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Darron Lee (Ohio State) after being selected by the New York Jets as the number twenty overall pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at Auditorium Theatre. (Kamil Krzaczynski)
Darron Lee (Ohio State) after being selected by the New York Jets as the number twenty overall pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at Auditorium Theatre. (Kamil Krzaczynski)

Jets training camp begins in three days, yet first-round LB Darron Lee still has not signed his rookie contract, making him one of only three first-round draft picks who have yet to sign.

The sticking point appears to be the fourth-year guarantee. Players chosen in the first round from picks one through 19 receive fully guaranteed salaries in their fourth year. Lee undoubtedly wants his fourth-year (about $1.8 million) guaranteed. However, the rookie linebacker was selected with the 20th overall pick, meaning the Jets do not have to fully guarantee his fourth year.

The Houston Texans gave 21st overall pick Will Fuller a fully guaranteed $1.836 million, according to ESPN. Fuller is represented by CAA's Todd France, who also represents Lee and wants the same deal for the Jets rookie.

Yet the Washington Redskins gave 22nd overall pick Josh Doctson only a partial guarantee ($1.2 million of $1.8 million), as did the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015 with 20th overall pick Nelson Agholor ($1.1 million of $1.7 million). 

Essentially, the Jets and Lee's reps are battling over $600,000.

When Lee does eventually sign, it will be a four-year, $10.2 million deal, plus a fifth-year team option.


Playing chicken with Fitzpatrick 00:03:00
The Daily News Live panel discusses the ongoing contract saga between Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

The Jets have multiple contract offers out for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to choose from, reports Manish Mehta of the Daily News.

It was reported last week by ESPN's Jeremy Fowler that the Jets and Fitzpatrick haven't spoken in over a month.

Fitzpatrick has been in a contract dispute with the Jets all offseason. He set the franchise record for touchdowns in a season last year and led the team to their first season with double-digit wins since 2010.

Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall has said that Fitzpatrick has stopped responding to his text messages, and head coach Todd Bowles is preparing for a season with Geno Smith as the starting quarterback.

The Jets have also recently cleared over $5 million in cap space for this season by signing defensive lineman Muhammed Wilkerson. There is no set deadline for when Fitzpatrick must sign in order to rejoin the team, according to coach Todd Bowles, who has said the team is capable of moving forward without him.

"There is a ticking clock," Bowles said in June. "You have time until you don't have time."

Tags: Ryan Fitzpatrick

Corey Griffin and Brian Bassett welcome back the podcast as the Jets welcome back Muhammad Wilkerson

They break down his new contract, the future of the defensive line, and also reveal their Top 10 List of the most ridiculous storylines to come out of the ridiculous Ryan Fitzpatrick story.

E-Mail us with feedback, comments, or questions for a future show: thejetsblogpodcast@gmail.com

Tags: Muhammad Wilkerson , Ryan Fitzpatrick

Chris Ivory (33) runs with the ball In the 2nd half at MetLife Stadium.The Jets defeated the Dolphins 38-20. (William Hauser)
Chris Ivory (33) runs with the ball In the 2nd half at MetLife Stadium.The Jets defeated the Dolphins 38-20. (William Hauser)

Every year, teams have to let some players go. Even though the Jets did bring back some of their free agents (Zach Sudfeld, Ben Ijalana, Bilal Powell, Kenbrell Thompkins, Kellen Davis, Erin Henderson), they chose not to bring everyone back. We'll be keeping track of anyone from the Jets 2015 regular season roster, injured reserve list or practice squad that have since signed with another NFL team, along with anyone that had been on the 2016 roster at any point. Before training camp gets underway, let's run through the players that have moved so far.

Some stats from PFF have been used in this article and throughout the series. 

DE Quinton Coples - Los Angeles Rams
Coples produced quite well in a rotational role down the stretch with Miami, but they were never likely to be able to afford to retain him on his fifth-year option. The Rams signed him once he was released, but they have a top-level defensive line, so Coples will likely have to fight for a back-up role initially. It was obvious he wasn't a fit with the current coaching staff and whether that was for scheme-related reasons or something to do with his personality is unclear.

CB Jeremy Harris - Washington
Harris signed with Washington following a three-week stint on the Jets' practice squad. He saw plenty of action in the season finale with Washington and made a good impression, so he could have a realistic chance of cracking their full-time rotation.

NT Damon Harrison - New York Giants

Harrison will be particular fascinating to keep track of, for two main reasons. First of all, it could give us some clues as to whether his presence made the rest of the defensive line players better because he was taking on a lot of double teams or was it actually the other way around and he was benefiting from their double teams allowing him to be single-blocked more often than most nose tackles. Secondly, he is expected to be given a slightly different role, which will require him to rely on his quickness more and test his pass rush abilities.

RB Chris Ivory - Jacksonville

Ivory signed a $32 million contract with the Jags, while the Jets replaced him with a multi-time pro bowler in Matt Forte for the bargain price of just $12 million. Is Ivory going to emulate or improve upon his production with the Jets? If he could improve his consistency then maybe he will live up to some of the "best back in the NFL" type chatter he was starting to get early on in the 2015 season. On the other side of the coin, whether Forte can be as productive as he was running behind the Jets' line will be interesting to analyze.

RB/KR Shane Wynn - Jacksonville

Wynn, a return specialist, spent two weeks on the Jets' practice squad in November and still had time to spend time in San Diego and New Orleans before the season was over. He signed with the Jags for this season as he is still seeking to find a home.

P Ryan Quigley - Philadelphia/Jacksonville

Quigley actually had some of the better numbers in team history during his tenure with the Jets. His tendency to shank punts at key moments or early on in big games did little to win over Jets fans, though. The Eagles signed him in April, only to cut him again the following month. He did get a deal with the Jags last month though.

LB Demario Davis - Cleveland

Davis needed a change of scenery after a 2015 season which saw him make several costly blunders, especially in coverage. Davis was always going to have value in the free agent market with his experience of playing a three-down role, but never quite showed the instincts required to develop into a reliable contributor. Still, he fared well in a part-time role down the stretch, so perhaps he will do well with the Browns if they use him the same way.

TE Jeff Cumberland - San Diego

Cumberland's playing time and production fell off a cliff last season, as the Jets' tight ends weren't a major part of their passing game and he only caught five passes on 13 targets. The Jets only targeted Cumberland once after midseason. He had proven capable of achieving modest production in the past, so if the Chargers give him some chances, perhaps he will prove to be good value on a low-cost deal.

CB Darrin Walls - Detroit

Another defensive back heading out is Walls, who was a solid contributor over the last four seasons. Walls started 16 games as a Jet, including 12 in 2014, but didn't play much last season and probably won't be viewed as a major loss. He could fare quite well with the Lions though as he competes for a role with them.

WR Jeremy Kerley - Detroit
Another player in desperate need of a change of scenery, Kerley was productive when the Jets used him on offense last year. That just wasn't very often - although he was still the full time punt returner. He should be a better fit in Detroit's offense, but let's not forget he struggled in 2014 too, so he's now three years removed from the level of play that had earned him an extension with the Jets.

RB Stevan Ridley - Detroit

Ridley's 2015 campaign was a bust, as he obviously never got back to 100% coming off a serious knee injury. He did show some mild promise in the last two games, gaining 65 yards on 16 carries in those two games, having entered the game with just 25 yards on 20 carries. 

DL Quanterus Smith - Detroit
Smith spent three weeks on the Jets' practice squad last season and then moved on to spend time with the Jaguars. The Lions signed him earlier this week. You'll notice plenty of ex-Jets over in Detroit. As with Buffalo (Ryan) and Jacksonville (John Idzik), there's a Jets connection there. Former Jets director of pro personnel Brendan Prophett recently became the Lions' director of pro scouting, following a couple of years with the Saints.

DL Lawrence Okoye - Dallas

Okoye was on the Jets' practice squad last year and they signed him to a futures deal after the season. However, he was released early on in this year's offseason program. The British-born Olympian Okoye will always be a tantalizing athletic prospect but likely remains too raw and inexperienced to have an NFL future.

DL Leger Douzable - Buffalo

It took a while but Douzable eventually was reunited with Rex Ryan when the Bills signed him last month. Last season, Douzable was a starter and full-time player while Sheldon Richardson was out, but otherwise had a rotational role. Like Walls, he was a bargain pick-up that gave the Jets a few years of solid depth and occasional starter-level contributions.

LB Jamari Lattimore - Buffalo

Lattimore was employed situationally in some coverage packages last year, to negligible effect. He should get more of a chance to get in the mix for a role with the Bills.

WR/KR Walt Powell - Buffalo

Powell played briefly in the season finale against the Jets last year after spending time with the Jets, Raiders and Bills during the regular season. He'll be an interesting player to keep tabs on as the Jets seek to fill the return specialist spot themselves.

DT TJ Barnes - Buffalo
Ryan was quick to pounce once the Jets exposed Barnes to waivers last season and apparently they are toying with the idea of converting him to left tackle. Last season, Barnes played 32 snaps with the Jets in six games and then played another 26 snaps in four games with the Bills.

RB/KR Dri Archer - Buffalo

Archer was one of the first players cut by the Jets this offseason, after they had signed him to a futures deal. He was claimed by the Bills, but apparently no-showed so he's now on a "did not report" list. I don't expect he'll be with them for very long.

DB Antonio Allen - Houston

Allen, who might have struggled to make the final roster anyway, spent last year on the Jets' injured reserve list. The Texans are giving him a shot at resurrecting his career, but it's uncertain what kind of role they have earmarked for him yet.

OL Oday Aboushi - Houston

It seems like a long time ago that the Jets cut ties with Aboushi, but he was actually with the team at the start of last season. They opted to release him as soon as he had served his one game suspension. Aboushi got a starting opportunity with the Texans and initially did quite well, but then struggled and lost his job. He's a long-shot to contend for a starting role this year and might not even make the team.

DL Jordan Williams - Miami

Williams spent a short time on the Jets' practice squad last season, but ended up in Miami where he would earn a promotion to the active roster and see a handful of snaps on defense. It bodes well for Deon Simon that Williams has done quite well so far, because Simon outplayed him on the third unit last year in preseason.

TE Jerome Cunningham - Tennessee

Cunningham was only with the Jets for a few days before they released him again and the Titans claimed him off waivers.

ST Coordinator Bobby April - Tennessee

April was one of three coaches fired after the season, but he was soon able to find another job in the same role with the Titans. He apparently failed to connect with and motivate his players last season, which new coordinator Brant Boyer will be seeking to ensure doesn't happen again. It will be interesting to compare Boyer's unit with the one in Tennessee, because the personnel on last year's roster was at least partly to blame in April's unit doing so poorly.

Unrestricted Free Agents still unsigned: OL Willie Colon, K Randy Bullock, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, OLB Calvin Pace, WR Chris Owusu

This list is supposed to be exhaustive, but if you spot any omissions or inaccuracies, please let us know in the comments.


Key players for Jets and Giants 00:02:13
Jon Hein and Chris Carlin debate which players are most important for the Jets and Giants to be successful in the upcoming 2016 season.

