Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
Last season, it was unclear who the Jets' return specialist would be, but Andre Roberts won the job and ended up in the Pro Bowl. He's gone now, so who will undertake the role instead? …
Projected Starters: Ty Montgomery
Projected Backups: Jamison Crowder
On the Bubble: JJ Jones, Tim White, Greg Dortch, Quadree Henderson, Deonte Thompson, Trenton Cannon, Valentine Holmes
Departures: Andre Roberts
This time last year, we were talking about names like Trenton Cannon, Elijah McGuire and Lucky Whitehead as candidates for the return game. However, the veteran Roberts won the job almost by default as McGuire got hurt in camp and Cannon muffed two punts and fumbled a kickoff return in preseason.
Despite Roberts' Pro Bowl season, the Jets opted not to re-sign him at the end of the year, and he got a deal with the Buffalo Bills, leaving the Jets with a slew of unproven options to win the role.
We've listed Ty Montgomery and Jamison Crowder as the potential kickoff and punt returner above others because each is likely to be on the roster and both have previous experience in those roles. However, the Jets may prefer for each of them to be nothing more than an emergency option in order to allow them to focus on their larger roles on offense and to reduce the risk of an injury.
Three of the players that will compete for the role actually returned kicks and punts during regular season action last year. JJ Jones saw action with the Chargers, Tim White was with Baltimore and Quadree Henderson with the Giants. Jones had an impressive punt return for a touchdown in preseason, but Henderson was the only one of the three not to have a fumble in regular season action.
Adding to the mix is Greg Dortch. The undrafted rookie was the only player in this year's draft with multiple punt return touchdowns in 2018 and he can also return kickoffs.
The recently signed veteran Deonte Thompson has good career numbers as a kickoff returner, but he has no real experience returning punts.
Australian Valentine Holmes is the ultimate wild card. The former rugby league international has no football experience whatsoever but had to field kicks regularly during his rugby career and his skillset could make him perfect for a return role. Holmes' compatriot Jarryd Hayne won the return specialist role in his first year with the 49ers after making the same transition, so it's not inconceivable Holmes could defy the odds and win the role, but he's probably more of a developmental project.
McGuire and Cannon might also still be in the mix, but they seem unlikely to win the role having been unimpressive in the past. However, it's too early to rule anyone out at this stage.
Biggest question heading into camp
All the intrigue during camp will be centered around who wins the role. It's worth paying attention to who gets the most work during practice, who gets into each game first during preseason and whether any of these players also make useful contributions on offense.
As already mentioned, the Jets have some viable emergency options on their roster that can fill in if there's an injury but will probably be hoping a young player steps up and wins the role. If that player can approximate Roberts' production from last year, the Jets might have found themselves a long-term solution.
The outcome at this position is difficult to predict. Henderson arguably has the highest profile of the main contenders, but any of the others could potentially step up and win the role.
Regardless of who wins the job, the Jets will be hoping that Roberts' success last year was in large part a product of Brant Boyer's blocking schemes and the performance of his personnel. Back when Mike Westhoff was the special teams coordinator it didn't seem to matter who the return man was, as the Jets saw success with Chad Morton, Justin Miller, Leon Washington, Brad Smith and Joe McKnight back there. Other than Washington, none of these had as much success after leaving the Jets.
Roberts' career numbers entering last year were no more impressive than those of some of the candidates for the role this year, so perhaps it's not out of the question that one of them could emulate his production or close to it. While it took Boyer a few years to build his system, Roberts benefited from some excellent blocking on many of his biggest plays last season, so hopefully this year's return specialist will benefit in similar fashion.