Aug 122013
 

Introduction

Ah, the Jets. The media’s punching bag. I’ll admit, they’re fun to make fun of, leading the NFL in butt fumbles and what not, but they’re not the worst team in the NFL, as they’re often made out to be. They have talent, mostly on the defensive side of the ball. Darrelle Revis is gone, but he played all of 93 snaps with the team last season and they still played well defensively, so he was expendable going into his contract year. Credit the Jets for realizing they weren’t going to compete either way this year and getting something for him rather than watching him walk for nothing next March. Even without him, they ranked 9th in the NFL in defensive DVOA, thanks largely to the emergence of Antonio Cromartie as a Revis-lite #1 cornerback.

Of course, the Jets did rank 20th in the NFL surrendered 23.4 points per game, but that’s because their offense, which ranked 30th in offensive DVOA, couldn’t stay on the field. They’re closer to being the 9th place defense like DVOA suggests than the 20th. They were also 8th in yards allowed. Offensively, they scored just 17.6 points per game, 27th in the NFL and things don’t look like they’ll be any better this season.

They have some talent on the offensive line, but that’s largely wasted if you have a quarterback who can’t hit receivers even when protected. Their offensive line may help them get their running game back going this season if new starting running back Chris Ivory can be as good as he looked in flashes in New Orleans, but this is a passing league first and foremost and the Jets may have the worst quarterback situation in the NFL, after maybe Jacksonville.

Quarterbacks

Everyone knows about Mark Sanchez. Out of 32 qualified quarterbacks, he ranked 31st in QB rating last season, completing 54.3% of his passes for an average of 6.4 YPA, 13 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions. He was also ProFootballFocus’ 2nd worst ranked quarterback last season. This isn’t a new thing for him. His career high in QB rating is 78.2, from the 2011 season, and his career QB rating is 71.7. The Jets used to have a fantastic supporting cast which allowed them to mask Sanchez’s deficiencies, but he’s always had them. They’ve just been really obvious over the past 2 seasons. He was ProFootballFocus’ 2nd worst ranked quarterback in both 2009 and 2011 as well and in his best season in 2010 he was still 28th out of 37 eligible. He has to go.

They drafted Geno Smith in the 2nd round this April for this reason, but he might not be much better, at least as a rookie. Quarterbacks that fall out of the first round usually have a very low success rate. Of the 29 teams who know who their week 1 starter at quarterback is going to be, 20 of them will be starting quarterbacks who were drafted in the 1st round. Of last season’s 12 playoff teams, 8 of them started quarterbacks who were drafted in the 1st round. And this isn’t some fluke. This is how it always is. Quarterbacks drafted in the 1st round don’t always pan out (see Sanchez, Mark), but guys that the NFL allows to fall out of the 1st round rarely make it as starters.

It makes sense. The NFL is a quarterback league and the quarterback position is so valuable that if you have the baseline skills to play quarterback, you’re going to go in the 1st round. Guys who fall out of the 1st round usually have something wrong with them. Sure, the process isn’t perfect and guys like Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick can slip through the cracks, but when you draft a quarterback in the 2nd round, more often than not, you’re getting a career backup at best.

With Geno Smith, what’s wrong with him is that nothing stands out about him on tape. He doesn’t have a bad arm and he’s not inaccurate and he can run a little bit, but he doesn’t do anything that wows. It’s very concerning that the entire NFL let him fall out of the 1st round in a year when quarterback demand exceeded quarterback supply by more than any year in recent memory. Non-1st round pick quarterbacks especially struggle as rookies. Andy Dalton and Russell Wilson have been the exception over the last 2 seasons, but the previous 3 non-1st round pick quarterbacks to start week 1 were Chris Weinke, Quincy Carter, and Kyle Orton.

Chris Weinke, a 4th round pick, got the week 1 start for the Panthers in 2001 because he was 29. Still, he completed just 54.3% of his passes for an average of 5.4 YPA and 11 touchdowns to 19 interceptions that season. Quincy Carter, a 2nd round pick, got the week 1 start for the Cowboys that same season, completing just 51.1% of his passes for 6.1 YPA, and 5 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. Meanwhile, Kyle Orton, a 4th round pick, got the start for the Bears in 2005, completing just 51.6% of his passes for an average of 5.1 YPA, 9 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.

