5 Jets who must step up in 2019
By Steven Blush
This offseason, the Jets brought in key free agents and draft picks, along with a new coaching staff. Here are five young veterans on this roster who really need to excel in 2019.
After two or three years in the NFL, it becomes obvious which ballers can and cannot hang. For instance, only a fraction of Jets GM Mike Maccagnan’s four drafts-worth of selections still play pro ball.
An NFL washout is one thing. At least Vernon Gholston and Christian Hackenberg immediately revealed their gridiron ineptitude. Far more frustrating are those who flash potential but fail to elevate their game to the next level. Indeed, the worst thing in the world is a little bit of talent.
The following Jets been given huge opportunities, and have yet to seize the moment. They’re professional skating on thin ice.
Sports history is littered with unrealized promise. So it’s now or never — the heat is on.
Next: Brandon Shell
This will be a make-or-break season for the nephew of NFL great Art Shell. Will he be the Jets’ next Marvin Powell or another Vlad Ducasse?
The South Carolina kid has solid games but lacks consistency. For 2018, PFF graded Shell a very meh 62.7 (out of 100). To be fair, the entire Jets O-line had putrid moments — due in part to adjusting on the fly to coach Rick Dennison’s complex zone-blocking schemes. But Shell saw 2018 as a “stepping stone.”
Brandon played every snap last year before a gruesome knee injury, from which he is still recovering. And he’ll now be schooled by his fourth O-line coach in as many NFL seasons.
Plus the right tackle is on his contract year, with third-rounder Chuma Edoga waiting in the wings. Shell’s time is now.
Next: Jordan Jenkins
This Georgia Bulldog’s gotta put more bite in his game. The Jets handed Jenkins a Day One starting job — which is never a great idea. Three years on, he’s yet to distinguish himself.
The weak-side linebacker physically dominates against the run. But week after week, he looks lost trying to cover TEs and RBs over the middle.
Last season PFF ranked the 2016 third-rounder the NFL’s #98 edge-rusher, with a stunningly low starter grade of 52.4. Opposing QBs amassed a 135.2 passer rating throwing his way.
The front office re-signed productive Penn grad Brandon Copeland. Last year’s camp sensation Frankie Luvu and recent UDFA Jabril Frazier will also be gunning for Jenkins’ OLB job. So this 2016 third-round pick must slam that door and dominate in all aspects.
Next: Robby Anderson
Enough about potential. Enough excuses for churlish transgressions. It’s time for this deep threat to deliver big-time over a full 16-game schedule.
In 2018, we witnessed developing chemistry between young Sam Darnold and the undrafted Temple burner. But face facts — Mike Maccagnan’s finest UDFA selection, with an impressive 155 receptions over three years, still ain’t Pro Bowl material. If he was, at least one team would’ve inquired about his second-round tender.
The 6’3″, 190-pound “Young Amazing” seems to lack the physical strength and/or mental toughness to overcome elite defenders. His slightly above-average PFF grade of 68.3 as the league’s #55-ranked receiver does not merit a max contract.
Jets can only hope that Anderson is correct in his belief that Adam Gase will make him a great player.
Next: Chris Herndon
This Miami Hurricanes tight end was one of the great surprises of last year’s draft. For 2019, he should be the Jets’ top offensive threat not named Le’Veon Bell. Coach Gase sees the 6’4″, 252-pounder as a “unicorn type player” solid in receiving, run blocking and pass protection.
But Herndon’s three-game suspension to start the season (over a June 2019 DWI) raises red flags. He’s so good that one more slip-up could have season-altering repercussions. But at his best, he can help lead his team’s young QB to greatness.
The question for the Jets is whether Herndon can ascend beyond his first-team All-Rookie season (39 receptions for 502 yards and four TDs). If nothing else, he must continue to grow and learn, to keep tantalizing fourth-rounder Trevon Wesco off the field.
Next: Marcus Maye
The Jets got criticized after the 2017 draft for spending their first two picks on safeties. Following that season, some insiders felt Maye could be an even better pro than Jamal Adams.
Then came thumb and shoulder injuries, resulting in 2018-ending surgeries and Injured Reserve. This was not Maye’s first visit to the operating room, so medical questions abound — over whether the former Florida Gator can ever be healthy enough to contribute long-term.
The Jets want Maye to thrive in 2019 and beyond. They really don’t want to replace him with some combination of cornerback Darryl Roberts, ever-injured Doug Middleton, supplemental pick Brandon Bryant and Adams’ LSU mate, UDFA John Battle.
Last season, Maye made Jets franchise history for his 104-yard INT return against the Broncos in Week 5. This year, he merits extra puntos for giving up his #26 jersey to Le-Veon Bell. We can only hope that Maye’s old number dominates the league this year!