Coming off a 10-6 season that saw them miss the playoffs, Jets fans are wondering which player can make an impact to send them to the postseason in 2016. The guys from Loud Mouths debate who will make the biggest difference for New York next year.

Chris Carlin thinks the biggest X-factor on the Jets is new running back Matt Forte. Forte is 30-years-old and entering his ninth season. He most recently made the Pro Bowl in 2013, and rushed for under 1,000 yards (898) and 400 yards receiving (389) last season.

Forte signed a three-year, $12 million contract with the Jets.                 

However, Jon Hein believes the offensive line as a unit will be the biggest difference.

Analytics website Pro Football Focus have the Jets ranked as the No. 26 best offensive line in football last year, with the No. 22 best pass blocking rating and No. 25 run blocking ranking.

Tags: Matt Forte

GEICO SportsNite: Wilkerson deal 00:00:45
Muhammad Wilkerson vows to be ready for Week 1 after getting a deal done with the New York Jets.

Muhammed Wilkerson has the contract extension he sought, he is ready and focused to return to the Jets.

"Now that's over with, I can just focus on football and get back in the locker room with my teammates and continue to be the leader that I am for this team," Wilkerson said to reporters on a conference call.

Wilkerson led the Jets in sacks last year with 12, also forcing two fumbles and making 69 combined tackles en route to a Pro Bowl season. The defensive lineman was given a franchise tag by the Jets to keep him under team control for another year at league-set price, something Wilkerson found unacceptable.

It looked like the Jets would be without one of the keystones of their defensive line until July 15, when the team announced they had signed the player to a five-year, $86 million deal.

Wilkerson is also happy to rejoin the Jets not just to play football, but also for personal reasons.

"I definitely wanted to be here," Wilkerson said. "I'm from New Jersey. I'm from here. My family's here. I wanted to raise my children here. So I'm very excited to be back here."

The number one priority for Wilkerson is now to focus on continuing his rehab for a leg fracture he sustained in the last game of the season against the Bills.

Wilkerson said that he is now running four times a week and is taking the rehab day-by-day, unsure of when he will be able to participate in Jets preseason camp. However, he has said he will be available and ready to play Week One of the season September 11 against the Bengals.

Tags: Muhammad Wilkerson

Should the Jets walk the line? 00:02:28
The DNL crew discusses if the New York Jets need to set a hard deadline for Ryan Fitzpatrick to sign a new deal before training camp.

Brandon Marshall has not heard from Ryan Fitzpatrick in weeks, according to an interview he gave to Michael Rapaport on his "I Am Rapaport" podcast.

Marshall, who is said to frequently communicate with the free agent quarterback, says he hasn't heard from Fitzpatrick in weeks and at this point, he's nervous.

"It's not like him," said Marshall. "It's scaring me right now. It's scaring me that my guy hasn't texted me back."

Fitzpatrick, who set the Jets franchise record for touchdowns in a single season last year with 31, remains a free agent as the two sides have reached a stalemate in contract discussions. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, contract talks between the two parties could drag on into the preseason.

Head coach Todd Bowles has expressed interest in bringing back Fitzpatrick but has also said he's tired of talking about Fitzpatrick and will proceed with the season without him.

"There is a ticking clock," Bowles said in June. "You have time until you don't have time."

Tags: Brandon Marshall , Ryan Fitzpatrick

New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) drops back to pass against the Tennessee Titans during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Titans 30-8. (Brad Penner)
New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) drops back to pass against the Tennessee Titans during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Titans 30-8. (Brad Penner)

The contract negotiations between the New York Jets and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick could go on into the preseason, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Fitzpatrick remains a free agent as the Jets report for training camp next Wednesday. New York and Fitzpatrick are still at a contract stalemate in which Fitzpatrick reportedly wants a one-year deal worth $12 million or a contract comparable to that of Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler, who signed a four-year, $72 million deal with $37 million guaranteed. 

The Jets, meanwhile, are not interested in that offer and have offered him a three-year deal worth $24 million ($15 million guaranteed) with incentives that can make the contract worth $36 million.

New York, which currently has Geno Smith atop the quarterback depth chart, has left Fitzpatrick's locker vacant in case the two sides come to terms, however Rapoport said talks can drag on into the preseason.

"There has been really no movement from either side, everybody is dug in," Rapoport said on Monday. "So it certainly could be within the realm of possibility that we have to see not just a little bit of Geno Smith, like maybe a couple reps in OTAs or mini camp, but a lot of Geno Smith, maybe even into preseason games, for there to be some sort of movement here between the Jets and Fitzpatrick, so expect to be having this conversation a few more times."

Fitzpatrick, 33, led the Jets to 10 wins last season, throwing for 3,905 yards, 31 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He has expressed his desire to return to the team earlier this offseason

New York's first preseason game is Aug. 11 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Jets open the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 11.

 

Tags: Geno Smith , Ryan Fitzpatrick

Playing chicken with Fitzpatrick 00:03:00
The Daily News Live panel discusses the ongoing contract saga between Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

New York Jets defensive tackle Deon Simon (Tim Fuller/USA Today Sports Images)
New York Jets defensive tackle Deon Simon (Tim Fuller/USA Today Sports Images)

Between now and training camp, we've been looking at some of the veteran players on the Jets roster to assess their potential contributions to the team in 2016. Today, we're going to share the first part of a two-part look at the six players still with the team who were part of last year's rookie class but have yet to make their NFL debut. Which, if any, of these players can we expect to make contributions this season?

Part one saw us take a look at the three offensive players that fit into this category; Quarterback Bryce Petty, offensive lineman Jarvis Harrison and fullback Julian Howsare. Here in part two, we'll look at the three defensive players; defensive lineman Deon Simon and linebackers Deion Barnes and Taiwan Jones

In between now and training camp, we've been looking at some of the veteran players on the Jets roster to assess what kind of contribution we might expect from them in 2016. Today we're going to share the second part of a two-part look at the six players still with the team who were part of last year's rookie class but who have yet to make their NFL debut. Which, if any, of these players can we expect to make contributions this season?

Part one saw us take a look at the three offensive players that fit into this category; Quarterback Bryce Petty, offensive lineman Jarvis Harrison and fullback Julian Howsare. Here in part two, we'll look at the three defensive players; defensive lineman Deon Simon and linebackers Deion Barnes and Taiwan Jones.

Simon

Simon was the only player of these three that the Jets drafted last year (in the seventh round). He began the year on the active roster, but was never activated. Simon was waived at the end of September and put on the practice squad for the rest of the season. He signed a futures deal after the season.

Simon saw plenty of playing time in the preseason, mostly paired with undrafted rookies Davon Walls and Jordan Williams. He was easily the most impressive of the three. While Walls has not been with a team since, Williams signed with Miami and even got some regular season playing time with them.

Simon showed a knack for coming up with big plays, recording 1.5 sacks, a pass break-up, a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery. However, the sacks were of the cheap coverage clean-up variety. He recorded one other pressure, showing off his athleticism on a stunt.

It's against the run where he needs to show more, and Simon made some encouraging progress there. In the first game, he was blocked to the ground on a short yardage play and then wasn't able to get across laterally fast enough to prevent a runner from getting to the hole. In the next game, while he was still pushed around at times, he showed an improved ability to penetrate, shed blocks and move well laterally, as he was able to bottle up a couple of runs. If Simon is going to emulate Damon Harrison, who signed with the New York Giants in the offseason, he'll need to improve his consistency because he was blocked out of plays at times, whereas that rarely happened to Harrison even against starters. Nevertheless, it was an encouraging start from him.

Known Mike Maccagnan confidante Charley Casserly said Jets fans need to look out for Simon, comparing him to Harrison.

Barnes

Barnes was an unheralded free-agent signing after going unselected in last year's draft. However, he was the only player on the team to spend the entire regular season on the practice squad.

Barnes had an impressive preseason with 1.5 sacks, which was tied for the team lead with three other Jets including Simon. Trevor Reilly was the only player to record more pressure than Barnes in preseason and he missed a tackle in the pocket in the last game which would have given him the team lead with 2.5 sacks.

Despite his success as a pass rusher, it was against the run where he was surprisingly at his most effective. Barnes displayed a good ability to get good leverage and penetrate. He was able to make stops by holding his ground at the point of attack and by stretching a run out to the sideline, and also had one outstanding play in which he blew up a run at the goal line.

While he fared well against backups, there was a reminder of how far he has to go in the Giants game. He was called upon for just one snap with the first unit and it did not go well, as wide receiver Dwayne Harris easily drove him off the line on the left side:

In the previous installment, I linked to an article by ESPN New York's Rich Cimini in which he named his risers and fallers from mini-camp. Barnes was one of his risers. Linebackers coach Mark Collins also named Barnes as the one player at any position who had made the biggest improvement since last year.

Jones

Jones was another undrafted rookie, but he was the only one of these three to end the season on the active roster. Jones was promoted when wide receiver Devin Smith injured his knee in mid-December, but was kept inactive down the stretch.

In preseason, Jones was quiet over the first three games, but did get in on one stop in each game, including one where he was unblocked and made a tackle in the backfield. He really flashed in the last game, though, making four stops against the run and one in coverage, as well as a big hit down the field. Coverage might be a concern for Jones, who ran a 4.9 40-yard dash at his combine and pro day workouts last season, but he only gave up two catches for 17 yards. He also helped his case by getting in on three special teams tackles.

Jones has also received some positive offseason buzz, as draft insider Tony Pauline reporting that the team sees him as a potential future replacement for David Harris.

Conclusions

Unlike with the three offensive players we looked at, there's been a positive buzz about all three of these players. There's potentially room at the back end of the roster for all three of them with the chance they could exceed expectations even further to earn an even more significant role.

I look upon Simon as having the best chance. While there isn't much roster space on the defensive line, Steve McLendon is the only other natural nose tackle the team has. The Jets brought in three undrafted defensive linemen, but they all seem more likely to be longer-term projects than immediate competition. Perhaps Simon could make a push to split time with McLendon and possibly even start over him within a year.

Barnes is in a group of players with a chance at a backup outside linebacker role. While I assume the current plan is for Lorenzo Mauldin and Jordan Jenkins to eventually be the two players atop the depth chart, Barnes will compete with the likes of Reilly and Freddie Bishop for time. He might even have an outside chance at starting off ahead of Jenkins if he's more NFL-ready than the rookie.

Finally, while Harris might not need a replacement for another year or two, if Jones can lock down that fourth inside linebacker spot and start earning some playing time, that will be a positive step ahead of next year. With Erin Henderson and Darron Lee expected to battle for the spot alongside Harris, Jones' most obvious competition for that role is likely to be Bruce Carter, who is only on a one-year deal.

There are not many recent examples of players following this inactive as a rookie-to-contributor in year two path with the Jets. The only one from last year was Dexter McDougle, who almost certainly would have played as a rookie had he not suffered a season-ending injury.

While it's good to see players developing and unexpected contributors emerging to provide the team with valuable low-cost depth, it's perhaps disappointing the strength here is on the defensive side of the ball when there is arguably more of a need on offense. However, there are plenty of other young offensive prospects on the team, so it will be interesting to see who steps up.

