FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Todd Bowles has never acknowledged that the Jets are a rebuilding team, no matter how obvious that may seem. He won't address the likely struggles his team will face with a 21-year-old rookie quarterback leading the way.
In fact, with a straight face, he refuses to rule out any possibility for his young team -- including the possibility of winning it all.
"Our goal is take one game at a time and get to the playoffs and win the Super Bowl," Bowles said. "That's our expectation."
OK, first of all: No. That can be his "expectation" but it won't be his reality. No rookie quarterback has ever led his team to a Super Bowl, let alone won one, and Sam Darnold isn't going to be the first. As promising as he's been and as great as he may one day be, he's not there yet. And the Jets simply don't have that kind of team.
But hey, Bowles can dream if he wants. And on some level he's still realistic because he also admitted his team is "still gelling." It's also still building and will continue to do that next offseason when the Jets are expected to be overloaded with salary cap space again and perhaps searching for an elusive pass rusher, offensive line help and a No. 1 receiver.
This season, meanwhile, will be about developing Darnold and taking the first small steps towards eventual contention. They may get there, too. But not right now.
Regardless, here's a look at the 2018 Jets:
MVP-to-be: Leonard Williams
His total of two sacks last season was an embarrassment, but the Jets picked up his fifth-year option anyway because they believe in his ability. He doesn't have much help up front, which is a problem, but let's face it: Muhammad Wilkerson wasn't much of a help last year either. It seems like there's a good chance Williams bounces back, especially since coaches insist he was around the quarterback a lot last year, even if the sack numbers weren't there.
Under the radar star: Bilal Powell
The Jets have never trusted him to carry the load at running back, and since they added Isaiah Crowell they don't now. But he is still the best and most explosive back on their team. Yes, he's 29, but he doesn't have a lot of miles on his body. He's a dual-threat player who is dangerous as a receiver too. The big key for him is he has to stay healthy.
Rookie to watch: Sam Darnold
Yes, the Jets want to win, but this is the Season of Sam. Everything they do is about his development and getting him ready to lead them to the playoffs in 2019 and beyond.
Rookie to watch (non-Darnold division): Chris Herndon
The Jets believe the tight end they took out of Miami in the fourth round is the total package and can be a much more reliable and tougher receiver for them than Austin Seferian-Jenkins was last year. Tight ends are usually an important safety net for rookie quarterbacks, so he could see a lot of action until Darnold is ready to be unleashed.
The player that can't get hurt: Kelvin Beachum
Yes, he was already hurt in training camp and everyone saw the results in the preseason. The offensive line wasn't good without its left tackle. They don't have much depth anywhere on the line, but it's particularly glaring in that spot where backup Brent Qvale seemed overmatched. With a rookie quarterback, the Jets will see plenty of pressure. They have to keep Darnold's blindside intact.
Biggest concern: The pass rush
Outside of Williams, where is it coming from? Nobody seems to know. The Jets have a rotation of edge rushers, non of whom have proven to be very effective. Rookie Nathan Shepard, out of tiny Fort Hays State, is the other starting end and no one is expecting him to rack up the sacks. The Jets will make pass rush a priority in the offseason. For now, it seems to be Williams or bust.
Underrated position group: The receivers
There is no No. 1 receiver, and that's a problem. And there's no one really close to being the kind of elite target most good teams have. But the Jets have several good No. 2 receivers. Jermaine Kearse is a solid and reliable veteran. Quincy Enunwa, back from a neck injury, is a strong possession receiver. Terrelle Pryor probably isn't a No. 1 anymore, but he's got an upside. And Robby Anderson is a very fast deep threat.
Biggest offseason addition: Trumaine Johnson
The Jets had already built a strong safety corps with second-year pros Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, and now they have a lock-down corner in front of them. He may not be the best in the league, but he was the best on the free agent market, and he gives them a chance to have a strong defense even if the pass rush isn't there.
Biggest offseason loss: Demario Davis
The inside linebacker went from a longshot to make the team last summer after the Jets re-acquired him from the Browns, to a team leader. He's probably more than replaceable with the addition of Avery Williamson. But he had a lot of respect in the locker room and no player who left meant more to the team.