While they didn’t complete the itinerary head coach Rex Ryan handed out prior to the playoffs, the New York Jets season was more successful than anyone thought it would be.
Following a surprising 3–0 start behind a first time head coach and rookie quarterback, New York dropped six of their next seven games to fall to 4–6. With the season spiraling out of control, the Jets went 5–1 down the stretch to make the playoffs as a wildcard team at 9–7.
From there New York advanced all the way to the AFC Championship where they fell to league MVP Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.
With such a successful season—much of which resulted from the play of young players—New York has one of the brightest futures of all NFL teams.
As the top rated defense in the league there’s not much to improve for the Jets, but next year will be even better.
Ryan runs a very complex, blitz-happy defense that the team picked up surprisingly quickly. Bringing defensive end Marques Douglas, linebacker Bart Scott, and safety Jim Leonhard with him from Baltimore helped Ryan teach the Jets his schemes more quickly.
With a year’s experience, the defense should be even better. In his fourth season in the league, so should cornerback Darrelle Revis.
In just his third year, Revis emerged as the best shutdown cornerback of the past decade.
What is often overlooked with Revis is how good of an overall cornerback he is. He’s a great form tackler, plays good in zone coverage, and can help stop the run. He does an excellent job of shutting down the opposing team’s top wide receiver as well.
David Harris emerged as a Pro Bowler at inside linebacker. Harris’s 127 tackles was one of the reasons the Jets had the eighth-ranked rush defense.
And that rush defense should get even better with the return of giant nose tackle Kris Jenkins who tore the ACL in his left knee against Buffalo in week six.
Along with Revis, Jenkins is one of the most important pieces to Ryan’s defense. Revis gives safeties the ability to blitz more as safety help is never needed for him while Jenkins takes on the center and an offensive guard on almost every play, opening up lanes for blitzers.
Someone to look out for next year is Jamaal Westerman. After surprising Ryan and a lot of the coaching staff in training camp as a rookie, Westerman could get the opportunity to see the field next year as a defensive end or outside linebacker.
The Jets have a budding star at quarterback in Mark Sanchez—a good asset in what is a quarterback driven league.
While Sanchez struggled at times, including a five-interception game against Buffalo in week six and a four-interception game against New England in week 11, he came good in the playoffs.
Sanchez may undergo surgery on his left knee. It was actually his right knee that he sprained in the week 13 game against Buffalo. He will be ready to return “well before training camp” according to General Manager Mike Tannenbaum.
Then there’s the run game.
If the Jets resign Leon Washington, who was injured for the season in week seven against Oakland after breaking his right fibula, the No. 1 rush offense will be more dynamic.
New York would have a three-headed monster with Washington, Thomas Jones, and Shonn Greene—who made a name for himself in the playoffs—which is the same formula the Giants used en route to winning Super Bowl XLII.
When it comes to catching the ball the Jets have one of the better receiving tight ends in the league in league in Dustin Keller. They should be signing wide receiver Braylon Edwards in the off-season considering how much they gave up to get him in a midseason trade. If Edwards can cure his case of the dropsies he’ll be a Pro Bowler.
Then there’s the most important part of the offense—the line. And the Jets have one of the best in the league.
Pro Bowlers Nick Mangold at center and D’Brickashaw Ferguson at left tackle, are the youngest players on the line. Not a bad thing when center and left tackle are the most important part of the offensive line and what you would like to build around for years to come.
With such productive young talent and great team chemistry, the New York Jets are a team not only to fear next year, but for many years to come.
Matt Sugam also writes for The Daily Targum at Rutgers University.