Tags: David Harris , Deion Barnes , Deon Simon , Erin Henderson , Lorenzo Mauldin , Taiwan Jones , Trevor Reilly

Colon on resigning Wilkerson 00:03:50
Willie Colon phones into Daily News Live to discuss the Jets resigning Muhammad Wilkerson to a long-term deal.

Former Jet Willie Colon was "extremely surprised" at the Jets re-signing Muhammad Wilkerson, having anticipated that the Jets defensive linemen was going to sit out the season given reports of his contract dispute with the Jets.

Colon said that the signing was good for the Jets, not just from a playing standpoint but to "kill the white elephant in the room" and get rid of a distraction before training camp.

Wilkerson is coming off a Pro Bowl season for the Jets where he made 64 total tackes and led the team in sacks with 12.

The Jets signed Wilkerson to a five-year deal worth $86 million dollars on July 15.

Tags: Muhammad Wilkerson

New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty during OTA at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. (Noah K. Murray/USA Today Sports Images)
New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty during OTA at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. (Noah K. Murray/USA Today Sports Images)

Between now and training camp, we've been looking at some of the veteran players on the Jets roster to assess their potential contributions to the team in 2016. Today, we're going to share the first part of a two-part look at the six players still with the team who were part of last year's rookie class but have yet to make their NFL debut. Which, if any, of these players can we expect to make contributions this season?

We'll start today with a look at the three offensive players that fit into this category: Quarterback Bryce Petty, offensive lineman Jarvis Harrison and fullback Julian Howsare. In part two, we'll look at the three defensive players: Defensive lineman Deon Simon and linebackers Deion Barnes and Taiwan Jones.

Petty

Petty was selected in the fourth round of last year's draft, but most people projected he'd be at least a year, if not more, away from contributing. Petty had an excellent senior year at Baylor, but their offense is a college-style spread. Reports indicated there was a big learning curve for Petty in terms of learning pro-style concepts and terminology, but he was regarded as having an NFL arm and good mobility.

While he never saw action, Petty spent the entire 2015 season on the Jets' active roster and suited up a couple of times, however he was inactive for most of the season. He was active in the first two weeks as the No. 2 quarterback and also in Week 3, as the Jets had three quarterbacks active following the return of Geno Smith from injury.

My fear for Petty was he would be seriously out of his depth in preseason, but he actually put together some solid numbers, led the team on some scoring drives and had some nice moments. His final numbers -- 27-of-45 for 270 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions -- were perfectly respectable, although they perhaps don't tell the full story.

In his first appearance, the Jets kept things very simple for Petty, who completed 10 of 18 passes for 50 yards. The next game saw him air it out a little more and he made some nice throws, including his first touchdown pass and a deep connection with Saalim Hakim. In his final game, he didn't get many chances to throw, but showed good chemistry with DeVier Posey, connecting with him four times including a 24-yard deep crosser that accounted for over half of his yards. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see him in the Bollinger Bowl because the Jets were deciding whether to retain Matt Flynn or Josh Johnson, and had resolved to share all the reps between them.

Despite his modest success, each of Petty's performances had a few shaky moments. He had a couple of risky throws that were almost intercepted, lost a fumble and missed a few throws in each game. He also had issues with throwing late, failing to put enough touch on short passes and one occasion when he was sacked because he was oblivious to an unblocked rusher off the edge.

While there were a lot of things to nit-pick, one positive thing from Petty's performances was he wasn't making the same kinds of mistakes over and over again. Then again, this means he has lots of different areas in which he needs to be more consistent. It will certainly be interesting to see what kind of progress he's made based on how he performs in camp and preseason.

When the Jets drafted another raw quarterback in Christian Hackenberg in the second round this year, some people took this to be a bad sign for Petty's future. That's not necessarily the case because Petty was always viewed as a bit of a long shot with developmental potential, and that probably hasn't changed over the last 12 months. However, even though he's the No. 3 right now, it's probably fair to say that he has as much chance of being off the 53-man roster altogether as he does of seeing any action this season. He, like each of the players we'll be considering here, is still fully practice squad eligible.

Signs so far this offseason have not been particularly promising. ESPN New York's Rich Cimini named him as one of his "fallers" in an article about the risers and fallers at mini-camp.

Harrison

Harrison was a fifth-round pick last year and began the season on the active roster. Eventually the Jets had to waive him because they were short on safeties, so needed a roster spot for Rontez Miles. Harrison cleared waivers and the Jets were able to sign him to their practice squad for the rest of the season and to a futures deal once the season ended.

Harrison's preseason campaign basically saw him pitted directly against Dakota Dozier. The pair played at guard on the third unit, with Harrison on the right side. It was interesting to compare them because Dozier was just about able to handle his assignments most of the time while not necessarily looking smooth or in control. Harrison, on the other hand, really looked the part when he got everything right, but was more prone to mistakes than Dozier.

Harrison showed an ability to pull or get out in front of a screen and to drive his man out of the play at the second level. However, there were times when he seemed unsure of his assignment and allowed his man to shoot a gap or get off his block to blow up a run. He didn't give up any pressure, and while it's a small sample size and against backups, that is definitely a positive sign.

On the play below, Harrison (wearing No. 64) does a good job of getting a surge to help Daryl Richardson get into the end zone. However, he perhaps doesn't finish the play as well as he might have:

Recent history perhaps bodes well for Harrison in that there have been some recent offensive linemen that didn't play as rookies, then started getting some playing time in their second season. Dozier saw his first action last year after having been stashed on the active roster throughout the 2014 season, and Oday Aboushi, a mid-round pick like Dozier and Harrison, started during the second half of his second season after also being a perpetual healthy scratch as a rookie.

The difference with Harrison was the team eventually exposed him to waivers and risked losing him by placing him on the practice squad. Maybe that means they weren't as high on him, although there was a serious need for roster room at the time due to injuries and protecting his rights by having him use up a spot was obviously a luxury they were prepared to forego. Brent Qvale, however, spent his entire rookie year on the practice squad before becoming a contributor last year, so Harrison is still potentially on a similar path.

Cimini named Harrison as one of his mini-camp "fallers" in the aforementioned article. Apparently he had been getting some work at right tackle and struggled in pass protection. With most of his work so far having been at guard, it's possible that was geared towards emergency duties rather than a permanent change though.

Howsare

Howsare was an undrafted free agent defensive end and special teamer out of Clarion. The Jets opted to convert him to fullback in training camp, and he backed up Tommy Bohanon throughout preseason. He was added to the practice squad after not making the roster. However, unlike the other five players we're focusing on here, the Jets didn't retain his rights all season. They released him from the practice squad for a three-week period in the middle of the season before re-signing him to the squad for the rest of the year and then giving him a futures deal after the season.

Over the course of preseason, Howsare made encouraging progress. He didn't do much to stand out in the first couple of games, but made no obvious mistakes either and even caught a short pass out of the slot. In his third game, he made a good driving lead block on a short yardage play and in the final game, his consistency in terms of locating, locking onto and staying with his blocks was impressive and contributed to a 200-yard rushing day for the team.

Scroll back up to the gif above and you'll see how easily he drives his man out of the play, albeit away from the direction of the run.

Of course, that was all against backups, but with a year to prepare himself both physically and mentally for the role this time instead of a mid-camp transition, hopefully he can build on that progress.

It's understandable Howsare hasn't received much buzz this offseason since fullback is a position in which it's difficult to make an impact before the pads go on. From what we hear, Howsare is hopeful he'll get a chance to beat out Bohanon this season as long as the Jets opt to carry a full-time fullback on the roster. If he's continued to develop at the same rate he did last year, that's a possibility.

Conclusions

Of these three, Howsare has received the least fanfare, but he arguably has the best chance of becoming a contributor based on who is ahead of him. Even something as simple as a Bohanon injury could effectively hand him the No. 1 fullback spot, although he'd likely have to defend it against any other candidates whom the Jets bring in. While the fullback position isn't a major role within the Jets' offense right now, they did have a use for Bohanon against certain opponents.

As for Petty and Harrison, they were both considered projects and, as such, may never make it. Some draft experts regarded Harrison as a player with potential pro bowl level talent, but he had issues related to things like work ethic and attitude. If he can keep working hard, then perhaps he can deliver on his potential, but he has several players ahead of him in the battle for a spot. Petty, who has all the tools but lacks experience in a pro-style system, still seems like a long shot, and some believe he won't be with the team much longer. However, if he's progressed at all since last year, then he'll likely get more time to keep developing, whether with the Jets or another team.

Be sure to check in for part two where we look in more detail at the potential defensive debutants. 

Tags: Brent Qvale , Bryce Petty , Dakota Dozier , Geno Smith , Jarvis Harrison , Julian Howsare , Tommy Bohanon

New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) reacts to the crowd in the second half of the Jets 38-20 victory over the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium. (William Hauser)
New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) reacts to the crowd in the second half of the Jets 38-20 victory over the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium. (William Hauser)

In between now and training camp, we've been looking at some of the veteran players on the Jets roster to assess what kind of contribution we might expect from them in 2016. We're going to take a slight detour from that path today, to discuss the implications of the contract extension for Muhammad Wilkerson, announced yesterday.

The contract extension took everyone by surprise, even Wilkerson himself according to some accounts. Did something change to precipitate a deal? Was it a fair deal? What does this mean for the rest of the roster going forward? We'll be considering these questions and more.

The basics

Basic parameters for the contract have gradually leaked out, although the full details have yet to be finalized and there have been a couple of conflicting reports.

However, from the information shared online by the likes of Ian Rapoport, Benjamin Allbright, Dan Graziano, Adam Schefter and perhaps others, we can determine or deduce the following:

1. It's a five-year deal. Wilkerson apparently wanted six.

2. The full value of the deal is $86 million. That may or may not be rounded to the nearest million, and also I am assuming there are no incentives or escalators included in or on top of that sum.

3. The signing bonus was reported as $15 million, which would be paid upfront but prorated over the five years in terms of the annual cap charges.

4. Full guarantees were reported as either $36.5 million or $37 million. My assumption would be that there is a $250K workout bonus in each of the first two years, which isn't strictly speaking fully guaranteed, but would commonly be treated as such because all you have to do is show up to earn it.

5. Injury guarantees have been reported as $53.5 million. Based on recent contracts issued by the Jets, it's a fair assumption that the reported $37 million of (essentially) full guarantees will correspond to the compensation over the first two years and the balance of the injury guarantee -- which might even crystallize into a full guarantee at some point early in the third season -- will be his salary in year three.

6. If all the above is correct, there would be $32 million payable over the last two years, with no guarantees. By that point, barring any restructures, the dead money for a year-four cut would be $6 million and for year five would be $3 million. However, restructures may happen, as I'll expand upon later.

7. The year-one cap hit has dropped significantly but there are conflicting reports on the exact amount saved. Allbright said it was "about $5 million", Graziano said it reduced the cap hit to $10 million (which would be a $5.7 million saving) and an NJ.com sourced report said the cap hit had been approximately halved (which would be a saving of closer to $8 million).   As we know, he's receiving a $15 million signing bonus. If we split the difference and assume a cap saving of $6 million, then that would correspond to salary/other bonuses of about $7 million in 2016.