Of course, Smith might not even get a chance to start this season. Rex Ryan seems prepared to go down swinging with Mark Sanchez. They’ve even discussed using Geno Smith as an option specialist quarterback, which is one of the most asinine ideas I’ve heard in a while. They couldn’t get the option specialist idea going last year with Tim Tebow and trying with a quarterback who isn’t primarily a runner like Geno Smith isn’t going to make things better. Smith can run at times, but unlike Tebow, he’s most comfortable in the pocket. That just sounds like a recipe for disaster and it could hurt Smith’s development.

Then again, while Sanchez seems to have Rex Ryan’s full support, Ryan doesn’t seem to have anyone’s full support. The front office is all new this season, led by 1st time GM John Idzik, and Ryan is really the only holdover from last year’s debacle. It seems like he’s just around because the front office didn’t want to have to pay two coaches. The Idzik/Ryan combination was most recently in the news when Idzik suggested that Ryan didn’t have full control of who the starting quarterback would be.

Smith seems like Idzik’s guy. He drafted him. Sanchez wouldn’t even be on the roster if his salary wasn’t guaranteed. Ryan has stronger ties to Sanchez and no ties to the new front office. Ryan might not last the season and the team could easily quit on their lame duck Head Coach after a slow start, much like the Buccaneers did in 2011 and the Eagles did in 2012. That could lead to the Jets winning even fewer games than they otherwise would have. It’s a mess.

Ordinarily, the Jets’ poor turnover margin from 2012, -14, would be a sign of an impending turn around. For example, teams with 20 or fewer turnovers on average turn the ball over 25.5 times the following season, while teams that turn the ball over 35 or more times turn the ball over 28.1 times the following season. Teams with 20 or fewer takeaways take the ball away an average of 25.3 times the following season, while teams with 35 or more takeaways take the ball away an average of 27.3 times the following season. Teams with a turnover differential of +15 or higher have a turnover differential of +3.6 the following season, while teams with a turnover differential of -15 have a turnover differential of +1.5 the following season.

However, that might not be the case with the Jets. They didn’t have bad luck recovering fumbles. In fact, they recovered 54.17% of fumbles that hit the ground. Mark Sanchez was simply a turnover machine, throwing 18 interceptions and fumbling 9 times. I don’t foresee that changing this season and it could be a similar situation with Geno Smith under center. They’ll probably have a turnover margin of -10 or worse again this season.

Grade: C-

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Their receiving corps won’t help whoever is under center. Santonio Holmes was signed to 5-year, 45.25 million dollar contract before the 2011 season to be their #1 wide receiver, but he’s been very disappointing. He’s had several confrontations with coaches and teammates and last season, when he hurt his foot against the 49ers, he just threw the ball up in the air in frustration, only to have it returned for a touchdown. It was almost like he knew he was done for the year and just didn’t care anymore.

Now, 11 months after the injury, he’s still not practicing and he could miss at least the first 6 games of the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list and he may end up going on injured reserve for the 2nd straight season. Reports say the Jets privately feel Holmes is milking his injury and taking his recovery easy because he really doesn’t care if he plays this season, set to make 7.5 million guaranteed regardless and almost definitely going to be cut after the season regardless. If true, he’s making a very dumb move and killing his market value for next off-season. He’ll rightfully be labeled as a teammate and someone who doesn’t love the game. Even when on the field, he’s unlikely to be an asset.

Without him, the Jets would go forward with the highly uninspiring trio of Jeremy Kerley, Stephen Hill, and Braylon Edwards at wide receiver. Kerley is the only one who is any good in that bunch. He led the team in receiving with 56 catches for 827 yards and 2 touchdowns last season and he did it on 88 targets so he wasn’t just a volume receiver. The 5-9 188 pounder is primarily a slot specialist.

