2016 cheat sheet: New York Jets
To get you ready for the 2016 NFL season, the PFF analysis crew is assembling team “cheat sheets” to catch you up on the latest changes, grades, and rankings of note involving your NFL team.
On the eve camp, the New York Jets finally clarified their quarterback situation by re-signing Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one-year deal. Fitzpatrick’s return finalizes a fairly settled offseason for New York, which returns much of last year’s team that was a Week 17 defeat away from a playoff berth. The Jets pin their playoff hopes this season on the defense taking another step in year two under Todd Bowles, and a re-tooled running back corps adding an extra dimension to their offense in 2016.
Three biggest things to know
1. The Jets boast one of the league’s best one-two punches at receiver.
Even with the uncertainty at quarterback for much of the offseason, the Jets’ WR duo of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker always gave some confidence that regardless of who was under center in 2016, New York’s passing attack would not be anemic. There may be question marks over the depth behind the two of them, but Marshall and Decker’s ability to get open against man or zone coverage and win contested catches consistently was a huge factor in the big numbers Ryan Fitzpatrick put up at quarterback last season.
2. An edge presence must emerge for the Jets to take the next step.
Head coach Todd Bowles has always been happy to scheme and engineer unblocked pressure rather than being dependent upon individuals to rush the passer, but there is little doubt that this defense would benefit from its genuine edge rushers winning more one-on-one situations against pass protectors. Consecutive third-round picks have been spent on edge rushers, and Lorenzo Mauldin must emerge in year two to help build this defense. The Jets ranked 19th in the league in pass-rush production off the edge last year, and allowing Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson to rush from the inside more often would only add to one of the league’s best interior pass rushes.
3. Cornerback depth behind Darrelle Revis is the Jets’ biggest weakness on defense.
The Jets invested heavily at cornerback last season with three big-money signings, but only the return of Revis proved to be a success in 2015. Revis led the league in completion percentage allowed among cornerbacks, at 46.5, but Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine were among the lowest-graded cornerbacks in the league. Cromartie was cut soon after the season, and the pressure is now on Skrine to improve and step into the starting lineup while the Jets hope for the likes of Marcus Williams, Dee Milliner, and rookie Juston Burris to provide a boost to what right now looks like a one-man cornerback corps.
Key arrivals and departures
Top three draft picks: ILB Darron Lee (Round 1, pick No. 20 overall, Ohio State), QB Christian Hackenberg (Round 2, pick No. 51 overall, Notre Dame), OLB Jordan Jenkins (Round 3, pick No. 83 overall)
Signed in free agency: RB Matt Forte (Bears), NT Steve McLendon (Steelers)
Left via free agency: NT Damon Harrison (Giants), RB Chris Ivory (Jaguars), LB Demario Davis (Browns)
Acquired by trade: OT Ryan Clady (Broncos)
Cut: CB Antonio Cromartie (Colts)
Rookie to watch
Jordan Jenkins, OLB, Georgia (Round 3, pick No. 83 overall)
If the Jets are to develop a stronger edge presence, their third-round pick will have to make his presence known in his debut season. Jenkins was outshone by his Georgia teammate, Leonard Floyd, in college but the former was a consistent pass-rusher in his own right for the Bulldogs and had one of his most productive games of the 2015 season (one QB hit, three hurries) against Alabama in Week 5. Jenkins’ quality run defense meshes well with the Jets’ defensive priorities, and he should be in line to play a starting role at a position where the Jets desperately need improvement.
Highest-graded player of 2015
Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, 89.2 overall grade
Wilkerson was arguably the league’s most versatile pass-rusher last year, and was the only defender to rack up 30 pressures when aligned as both a defensive tackle and when rushing off the edge. His run defense didn’t suffer, either, by moving all over the Jets’ defense, finishing the year as the fourth-highest graded 3-4 defensive end against the run. With a fresh contract in hand and coming off of career-high 80 pressures, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Wilkerson take another step forward to power the Jets’ defense in 2016.
Breakout player watch
Jace Amaro, TE
As mentioned earlier in this article, the Jets would benefit from the emergence of a true third option among their receivers, aside from RB Matt Forte working out of the backfield. Amaro missed his second season due to injury, but will get the chance to build upon a rookie season that had flashes and isolated games that showcased his ability to be a receiving threat at tight end and in the slot. Amaro’s best games came against the Broncos and Lions as a rookie, snagging 15 catches and breaking three tackles in those contests, and a consistent third season would add greater versatility to the Jets’ passing attack.
Nickel defense (2015 season grades shown)
Base offense (2015 season grades shown)