8. The above assumptions would entitle Wilkerson to receive the following cash sums, year on year, if he remains on the contract. Year one: $22 million. Year two: $15 million. Year three: $17m. Year four/five: $32 million combined.

9. The above cash sums, barring a restructure, would give rise to the following approximate cap hits. Year one: $10 million. Year two: $18 million. Year three: $20 million. Year four and five: $38 million combined.

10. If the above is mostly accurate or close to it, then the Jets will have $9 million of current cap space. This could be as high as $11 million if the NJ.com source is accurate.

The overriding assumption here is that this contract has a similar structure to those already issued by the Jets in recent years, including the deal for Darrelle Revis. Here's another good breakdown, which arrives at basically the same conclusion

What we can say about the size of the deal is that it seems to fit in with other top defensive line contracts over the past year or so. Looking at the deals for Fletcher Cox and Marcell Dareus, we can see that Wilkerson had the lowest total guarantee but the highest annual average. Cox had the highest total contract value, but the lowest fully guaranteed amount at signing. Dareus had the highest fully guaranteed amount at signing, but the lowest annual value. In other words, they all more or less got the same deal but with something that their agent could highlight to future prospective clients to prove that their deal was the best. 

Jets fans will know that I'd put Wilkerson ahead of both players, but trying to put any biases aside, both Cox and Dareus were higher draft picks than Wilkerson and he is the oldest of the three, so he's done well to get a deal that compares favorably to those two.

As for JJ Watt, he is earning less than these three because his deal was signed before the cap exploded. However, he's not that far back and I expect he'll get a well-deserved bump to overtake them again as long as he continues to play at the same level.

Some people have also been throwing Olivier Vernon's name into the mix, but really he's more of a pure edge rusher -- and a speed-to-power rusher rather than the classic speed rushers that tended to get the big money in the past. His deal certainly contributed toward pushing the overall market up, but shouldn't really be a factor in Wilkerson's price-point. In the context of Von Miller's new $19-million-per-year contract, Vernon earning less than 90 percent of what Miller will earn makes him feel like less of an outlier.

The cap position

On the basis of what we've learned, the Jets apparently have about $10 million of cap space for the current year. The immediate conclusion here is that this cap room could potentially be used to sign Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was reportedly offered a three-year contract which would have had a $6 million cap hit in year one.

This could be a red herring though. Had Wilkerson remained on the franchise tag, the Jets still could have created the cap space to afford that deal. Also, structuring Wilkerson's deal the way they did to "save" them from having to make other cap saving moves doesn't really make any difference because if you're back loading cap hits in Wilkerson's deal instead of restructuring other deals, then that has the same effect on your future cap space regardless.

Maybe the next move is to re-sign Fitzpatrick and maybe it isn't. With the Jets' long-term financial picture now a lot clearer, that could spark re-negotiations, but whether they go anywhere is anyone's guess. Maybe they'll increase their offer now, but that might not even be necessary as alternative locations for Fitzpatrick don't appear to be presenting themselves.

An over-simplified but ballpark synopsis for the Jets' basic cap situation over the next couple of years was that the Jets would likely have some, but not very much, cap room in 2017 and plenty of cap room in 2018. Now that Wilkerson is signed and we need to account for big cap hits for him in each year, then we essentially ensure ourselves that the Jets will have no real cap space to work with in 2017, but enough flexibility to keep the team together and maybe carve out room for a few key moves. 

In 2018, rather than being a major player, they currently project to have a more modest amount of cap room, which might be drawn from as they create space for moves next year. There are some big-money deals that could potentially come off the books in 2017 and 2018 to create space, but the Jets are unlikely to be in a position where they are forced to release guys they would prefer to keep.

As with any high salary deal, this contract could be used to create some short term cap relief with salary-to-bonus restructures. If they do that in 2017, they could reduce next year's cap hit from $18 million to as low as $8 million, increasing the cap hits over the last three years by about $3.5 million each. Alternatively, if they waited until 2018, they could potentially reduce that year's cap hit from $20 million to under $10 million, adding $5 million to the cap hits in 2019 and 2020, as we head towards a new CBA and/or work stoppage.

Leverage

The question I always like to ask when a protracted contract negotiation reaches its conclusion is "who caved"? Did anything change to spark either side relaxing its position? 

The market essentially set the size and structure of this deal. The Jets just had to decide whether they were prepared to make such an expensive long-term commitment when they have two other excellent young linemen under contract for a few years with cheaper deals. Maybe they ended up paying Wilkerson more than they initially hoped, but I figure whether or not to make the commitment was the bigger decision for them.

Time, as always was a factor. With the deadline approaching, motivation was obviously high to get a deal done, after an extended period of inactivity. Both teams may have been hoping to gain leverage as the deadline approached and perhaps one side did, which led to both sides getting back to the negotiating table.

Did anything happen as the deadline approached? Possibly. Tom Brady's four-game suspension was upheld and perhaps the Jets see this as an opportunity they couldn't afford to let slip by because of the chance of a disgruntled Wilkerson holding out or playing poorly due to a lack of motivation or preparation. Maybe the threat of him holding out was enough on its own to make them blink, even without the Brady aspect.

In his breakdown of the deal, Jason from OTC wonders aloud if we might hear that something about Richardson's future was a catalyst for the deal. Has something connected with Richardson - either a specific event or just a series of actions - led the team to conclude that Wilkerson should be their priority going forward? Perhaps adding intrigue to that factor are Mike Westhoff's comments to SNY yesterday, where he said he was unimpressed with Richardson last year and disappointed with what he saw from him in mini-camp, despite some big talk.

Whatever their reasoning, the Jets returned to the negotiating table just in time, but how badly did they lose out by not getting a deal done much earlier? Had they dealt with Wilkerson a few years ago, they probably could got a deal done for around $14 million. At the time, Jason La Canfora reported that Wilkerson was looking for similar money to Robert Quinn, who had just signed a $57 million deal over four years. 

While they'd be saving about $3 million a year, if such a deal had kicked in before his fifth season, then they'd be paying him $6 million more than they would have under the fifth year option. While contract extensions used to typically account for amounts and years remaining on an existing deal, Revis set a precedent with his insistence on a deal that ignored the remaining years. While the Jets resisted that the second time around and dealt him instead, re-signing him to a big money deal later on might be seen as a sign they were wrong there. Therefore that might have been a can of worms the Jets were reluctant to open, instead opting to negotiate at the end of the deal.

Also, the length of the deal may have been a factor. The Jets pushed for a deal that ensured Wilkerson was signed through 2020 whereas he actually wanted a deal that ran through 2021, so they obviously see that as the optimum age for his contract to be up. Who knows when a 2014 extension would have ended? Ultimately, they lost out slightly in the long run, but they were retaining roster flexibility elsewhere so the overall outcome is quite good.

On the other side of the coin, there was a lot of negativity about the unfairness of the franchise tag system, but ultimately we've been told that Wilkerson wanted to be a Jet and he got the long-term deal he was after. Without the franchise tag, it's likely he would have been gone, maybe even traded before his contract expired. Maybe the system works after all. It did for Wilkerson, although he and his agent had to work the system a little to get the desired result.

One good thing to come out of this was that Wilkerson didn't do a lot of griping in the press and his agent, Chad Wiestling, handled the negotiations in a professional and private manner. Some agents have been known to leak a deluge of information to the media, together with instructions of how to use the information to portray the team in a bad light. That creates bad blood and can drive a wedge between players and teams. 

It seems like NFL fan bases are becoming wise to that kind of approach and hopefully Wiestling's success will lead to future negotiations being conducted in a similar fashion. Of course, if the Jets suddenly cave to Fitzpatrick and up their offer for him, that positive outcome might soon be undone.

What does this tell us about how the Jets feel about Wilkerson?

There had been some rumblings in the media that the Jets were unwilling to deal long term with Wilkerson because the current regime didn't consider him to be a cornerstone player, instead considering Richardson to be the defensive face of the franchise in the near future.

I was concerned over these reports, which suggested the Jets felt Richardson was the more talented player despite the fact he hadn't performed or produced as consistently as Wilkerson over the past couple of years. It seemed more realistic to suggest that perhaps Richardson has the higher ceiling, although for the time being Wilkerson is the better player. The fact they gave Wilkerson this deal clearly tells us they did see him as an elite player all along.

From the reactions of his teammates, it's quite clear that most of them felt he deserved this long term extension and the chance to remain as one of the key contributors on the roster too.

What will the impact be on Richardson though? In the short term, I'd imagine it will motivate him. In fact, the Wilkerson situation was weighing on everyone, so players like Richardson have been suffering from disgruntlement by proxy. The knock-on effects of a happy and motivated Wilkerson could lift Richardson and others on the roster as well.

Down the line, there could be issues if Richardson feels he is the better player, but isn't quite producing at the same level. However, although Richardson regularly makes comments about how good he believes he is, he does seem to look up to Wilkerson and I would be hopeful that jealously will not be an issue.

Trade possibilities

It's worth addressing whether a trade could happen down the road. We can essentially rule out this deal being made with the intention of Wilkerson himself being traded any time soon because the Jets already paid out a $15 million signing bonus. The rare exception to that would be if a team unwilling to pay Wilkerson the same kind of money was prepared to give the Jets high enough trade compensation that the Jets would be prepared to eat that bonus.

The more likely possibility, which may be an issue over the next year or two, is that Richardson might become a player who could potentially be traded. He'll be under contract for about $8 million under his fifth year option next season, with the possibility of a franchise tag after that.

That's for down the line though. For now the Jets have Wilkerson and Richardson under contract along with Leonard Williams, and if they can keep all three next year and even further into the future that wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

Conclusions

Ultimately, as I said yesterday, I was surprised by this deal because the Jets' actions seemed to indicate that they were happy to stick with the franchise tag. However, once the Jets made the decision to return to the negotiating table, I'm not surprised they were able to hammer out a deal, based on all the recent similar parameter-setting deals.

Wilkerson playing on the franchise tag would have helped the team retain some flexibility, but it did create a bit of a cap crunch and wasn't ideal from a motivation perspective. Hopefully Wilkerson will be in the right frame of mind to put together yet another elite season. In fact, maybe he'll be determined to prove he deserves the deal and will continue to measure himself against the top earners in the league.

Ironically, for a deal with so many guarantees, there are no guarantees that Wilkerson will remain healthy and productive over the next five years. However, Wilkerson has enjoyed success so far due to fundamental factors such as his length, technique, discipline and consistency which are always going to be there. I expect him to continue to perform at a high level and hopefully he can remain elite as he heads towards an inevitable ring of honor induction. Maybe we'll be back here in five years talking about his next extension.

Tags: Muhammad Wilkerson

New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) celebrates his sack of Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (not shown) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. (Ed Mulholland)
New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) celebrates his sack of Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (not shown) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. (Ed Mulholland)

With the Jets signing Muhammad Wilkerson to a new contract Friday, the team has more salary cap room for the 2016 season, reports ESPN's Rich Cimini and Dan Graziano

This leaves the team with $5.7 million in cap space, instead of the $3.4 million the Jets had before the new Wilkerson contract, according to the report. 

Wilkerson, who was originally to play the season under a franchise tag worth $15.7 million, will now have a $10 million cap hit for 2016 under his new five-year contract, Graziano reports. 

