Preseason Week 1 Preview: Titans at Jets
The return of NFL football kicks into full gear this week and Saturday’s action kicks off with a battle between the Tennessee Titans and the New York Jets. Preseason games are a time for teams to find out exactly who will be playing for them, whether it be specialists, rotational guys, or full time starters. Below, PFF’s team of analysts have all the most important position battles and players to watch during today’s game.
Coverage by: Sam McGaw
Position Battle: LeShaun Sims/Adoree’ Jackson, CB
The only person standing in first-round pick Adoree’ Jackson’s way for a starting job is second-year cornerback LeShaun Sims. The former fifth-round pick saw extensive playing time, including two starts, in the final five games of last season. He allowed an average of 1.72 receiving yards per coverage snap during that span, which ranked 74th out of 82 cornerbacks that played at least 130 coverage snaps. While he was torched for 108 yards against the Bears in Week 12 and 101 yards against Houston in Week 17, he showed flashes of potential in other match ups. His 86.3 PFF grade in Week 15’s win against Kansas City was a team-high. However, he finished the season with an overall grade of 45.9.
Jackson is a dynamic playmaker that scored nine combined touchdowns on defense and special teams over the past three seasons at USC. He also had 39 catches and six touchdowns on offense. He allowed an average of 1.19 receiving yards per coverage snap in 2016, which ranked 87th in this year’s cornerback class. Quarterbacks targeting a player in Jackson’s coverage averaged an NFL rating of 80.5. Despite his 5-foot-10, 186 pound frame, Jackson is a solid tackler. He missed just four of the 54 solo tackles he attempted in 2016.
Taywan Taylor, WR
Taylor, who will primarily be used out of the slot, was one of the most explosive receivers in the FBS over the past two seasons. During that span, he caught 35 passes that were targeted 20-plus yards downfield for a nation-high 1,686 yards and 21 touchdowns. In 2016, he averaged 3.91 yards per route run, which ranked fourth among qualified wide receivers. He ranked third in 2015 with an average of 4.01 yards per route run. Taylor was even more efficient from the slot last season, averaging 4.85 slot yards per route run, the second-best rate in the nation. However, only 16% of his routes were run from the slot.
Kevin Dodd, ED
Dodd returns to provide much-needed depth behind edge defenders Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo. Dodd underwent his second surgery in a year this past January to repair a stress fracture in his right foot. He applied six total pressures in his 94 pass-rushing snaps last season. All his snaps came from the left side. Dodd was drafted 33rd overall out of Clemson in 2016. His 69 total pressures from the left side that season were the most in the FBS, and his 13.8 pass-rushing productivity ranked 13th among 4-3 defensive ends. Additionally, he posted a run-stop percentage of 7.8.
Jayon Brown, ILB
The fifth-round pick was one of the nation’s top coverage linebackers in 2016, recording three interceptions and three pass breakups. He allowed a completion rate of 63.7 percent. His PFF coverage grade of 87.6 was the highest for any linebacker that was drafted. Brown’s production wasn’t limited to the passing game, however. He ranked 16th in this year’s linebacking class with an 11.8 run-stop percentage. Additionally, his combined tackle efficiency rating of 21.2 ranked 10th.
Coverage by: Cyrus Geller
Postion Battle: Josh McCown/Christian Hackenberg/Bryce Petty, QB
Without a doubt the number one positional battle to watch for the Jets this preseason is who will emerge as the starting quarterback. In their first depth chart, the Jets have McCown starting, followed by Petty and then Hackenberg.
McCown has the most experience of the three (by far), but he struggled mightily last season, posting an overall grade of 53.4, which would have ranked him 31st out of 34 qualified quarterbacks had he qualified. Petty didn’t fare any better, as his overall grade of 47.3 would have put him 33rd. Hackenberg didn’t play at all in his rookie season last year, but he struggled in his final collegiate season at Penn State in 2015, as he ranked 69th out of 70 qualified quarterbacks in adjusted completion percentage at 64.0.
Chris Harper, WR
With Quincy Enunwa out for the season, the Jets already thin receiver core has gotten even thinner. Harper is the second receiver on the Jets first depth chart, and he will have to shine in the preseason to prove he is deserving of that spot. Harper shined in the 2015 preseason with the Patriots, where he caught 15 of 20 targets for a WR rating of 112.5, which ranked fourth out of 18 qualified receivers
Morris Claiborne, CB
Claiborne signed a one year deal with the Jets this offseason, and he will likely be a starting cornerback heading into the regular season. It will be interesting to monitor how much Claiborne plays in the preseason, but make no mistake that he will be out to prove that last season’s strong performance was not a fluke. Claiborne posted a career high overall grade of 84.0 last year, which ranked 13th out of 110 qualified corners.
Bilal Powell, RB
Powell is currently listed as the backup running back to Matt Forte on the Jets depth chart, but he could change that with a strong preseason. Forte is on the back nine of his career, while Powell is in the prime of his. Powell’s overall grade of 85.1 in 2016 ranked sixth out of 61 qualified running backs.