New York Jets: Five under-the-radar needs to address
By Justin Fried
The New York Jets have plenty of obvious holes to fill entering the offseason but there are a few under-the-radar needs that may not be as apparent.
With so many glaring needs at important positions, it can be easy to overlook some of the other roster necessities on the New York Jets roster.
Positions such as edge rusher and offensive line are in desperate need of upgrades and the same could be said for wide receiver and cornerback. These needs are all well known and the team, along with the entire fanbase, is well aware of them.
But what about those under-the-radar needs that no one ever talks about?
These aren’t the most pressing issues with the current roster nor are they at the flashiest of positions. But if the Jets are going to be successful in 2019 and beyond, they would be wise to address these deficient areas as well as their dire roster holes.
After all, an NFL roster is made up of 53 men and the most successful teams are the ones with the least roster holes, not just stars at important positions. With that, let’s quickly go through and look at five under-the-radar needs on the Jets current roster.
5. Backup Quarterback
The Jets have seemingly found their franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold ending what has been decades of searching for the right guy. While he isn’t an established product yet, the future looks bright and it’s safe to say that quarterback will not be a position to address anytime soon.
But every good starter needs a capable backup. A contingency plan, if you will.
On the off chance that Darnold was forced to miss time, the Jets would need to turn the keys to the offense over to his backup. Currently, the team’s two in-house options are Josh McCown and Davis Webb, and both are set to be some sort of free agent.
Webb is an exclusive-rights free agent making it very likely the Jets retain him but McCown will be 40-years-old in July and an unrestricted free agent which begs the question: Would the Jets even want to bring McCown back?
The veteran started three games in 2018 while Darnold was sidelined and he didn’t even look remotely competent. McCown threw four interceptions and just one touchdown as the Jets offense looked entirely inept under his guidance.
If Darnold is forced to miss any substantial time, the Jets will likely be out of luck regardless. But what if he only misses three games like last year? If the Jets are going to be competitive, the team can ill-afford to just sacrifice three games because they don’t have a reliable backup option.
Webb is a bit more intriguing but he is unproven and would be hard to rely on. The Jets could look to sign a more capable veteran in free agency or even select one late in the draft to provide a bit of stability in the quarterback room.
McCown has been instrumental in the development of Darnold and his leadership cannot be measured by his statistics, but it may finally be time to move on from him once and for all.
Next: 4. Wide Receiver Depth
4. Wide Receiver Depth
The Jets are in dire need of wide receivers at the moment, and we’re not just talking starters. To quote Swedish singer Tove Lo: we’re talking bodies.
Side note, the percentage of crossover between Jets fans and people who listen to Tove Lo is likely very low so I realize I’m not exactly preaching to the choir here with that reference.
Regardless, the Jets currently have just two receivers under contract, projected 2019 starter Quincy Enunwa and glorified special-teamer Charone Peake. Even if the team re-signs restricted free agent Robby Anderson as expected, they will still be ultra thin at the position.
A free agent signing is also likely but that would still leave the team with only three viable options, even counting the re-signing of exclusive-rights free agent Deontay Burnett. Essentially, the Jets need depth players who are at least capable receivers.
They can’t afford to trot out the likes of Peake and Andre Roberts if injuries occur. Signing a veteran presence or drafting in the mid-rounds would solve this issue.
They just cannot rely on special teamers to be targets for Darnold.
Next: 3. Backup/Blocking Tight End
3. Backup/Blocking Tight End
Much like the quarterback position, the Jets seem to have found their answer for the future at tight end in their 2018 draft class. Chris Herndon shined during his rookie season but it’s time to find him a running partner.
The Jets regularly deployed two or sometimes even three tight ends in 2018 which forced the likes of Eric Tomlinson and Jordan Leggett on to the field for meaningful snaps. While the team’s offensive scheme will change in 2019 under new head coach Adam Gase, it would still be helpful to land another capable tight end.
Tomlinson has served the blocking tight end role now for two years but it’s clear the Jets need to upgrade there. Despite that being Tomlinson’s specified role, Herndon was likely a better blocker in 2018 and it’s not as though he was anything special in that department either.
Leggett has improved as a blocker from his Clemson days but still doesn’t fit a defined role and is essentially just a depth piece. The Jets would really benefit from an above-average blocking tight end to assist the offensive line and open up holes in the run game.
Whether it’s through the draft or through free agency, the Jets would be wise to acquire a true blocking tight end for 2019 and beyond.
Next: 2. Young Offensive Line Depth
2. Young Offensive Line Depth
Everyone knows how crucial it is that the Jets address the offensive line this offseason. With gaping holes at left guard and center, Gang Green will look to acquire two new starters via free agency and/or the NFL Draft.
But starters can only get you so far.
Eventually, someone is going to go down with an injury and the team must be ready with a “next-man-up” mentality. In fact, the Los Angeles Rams were the only team in the entire NFL to have the same five starters along the offensive line for every game of the 2018 season.
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Despite what many may think, the Jets offensive line depth was around league-average in 2018, if not slightly better. Jonotthan Harrison was able to step in and be a quality starter when injury struck and longtime reserve Dakota Dozier has been a capable backup for a number of years now. Even backup tackle Brent Qvale was likely around league-average at his position which just speaks to the quality of offensive line play in the NFL.
But all three of those guys are set to be unrestricted free agents.
Perhaps the Jets could bring at least one or two of them back but it would be wise for the team to get younger at the position altogether. This year’s draft class should be offensive line-heavy with at least two players drafted to make up for ignoring the position in the past.
The youth movement is in full flux and it should extend to the Jets offensive line depth.
Next: 1. Off-Ball Linebacker
1. Off-Ball Linebacker
This is probably the most important need for the Jets that no one’s talking about. The rest of the entries on this list have been more about depth at certain positions than players who will receive significant playing time.
But the Jets have a hole at a starting position and it’s not really being discussed.
With the expected move to a 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the Jets will now deploy three off-ball linebackers in their base defense as opposed to the two that they’ve been used to. Avery Williamson and Darron Lee will occupy two of those three slots, but the other slot is yet to be filled.
Lee will likely be asked to play on the weak-side while Williamson has the versatility to play either on the strong-side or the MIKE role but the team is definitely lacking a third quality starter.
Players such as Jordan Jenkins, Kevin Pierre-Louis, and Neville Hewitt could be considered but the latter two are primarily special teamers while the former Jenkins has never played an off-ball linebacker role in his career even dating back to his time at Georgia. Jenkins might fit better as a 4-3 defensive end than a true strong-side off-ball linebacker.
Now, Williams will ultimately deploy multiple fronts and NFL teams run their nickel package 60-70% of the time anyway. But whichever player occupies this role will be asked to play substantial snaps, enough to be considered a true need.
While the Jets have other more pressing needs on both sides of the ball, it would be foolish to ignore their hole at off-ball linebacker. Much like at receiver, special teamers just aren’t going to cut it.