 

 

Tags: Muhammad Wilkerson

New York Jets' Muhammad Wilkerson (96) celebrates after Buffalo Bills' Tyrod Taylor (5) fumbles the ball during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, in Orchard Park, N.Y. The Jets recovered the ball. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert) (Bill Wippert/AP)
New York Jets' Muhammad Wilkerson (96) celebrates after Buffalo Bills' Tyrod Taylor (5) fumbles the ball during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, in Orchard Park, N.Y. The Jets recovered the ball. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert) (Bill Wippert/AP)

The Jets have signed Muhammad Wilkerson to a multi-year extension, the team announced Friday.

Wilkerson will get $86 million over five years, with $37.75 million fully guaranteed at signing, according to ESPN's Dan Graziano. According to Graziano, the remaining $16.75 million guaranteed will start in March 2018. 

ESPN New York's Rich Cimini reports that the Jets offered Wilkerson a new deal on Wednesday via email, and the two sides went back-and-forth most of Friday before coming to an agreement minutes before 4 p.m. 

"I give my all every Sunday on the field and play with so much love and passion for the game. I'm thankful for everything that comes my way and proud to say I'm back on the green and white for a few more years," Wilkerson posted on Twitter.

In 2015, Wilkerson recorded 64 combined tackles and 12 sacks. He was selected to his first Pro Bowl.



Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter

This definitely surprised me. Everything leading up to this announcement seemed to be pointing to the fact that the Jets wanted to leave Wilkerson on the franchise tag with half an eye on the development of their other stud linemen and a pending decision or two down the road.  

However, I think it's a good move. Regular readers will know how high I am on Wilkerson's ability and his importance to the success of the defense, so I can't complain about paying elite money to retain an elite player.  

Whether the looming deadline caused one side to soften their stance or not, this deal can only be good as long as Wilkerson stays healthy and maintains the level of play he's shown over the past few years.

Nevertheless, I know better than to overreact to a long-term contract before the full details have been revealed, so I'll digest that information when it comes and then write up a more detailed breakdown over the weekend. For now, though, I'm happy Wilkerson will be sticking around and motivated to perform for the foreseeable future.


Brian Bassett, theJetsBlog.com Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | TJB Posts

I am giggling that this happened before the deadline based on the way that this whole thing has played out in the press. This must come as a shock to most based on the way this has been portrayed publicly -- in point of fact I'd say that getting Wilkerson at $18 million a year for the first three years and $17 million over the course of the deal seems like a good bargain to me considering the caliber of player and the leadership he brings.

Paying quarterbacks next to nothing allows for such generous spending elsewhere ... could that be in store for the Jets? The last deal many are waiting to see is one with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Will the Jets have the cap room now to find space for a quarterback? We shall see.

Tags: Muhammad Wilkerson

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is sacked by New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson during the second half at MetLife Stadium. (Ed Mulholland/USA Today Sports Images)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is sacked by New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson during the second half at MetLife Stadium. (Ed Mulholland/USA Today Sports Images)

After New England Patriots QB Tom Brady had his appeal for his four-game suspension relating to Deflategate rejected, one New York Jets player believes they can take advantage.

"With Tom gone those first four games, they could go 2-2 or even 1-3," an anonymous Jets player told Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman. "It's a good opportunity for us."

Brady is set to miss New England's first four games of the season against the Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans and Buffalo Bills, and would return Week 5 against the Cleveland Browns. The Jets host the Patriots in Week 12 and face them on the road in Week 16.

New York split its season series against the Patriots last season, losing 30-23 in Week 7 before winning 26-20 in overtime in Week 16.

Brady, 38, is 21-7 in his career against the Jets with a 62.14 percent completion percentage, 6,614 yards thrown, 39 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Tags: New England Patriots

New York Jets owner Woody Johnson gestures to the fans on the sidelines before a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium. (Brad Penner/USATSI)
New York Jets owner Woody Johnson gestures to the fans on the sidelines before a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium. (Brad Penner/USATSI)

The Jets are the sixth-most valuable franchise in the NFL, according to a report by Forbes magazine.

Valued at $2.6 billion dollars, the Jets are the 13th most valuable sports franchise in the world and 10th most in America (European soccer clubs Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munic are worth more).

The Jets are the second-most valuable franchise in the New York area behind the Giants and the second-most valuable in their division, behind AFC East rival the New England Patriots. 


New York Jets defensive end Leonard Williams (92) reacts to a sack by New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson (91) (not shown) during the second half at MetLife Stadium. (Ed Mulholland)
New York Jets defensive end Leonard Williams (92) reacts to a sack by New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson (91) (not shown) during the second half at MetLife Stadium. (Ed Mulholland)

In between now and training camp, I'm looking at some of the veteran players on the Jets roster to assess what kind of contribution we might expect from them in 2016. Today, we're going to take a look at Leonard Williams and his potential development as he enters his second season.

In his rookie season, Williams started 15 games and recorded 63 tackles and three sacks. Williams was thrown into the fire because of Sheldon Richardson's suspension and hit the ground running. However, he perhaps didn't make as many impact plays as some fans would have liked. What kind of progress can we expect from Williams as he enters his second season?

Note: Some stats from this article are exclusively provided by Pro Football Focus.

Measuring Williams' progress against the other Jets linemen

When the Jets drafted Richardson in 2013, he was able to follow in the footsteps of Muhammad Wilkerson, a lineman drafted in the first round two years earlier. Williams entered the league two years after Richardson, putting him in a similar situation but with the added bonus of having Wilkerson to look up to as well. There's a gravitational effect for anyone who comes in with such an outstanding player - or in this case players - ahead of them. The opportunity to learn from them, gauge your progress against them and motivation to emulate them are all valuable benefits.

Wilkerson was a late first rounder, whereas Richardson was a mid-first rounder. That set a level of expectation for Richardson to have an even higher ceiling than Wilkerson and to start delivering on that potential sooner. While Richardson hasn't reached his ceiling or overtaken Wilkerson yet, there are reportedly many league sources who believe that's inevitable. With Williams being a high-first rounder, is it possible his ceiling is even higher than both of them? That remains to be seen, but at least we can compare how each of them fared in their first season.

Richardson's rookie season was definitely better than that of Wilkerson. He won the defensive rookie of the year award, registering 78 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Wilkerson, whose emergence really began in year two, had a solid but unspectacular rookie season. He was a full-time starter though, posting 49 tackles and 3.0 sacks.

Williams finished third in defensive rookie of the year voting, behind Marcus Peters and his league-leading eight interceptions. With 63 tackles and 3.0 sacks, Williams' rookie numbers were almost exactly halfway in between those of his linemates. Raw numbers don't always tell the story though, so what else can we determine about Williams' performance?

According to PFF, Williams' grades against the run were about the same as Richardson's in his rookie year. Wilkerson's grade was much lower as a rookie, although he was among the league leaders by year two. Run defense grades are more instructive than raw tackle numbers because they're also a measure of how often you were blocked out of a play.

It's as a pass rusher that Williams' rookie year was tantalizingly superior to Richardson and Wilkerson. While they all essentially had the same number of sacks, Wilkerson averaged less than one pressure/hit per game, while Richardson averaged two and Williams averaged more than three. While Wilkerson and Richardson both graded out negatively as pass rushers in their rookie year, Williams was in the top 15 at his position. Is he going to develop to a point where he can produce even more than Richardson and Wilkerson or is he just close to his ceiling as a pass rusher sooner than his teammates?

Turning pressures and hits into sacks

Remarkably, only 10 NFL players had more quarterback hits than Williams last year, according to official NFL numbers. Williams had 16, just one fewer than Wilkerson. That led to a familiar refrain:

"I got to the quarterback a lot last year, but they were just hits, those aren't the stats I'm looking for," Williams said. "I want to get sacks. Those little seconds matter, getting to the quarterback."

Jets fans might feel a sense of déjà vu from these comments because similar comments were made by or about the likes of Quinton Coples and Vernon Gholston in the past.

Is Williams placing so high in the rankings some kind of anomaly, though? It seems unlikely, given the fact that all of the players in the top 10 posted double-digits in sacks last year - apart from Olivier Vernon, who was second in the league in hits and earned himself an $85 million contract from the Giants despite "only" recording 7.5 sacks.

While Gholston and Coples were unable to turn those hits into sacks, it can happen. A good example that comes to mind is Robert Quinn, who had just won the defensive player of the year and signed a big money extension, only to then be sackless entering week seven. The sacks eventually came and he still ended up in double-digits.

Richardson's year two progress and Wilkerson's year three progress could be realistic bars for Williams to aim for. Richardson's rookie pressure numbers were pretty much the same as Wilkerson's year two pressure numbers, while still falling below what Williams achieved as a rookie. Richardson followed up his rookie season with eight sacks and Wilkerson followed up his second season with 10.5 sacks. On this basis, perhaps it's not out of the question for Williams to get close to double digits if he can improve at a similar rate.

Impact pressure

Getting to the quarterback is important, but if you're not recording a sack, how much of an impact are you actually having?

For example, in the first five games, Williams twice had a hit on a play where the offense scored a touchdown anyway. However, there was a significant trend towards more positive outcomes when he got to the quarterback as the season went on.

Over the first six games, quarterbacks completed 4-of-8 passes for 45 yards and two touchdowns on plays where Williams had a hit. However, in the next eight games, they were just 1-of-8 for four yards and an interception. All told, that's 5-for-16, 49 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, producing a quarterback rating of just 54.4.

Williams wasn't credited with a hit in either of the last two games, although those were the only consecutive games in which he failed to record a hit. In the first 14 games, he had only failed to record a hit three times.

Here's the best example of the kind of imposing presence he can produce. He overpowers Doug Free, throws him aside and then gets Matt Cassel to panic and throw an easy interception:

Other considerations

While the signs are good in terms of the potential for Williams to improve upon his performances so far and make more impact plays, there are a few factors which could hold him back. First of all, Wilkerson and Richardson's development came under Karl Dunbar. It remains to be seen whether current defensive line coach Pepper Johnson can enjoy the same success in terms of pushing Williams to the next level.

Another factor sure to influence his production in the running game is the departure of nose tackle Damon Harrison. While the Jets are optimistic that Steve McLendon and Deon Simon can fill in for him, there's likely to be an adjustment period and Williams could find himself double-teamed more often in the early stages.

One last intangible factor, which could work in his favor, is something I picked up on when covering the Jets' trip to London. That would be the star quality that Williams naturally exudes off the field. It's impossible to explain why but he has a natural confidence and "it factor" that left me in no doubt he's headed for super-stardom.

Conclusions

With all the focus on Harrison (because he left), Wilkerson (because of his contract situation) and Richardson (because of his suspension) during this offseason, it's easy to forget all about Williams. However, we perhaps shouldn't overlook what a valuable asset he could be.

I don't know that Williams will ascend as dramatically as Richardson and Wilkerson have. After all, maybe he just started off from a point where he was more NFL ready and closer to his ceiling. Even if he is in the NFL for a long time merely playing at the level he did last season, that will be a fine career. However, there are reasons to be optimistic that he's only just scratching the surface of his capabilities.

