Todd Bowles and the Jets look to rebound from last year's disappointing 5-11 showing
A year ago, the Jets entered the 2016 season with lofty expectations and high hopes, after they had won 10 games in coach Todd Bowles’ first season. They dreamed of making the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Things have changed drastically at the team’s headquarters in Florham Park, N.J., since then. The 2017 Jets are in get-younger, full-on rebuilding mode, with a roster majorly lacking in talent. They have almost zero shot of making the playoffs this season.
Coming off a 5–11 disaster of a season in 2016, the Jets stripped their roster of veterans. They are starting over now. No more quick rebuild, like they attempted in 2015 and ’16. This process is going to take a while.
And owner Woody Johnson gets that. He hasn’t put a playoff mandate on Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan in 2017. Johnson just wants to see steady improvement from the young Jets, with less focus on black-and-white wins and losses.
Will this approach — building through the draft, instead of patching up their roster via free agency — work for the Jets in the long run? Maybe. Maybe not. But one thing is for sure: This season likely will be a long one for this organization.
So what is there to play for? Well, the main focus for the Jets in 2017 will be on the quarterback position. The Jets didn’t draft a QB, so they’re rolling with journeyman Josh McCown and youngsters Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty. This is a prove-it year for Hackenberg, whom the Jets drafted (to many raised eyebrows) in Round 2 last year.
|Head Coach||Todd Bowles|
|Record With Team||15-17|
|Offensive Coordinator||John Morton|
|Defensive Coordinator||Kacy Rodgers|
|Special Teams Coordinator||Brant Boyer|
|Asst. Head Coach/Inside Linebackers||Mike Caldwell|
|Running Backs||Stump Mitchell|
|Wide Receivers||Karl Dorrell|
|Tight Ends||Jimmie Johnson|
|Offensive Line||Steve Marshall|
|Defensive Line||Robert Nunn|
|Outside Linebackers||Kevin Greene|
|Defensive Backs||Joe Danna|
This season is all about whether Hackenberg has what it takes to play in the NFL — or doesn’t. He looked raw in the preseason last year, and then didn’t play in the regular season. Which was fine. But this year, he needs to take a big step forward. McCown won’t be with the Jets past 2017, and Petty looks like a backup, ultimately. Will Hackenberg give the Jets a reason to look back fondly on 2017, even if they struggle to win games?
The Jets are also trying to incorporate younger wide receivers, now that Brandon Marshall is playing for the Giants and Eric Decker is with the Titans. Quincy Enunwa had a chance to emerge as a potential No. 1 threat, but he suffered yet another neck injury in training camp and is expected to undergo season-ending surgery to repair a bulging disk. The attention will now shift to Robby Anderson, who flashed last year as an undrafted rookie.
While the Jets drafted two receivers (ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen), they also selected tight end Jordan Leggett to bolster a position that was nonexistent under offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. Gailey retired, and the Jets replaced him with John Morton.
The running game was respectable — the Jets ranked 12th in the league — but Matt FortÃ© averaged only 3.7 yards per carry, his lowest number since 2009.
Offensive line is another position group where the Jets are rolling with younger players. They’re giving second-year pro Brandon Shell a chance to win the right tackle job. He has a good shot at beating out Ben Ijalana, though Ijalana is more proven. The Jets cut Nick Mangold and gave the center job to Wesley Johnson, a fourth-year pro. Big shoes to fill there for Johnson.
While Mangold and Marshall were cut on offense, the Jets also released once-elite cornerback Darrelle Revis, who was a mess last season — as was the Jets’ secondary as a whole.
The Jets didn’t make a big-splash cornerback pickup in free agency or the draft. They signed the oft-injured Morris Claiborne and drafted two corners in Round 6. But they overhauled their safety positions, as Calvin Pryor and Marcus Gilchrist — both ineffective — will be replaced by Jamal Adams (Round 1 pick) and Marcus Maye (Round 2 pick).
For now, the Jets will do what they can at corner with Claiborne, Buster Skrine (who is better suited in the slot) and Marcus Williams. An intriguing player to watch is Juston Burris, a fourth-round pick last year. The Jets coaches like his potential as a press man-to-man coverage corner. Can he carve out a role for himself in this rebuilding secondary?
Up front on defense, this is a huge year for defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who got a big contract from the Jets last offseason and then didn’t deliver — perhaps partly due to his recovery from a broken leg sustained late in the 2015 season. Wilkerson had just 4.5 sacks last season after racking up 12 in 2015. The Jets could cut him after 2017 if he struggles again. The move would free up $11 million in salary cap space for 2018, with $9 million in dead money attached. Wilkerson is due to have a $20 million cap figure next season. In 2017, will he prove to be worth that?
At linebacker, last year’s first-round pick Darron Lee takes over at middle linebacker for David Harris. Harris, who had been the Jets’ middle linebacker since 2007, was entering the final year of his contract but was cut in June. Is Lee capable of playing middle linebacker? That’s another storyline the Jets hope to sort out this year. Harris couldn’t cover running backs in the open field like he used to. Lee is more athletic — and plenty capable in mid-range coverage — but is he bulky enough to hold up as a middle linebacker, while sticking his nose in and defending the run?
It seemed unlikely going into last season, but the Jets were actually worse on special teams in 2016 than they were in 2015. The Jets finished 2016 ranked 31st in Football Outsiders’ special teams DVOA ratings, compared to 25th in 2015. Bowles opted not to fire special teams coordinator Brant Boyer, who debuted last season. But it’s past time for the Jets to get more from their special teams.
The Jets cut kicker Nick Folk and replaced him with Chandler Catanzaro, which was a curious move, considering Catanzaro made just 75 percent of his field goals last season in Arizona — tied for second worst in the NFL. Folk was eighth (87.1). But Catanzaro is cheaper. The team needs more from Lachlan Edwards, a rookie punter last season. He finished last in the NFL in net yards per punt (37.3).
Since inconsistent return man Jalin Marshall is suspended four games for PEDs, the Jets need to figure out that spot. It’s a total mystery right now.