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Why the Jets can be a playoff team in 2018

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 24: Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets hands off to Bilal Powell #29 of the New York Jets during their preseason game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on August 24, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 24: Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets hands off to Bilal Powell #29 of the New York Jets during their preseason game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on August 24, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 24: Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets hands off to Bilal Powell #29 of the New York Jets during their preseason game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on August 24, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 24: Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets hands off to Bilal Powell #29 of the New York Jets during their preseason game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on August 24, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

The New York Jets have a future franchise quarterback and a defense on the rise entering this season. They easily have the pieces to be a playoff team in 2018.

Seven years.

It has been seven years since the New York Jets have made the NFL Playoffs. During their seven-year playoff drought, there has not been a lot to get excited about with this franchise.

Yes, there was that magical season in 2015 when the Jets came one game away from making the playoffs but lost in Week 17 against the Buffalo Bills. That was a veteran-laden team made up of Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Darrelle Revis, and journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. All of those players are long gone and now the franchise has new hope in the 2018 Jets.

For the first time in a while, there are a couple of reasons to get excited about this coming season. Rookie quarterback Sam Darnold is expected to be a franchise quarterback for the next decade. Also, the team has an exciting young secondary that is headlined by second-year safety duo Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye.

Here are a few reasons why the Jets can be a playoff team in 2018.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 24: Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets looks to pass against the New York Giants during their preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 24, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 24: Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets looks to pass against the New York Giants during their preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 24, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Sam Darnold

Savior Sam, Sam the Man, Sam I Am.

Whatever you want to call him, rookie quarterback Sam Darnold looked impressive during preseason action and is expected to be named the Week 1 starter against the Detroit Lions. Darnold missed the first couple days of training camp due to a rookie contract dispute but came in and picked up where he left off in minicamp. Darnold outplayed last year’s starter Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater who was recently traded to the New Orleans Saints.

Darnold completed 64.4 percent of his 45 preseason passes with two touchdowns to one interception, with an 83.9 quarterback rating. The numbers might not be eye-popping but his demeanor and decision-making to limit mistakes are what make him the obvious choice to be the starting quarterback in 2018.

Darnold’s second season at USC was filled with good (school record 4,143 passing yards) and bad moments (22 total turnovers); but in the end, he led the Trojans to an 11-3 record and a Pac 12 Championship.

The Jets coaching staff has fallen hard for Darnold and what has stood out to them is how he is always looking ahead to the next play and showing up in the biggest moments. In a recent article by Eric Allen of NewYorkJets.com, offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates had plenty of high praise for Darnold. Here is what Bates had to say:

Mentally, he’s sharp. He loves the game. He’s tough, he’s everything you’re looking for in a young quarterback as far as the ability to go out there and the game isn’t too big for him. Stage isn’t too big for him. When the lights come on, he gets better.”

The Jets are hoping Darnold can become their franchise quarterback for the next decade and solidify a position that has been in flux since the early 2000’s.

Next: Underrated Wide Receivers

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – NOVEMBER 26: Wide receiver Robby Anderson #11 of the New York Jets reaches for a catch which lead to a touchdown during the third quarter of the game at MetLife Stadium on November 26, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – NOVEMBER 26: Wide receiver Robby Anderson #11 of the New York Jets reaches for a catch which lead to a touchdown during the third quarter of the game at MetLife Stadium on November 26, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Underrated Wide Receivers

Now a quarterback can only take a team so far before he needs his wide receivers to make plays for him. Luckily for a rookie signal caller like Darnold, he has an underrated group of wide receivers who all possess a unique skill set. There is a deep threat, a hybrid beast, and a tall red zone target.

Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, and Terrelle Pryor headline a group of receivers that don’t get enough credit for how good they are or can be. That is partly because of the mediocre team the Jets have had since 2010 and because they are not known by most NFL fans around the country.

Anderson led the team with 941 yards and seven touchdowns while finishing second in catches with 63. Jermaine Kearse, who is currently rehabbing from abdominal surgery, led the team with 65 catches and will be another playmaker for Darnold when he is cleared to play.