Williams is not as good as Richardson or Wilkerson yet, but he's on his way. The thought that he could be not just as good as they are, but potentially even better, is almost too tantalizing to entertain.

Tags: Leonard Williams

Is Deflategate finally over? 00:03:22
The Daily News Live panel reacts to the news that Tom Brady's Deflategate suspension is being upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

 A federal appeals court has rejected Tom Brady's attempt to get a new hearing on his suspension.

Brady was asking for the full 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the case. In April, a three-judge panel said that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was within his powers when he suspended the star quarterback four games for his role in a scheme to doctor the footballs used in a Jan. 18, 2015, playoff game.

The decision Wednesday affirms the wide-ranging powers given to the commissioner by the NFL's collective bargaining agreement and was a setback for organized labor groups arguing for due process in employee discipline.

Brady's remaining hope is to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. >> Read more...

Tags: New England Patriots

GEICO SportsNite: Wilkerson 00:02:32
The Jets Nation crew discusses the future of defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson and how his absence from camp could affect the Jets.

The Jets Nation panel agrees: Muhammed Wilkerson will not sign with the Jets before the season.

"I don't think he'll sign," former Wilkerson teammate D'Brickashaw Ferguson said. "This is his opportunity and I think he's going to hold out, and that's just my belief."

Another former teammate of Wilkerson, Willie Colon, said he would not sign the franchise tag if he were Wilkerson.

"I understand it's a lot to leave on the table, but for him this is the only leverage he has," Colon said on Jets Nation. "He has to flat out get healthy and figure out what the next plan of action is. But I would flat out not sign it, I would wait it out and move on from there."

"I think Mo holds out," he later added.

Wilkerson is coming off a 64 tackle, 12 sack Pro Bowl season and has played five seasons with the Jets. In that time, he has posted 36 sacks, 184 solo tackles, 116 assisted tackles and forced nine fumbles over 74 games.

The Jets offered him a tender for a franchise tag designation for the season, which Wilkerson has stated he will decline in favor of a long-term, more lucrative deal.

At last report, Wilkerson and the Jets are still far apart on a deal.

Tags: Muhammad Wilkerson

New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) during OTA at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. (Noah K. Murray)
New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) during OTA at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. (Noah K. Murray)

The Jets have the worst quarterback situation in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

PFF concedes that Geno Smith has shown flashes of good quarterback play, he has never sustained it for a lengthy period of time.

The analytics website did not appear to be high on rookie backup Christian Hackenberg, assessing him as the lowest-graded FBS quarterback in 2014 and "consistently poor" his other two years at Penn State.

New York's quarterback depth chart also includes former Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, who the Jets took in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

The Jets have not yet re-signed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the two are still reportedly far apart on a deal. Head coach Todd Bowles has said that he is tired of talking about Fitzpatrick and will proceed with training camp with Geno as the starting quarterback for the Jets 2016 season.

Tags: Geno Smith

New York Jets tight end Jace Amaro (88) against the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field. (Andrew Weber)
New York Jets tight end Jace Amaro (88) against the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field. (Andrew Weber)

In between now and training camp, I'm looking at some of the veteran players on the Jets roster to assess what kind of contribution we might expect from them in 2016. Today, we're going to take a look at all the candidates for the tight end role and how they might be used this season.

In 2015, Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Davis shared virtually all of the reps at tight end, but combined for just eight catches, as the tight ends simply weren't featured in the offensive gameplan. Could this be somewhere the Jets could add another dimension in 2016, or will the position continued to be marginalized in Chan Gailey's system?

Note: Some stats from this article are exclusively provided by Pro Football Focus.

Tight ends in 2015

The Jets' plans for their tight end position in 2015 were perhaps waylaid somewhat by the loss of Jace Amaro and Zach Sudfeld to season-ending injuries in training camp.

Davis and Cumberland had effectively locked up their roster spots by default, with blocking specialist Steve Maneri - signed in June following Sudfeld's knee injury - being the only other tight end on the roster with any NFL experience. Other than Maneri, their only competition was an undrafted rookie and two late camp additions. 

Cumberland had been a modest contributor over the past three years with the Jets, catching 78 passes over the past three years. He was actually on the field for over 900 snaps in 2014, but saw him playing time cut dramatically and caught just five passes on 13 targets.

Davis had never really lived up to his potential with the Bears and had been bouncing around the league and primarily used as a blocker due over the previous few years because of his unreliable hands.

Gailey's offenses in the past had featured tight ends regularly, with Scott Chandler in particular making a name for himself. While he would get a lot of the production from Chandler and his other tight ends by lining them up in the slot, that was a role Cumberland was familiar with and one in which he had been productive in the past. However, Gailey instead opted to use his receivers in that role and even employed his third receiver as an H-back at times. Even so, Cumberland and Davis were on the field for over 700 snaps between them, so that doesn't entirely explain their total lack of statistical production.

The current candidates

While Cumberland is gone - signed to a free agent contract with the Chargers - Davis re-signed to a minimum-salary deal, to the surprise of many. Sudfeld, who was out of contract at the end of the season, was also re-signed.

The only player remaining under contract with the team is Amaro, although he missed the entire season after suffering a shoulder injury that required surgery. Amaro is entering the third year of his four-year rookie deal.

After the season, Wes Saxton and Brandon Bostick were signed to futures deals. Saxton spent the year on the practice squad, apart from a one week main roster assignment when Cumberland missed a game. Bostick had also been signed to the practice squad, late in the season.

The only other tight end on the roster is undrafted rookie Jason Vander Laan, a converted quarterback. They have released a couple of tight ends during the offseason program though.

The Jets will have a need for snaps at the inline tight end position and at the H-back position. How would each of these players fit into those roles and how might they perform during the season?

The incumbents

The 30-year old Davis serves as something of a baseline for the progress of the other, younger, tight end options on this team. It seems likely he's reached his potential and while he has value as a competent blocker who can play the inline role, the Jets would presumably prefer someone more dynamic to take that spot.

Davis missed time in the offseason program with an injured thumb. That likely won't affect his roster chances that much, because the Jets will presumably see him as a fall-back option if none of the younger options step up. Davis might not be very productive, but if none of the youngsters are ready, the team will likely revert to him as a reliable veteran with experience.

Davis received an $80,000 signing bonus and $150,000 of his minimum salary is guaranteed, but these amounts likely wouldn't be prohibitive enough to secure his spot on the roster. In fact, keeping a minimum salaried rookie over him would be exactly cap-neutral, which probably isn't a coincidence.

Amaro is entering his third season, although he only played in one preseason game last year. If he could emulate his production from his rookie year (38-345-2TD) that would be an instant improvement over the total tight end production from last year's group (8-95-TD). However, 23 of those catches came when he was lined up in the slot, where the 2015 Jets already achieved plenty of production from their receivers. His longest catch came from the outside slot, albeit lined up close to the edge of the line:

 

Can Amaro contribute as an inline tight end? He played about one-third of his snaps in 2014 as an inline tight end, mostly in multiple tight end sets. Holding him back would be his lack of experience as a blocker. While he might be able to produce from the slot due to being matched up with smaller defenders in space, he would need to show considerable progress to convince the team he won't be a liability in such a role. His listed weight is the same as that of Davis, although I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Davis had bulked up for a more blocking-heavy role.

Logically, it would seem obvious that Amaro would step into a starter's role. However, he seemed to be struggling to get to grips with the system last year and was only the third tight end at the point where he suffered his season-ending injury.

Davis and Amaro are probably the favorites to start as the number one inline tight end and H-back respectively. Ironically, while Amaro is considered by many to be a big, athletic target, Davis is actually two inches taller and ran the 40 in 4.6 at the combine while Amaro only ran 4.74. However, Amaro ran 4.6 at his pro day and presumably Davis has lost a step since his combine appearance eight years ago. Based on their skill-sets, Davis as the blocker and Amaro as the pass catcher is the logical way to go.

Reserve depth

Sudfeld and Bostick are two players with experience in a back-up tight end role. Neither has played that much, as they have accounted for 19 catches, 171 yards and three touchdowns between them.

When Bostick was first linked with the Jets, some fans were excited because he was a familiar name and seemingly anyone would provide an upgrade over the total lack of production they were getting from their two tight ends last season. However, the main reason he's a familiar name is because of his fumbled onside kick which cost the Packers a place in the Super Bowl a couple of seasons ago. 

At tight end, he's shown some flashes of downfield pass catching ability but is another raw blocker. He'll have to flash more of those receiving skills and show improvement as a blocker to have any chance of securing a spot with the Jets.

How about Sudfeld as a realistic option to replace Cumberland though? Before missing 2015, Sudfeld had caught five passes in each of the previous two seasons, for an average of 74 yards. Despite seeing significantly more playing time and targets, Cumberland only had five catches for 77 yards last year, so it's not like Sudfeld is incapable of emulating that and potentially more.

Sudfeld has also shown some promise as a blocker and has played a higher percentage of his snaps as an inline tight end than anyone other than Davis from this group. With that in mind, he perhaps has the best chance at replacing Davis too. If not, he has a good chance at the third tight end role because of he was one of the leading special teams contributors in 2014, which improves his chances.

Young potential

Saxton and Vander Laan lack experience but are both promising athletes. Saxton was activated for the Miami game in London last year and saw action on 13 snaps. He's been regarded as a raw blocker, but has shown some signs of development in that area. Saxton is listed at 235, but he told me last year that he was up to 255, which is right where he wants to be. That would make him a candidate for the H-back role, which is similar to the role he played in college.

Saxton caught 50 passes as a junior at South Alabama, but his production slipped in his senior year due to injuries. However, he's bulked up nicely and showed some promise in camp last year. In preseason (and the London game), he got plenty of inline work, but does seem better suited to a move/slot role. He caught four passes in preseason; one 15-yarder and three shorter passes.

Vander Laan is a total unknown at this point. Reports out of the offseason activities suggest he's looked pretty smooth in his transition from dual-threat quarterback, but he's never had any experience as a blocker, so that will be his biggest learning curve once the pads go on. Realistically, you'd expect him to be a year away from contributing, but Antonio Gates didn't play college football at all and he was a starter by November in his rookie year, so Vander Laan sneaking onto the roster wouldn't be completely unprecedented.

Other options

Last year, the Jets would often employ Quincy Enunwa in an H-back type role. While he was still primarily a slot receiver, he would often motion to the edge of the line, especially later on in the season. I looked at his role in detail here. Will those reps become available for a guy like Amaro or Saxton to take so that Enunwa can revert to a more traditional wide receiver role going forwards?

A final untouched-upon option would be to bring in a veteran tight end closer to the start of the season. When the Jets signed Kellen Winslow after mini-camp in 2013, he ended up being one of Geno Smith's favorite targets. There isn't much available right now, with Owen Daniels contemplating retirement and other names like Andrew Quarless or John Phillips being underwhelming. However, there's sure to be options released around the league during final cuts, so if nobody steps up, the Jets could instead find an upgrade that way.

Conclusions

This is as open as a training camp positional battle can get. I can imagine any of the six candidates ending up on the active roster or failing to make the team. The starting role is also completely up for grabs.

When you get a situation like this where there are several viable candidates but none of them are sure things, the hope is that the cream will rise to the top, but the reality is often very different. 