Hill, meanwhile, was awful as a 2nd round rookie and looked every bit as raw as he was expected to be. He caught just 45.7% of his targets, 21 catches on 46 attempts, while dropping 6 passes and averaging less than a yard per route run on 262 routes run. He was ProFootballFocus’ 94th ranked wide receiver out of 105 eligible. He could be better in his 2nd year in the league, but it’s not promising. Edwards, meanwhile, has had some good seasons and is somehow only 30, but there’s a reason he was available so late into the off-season. He’s played just 541 snaps over the past 2 seasons and is barely worth a roster spot anymore. He could be their #1 receiver, matched up with Darrelle Revis, when they play the Buccaneers week 1.

Grade: C-

Running Backs

The Jets’ best chance to move the ball on offense is running the ball with new running back Chris Ivory. This was also something they couldn’t do last year as they averaged 3.8 yards per carry led by the uninspiring duo of Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell, 23rd in the NFL. Enter Chris Ivory. Ivory cost just a 4th round pick and a cheap 3 year, 6 million dollar deal, but he has the ability to be a real breakout star and give them a strong running game once more.

Ivory was a real find for the Saints as an undrafted free agent from Tiffin in 2009. He made the roster as a rookie and though he was never high on the depth chart behind Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush/Darren Sproles, when injuries struck, and they frequently did, he always made the most of his opportunity. In 3 seasons with the Saints, Ivory rushed for 1307 yards and 8 touchdowns on just 256 carries, an impressive 5.0 YPC.

Now going to the Jets, he’ll finally get a chance to be atop the depth chart. We’ve seen what Ivory has done in 250 carries in his career and it would be huge if he could do that again. He probably won’t do quite that as he’ll be running against stacked boxes much more often with Mark Sanchez/Geno Smith under center than he was with Drew Brees, but the Jets actually have a solid run blocking offensive line, so they’ll give him help. The other concern is if he can remain effective when getting 15-20 carries per game for an extended period of time, something he’s never done. He’s also had injury issues of his own and is currently battling hamstring problems in Training Camp.

If Ivory were to get hurt, their other options are not good. Bilal Powell has a 3.7 career YPC. Joe McKnight is not expected to stick on the roster and briefly was a cornerback last year. Mike Goodson actually got a more lucrative contract than Ivory’s extension, but he’s not an every down back and was arrested for DUI and gun charges this off-season. There will be plenty of opportunity for Ivory to be a 250+ carry back if he can stay healthy.

Grade: B

 

 

Offensive Line

The Jets’ offensive line will help their running game, as they’ve graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 12th ranked run blocking offensive line in each of the last 2 seasons and 4th in 2010. They’re also good in pass protection, grading out 1st, 13th, and 10th in pass blocking in 2010, 2011, and 2012 respectively. However, Mark Sanchez only completes 60.6% of his passes in his career even when not pressured so their pass blocking talent is wasted because of their quarterback play. Last season, Sanchez was pressured on just 29.2% of his drop backs, 11th fewest in the NFL. However, he only completed 58.4% of his passes when not pressured and threw 14 interceptions to 13 touchdowns. He also took a sack on 22.8% of pressured drop backs, 6th most in the NFL.

Center Nick Mangold is the rock of the offensive line. Mangold actually had one of the worst seasons in his career last year, grading out as “only” ProFootballFocus’ 6th ranked center. Previous to last season, he graded out in the top-2 among centers in every season from 2008-2011. He remains one of the top centers in the NFL, excelling in run blocking, but also holding up well in pass protection. Left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson is also one of the best players in the NFL at his respective position. With the exception of a down 2011 year, Ferguson has been a top-7 tackle every year since 2008. And in that down year, he still played very well, grading out 20th at his position.

Right tackle Austin Howard returns after playing pretty well in his first season as a starter in 2012. He graded out above average. He struggled in pass protection, allowing 10 sacks, but Mark Sanchez made him look worse than he was in pass protection and he also excelled as a run blocker. On top of that, he committed just 4 penalties and graded out above average overall. He should remain a solid starter, even if he is somewhat of a liability in pass protection.

The change on the offensive line comes at guard, where Matt Slauson and Brandon Moore are both gone as free agents (the latter has retired). Both players graded out above average last season (Moore was actually 4th at his position) so they’ll be tough to replace. Willie Colon will step in at left guard. He reinvented himself as a solid guard last year in his first season at the position. He was once an excellent right tackle, but he missed all but 1 game from 2010-2011 with injuries and they seem to have sapped his abilities.