Enunwa was on his way to becoming the top wide receiver for the Jets last season, but his season was over before it even started. Enunwa suffered a neck injury during training camp and was shut down for the year. Enunwa has made great strides in his comeback this preseason, showing no signs of rust and slowly becoming a beast again. Enunwa is a hybrid weapon, meaning he is too big to be covered one-on-one by a corner and too fast to be covered by a linebacker. He returned to preseason action against the Giants when he caught two passes for 28 yards.

Pryor had a forgettable 2017 playing for the Washington Redskins, as he battled an ankle injury all season long. The Jets signed Pryor this offseason with the thinking that he could return to his 2016 form. Pryor caught 77 balls for 1,007 yards for the Cleveland Browns in 2016. Pryor has slowly worked his way back to form like Enunwa and he too returned to action against the Giants where he caught a touchdown.

After the game, Pryor stressed that he still has plenty of things to work on and he will continue to improve every day. Here is what Pryor had to say according to Ethan Greenberg of NewYorkJets.com:

It doesn’t really matter about touchdowns unless you win,” Pryor said. “There are a lot of things I have improve on. There were a lot of things I wasn’t happy with today. I will get better and I will continue to get better.”

Pryor and the rest of the Jets wide receivers will continue to get better as the season goes on. This wide receiver group will open a lot of eyes by the end of the season.

Next: Leonard Williams

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Leonard Williams

Leonard “Big Cat” Williams anchors a defensive line that will be looking to rebound in 2017 after finishing 24th in run defense. Williams was named one of Pro Football Focus‘  top 25 plays under age 25 because of his ability to rush the passer and defend the run. According to PFF, Williams has recorded 37 combined sacks and hits. Only Aaron Donald has more among interior defensive linemen.

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Big Cat saw his sack numbers drop from seven in 2016 to just two in 2017 because of the constant double teams he was receiving. But the Jets front office believes he can break out in 2018, picking up his fifth-year option on his rookie contract during the offseason.

Also, rookie defensive linemen Nathan Shepherd is a load to handle on the line and has been running with the first team all preseason. Shepherd is listed at 6’4, 315lbs and has shined during the summer. If Shepherd can carry his play into the regular season, that will draw double teams away from Big Cat.

Just a couple of seasons ago, Williams was part of the “Sons of Anarchy” group that featured former Jets Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Damon Harrison. Williams is the only one that remains from that group and going into year four, he realizes he needs to become a leader for the younger guys like Shepherd.

Earlier this summer, Williams stressed that he tries to lead by example for the younger players and hopes that they will follow suit. Here is what Williams had to say according to an article by George Willis of the New York Post:

“I think that’s a role that ends up coming with you and something that naturally gets developed. I think I have a lot of respect from teammates because of how hard I work and stuff like that. When I do say something, they respect it.”

Expect Williams and Shepherd to help carry a group that has the makings to become an elite run defense in the league.

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Next: New Jack City

New Jack City

Perhaps the strongest unit on the team this season, the Jets secondary better known as “New Jack City” are ready to control the skies.

The group is headlined by the second year safety duo of Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye. Veteran cornerbacks Buster Skrine and Morris Claiborne are steady contributors, while big-time free agent signing Trumaine Johnson is expected to be an elite number one corner this season.

Sports Illustrated NFL writer Andy Benoit previewed the Jets earlier this off-season and came away believing that Jamal Adams can be a special player. Here is what Benoit had to say about the second year safety:

Familiarize yourself with Jamal Adams—he can be First-Team All-Pro by season’s end. The 2017 sixth overall pick has a dynamic, springy playing speed that puts him near the ball in unconventional ways. He can do everything you’d ask of a safety.

Now, the only knock against Adams during his superb rookie year was no interceptions. But Adams has used his eyes more to anticipate plays and get into the passing lanes during the preseason. Adams vowed to “never miss another Pro Bowl” again and the coaching staff is confident that he will be a Pro Bowl selection for the next decade. He would have to miss the Pro Bowl if the Jets made the Super Bowl but that will be talked about at a different time.

Maye has been recovering from offseason ankle surgery and is close to being back to regular form. Maye made his presence known to wide receivers in his rookie season, finishing with 79 combined tackles and two interceptions.

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All the pieces are there for “New Jack City” to become an elite group in 2018, now its just a matter of having them play together as a cohesive unit. If they become elite, they will be the reason why the Jets end their seven-year playoff drought.

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