In some respects, this reminds me of the left guard position battle, back in 2007. Initially, rookie Jacob Bender had won the starting role and started throughout preseason, but the team lost faith in him and ended up giving the opening day starter role to the more experienced, but unproven Adrien Clarke. Clarke's struggles were well documented and he eventually ended up getting replaced by Will Montgomery, who would go on to be a good player over the next decade, but at the time was just as inexperienced.

The good news is that a lack of production at the tight end position can be schemed around, as 2015 proves. That wouldn't as readily be the case with a position like left guard. Also, while the talent on show is largely unproven, there's an extremely low bar if they're going to offer an upgrade over what last year's tight ends offered. Gailey's history suggests he will make use of the assets he does have, but will find other ways to overcome those pieces that he lacks.

As for which of these players will step up and win a role, Davis and Amaro start off as the favorites, but fans and coaches will be hoping at least one of the other players steps up to challenge them. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but it's certainly going to be something to pay attention to when camp gets underway in a few weeks.


Jets Nation of Fitzpatrick 00:02:14
Jets Nation panel discusses what Ryan Fitzpatrick means to the Jets and if something will get worked out before training camp.

The Jets should prioritize bringing back Ryan Fitzpatrick over Muhammed Wilkerson, Willie Colon and Ray Lucas said on Jets Nation.

Fitzpatrick set the Jets franchise record for passing touchdowns in a season in his first year as a starter with 31. He also threw for 3905 yards and 335 completions, more than current Jets starter Geno Smith ever did in his two years as New York's primary quarterback.

Wilkerson is a two-time second-team All-Pro coming off a Pro Bowl season. In five years with the Jets, he has played 74 games and compiled 36 sacks, 184 solo tackles, 116 assisted tackles and forced nine fumbles.

Both players are currently in contract disputes with the Jets, with both players reportedly seeking significantly more money than what the organization is offering them.

However, Colon said of his former teammate Fitzpatrick that the organization needs to make it their first priority to bring him back.

"Fitz is everything," Colon said. "We both played in the huddle know how much he means to the team. Especially when you have Decker and Marshall coming out and saying 'Hey, he's our guy, we love him.' It's just a matter of time. The Jets gotta figure out if something happens to Geno, who's the next guy in line? And they don't have an answer to that."

Colon also cautioned that if it doesn't work out with Fitzpatrick, the Jets have to make Geno Smith comfortable being the new starter.

"If they don't come to deal with Fitz, they gotta do Geno justice by putting their foot in the dirt and saying 'Hey, we're done with you. Geno's our guy.' Beause it's not fair to Geno to look at every swinging door and wonder if Fitzpatrick is coming through the door," Colon said. "You want your starting quarterback to be clear-minded and ready to go."  

Tags: Muhammad Wilkerson , Ryan Fitzpatrick , Willie Colon

Corey Griffin and Brian Bassett are joined by former Jets safety and current SNY Analyst Erik Coleman, for a big show that covers everything from minicamp to tacos. 

That includes Muhammad Wilkerson, how his contract situation and the QB situation affects the locker room, a discussion about the transition from playing days to a post playing career for NFL athletes, and the Pizza vs Tacos argument.

Tags: Muhammad Wilkerson

New York Jets defensive Muhammad Wilkerson during practice at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. (The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports)
New York Jets defensive Muhammad Wilkerson during practice at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. (The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports)

The Jets and Muhammad Wilkerson are not talking about a new contract for the defensive end, according to a report from Dom Cosentino on NJ.com.

Wilkerson, who is seeking a long-term contract, has not come to terms on a new deal with the Jets yet. The team placed a franchise tag on him earlier in the offseason, and if the two sides don't come to an agreement before July 15, he will have to play under a one-year, $15.7 million contract. 

Wilkerson has not signed his franchise tender. 

In 2015, Wilkerson recorded 64 combined tackles and 12 sacks. 

Tags: Muhammad Wilkerson

New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) warms up prior to a game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. (Raymond Carlin III)
New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) warms up prior to a game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. (Raymond Carlin III)

In between now and training camp, I'm looking at some of the veteran players on the Jets roster to assess what kind of contribution we might expect from them in 2016. Today, we're going to take a look at Geno Smith and his suitability for a potential starting role if the team fails to re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick. We'll re-visit Smith's sole 2015 appearance, when Fitzpatrick was injured in Oakland, to try and determine if that tells us anything about his progress or otherwise since he lost the starting job.

Much of this offseason has been conducted under the assumption that Fitzpatrick will eventually re-sign with the Jets and be reinstated as their starting quarterback. That may still happen, but in recent weeks you get the sense that players, coaches and even fans and media are starting to talk themselves around to the alternative notion of handing "the keys to the Porsche" back to Geno.

While we recognize you probably hate the "Same old Geno" headline, this is all about trying to find evidence that he's advanced since he last started and that we're not just settling back into an inadequate alternative to Fitzpatrick. At the end of the day, even if Fitzpatrick does re-sign, it's still a worthwhile exercise, because Smith will probably still be an injury away from getting called on again.

Note: Some stats from this article are exclusively provided by Pro Football Focus

The current situation

This time last year, Smith was right where he is now; atop the Jets' depth chart as their starting quarterback. Despite getting booed, he was navigating his way through camp pretty well, as he didn't throw his first interception until the 10th practice. We all know what happened next. An off-field dispute with IK Enemkpali escalated to the point where Enemkpali struck Smith, breaking his jaw and putting him out for a month. 

By default, Fitzpatrick was now the starter, although many felt he would have had a good chance to eventually win the job anyway. Had he not been coming off a broken leg, perhaps Fitzpatrick would have had more of a shot up to that point.

Fitzpatrick fared well as the starter, leading the Jets into the bye at 3-1 to secure the role for the rest of the season. However, a thumb injury against the Raiders forced him out of the line-up and gave Smith the chance for his only game action of the season. Fitzpatrick played through the injury for the remainder of the season and the coaching staff said he'd be the starter again if and when he re-signed after the season.

All of this brings us to where we are now. Despite the fact the Jets have been the sole realistic suitor for Fitzpatrick from the start, disagreements over the 33-year old's value have meant that he still hasn't signed. The team seems open to the fact that he can sign between now and the start of camp and still be the starter, but has been proceeding on the basis that he's not here and so Smith has been taking all the first team reps.

By all accounts, Smith has fared well, although you'd expect him to stand out given the relative inexperience levels of the quarterbacks behind him on the depth chart. With even the media forced to admit the Smith has been impressive at times, the looming specter of another year with Smith at the helm perhaps doesn't seem so bad after all.

However, with the pads yet to go on, we're forced to revisit that one appearance from last season for a more informative look at whether he will fare any better as a starter than he did before he first lost the job.

The set-up

The Jets headed into Oakland in week eight having just missed the chance to go 5-1 with a loss to New England the previous week. Oakland, however, were flying high, coming off a blowout win of the Chargers. The Jets' preparations had been thrown into chaos because Nick Mangold had suffered a neck injury late in the Patriots game and was unable to play, only for Fitzpatrick to then get knocked out of the game on the opening drive.

This forced Smith into action for the rest of the game, although Fitzpatrick was forced to re-enter and handle a couple of snaps late in the fourth quarter when Smith himself was hurt.

When I initially reviewed this game, my approach was to gloss over Smith's performance to some degree, on the following basis: Firstly, anything good he did was while the team was trailing heavily. Secondly, anything bad he did was partly due to the fact that was thrown out there at short notice without getting a decent chance to prepare. Finally, even at that time, it seemed likely that Smith would probably be gone at the end of the season anyway, so there seemed little point in nit-picking everything he did.

Here we are though, so perhaps it is worth revisiting the game in more detail, even if we're accepting the fact that we shouldn't overreact to anything he did or didn't do well, for the above reasons.

Smith's performance: The numbers

On the basis of the boxscore, this was one of the best games of Smith's career. He completed 27-of-42 passes for 265 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Smith posted the fifth best completion percentage and the third best quarterback rating of his career. Full disclosure: I'm excluding a 2014 performance against the Bills where Smith relieved Mike Vick with the Jets trailing heavily and completed 10 of 12 passes, mostly throwing short. 

It was also his fifth best yardage output and one of only six multiple-TD pass games Smith has posted. Smith also rushed for 34 yards on two carries and, while he was sacked three times for 19 yards, he picked up two first downs for 29 yards on pass interference calls.

It wasn't all straightforward dink-and-dunk either. He fared well when blitzed and/or pressured and completed six passes further than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, including two of over 20 yards.

Smith's performance: The film

As good as the box score looks, Smith still made some elementary mistakes which stalled drives and cost the Jets a couple of chances to score and get back into the game. Let's recap his day.

First of all, when he took over from Fitzpatrick near mid-field, he was able to get the Jets into range to take the lead on a field goal. This largely came from one play as he hit Jeremy Kerley on a well-placed throw over the middle on third and six and then Kerley turned it into a 23-yard gain by breaking a tackle and weaving down near the red zone. This was the only pass Smith threw on the drive.

That would essentially end up being basically Smith's only positive moment of the first half, although this wasn't entirely his fault. The Jets had chewed up eight minutes on their first drive and Oakland had three drives of more than five minutes each, which didn't leave Smith many chances to achieve much.

On their only other first quarter drive with Smith under center, the Jets were unsurprisingly cagey. He threw three short passes on the first drive which ended in a punt. The last one, on third and nine, saw him dump the ball to Kenbrell Thompkins on a drag route underneath as all the other receivers ran to the sticks. However, the Raiders stayed in zone coverage and watched his eyes so nobody bit on the decoy routes and Thompkins was stopped well short.

In the second quarter, Smith got even fewer chances. In fact he didn't throw his third pass of the quarter until the 2:13 mark. After going 14-3 down, the Jets went three and out with Smith handing the ball off twice and then failing to connect deep with Eric Decker. Then, after the Raiders made it 21-3, this happened on the next play:

That was obviously bad, although it's difficult to justify the play call in that situation, even from an it's-so-crazy-it'll-be-the-last-thing-they-expect standpoint. Still, Smith either needed to do a better job of looking off the safety or to not throw that pass with Woodson ranging over.

At that point though, it's a quick-strike low percentage shot, where you're looking to give the team a shot in the arm and a quick route back into the game. Also, to some extent, you're relying on Brandon Marshall to go up and over the defender(s) to make a play. So, maybe you can't fault Smith entirely for taking a shot.

At the end of the half, Smith - at this point just 2-of-5 for 27 yards with an interception - managed to drive the Jets into range for a field goal to cut the lead to 21-6. He was 4-for-5 on the drive, including 13 and 14 yard completions to Decker and Marshall. However, each of these came on underneath completions with the defense playing back.

That lead would grow to 22 before Smith touched the ball again, as the Raiders scored another touchdown on their first drive of the second half. Smith played his best football over the next quarter or so, leading the Jets to a touchdown on two of their next three drives, going 6-for-6 on one and 5-for-7 on the other. However, Oakland had added a couple of field goals, so these scores only got the Jets within 14.

