It doesn’t take a genius to say that the Jets need big years from the likes of Sam Darnold, Le’Veon Bell, and Leonard Williams. But for Gang Green to shine in 2019, excellence must come from less-than-expected yet reliable sources.
Every great franchise gets production out of the middle and bottom of their roster. The Jets’ roster continues to evolve, between the handful of legitimate stars, those mid-level ballers who need to step up, and those names familiar to the MetLife faithful who could be looking for new jobs.
Adam Gase and Gregg Williams —co-head coaches in name only — face an interesting dilemma. They possess powerful weapons in their arsenal but they’re vulnerable on numerous fronts.
But can a few good men overcome the lack of an elite center, shut-down corner and outside pass rusher? Is this a team focused on 2020 but with splashy free agent signings program built to win now? And wasn’t that the plan in 2015 — Year One of the Bowles-Maccagnan error — that ended with a Fitz-magic thud on the shores of Lake Erie to Rex Ryan’s undermanned Bills?
This multi-page analysis discusses 2019 Jets who may not rate as sports chat fodder. Yet each one can possibly help make this once great franchise a 21st Century pro football powerhouse.
Next: Jamison Crowder, WR
Jamison Crowder, WR
The Jets like their wide receiving corps. But Robby Anderson needs a physically dominating breakout season. And Quincy Enunwa must get through the year injury-free.
So expect this well-compensated veteran free agent to be Sam Darnold’s best on-field friend. Over his four years in Washington, Crowder proved versatile, durable and productive (though he missed nine games last year with a since-healed ankle injury).
He’s a heady flanker with a flair for creating mismatches over the middle. Crowder should develop into what the Jets felt they had in Jermaine Kearse — who’s currently unsigned, wishing to return to the Seahawks but linked to MetLife rival Big Blue.
Much is also expected of the Duke grad — largely because those receivers behind him on the depth chart like Charone Peake and Josh Bellamy make the roster as special teams demons.
Next: Jonotthan Harrison, C
Jonotthan Harrison, C
The Jets’ center position has been a trainwreck since future Ring of Honor legend Nick Mangold’s 2016 retirement. 2017 starter Wesley Johnson just got waived by his third team since he got cut loose a year ago. 2018 center Spencer Long was so damaged, he couldn’t even snap the ball.
Long got benched, and for the final eight games as a starter, Harrison took care of business and stabilized a disastrous and dangerous situation. The former Colts starter, a fifth-year pro undrafted out of Florida, who’s played an impressive 68 games (31 started) was not spectacular but he displayed chemistry with Darnold and this O-line unit. And now’s he’s got nasty guard Kelechi Osemele positioned to his left.
Harrison can start Game One, but he needs a solid backup. So expect the team to bring in a proven veteran reserve like former Eagles Super Bowl center Stefen Wisniewski or last year’s camp invite Travis Swanson — who stepped in solidly as the starting guard for Adam Gase’s Dolphins.
The Jets have a lot in invested in the players who line up behind the center, namely Darnold and Bell. They both will need adequate protection from the interior behemoths blasting up the middle.
Next: Darryl Roberts, CB
Darryl Roberts, CB
Last season, the Jets two best secondary-men were Jamal Adams and Darryl Roberts. The Marshall-schooled seventh-rounder cut by the Patriots and quickly claimed off waivers in 2016, could be Magic Mike Maccagnan’s finest under-the-radar move.
The GM took some flak for Roberts’ recent three-year, $18 Million deal. But the team recognized this baller’s strong, silent lead-by-example leadership, in the locker-room and on the field.
Roberts flashed great versatility last season. He stepped in at safety for an injured Marcus Maye, and at times for Darron Lee during his four-game suspension. Gregg Williams can utilize him in that S/ILB role, employed with the Cardinals’ Dionne Buchannon or the Giants’ Jabril Peppers.
If only the rest of Darryl’s underwhelming CB unit of well-paid veterans and deeply invested projects could tackle, cover or react as efficiently…
Next: Nathan Shepherd, DE
Nathan Shepherd, DE
For a myriad of reasons, this 2018 small-college third-rounder needs to show something in his second season. It’s unrealistic to think that a Day Two pick from a D-II school could step in and take over. But the 24-year-old Canadian overachiever’s mediocre PFF ranking as the league’s #80 interior defender is at best, below expectations.
It does not bode well that defensive-minded ex-coach Todd Bowles did not like what he saw. New coordinator Gregg Williams — a big believer in his own coaching genius — needs D-line depth to properly implement his dozens of defensive schemes. Shepherd’s play will also affect next offseason’s call on re-signing frustrating Leonard Williams.
It would be a bad omen for the kid if the front office brings to camp a retread DE still available in free agency.
Next: Chandler Catanzaro, K
Chandler Catanzaro, K
“The Cat Man” was a bright spot for the Jets two years ago, hitting 83% of his field goals and all 29 of his extra points. Then the Clemson product bolted for Tampa cuz he hated the cold weather. Last season, he kicked terribly for the Bucs (11/15 FGs, 23/27 PATs), got cut, and then filled in for four games with the Panthers.
As the Clemson product struggled, the Jets whiffed on injured Cairo Santos and then lucked-out with Marist product Jason Myers, who excelled with a Pro Bowl season before bolting to Seattle. Chandler seems excited by his reunion with Jets S/T coach Brant Boyer — who took over the NFL’s 31st-ranked special-teams unit after the 2015 season to rank #1 in the league last season. The kicker’s also close friends with punter Lach Edwards and long-snapper Thomas Hennessy.
Expect Catanzaro to kick confidently and consistently this season, in green-and-white-and-black.