He’s still a solid player when he’s in the lineup, but he also missed 5 games with injuries last season. He’s going into his age 30 season so he’s not getting any younger and he’ll probably miss at least a few games with injury this season. Vladimir Ducaase and Brian Winters are the top candidates to take over if he missed times with injury. Ducaase is a 2010 2nd round pick who has played sparingly as a backup in his career, while Winters is a 3rd round rookie.

Stepping in at right guard is Stephen Peterman. Once a solid starter, Peterman graded out slightly below average last year and, going into his age 31 season, his best days are probably behind him. He was a good run blocker, but struggled mightily in pass protection. He could be pushed by Winters for the starting job at some point this season, if not before week 1. There’s still some talent here at guard, but they’ve downgraded from last season. Overall, it’s still a very strong offensive line.

Grade: A-

Defensive Line

As I mentioned, the Jets have plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball. They’ve spent a first round pick on a defensive lineman in each of the last 3 drafts and each one will be featured prominently in their hybrid defensive scheme. Muhammad Wilkerson is the best of the bunch. The 2011 1st round pick had a big time breakout year in his 2nd season last year, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ 2nd ranked 3-4 defensive end behind only JJ Watt.

Wilkerson wasn’t the pass rusher Watt was, but he still did well in that aspect, with 5 sacks, 10 hits, and 22 hurries on 472 pass rush snaps, a 7.8% pass rush rate. He graded out 4th at his position in that aspect, but as a run stuffer he at least rivaled Watt. If not for Watt, he actually would have graded out as ProFootballFocus’ top ranked 3-4 defensive end in their 5 year history. He was ProFootballFocus’ 5th rated overall defensive player. He should continue being an elite player in his 3rd year in the league. He plays defensive tackle in 4-3 packages and defensive end in 3-4 packages.

1st round pick Sheldon Richardson will also play that role and see significant snaps as a rookie. We’ll see how the 13th overall pick holds up. Mike DeVito and Quinton Coples essentially split that role last season. DeVito, a very talented two-down run stuffer, is now in Kansas City, while Coples, a 2012 1st round pick, is moving to rush linebacker in 3-4 sets this year. He’ll continue rushing the passer as a 4-3 defensive end in 4-3 packages.

Coples seems like an odd fit as a rush linebacker at 6-6 284. Even though he’s working to lose weight, he’ll probably be playing in the 270s this season. While Mario Williams and Tamba Hali have had success at this position in that weight range, they’re the exception not the rule. As a rookie, he graded out about average on 516 snaps, struggling against the run, but excelling as a pass rusher, with 6 sacks, 9 hits, and 14 hurries on 312 pass rush snaps, a 9.3% pass rush rate. He could have a better year in a bigger role in his 2nd year in the league, but I don’t like the positional fit so that could hurt him. They probably would have been better off using the 13th pick on Jarvis Jones instead of Richardson and leaving Coples on the line.

The Jets are also really lacking for a good opposing edge rusher. Calvin Pace was a cap casualty this off-season, but was re-signed to a cheaper one year deal and looks like the favorite to once again line up as an every down edge rusher, playing rush linebacker in 3-4 sets and defensive end in 4-3 sets. Going into his age 33 season, he looks pretty done. He graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 3rd worst ranked rush linebacker last season, especially struggling as a pass rusher.

Kenrick Ellis will take over as the nose tackle for the departed Sione Pouha, who was once a great run stopper, but struggled last year through a serious back injury. Ellis was a 3rd round pick in 2011 and has played 308 nondescript snaps in 2 years in the league. In base 3-4 packages, he’ll play on the line with Wilkerson and Richardson, with Pace and Coples as the rush linebackers. In base 4-3 packages, he’ll come off the field and the four aforementioned players will play on the line.

Grade: B+

Linebackers

David Harris remains as an every down linebacker, but only because the Jets still owe him guaranteed money on what was a very short sighted, 4 year, 36 million dollar extension, with 29.5 of that guaranteed, signed before the 2011 season. Harris has never graded out significantly above average and last year was one of the worst linebackers in the NFL, grading out 48th out of 53 eligible middle linebackers. He especially struggles against the run.

