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Jets vs. Lions Week 1: Top 5 players to watch

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)
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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)

The New York Jets open the regular season against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in the Motor City. Here are the top five Jets players to watch for on Monday Night Football.

J.E.T.S. Jets, Jets, Jets football is back!

The New York Jets open their 2018 regular season against the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:10 pm on ESPN and this game is the first of two on Monday. The Los Angeles Rams will play at the Oakland Raiders at 10:20 pm.

The Jets finished the preseason 1-3, winning the preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons but fell to the Washington Redskins, New York Giants, and Philadelphia Eagles. The preseason is over and now the Jets can focus on games that matter.

It was a busy offseason for the Jets, as they drafted a potential Pro Bowl quarterback for the next decade and made some major impact signings in free agency. The Jets have playmakers at every position and it should be an exciting season for fans that root for Gang Green.

The Jets will be looking to end a seven-year playoff drought and it must start with a great game against the Lions. Here are top five players to watch for on Monday Night Football.

LANDOVER, MD – AUGUST 16: Quarterback Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets warms up before a preseason game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on August 16, 2018 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD – AUGUST 16: Quarterback Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets warms up before a preseason game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on August 16, 2018 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

5. Quarterback Sam Darnold

All eyes will be on Sam Darnold on Monday night for a number of reasons. Darnold is the Jets prized first-round draft pick who is expected by many to be the franchise quarterback for the next decade. Also, Darnold will be the youngest quarterback to start a season opener since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Darnold will be 21 years and 97 days old when he lines up under center on Monday.

Darnold earned the starting job over Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater this preseason. Bridgewater was traded to the New Orleans Saints for a 3rd round pick at the end of August. Darnold completed 64 percent of his passes in the preseason, throwing two touchdowns and one interception. The rookie quarterback didn’t take a lot of deep shots, averaging just 5.4 yards an attempt, but showed poise and accuracy.

Darnold presents a challenge to the Detroit Lions defense because they don’t have any pro tape on him. The Lions defense recorded 19 interceptions last season, fourth best in the NFL. It will be interesting to see how the Lions attack Darnold.

The lights and most of the attention will be on Darnold, but head coach Todd Bowles stressed he just wants his rookie quarterback to play within himself. Bowles wants to keep it simple for Darnold according to an article by Eric Allen of NewYorkJets.com. Here is what Bowles had to say:

He’s been playing football all his life,” Bowles told reporters. “He’s not just coming fresh out of the womb and just grabbing the ball for the first time. He’s been in crowds. He’s seen crowds and he’s been playing football. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. It’s always going to be loud in a dome and Detroit is a tough place to play. I get that, but he just has to play football. He’ll be fine.”

Next: 4. Center Spencer Long

KANSAS CITY, MO – SEPTEMBER 25: A New York Jets helmet is held behind a player’s back during the national anthem before NFL action against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium before the game on September 25, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO – SEPTEMBER 25: A New York Jets helmet is held behind a player’s back during the national anthem before NFL action against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium before the game on September 25, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

4. Center Spencer Long

Maybe the most important guy in making sure Darnold feels and stays comfortable against the Lions will be center, Spencer Long.

Spencer Long is one of the many free agent signings by the Jets during the offseason. Long signed a four-year, $27.5 million in March and the Jets are expecting Long to help solidify a shaky offensive line.

Long only played seven games last season for the Washington Redskins, battling knee and quad injuries. The quad injury eventually became too much to play with and Long had season-ending surgery on it. However, when Long was on the field he only gave up one sack, two quarterback hits, and two quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus.

Long did not have any setbacks during the preseason and has been a solid addition to the offensive line. Long staying healthy will be a major factor in how much success Darnold can have this season.

Next: 3. Running Back Isaiah Crowell

3. Running Back Isaiah Crowell

The Jets signed running back Isaiah Crowell in free agency to provide a 1-2 punch in the backfield with Bilal Powell. On Monday night, Crowell along with Powell will be counted on to help relieve some pressure off Darnold.

