Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
The Jets' special teams unit in 2017 was ultimately a disappointment after a promising start. The return game, in particular, was really bad all year, and a few costly lapses in kick coverage contributed to losses down the stretch.
While the kicking game was an improvement over 2016, the overall performance was a disappointment in Brant Boyer's second year as the special teams coordinator.
Once again, the Jets will be looking to add to their special teams personnel,and to try and develop better continuity. In the draft, they'll be able to achieve this through some of their early picks that can produce on special teams as they develop, as well as later on by specifically targeting players that excel on special teams.
One of the obvious places they can upgrade is in the return game, where several players got a chance during preseason or the regular season, but nobody really impressed. The roster still includes some contenders to compete for a role, including Tre McBride, Jalin Marshall and Jojo Natson, who ended last year as the primary return man on kicks and punts. They may also have high hopes for Brisly Estime, who was an undrafted free agent last year, but got injured early in the offseason.
There are lots of players who could be drafted in the first few rounds that would also bring something to the return game, including UCF defensive back Mike Hughes, LSU wide receiver DJ Chark, and SDSU running back Rashaad Penny. Later on, players like Pitt wide receiver Quadree Henderson, Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis and NC State running back Nyheim Hines.
Pettis is the NCAA all-time record holder with nine career punt return touchdowns, while Hines is an undersized back who teams might hope could have a similar impact to Tarik Cohen.
LSU wide receiver Russell Gage is a stand-out as a gunner and could craft a career for himself as a specialist like New England's Matthew Slater. Temple fullback Nick Sharga is another offensive player who has been productive on special teams.
Draftable defensive backs with the ability to be productive in kick coverage include West Virginia's Kyzir White, Boston College's Isaac Yiadom, Alabama's Anthony Averett, and Kameron Kelly from SDSU. A potential option as an undrafted free agent could be Penn State's Troy Apke, whose NFLPA Collegiate Bowl MVP performance included some nice flashes on special teams.
Outside linebackers who were productive on special teams earlier on in their career include Uche Nwosu from USC and Shaquem Griffin from UCF. Griffin, in particular, looks like he could be a special teams monster at the NFL level with his relentlessness, motor, range, and closing speed.
At inside linebacker, Rashaan Evans from Alabama is another potential high pick who was a good special teamer earlier on in his career. Dorian O'Daniel was perhaps the most impressive special teams contributor early in his career with 25 special teams tackles in his first two years, though. However, with Darron Lee and Jamal Adams already on the team, it's difficult to see how he would fit on the Jets.
Virginia's Micah Kiser and Kansas State's Trent Tanking are potential special teams contributors who might be late-rounders, but could go undrafted.
The value of blocking kicks was highlighted in the college football playoffs when Georgia linebacker Lorenzo Carter's blocked field goal in overtime helped them to a win over Oklahoma and a place in the national title game. NC State's Bradley Chubb also has a knack for blocking kicks, but the nation's leader was defensive tackle PJ Hall from Sam Houston State, whose knack for penetration enabled him to block 14 kicks in his college career.
In the kicking game, the Jets seem satisfied with Lachlan Edwards, so it seems unlikely they'd bring in a punter. If they did, Michael Dickson from Texas had the most impressive numbers this year, while Shane Tripucka from Texas A&M has a connection to the Jets because his cousin Travis was with the team briefly a few years ago as a long snapper.
Last year's placekicker Chandler Catanzaro is out of contract but might be brought back. If he isn't, Auburn's Daniel Carlson or Florida's Eddy Piniero are draftable prospects. Carlson made four field goals of 50 yards or longer in 2017, while Piniero had the best success rate from this year's class by making 17 of his 18 field goal attempts.
Teams will always consider the extra value draft prospects can bring via special teams contributions, especially in the late rounds. The Jets will no doubt allow that to factor into their decision making on day three and when approaching undrafted free agents.