Over the next few weeks, we're going to be looking back at last year's Jets rookies in an effort to assess what their role will be in 2018 and where we can expect them to make improvements on what they brought to the table last year.
As was the case with Jamal Adams, second round pick Marcus Maye has already managed to establish himself worthy of a full-time role within the Jets' defense. However, the 25-year old will be looking to make strides in his second season.
Preseason Stats: Four games, 12 tackles.
Regular Season Stats: 16 games started, 79 tackles, two interceptions, two passes defensed, one forced fumble.
Projected Role: Starter at free safety.
Maye, who was the 39th overall pick out of Florida, moved seamlessly onto the first team defense during training camp last year and played a full-time role during the regular season, usually lining up as the deep safety. He arguably made more impact plays than the more heralded Adams, forcing three turnovers, but he also made his share of rookie mistakes that he'll be looking to eradicate in his second season.
Many people were surprised that the Jets made the safety position such a high priority in last year's draft, especially having used their first round pick on a safety just three years earlier. The coaching staff will be hoping that their new safety partnership will really start to bear fruit in their second season.
The fact that this approach led to Calvin Pryor's departure speaks volumes about the kind of player that Todd Bowles wanted to build his defense around. While Pryor is a player that flies around trying to make plays, he could be prone to gambling or taking overly aggressive angles. By contrast, both Maye and Adams play with good discipline, usually avoiding blown coverages or reckless tackling that leads to big plays.
After the team was highly susceptible to big plays in 2016, the situation improved last year, but there is still work to be done in that area. They gave up 13 plays of 40 or more yards in 2016, but only eight last year. With Maye typically being the last line of defense, it's often down to him to range across the field and limit these and, with his improved comfort level within the system and the resulting advancements in play recognition, he'll hope to be able to help this number to reduce even further.
Another key area where the Jets might be expecting more from Maye in 2018 is in terms of his interchangeability with Adams. Bowles has spoken on a number of occasions about how it's useful to be able to introduce that kind of flexibility into his defensive gameplans and suggested that Pryor was too one-dimensional to allow them to do this while he was in the line-up. That, in turn, implied that they felt the Adams-Maye tandem would be a pairing that could handle this.
However, the way they used Maye last year suggested they were much more comfortable with him ranging deep as opposed to matching up with a receiver. In addition, in those rare occasions where he ended up being exposed to one-on-one match-ups he was exploited a few times, notably against the Chiefs. If he can prove that he can be more reliable in man-to-man coverage situations, that could bring the kind of flexibility to the defensive strategy that Bowles has been seeking.
Maye's most important challenge ahead of training camp might simply be ensuring he is ready. He suffered an ankle injury in the season finale against New England and was reportedly still wearing a boot a few months later. He's been sitting out during organized team activities, although he is expected to be ready in time for training camp.
Outlook: Maye's starting spot seems secure, unless he continues to be limited by the ankle injury he suffered at the end of last season. After pairing impressively with Adams last year -- despite often being overshadowed by him -- the main improvement he can make in 2018 is to be more consistent. If he can do that, the Jets will be well on their way to having one of the league's best young safety tandems.