Crowell comes to the Jets from the Cleveland Browns where he spent the first four years of his career. Although the Browns went 0-16 in 2017, Crowell had a career-high 206 carries for 853 yards and two touchdowns. The numbers might not jump out but what does jump out is Crowell played in all 16 games for the fourth straight season, starting every game the last two.

Crowell is a durable back who compliments Powell very well. Crowell is more of a between the tackles runner while Powell is the receiving back. However, Crowell has shown improved skills in catching the ball out of the backfield this preseason, even catching a touchdown against the Falcons in the preseason opener.

The Jets have an underrated duo in the backfield and they should be able to relieve some pressure off of Darnold. If the Jets can run the ball consistently against Detroit, they will be able to control the game and let Darnold ease into his first regular season game.

Next: 2. Linebacker Avery Williamson

NASHVILLE, TN – DECEMBER 03: Avery Williamson #54 of the Tennessee Titans in action against Tom Savage #3 of the Houston Texans during the first half at Nissan Stadium on December 3, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN – DECEMBER 03: Avery Williamson #54 of the Tennessee Titans in action against Tom Savage #3 of the Houston Texans during the first half at Nissan Stadium on December 3, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

2. Linebacker Avery Williamson

The Jets are hoping they found their new David “The Hitman” Harris in free agent acquisition Avery Williamson. Williamson comes over from the Tennessee Titans and the Jets are expecting Williamson and fellow inside linebacker Darron Lee to form a dynamic duo.

Williamson is entering his fifth season and has been one of the most consistent performers since he entered the league in 2014. Williamson is just one of five players to register at least 10 sacks and 350 total tackles. During the “dress rehearsal” game at the New York Giants in Week 3 of the preseason, Williamson recorded nine tackles and added a forced fumble.

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Adding Williamson could help the Jets become arguably the top run defense in the league with Lee, Leonard Williams, Steve McLendon, and rookie Nathan Shepherd. It may time a little time to gel together, but it could be scary when they are all on the same page.

Lee is especially excited about Williamson joining him at inside linebacker. Lee improved down the stretch in 2017 and Williamson is starting to become more comfortable with his new running mates. Here is what Lee had to say according to Eric Allen on NewYorkJets.com:

The potential is all there in my opinion to be the best inside linebacker duo in this league. That’s what we’re aiming for and that’s what we’re shooting for. he potential is definitely there. My first year, I played with guys who already played in the system before. Avery hasn’t played in this system before, but he’s been picking it up tremendously. Now we’re just trying to incorporate it all and make it flow smooth.”

Both linebackers must communicate effectively on Monday as the Lions feature three running backs who have different skill sets in LeGarrette Blount, Kerryon Johnson, and Theo Riddick. They will be relied on heavily to stop the running game and force some quick three and outs.

Next: 1. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson

LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 10: Trumaine Johnson #22 of the Los Angeles Rams looks on during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 10, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 10: Trumaine Johnson #22 of the Los Angeles Rams looks on during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 10, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

1. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson

The Jets made many impactful free agent signings this offseason but none was bigger than former Los Angeles Ram cornerback Trumaine Johnson. Johnson signed a five-year $72.5 million contract, including $34 million guaranteed at signing. It is one of the biggest contracts in franchise history.

The Jets signed Johnson to a huge contract because they believe he can be an elite number one cornerback for them. Morris Claiborne is listed as the number two corner while Buster Skrine will play in the slot.

Monday night will provide a great test to Johnson and the rest of the secondary because the Lions have three dangerous wide receivers in Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Kenny Golladay. Tate is one of only two NFL players to reach 90 receptions in each of the past four seasons. Jones led the NFL in yards per reception last season and Golladay is progressing into another deep ball threat.

Johnson will most likely line up against Jones. He must lock up the Lions wide receiver or Jones could break some big plays. Johnson led the Rams with 13 pass deflections last season so it should be a fun matchup to watch.

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Johnson called himself a “game changer” and a “playmaker” when he spoke to ESPN New York Jets reporter Rich Cimini back in March. Monday night would be a good time to start proving he is worth the big contract.

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