Next to him, 2012 3rd round pick Demario Davis will be moving into a larger role, after serving as a coverage complement to departed run stuffing middle linebacker Bart Scott. This year, he’ll take over as an every down linebacker. As a rookie, he graded out below average on 315 snaps. Garrett McIntyre will be the 3rd linebacker in base 4-3 sets, coming off the field in passing downs. He’ll be a run stopping specialist and he’s pretty mediocre. On top of that, with their poor cap situation, they’re really lacking for depth in the front 7.

Grade: C+

Secondary

Part of the reason the Jets were comfortable letting Revis go was because of the emergence of Antonio Cromartie as a legitimate #1 shutdown cornerback. Matching up primarily against opponent’s #1 receivers, Cromartie graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 5th ranked cornerback in coverage, allowing 40 catches on 87 attempts for 511 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions, while deflecting 12 passes and committing 6 penalties. He was always a very good #2 cornerback with the Jets before last year, but last year was the best of his career, even better than his San Diego days, when he was also a #1 cornerback. If he can continue close to this level of play, it will allow the Jets to continue to play strong defense.

Opposite him, the Jets will start 1st round rookie Dee Milliner, who the Jets drafted to replenish cornerback depth. He’ll start over Kyle Wilson, who played pretty well when thrust into the starting lineup last season, allowing 46 catches on 84 attempts for 558 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception, while deflecting 3 passes and committing 5 penalties. He graded out about average. A former 1st round pick in his own right (2010), Wilson will be moving to his natural spot on the slot this season. As a result, they’re even deeper at cornerback than they were last season. Ellis Lankster struggled mightily as the #3 cornerback last season. Now he probably won’t be much of a factor.

Safety is definitely a weakness though. The Jets lost both starters, Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry, this off-season and both played alright last season. Dawan Landry was signed to play in one spot, but the veteran safety is clearly on the decline, going into his age 31 season, grading out below average in each of the last two seasons. There’s a reason why he was cut by the Jaguars and forced to sign a cheap one year deal with the Jets. The 6-1 220 pounder especially struggles in coverage. Either Antonio Allen or Josh Bush will man the other safety spot. They were 7th and 6th round picks respectively in 2012 and played 0 and 17 snaps respectively as rookies.

Grade: B+

Head Coach

A quarter of NFL Head Coaches were fired last off-season so there are unlikely to be a lot of firings this season and this off-season. However, Rex Ryan almost definitely seems like one of them. It’s not necessarily that he’s a terrible coach, but that’s how the NFL works. Ryan is going into his 5th year with the Jets and only 9 Head Coaches have been with their current team longer and all 9 have multiple division titles (6 have rings and 7 coached playoff teams last season). Being a 5+ year tenured Head Coach is a serious honor in today’s NFL. Along with fellow 2009 hire Jim Schwartz of the Detroit Lions, Ryan is definitely on the hot set. It’s time to deliver or be let go for both and I like Schwartz’ chances of delivering a lot more. There’s a good chance Ryan is fired mid-season and/or his team quits on him.

Grade: C

Overall

The Jets might not be worse than they were last season, but I don’t expect them to be better either. The talent they have will once again be masked by arguably the worst quarterback situation in the NFL and they could quit on their Head Coach mid-season and, as a result, win even fewer games than they otherwise would. They should be among the worst teams in the NFL.

I think they’re the worst team in their division and even with 4 games against the less than stellar Dolphins and Bills, they’ll probably just win 1 divisional game. Outside of the division, they host Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Oakland, Cleveland. Oakland and Cleveland should be wins, but the rest will be tough. They could hang with Tampa Bay or perhaps win a trap game against New Orleans or Pittsburgh (two poor road teams), so I’ll give them an optimistic 3 wins in that bunch. However, they also go to Atlanta, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Carolina, and Tennessee. Only Tennessee is winnable and I’ll switch gears and be pessimistic here for fairness and give them no wins in that bunch, putting them at 4-12.

Projection: 4-12 4th in AFC East

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