For the first time since 2001, the New York Jets didn't return a punt or kickoff for a touchdown. The special teams lacked explosiveness under first-year coordinator Ben Kotwica, who replaced the venerable Mike Westhoff.The return game is never about one man. While teams need a speedy returning with vision, they also need their blockers to set them up for success and a coordinator who can scheme those returners to daylight. Kotwica was stuck with a special teams group that was limited when it comes to their talent level, but that should get better in 2014 by virtue of the additions that the team will make to the overall talent level.
There was a decline in production for the punt- and kickoff-return units, perhaps because they cut top kickoff returner Joe McKnight in the preseason. Things started to perk up with Josh Cribbs around midseason, but they fell off again when he suffered a season-ending pectoral injury.
As far as the returners, Gates might have been the best of the bunch, but after his injury the return game flattened out rather quickly. Cribbs and others were not able to play to the level that the team needed them to which would lead us to think that the Jets should be serious about finding a third down back who can also contribute on special teams to add to the mix in 2014.
McKnight was a hot mess in 2013 and while he was a good returner, the team has moved on. Of all the stuff that went down, the oddest single thing was when he claimed to reporters he had suffered a concussion, but the coaching staff would not validate his claim.
The Jets need to get younger and the best and cheapest way to do that is the draft. While Chiefs WR/RB Dexter McCluster would be an intriguing free agent, but what might the money look like for McCluster?
Around the draft last year there were reports that the Jets were said to have interest in WR/KR Tavon Austin. One would think that after Mike Goodson's struggle to stay on the field this year the Jets will look to find a longer term solution at either the WR or RB spot who can also contribute on special teams.
As far as the draft? There isn't a huge list of ready made returners, but Sammy Watkins was successful in college as a returner, but might prove risky as a high draft pick. Further down, watch players like Oregon RB De'Anthony Thomas, LSU WR Odell Beckham, and Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis during the pre-draft process and the Jets potential interest in them ...