MetLife Stadium on October 15, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Defensive Line

From one disappointing positional group to another.

With fairness to the defensive line, the unit’s subpar statistics can’t all be blamed on them. A 3-4 defense lives and dies with the play of its linebackers. Outside linebackers provide the pressure to alleviate the pass rushing responsibilities of the defensive ends and the inside linebackers help out in run defense to assist the nose tackle in the middle. If the linebackers aren’t doing their jobs, it reflects poorly on the defensive line and that’s exactly what happened for the Jets in 2017.

The Jets lack a true pass rusher off the edge at outside linebacker, as they have for years, but this year was excruciatingly bad. There is no better example as to how this negatively affected the team’s defensive linemen than by examining the season that Leonard Wiliams had.

Williams is a fantastic player. He is hands down one of the most talented individuals on this Jets roster. But you wouldn’t be able to tell that by looking at his 2017 numbers.

“Big Cat,” as they call him, finished the season with just two sacks and 22 tackles both career lows. This is especially concerning considering the fact that he’s coming off a breakout sophomore campaign in which he totaled seven sacks, 36 tackles, two forced fumbles, and earned a Pro Bowl nod. The former USC standout was still a dominant force in the run game but the constant double teams against him made it difficult for him to be a mere factor in most games.

Real talk now. Is this concerning? It’s hard to say. On one hand, Williams was consistently matched up against two opposing offensive linemen and was able to open up gaps for other players. But on the other hand, he was still a non-factor for most of the season and the Jets didn’t draft Williams number sixth overall to be overwhelmed by double teams.

It takes a great talent to overcome what Williams was stacked up against this year. But the Jets drafted the so-called “best player in the draft” to be great. Perhaps the Jets might have to settle for ‘very good’ from Williams. Only time will tell.

Further along the D-Line, big nose tackle Steve McLendon flew under the radar but had a very solid season. The former Pittsburgh Steeler finished with one and a half sacks and 30 tackles en route to a 2017 season that was definitely better than his first. As the season progressed, McLendon was able to mask some of the inside linebackers deficiencies by plugging up the A gaps with some stout defensive work.

The real reason this grade suffers is due to the play of the now-vilified Muhammad Wilkerson. The former All-Pro defensive lineman labored through what will likely be his last season as a Jet and showed his true colors with his apathetic playing style. Nothing more really needs to be said. Just a waste of talent, as sad as that may be.

The Jets also got a little production out of backup nose tackle Mike Pennel who proved to be a reliable run stopper and penalty magnet despite limited playing time. Journeymen Xavier Cooper and Ed Stinson also got in on the action but didn’t play enough to impact the grading.

Altogether a discouraging season from a unit that has been one of the team’s strengths over the past few seasons. Here’s to hoping they turn it around going into 2018 and maybe get some help from the linebacker core while they’re at it.

Final Grade: C

Next: Linebackers

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – SEPTEMBER 24: Demario Davis #56 of the New York Jets celebrates a tackle against the Miami Dolphins during the first half of an NFL game at MetLife Stadium on September 24, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – SEPTEMBER 24: Demario Davis #56 of the New York Jets celebrates a tackle against the Miami Dolphins during the first half of an NFL game at MetLife Stadium on September 24, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Linebackers

The play of the Jets 2017 linebackers was about as diverse as can be which is why it’s hard to group this collection of players together. Especially, as previously touched on, in a 3-4 defense, inside and outside linebacker have very different roles so each grading scale will have to assess different aspects and qualities of players to come to one conclusive grade. Nonetheless, let’s give it our best shot.

Veteran Demario Davis was the clear standout from the bunch as the former New York castoff returned to the Big Apple with a vengeance. Davis put together a career year finishing the season with 135 total tackles (97 solo) and five quarterback sacks, both career highs. Many even believe that he was the Jets best overall player and was deserving of a Pro Bowl nomination.

John Gatta of Pro Football Focus rated Davis the 12th best linebacker in the entire NFL, and that accounts for both inside and outside linebackers. The former Cleveland Brown refined his coverage skills and improved drastically as a run stopper.

Even in the team’s first two games of the season, the old Demario Davis was still rearing its ugly head. Contests against both the Bills and the Raiders showed that he still had a long way to go as he was an inconsistent tackler and regularly out of position while not showing discipline with his gap assignments. But something clearly clicked and it wasn’t long after those two games that Davis was the outstanding player that he finished the season as.

His positional partner, Darron Lee, didn’t show the same level of progress, however. While Lee certainly improved from his rookie season, the second-year linebacker was more flashy than reliable. Lee made a number of exciting plays using his speed and athleticism to make a tackle for loss but he too often found himself out of position. Unfortunately, Lee is yet to harness his speed as he has a tendency to overpursue on plays, be it on a tackle attempt or filling a gap. He must become more consistent for this linebacker core, and this defense, to take the next step.

