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New York Jets: 5 most surprising standouts this season

New York Jets (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
New York Jets (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
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New York Jets (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
New York Jets (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

The New York Jets saw their fair share of surprise contributors in 2019. Here are the five players who burst on to the scene as surprising standouts last season.

2019 was an odd season for the New York Jets. Gang Green opened up their year with an atrocious 1-7 record and looked to be competing for the No. 1 overall pick for around half the season.

But somehow, the team finished the year by winning six of their final eight games to secure a 7-9 record. The road to that 7-9 record was winding and unpredictable, and the end product couldn’t tell the true story of the season.

Along the way, the Jets found plenty of ways to disappoint, but there were still plenty of notable standouts who emerged from nowhere to have excellent seasons.

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Injuries forced a number of unproven commodities into action and quite a few of these players exceeded any expectations. Of course, many of these players had nonexistent expectations, to begin with.

But that shouldn’t make their accomplishments any less impressive.

With that, here are five of the most surprising standouts from the Jets’ 2019 season.

Next: 5. Alex Lewis

New York Jets (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
New York Jets (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

5. Alex Lewis, OG

The Jets went into the 2019 season with a renewed sense of optimism regarding their offensive line. Veterans Ryan Kalil and Kelechi Osemele were added in the offseason and the hope was that this iteration of the offensive line would be an improvement over their subpar unit in 2018.

Unfortunately, that didn’t turn out to be the case.

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While Kalil struggled and was eventually replaced, Osemele suffered a shoulder injury early in the season and ran into a dispute with the Jets’ front office. Eventually, the former All-Pro guard was released with an injury settlement leaving the team without a starting left guard.

In stepped Alex Lewis.

Lewis was acquired by the Jets in an August trade that saw the team send a conditional seventh-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens. And from Week 5 on, Lewis filled a starting role better than his predecessor had.

The 2016 fourth-rounder went on to start 12 games for the Jets all the while making the case that he should remain a starter going into next season. Lewis is a free agent this offseason, but the Jets could look to bring him back even while they remake their offensive line.

In a season in which the Jets suffered through abysmal offensive line play, Lewis was one of the few bright spots.

Next: 4. James Burgess

New York Jets (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
New York Jets (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

4. James Burgess, LB

Going into the season, if you had to predict which player would lead the team in tackles a few names would probably spring to mind.

Perhaps it would be prized free-agent signing C.J. Mosley or his projected fellow starting linebacker Avery Williamson. Maybe even Jamal Adams would be able to accomplish the feat if he played enough near the line of scrimmage.

There is not a single person who would have predicted that little-known practice-squad linebacker James Burgess would be the one to lead the Jets in tackles. But that’s exactly what he did.

The Jets experienced unprecedented injuries at linebacker this season with Williamson going down in the preseason and Mosley playing just two games all year. Not to mention season-ending injuries to the likes of Blake Cashman and Albert McClellan.

New York Jets must draft an offensive player in Round 1 of the 2020 NFL Draft. More

When the dust settled, the Jets were left with career special-teamer Neville Hewitt and practice squad linebacker James Burgess.

Burgess would go on to start all 10 games he played in and lead the Jets with 80 tackles by the season’s end. The well-traveled 25-year-old was more athletic and better in coverage than Hewitt and showed his versatility defending the run and covering opposing tight ends/running backs.

Outside of Adams, he was the only Jets player to record an interception, forced fumble, fumble recovery, pass deflection, and sack and he was one of just two players to score a safety on the year.

Burgess truly was a jack of all trades and he has more than earned a spot on next year’s roster. The question now comes with how much the Jets will trust him in a possible starting role going forward.

Next: 3. Ryan Griffin

New York Jets (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
New York Jets (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

3. Ryan Griffin, TE

Much like the aforementioned two entries, tight end Ryan Griffin was only thrust into the spotlight because of injury. And much like the other two, he more than made the most of his increased opportunity.

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  • Griffin was signed by the Jets in July after spending six years with the Houston Texans. The 30-year-old veteran had seen his fair share of starting duty before coming to the Jets so it wasn’t as if he was a virtual unknown.

    But the Jets weren’t expecting Griffin to take on a starting role, at least once promising young tight end Chris Herndon returned from his four-game suspension. Herndon would go on to play 10 snaps all year while Griffin started for pretty much the entire season.

    The former sixth-round pick finished with 320 yards and five touchdowns on 34 catches. Those five touchdowns were a career-high while the other two figures were the second-most he had finished with in a season.

    He parlayed that success into a well-deserved three-year, $10.8 million contract extension in late November and Griffin appears to be a fixture of the Jets offense going forward.

    The possibility of a healthy pairing of Herndon and Griffin next year is enticing as the Jets look to have one of the better tight end duos in the NFL.

    And that’s all a result of Griffin’s surprising 2019 season.

    Next: 2. Foley Fatukasi

    New York Jets (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
    New York Jets (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

    2. Foley Fatukasi, DL

    The Jets defense saw quite a few different players step up from out of nowhere and put together career years. And there was no position group that accomplished more with as few proven assets than the defensive line.

    Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams managed to get the most out of the Jets inexperienced, unknown talent along the defensive line and there was no greater example of this than Folorunso Fatukasi.

    Fatukasi burst on to the scene in his second NFL season and while his 27 tackles and one sack don’t seem impressive, the tape tells a very different story.

    The 2018 sixth-round pick finished with the second-highest overall grade from Pro Football Focus behind just Jamal Adams checking in at an elite 81.5 grade.

    He was rated as one of the best interior defenders in the league and at a point was in discussion with the likes of Aaron Donald and Calais Campbell among PFF standards.

    .@PFF's top-graded defensive linemen since Week 6:

    1. Aaron Donald2. Calais Campbell3. Foley Fatukasi pic.twitter.com/Nf7uElQgHm

    — New York Jets (@nyjets) November 16, 2019

    Fatukasi should be a shoo-in to remain a key piece of the Jets defensive line rotation heading into next season and with another year of development who knows just how good he could get.

    The Jets could have a future star on their hands in Foley Fatukasi and his shocking second-year leap in 2019 could be the catalyst for future success.

    Next: 1. Blessuan Austin

    New York Jets (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
    New York Jets (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

    1. Blessuan Austin, CB

    The Jets went into the 2019 season with a massive problem at the cornerback position. Their two starters on the outside were the overpaid, washed-up Trumaine Johnson and the overpaid, career-backup Darryl Roberts.

    Fortunately, slot corner Brian Poole exceeded all expectations and put together the best year of his career, but the outside cornerback slots could have been a disaster if not for some excellent play down the stretch from a surprising source.

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    The Jets took a chance on Rutgers product Blessuan Austin in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. The once-highly-touted cornerback had played just three collegiate games over the past two years after tearing his ACL in consecutive seasons.

    In fact, it wasn’t even clear if Austin would play in his rookie season.

    But the 23-year-old fought hard to rehab and get on the field in 2019 and he was finally activated off the injured reserve ahead of the team’s Week 10 meeting with the New York Giants.

    It didn’t take long for Austin to impress as he would go on to start six of the Jets’ final seven games showing flashes of a truly dominant cornerback.

    A blown assignment in the team’s Week 16 meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers served as his welcome to the NFL moment and Gregg Williams took this as an opportunity to teach the rookie a lesson.

    But the future still looks very bright for Austin and he will likely be penciled in as a starter for next season.

    Next. New York Jets: Ranking the most likely players to stay on the team through the 2020s

    Considering how awful the Jets cornerback group could have been in 2019, the team should be counting their blessings that Bless Austin surprised in the way that he did.

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