On the Ball: Four Players to Watch for the Jets
If you’re a Jets fan like me, you’re heading into this season hoping they can just catch enough breaks just to make it to the postseason—while still wondering (make that fuming) over why they passed over Johnny Manziel in last May’s draft. Actually in all fairness to the team, Calvin Pryor is looking like a nice consolation prize, while Manziel looked less than stellar against the Redskins last week. (The lesson as always: I’d be a terrible GM.)
Anyway, though the Jets have a relatively young team and are coming off an 8–8 season, it’s tough to see them improving on that record very much. Let’s be honest: they were lucky to go .500 last year. Each of their first five wins was by less than a touchdown, while seven of their eight losses were by double-digits—including the infamous 49–9 drubbing at Cincinnati. Translation: they were lucky.
But enough with the bad. GM John Idzik has done a good job—despite his quarterback decisions. He’s managed the cap well (by not blowing it all in one offseason,) is committed to building the team through the draft instead of free agency (like the annually laughable Redskins,) and even handled Dimitri Patterson’s no-show for a preseason game the way he had to—by releasing him.
In any case, for the Jets to get back to the postseason for the first time 2010 these four players are going to be critical:
Calvin Pryor—The rookie safety from Louisville has looked good in the preseason—very good. His emergence, thus far, has already allowed the team to move safety Antonio Allen over to corner, where the Jets are dangerously thin. In addition, with the premiums being placed on pass-catching tight ends (especially by the Patriots) the value of having a safety who can effectively cover them keeps going up.
Chris Johnson—The speedy Johnson looks like a great change-of-pace back from the hard-charging Chris Ivory or Bilal Powell, but what does he really have left in the tank? Johnson averaged just 3.9 yards a carry last year, and his production will be critical as the Jets didn’t draft a running back for the second straight year. Ivory, though he’s under-rated, has been injury-prone thus far and should Johnson have to shoulder more of the load, they’ll need his best.
Dee Milliner—Okay, we all know the Milliner story: the cornerback clearly wasn’t ready to start at the beginning of last season, but came on at the end, winning the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Month last December and almost making us forget about Darrelle Revis—almost. But now he has a high-ankle sprain while the rest of the corners are either injured for the season (Dexter McDougle), unequipped to start (Kyle Wilson), or went AWOL and thought everyone would believe it was an excused absence, even though he wouldn’t say why he was gone, and was subsequently released (Patterson). With few other options, Milliner’s play will be absolutely critical this year and they need him back ASAP.
Geno Smith—I saved the best for last—at least I’m hoping so. Most players improve the most between their first and second seasons—let’s hope Geno follows suit. It shouldn’t be hard, given that he put up a Mark Sanchez-like 66.5 quarterback rating last year—last among 37 qualifiers. In the pass-happy NFL, the Jets are at a huge disadvantage with those kinds of numbers coming from the quarterback position.