The most prominent positional talent shortage on this defense, however, is at outside linebacker. Second-year player Jordan Jenkins and career special teamer Josh Martin were the two starters at outside ‘backer for the Jets this year but neither was able to be a true presence as an edge rusher.

Both players proved to be solid in run defense and even above average at setting the edge but provided little pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Neither is athletic enough to beat opposing offensive tackles on a regular basis and it shows with their sack production. The duo combined for just four and a half sacks on the season and neither actually led the team’s pass rushers in sacks.

Early-season acquisition David Bass actually led all Jets pass rushers with three and a half sacks which is both impressive and upsetting at the same time. Rotational players such as Freddie Bishop and Dylan Donahue did little to contribute other than just being players who knew the position to put out there.

We’ll even throw Kony Ealy in this category as the Jets used him more as an outside pass rusher so he can loosely qualify as a “linebacker”. Ealy had a strong start to the season knocking down about a pass per game until he slowly drifted into irrelevance in the second half of the year.

The Jets cumulative linebacker grade will be dragged down significantly by its outside linebackers as that position alone may deserve close to a failing mark. Still, the play of Demario Davis is enough to save the unit from grading oblivion.

Final Grade: C+

Next: Cornerbacks

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – NOVEMBER 26: Cornerback Morris Claiborne #21 of the New York Jets reacts during the second half of the game at MetLife Stadium on November 26, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Carolina Panthers won 35-27. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – NOVEMBER 26: Cornerback Morris Claiborne #21 of the New York Jets reacts during the second half of the game at MetLife Stadium on November 26, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Carolina Panthers won 35-27. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Cornerbacks

With all of the hype surrounding the introduction of two rookie starting safeties the cornerback position was a little overlooked by both the Jets organization and its fans. The team was thin at the position to begin the year and finished even thinner than they had originally hoped.

Free agent signing Morris Claiborne was excellent during the early portion of the year but wasn’t the same player after the injury he sustained ahead of the team’s Thursday night showdown against the Buffalo Bills. Claiborne’s injury history has been well-documented and the former Dallas Cowboy was bound to get hurt at some point. Unfortunately, it had an adverse effect on his play for the rest of the season.

Once Claiborne went down, the Jets cornerback woes were exposed even more as Buster Skrine was thrust into a bigger role when he had struggled with his previous one. Skrine finished the year as the team’s leader in penalties and had multiple bad outings including a horrid showing against Miami. The veteran cornerback finished the season strong but his inconsistencies in coverage and yellow flag obsession hurt the Jets a great deal in 2017. He sure was a good tackler though.

The biggest letdown of the year at cornerback has to be Juston Burris who entered the season as the starter in the base nickel package only to be replaced after a couple of games by Darryl Roberts who proved to be a serviceable option at best. Burris was lit up by Michael Crabtree in the team’s Week 2 game against the Oakland Raiders and took a massive step back in terms of development this season. Instead of fighting for a starting position next year, Burris will likely be fighting for a roster spot.

The only other cornerbacks who spent time on the Jets roster in 2017 were veterans Marcus Williams and Robert Nelson Jr. who were both waived mid-season, Rashard Robinson who was acquired at the trade deadline from the San Francisco 49ers, and rookies Jeremy Clark and Derrick Jones who didn’t record any official statistics.

It’s evident that the Jets need to get deeper at the cornerback position and it should certainly be high on the list of needs for the team as we move into the offseason. As for 2017, consider the final grade below average with Claiborne’s early-season stretch salvaging the unit a C-.

Final Grade: C-

Next: Safeties

Safeties

Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye were the talk of the Jets offseason post-April. The rookie safety pairing dominated team headlines and much was made of how they would lead the new-look Jets defense into a new era. While neither necessarily blew the imaginary roof off MetLife Stadium, the duo played mostly solid ball and essentially did just what the Jets drafted them to do.

Lead.

Adams is the boisterous, spirited, and loud-mouthed defender who is as lively on the field as he is off it. He exudes athleticism and seems to have a knack for the big play, but he just needs to refine his game and work on the basics.

The LSU product struggled at times during his rookie campaign as he was beaten in coverage, particularly in the red zone, and whiffed on far too many tackles throughout the season. Adams’ primary problem seems to be his overaggressive nature that leads to him attempting to undercut passes and overpursuing on tackles. His issues seem to be similar to those of teammate Darron Lee who still has trouble controlling his athleticism. Let’s just hope Adams can figure out how to harness his powers quicker than Lee has been able to.

