Before entering the offseason, New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan and company knew that the team had numerous holes to fill. In an effort to accumulate talent, New York took fliers on players from around the league – thankfully, a few of them appear to have a legitimate shot to make the roster.
Hoping to flip the script on two consecutive 5-11 seasons, head coach Todd Bowles has a few tough decisions to make before Week 1. In anticipation of the regular season ahead, we offer you five names or storylines that have pleasantly surprised the Jets coaching staff all training camp long.
5. Quarterback Room
For once, the positive news coming out of the Jets’ quarterback room isn’t a bunch of smoke.
Immediately after moving up to select Sam Darnold with the No. 3 overall pick, Gang Green received criticism for their future plans. With Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater signed for 2018, who would be the starter? With a long list of busts under center, what makes Darnold any different in New York?
Last season, McCown recorded a career-year while Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg were perceived as the “future” of the franchise. Many fans believing one would get the nod next season, Maccagnan elected to part ways with both players. Instead, the 39-year-old McCown would receive another contract and the Jets would take a flier on Bridgewater – to the surprise of just about everyone, the team has never looked better equipped at the position.
With a good problem to have, Bowles could certainly be justified in selecting any of the three as his starter throughout training camp. When they traded Bridgewater for a third-round pick in next year’s draft, he left a great impression on Darnold and the rest of the leadership regime. It paves the way for Darnold to begin his era under center.
Feeling confident with their rookie signal caller, the future begins as of today.
Next: 4. Buster Skrine and the secondary
4. Buster Skrine and the secondary
Back where he belongs, Buster Skrine get a chance to prove that he could be one of the league’s best in the slot.
Forced to spend most of his young Jets career out wide, Skrine would be targeted more than just about any other cornerback on the roster. Undersized at 5’9”, 185 pounds, the 29-year-old isn’t physically equipped to handle most No. 1 or No. 2 receivers.
Now, with the addition of Trumaine Johnson, the speedy veteran is adjusting to life in the slot; a position he knew quite well in Cleveland. Skrine is a much more athletically-intriguing prospect than he appears. Running an unofficial 4.29 40-yard dash, he wreaks havoc in the middle of the field where the fastest players survive.
In addition to his impressive preseason-outing against Atlanta, the rest of New York’s secondary shows flashes of quality depth beyond the starters. Doug Middleton, J.J. Wilcox, Derrick Jones and more have all played the lion’s share of minutes this preseason. Playing above expectations, Bowles will be pleased with the options he’ll have to play with during the regular season.
Next: 3. A great situation at tight end
3. A great situation at tight end
With the departure of Austin Seferian-Jenkins, New York let their best option at tight end, in years, walk away – or so it seems.
While ASJ did show flashes of brilliant-play last season, the Jets are confident in the pieces they’re putting together for the future. As Clive Walford, Eric Tomlinson, and Neal Sterling currently remain on the roster for experience, the younger additions of Jordan Leggett and Chris Herndon are the means to an end of searching for a starter.
Coming on as of late, Leggett has demonstrated some of the ability that made him a threat at Clemson. Not being healthy enough to show it in a preseason game, there are concerns about his durability over a full, 16-game season. However, he remains a viable option to make the final roster.
Although his start with the Jets has been rocky, Herndon is another tight end that could very well be a starter for years to come. His athleticism, route-running ability, and great hands continue to impress the coaches. Slipping to the Jets, because of a mid-season knee injury, he did require a bit of time to be cleared for contact. Awaiting a possible suspension from the league, Herndon could pan out big time for the team once he puts the off-field issues behind him.
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Next: 2. Wide receiver Tre McBride
2. Wide receiver Tre McBride
Who doesn’t like to root for an underdog?
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Drafted in the seventh round of the 2015 NFL Draft, the William and Mary product was a project-receiver who would have to make his name on special teams. From practice-squad to the active roster for both the Titans and Bears, McBride would see his most production last season in Chicago.
Playing in seven games, the wideout reeled in eight receptions for 144 yards. Known for his speed, McBride averaged 18 yards per catch: his longest going for 45 yards.
The real surprise for the Jets is how he’s eclipsed some of their other playmakers. With draft capital invested in ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen, both wideouts have underperformed this preseason. Seeing an opportunity, McBride went out and became more than just a return man.
Building a relationship with rookie Sam Darnold is key here; going to McBride on multiple third-downs, to pick up a first, quarterbacks will always rely on their receivers to make plays. If he can show value, in both the return game and depth out wide, the 25-year-old might find a home in New York for many years to come.
Next: 1. Linebacker Neville Hewitt
1. Linebacker Neville Hewitt
Standing out in his first appearance with the team, Hewitt recorded an interception, eight tackles and two passes defended against Atlanta.
Struggling to fit in with Miami, the 25-year-old is making a name for himself in New York. Going from one team to another in the same division is never smooth, however the transition seems effortless considering the Jets’ need for playmakers at the position.
Losing Demario Davis and acquiring Avery Williamson, Bowles is still heavily relying on Darron Lee and Jordan Jenkins to improve in 2018. Desperate for a dual-threat player, able to play in coverage and get after the quarterback, Hewitt has shown the ability to be a viable option at linebacker.
Would it be a bigger surprise if the Jets landed Khalil Mack? Absolutely – for now, we’ll be happy from what we’ve seen from Hewitt.