Opposite Adams is his aforementioned comrade Marcus Maye who is a perfect contrast to Adams both with his playing style on the gridiron and his demeanor off it. Maye is the silent type who prefers to lead by example rather than with his vocal chords. He is a consistent performer who doesn’t excel in any one area but is very good in every role. He is an idealistic starting free safety.

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Maye may not get the attention that Adams does but make no mistake about it, Maye had a better overall year than Adams did. The second-round pick was as reliable as they come having few bad games while being as steady in run defense as he was in coverage. Adams may have the higher ceiling, but Maye played 2017 at a higher level than his teammate.

Regardless, the duo looks to have a bright future with the team and one could only hope they both continue to improve to become one of the premier safety pairings in the NFL.

The Jets also managed to get solid production out of their two backup safeties as Terrence Brooks and Rontez Miles both contributed as blitzers in various defensive packages with the latter earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors in the team’s victory over the Miami Dolphins back in Week 3.

All things considered a good year from a production standpoint and one that should prove to set a solid foundation for the Jets secondary for years to come.

Final Grade: B

Next: Special Teams

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – DECEMBER 03: Chandler Catanzaro #7 of the New York Jets is congratulated after he kicked a field goal against the Kansas City Chiefs on December 03, 2017 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.The New York Jets defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 38-31. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – DECEMBER 03: Chandler Catanzaro #7 of the New York Jets is congratulated after he kicked a field goal against the Kansas City Chiefs on December 03, 2017 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.The New York Jets defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 38-31. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Special Teams

Ever since the departure of special teams coach Mike Westhoff in 2012, the Jets special teams have regularly been one of the worst units in the league. The kicking has, for the most part, been relatively reliable but the punting and return games have left a lot to be desired. The good news is that the punting significantly improved this season. The bad news is the return game is as putrid as ever.

Beginning with the optimism, kicker Chandler Catanzaro had a good bounce-back season in his first year with the Jets connecting on 25 of 30 kicks, good for an 83.3 percentage. Catanzaro also nailed every one of his extra point attempts, which is excellent considering he’s missed more than four in his previous two seasons. Moreover, it was only the second time in his career that he made every field goal from under 40 yards. In short, Catanzaro was the epitome of consistency.

The most pleasant surprise of the Jets 2017 special teams unit was without a doubt punter Lachlan Edwards who put together a much stronger sophomore campaign than his introductory season. The Aussie’s gross average yards per punt improved dramatically going from a dreadful 40.8 yards per punt to a terrific 46.6 average. That is some stellar progress and a good sign for the future of the inexperienced punter. He also significantly decreased the number of shanks this season as he almost completely eliminated them from his game which is a far cry from his frequent visits to “Shank City” last year.

The pessimism, however, comes with the fact that the Jets once again failed to do anything with their opportunities returning kicks and punts. Now to be fair, it can be difficult to get consistent kick returns in today’s NFL as more players opt to take a knee rather than take a chance. Despite this, Jets returners averaged a mere 20.1 yards per return which placed in the bottom 10 among NFL teams. The combination of JoJo Natson, ArDarius Stewart, Elijah McGuire, and Kalif Raymond couldn’t get the job done as whether it was poor blocking or poor execution, the Jets kick return was essentially non-existent.

The true goat (not the good kind) of the Jets special teams unit came with the team’s punt return efforts. The team began the year with Denver Broncos castoff Kalif Raymond handling return duties and it’s safe to say that that did not go as planned. Raymond played just two games for the Jets, muffing three punts before he was waived by the team.

Veteran Jeremy Kerley then took over the punt returning job and it went about as well as a player known for his fair catch fixation would’ve gone. Kerley averaged just 5.3 yards per return and had more than half the amount of fair catches (9) as he had actual returns (16). But those numbers are Devin Hester-like when compared to the statistics that Natson recorded.

The undersized Natson averaged a brutal 2.4 yards per punt return which is almost six times less than what the Detroit Lions (who led the league in average yards per punt return) averaged. That number is extraordinarily low and it makes you wonder why a player like him was given so many opportunities to return when surely somebody else could’ve done better. When all was said and done, the Jets finished with a measly 4.5 per punt return which was “good” for dead last in the league and a full yard behind the next worst team, the New York Giants.

Must Read: Top 5 Jets that excelled throughout 2017

If not for strong seasons from both Catanzaro and Edwards the final grade would likely be a lot lower. One shoutout should go to long snapper Thomas Hennessy who had a fine season in his first year with the Jets replacing the incumbent Tanner Purdum.

Long snappers deserve love too people.

Final Grade: B-

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