When the Jets forced a three-and-out to get the ball back with eight minutes to go, the comeback was still potentially on, but they failed to convert on fourth and short when they drove down inside the Raiders 40. The next drive was a three-and-out and on their final drive the Jets again got down inside the Raiders 30, but again turned the ball over on downs.

While he threw the ball effectively in the second half, racking up 204 yards, some of Smith's old issues resurfaced on their four unsuccessful drives in that second half, causing each of those drives to stall. 

On the first one, he hesitated in the pocket on third and one and ended up taking a sack when he easily could have taken off and got to the marker had he been more decisive. The next one ended when he bailed out of a throw under pressure and misfired badly on fourth down. The third drive saw him roll out on third and short but he saw an open Thompkins too late and ended up taking a sack to keep the clock running and take the Jets out of a fourth and short situation. On their last drive, with time paramount, he hesitated badly and lost 11 yards on another sack as the announcers implored him to "Throw it away!"

Ultimately, this comes down to the fact that even though his numbers under pressure were reasonably good, how he actually coped with those situations was disappointing.

Those weren't his only mistakes, though, as there were miscommunications with receivers and timing or accuracy issues on several of his throws. Again, that perhaps comes down to a combination of rust, a lack of chemistry and the fact he was thrown in there at short notice. However, there were several passes that could easily have been intercepted where defensive players he didn't appear to see almost jumped a route or dropped off into a passing lane or where his throw was either underthrown or overthrown and a defender almost came down with it. Most of those throws were just as concerning as the one interception he actually threw.

While his detractors will say that he was able to exploit a soft prevent style defense and rack up stats by taking what the defense gave him, which was certainly true to some extent, it's still worth praising some of the things he did well.

A beautifully placed 28-yard throw over the top to Marshall on a corner route was definitely his best throw of the day, but he did have some other well-placed passes into tight windows. He also converted with two touchdown passes in the red zone, including one where he showed good poise when the initial play call for Kellen Davis to leak into the back of the end zone didn't work so his primary/only option was covered. However, he extended the play as long as he could before getting nailed on the roll-out giving Davis just enough time and room to catch his well-placed throw at the back corner of the end zone.

Other considerations

So, we've analysed how well Smith threw the ball and added context by considering the game situation and the defensive gameplan. However, there are still a few other factors that impacted on his performance.

First, Mangold's absence was a huge factor. If Smith starts this year, or if he gets called upon to replace an injured Fitzpatrick/whoever, then he'd presumably lean heavily on Mangold's ability to set protections, make line calls and generally filter out any distractions. That his only game of last year should coincide with Mangold's only missed start of the year was unfortunate. Mangold also missed significant time in the win over the Jaguars and the first Bills loss.

While Johnson being in there might have contributed to some of the pressure Smith had troubles with, it may also have affected the offensive line performance generally. Chris Ivory rushed for just 17 yards on 15 carries as the Jets were held to 74 rushing yards - 46 of which were on quarterback scrambles. Rather than galvanize and raise their game, as the line memorably did for Greg McElroy when he replaced Mark Sanchez in a 2012 win over the Cardinals, the offensive line performance was poor, as were the team's body language and effort levels once Fitzpatrick went down.

Another issue that could be a factor if Smith was the quarterback for longer than just one game was his over-reliance on Marshall. It's not difficult to imagine a half-time conversation between the two whereby Marshall would have put his arm round Smith and said "I've got your back - keep looking for me." However, Marshall's nine catches for 108 yards came on 18 targets, 17 on which were thrown by Smith, including 13 in the second half. How would Smith have fared if Marshall - who did leave the game injured on two occasions - was out?

Staring down his primary target has been an issue for Smith in the past and could certainly lead to issues if defenders he doesn't see are dropping off into passing lanes or jumping routes. However, this issue isn't unique to Marshall. On two of his completions to Thompkins, Smith stared him down so he was stopped for a short gain on one and squeezed in one throw which would have been a pick-six if it was a beat later. There's no reason for Smith to have chemistry with Thompkins, who arrived halfway through the season.

One positive from the Raiders performance was perhaps the fact that Smith protected the football with just the one interception and no fumbles. However, not only did he have several near-interceptions, but he also didn't really protect himself, unnecessarily taking a big hit on the sideline after his 29-yard scramble. He was also temporarily knocked out of the game in the last minute after taking another big hit.

Rhythm is another important factor and, as noted, it was difficult for Smith to get into any kind of rhythm in the first half with the Raiders going on a long drive three times and the Jets struggling to sustain their own drives with a conservative approach. However, he did get into a good rhythm in the two minute drill and on both touchdown drives in the second half. Still, that was when the Jets were raising the tempo and the Raiders' secondary was backing off.

Footwork has been an area where Smith has really struggled in the past and this game showed few signs that he'd made any progress in the previous year. Maybe it's something he's still working on refining, but this game saw sloppiness from him, forcing him to rely on his arm strength due to being off-balance or unable to step into a throw effectively.

Ultimately, would his performance be looked upon differently if the Jets had won? The defensive performance was one of the worst of the season, with the Jets struggling to get off the field and gifting the Raiders two long touchdowns with sloppy tackling. Entering that game, only two of the Jets' seven opponents had scored more than 20 points, so if the defense had played up to their usual standards, perhaps it would have been a close game. Then again, maybe Smith's production wouldn't have been as good if the Raiders didn't play conservatively on defense to protect their big lead.

Conclusions

Reliving Smith's only performance of last year was actually more discouraging than expected, after having recently read some positive things about how well he did. There were some factors which made it difficult for him to impress in such a one-off appearance, but if we dwell too much on those we're at risk of being labelled as apologists just making excuses for him.

The buzz out of OTAs and mini-camp was definitely good, although there seemed to be a pattern of Smith looking impressive all day but then having an interception or two in team activities. That's not a pattern they'll be keen for him to follow in game action, because playing well all day but then making a costly mistake when it counts isn't likely to translate to positive results overall, even if it does indicate some level of progress. His performance in the Raiders game was almost the opposite of this though.

Despite Smith looking far from flawless, he ended up with decent numbers, which was a pattern observed in the play of Sanchez throughout his third season as a starter in 2011. Sanchez led the Jets to an 8-5 start before slumping badly and missing the postseason altogether. However, that was on a team suffering from in-fighting and locker room tensions and perhaps a more supportive environment would have led to a more positive outcome.

Maybe it's too much to expect Smith to come in play flawlessly week in and week out, but if he can put solid numbers together, limit back-breaking mistakes and keep the offense ticking over, then perhaps it's not out of the question for him to provide a facsimile of the base-level competence the Jets got from Fitzpatrick last year. That can win you games if your defense and running game show up.

Let's not kid ourselves though, Smith still has a lot to room for improvement and hopefully has still been developing as he gets all the reps in the offseason. If the Jets opt to pay big money for the solid-but-unspectacular Fitzpatrick then it speaks volumes as to how they feel about Smith as he heads into the final year of his rookie contract. If not, they'll have to work hard to minimize Smith's weaknesses, otherwise a repeat of 2014 where a tough first half schedule led to a rough start could be on the cards. 

Tags: Geno Smith

New York Jets fullback Julian Howsare (Noah K. Murray/USA Today Sports Images)
New York Jets fullback Julian Howsare (Noah K. Murray/USA Today Sports Images)

In between now and training camp, I'm looking at some of the veterans on the Jets roster to assess what kind of contribution we might expect from them in 2016. We're going to shift gears and take a look at the practice squad in terms of who is eligible, how it will likely be made up and what we can learn from who was on there during the 2015 season.

Note: Pro Football Focus exclusively provides some stats from this article.

The basic rules

Most people should be familiar with how the practice squad system works: A group of players not signed to the active roster remains with the team and is able to practice with them during the week. However, the rules surrounding who is eligible and how long a player can remain on the practice squad are complicated.

Recent changes to the eligibility rules, introduced in 2014 and extended last month, have increased the number of players retaining practice squad eligibility and granted added flexibility to teams who want the opportunity to continue developing players.

Under the old rules, a player was only eligible to sign for a practice squad if he didn't have an accrued season. Players accrue a season by being on full pay status -- either the 53-man roster or injured reserve -- for six games in any season. The only exception to the above was players with an accrued season were still practice squad eligible if they had yet to be active in nine games in any regular season. It was also possible to use up all three years of practice squad eligibility if someone still hadn't accrued a season or been active in nine games in a season.

In 2014, the rules changed. The size of the practice squad was increased from eight to 10 and, while eligibility for the first eight spots remained as above, the two extra spots came under more relaxed rules in which anybody with two accrued seasons was still eligible, even if they had been active for more than nine games in either or both of their accrued seasons.

Last month, the NFL announced more rule changes. While the practice squad size was kept at 10, the league increased the number of spots that can be given to players with two accrued seasons from two to four. I.e., now only six of the 10 practice squad members need to meet the original criteria.

The main other rule to be aware of is that a player on a team's practice squad can be signed by any of the other 31 NFL teams at any point during the season, unless they are about to face that team within the next week. If that happens, the player must remain with his new team and on its active roster for at least three weeks, even if he gets injured. In practice, the original team will usually get first refusal in these situations, so if the player is about to be poached, teams usually get the opportunity to activate them themselves.

Players earn about $7,000 per week when on the practice squad, less than a third of what they'd get if on the active roster earning a minimum salary.

Who is eligible on the current Jets roster?

Looking at the Jets' current 90-man roster, it appears there are 56 players who are practice squad eligible and 34 who are not. However, by my calculations, 16 of those 56 won't qualify under the old criteria, so they will only be able to take up one of the four spots that come under the new rules.

Obviously, anyone without an accrued season will automatically qualify under the old rules. That would automatically include all rookies, of which there are 21 on the 90-man roster -- the seven draft picks and 14 undrafted free agents.

Another 14 players on the current roster are still treated as first-year players even though they are not rookies. That would mostly be players who were rookies last season but didn't get much of a chance to play, although it could also include players who have been in the league for longer than that but still not accrued a season. For example, Freddie Bishop went undrafted in 2013, but is treated as a first-year player because he still hasn't accrued an NFL season. Wes Saxton, Taiwan Jones and Deon Simon are among the other first year players on the roster.

Any second- or third-year players will automatically qualify under the "two-accrued-seasons" rule, but the Jets would be restricted to only four such players. Some of the players on this list would also qualify under the old rules if their accrued season(s) didn't see them on the active gameday roster at least nine times. I believe this applies to four of the 20 second- and third-year players on the Jets roster: Jarvis Harrison, Dion Bailey, Ronald Martin and Dakota Dozier. Therefore, these players could be placed on the practice squad without using one of the four spots reserved for players with up to two accrued seasons.

The other 16 players in that second- and third-year group will only be eligible under the new rules, so the Jets can only take four of the 10 practice squad members from this group. Jace Amaro, Dexter McDougle and Trevor Reilly, 2014 draftees, are among those who meet the criteria. Calvin Pryor does too, but it's obviously not realistic to expect him to end up on the practice squad, especially given his guaranteed salary for the next two years.

Finally, assuming any player in his fourth (or higher) season would not qualify by virtue of having more than two accrued seasons. However, it is theoretically possible to qualify under the old rules as long as they weren't on the active gameday roster nine times in any accrued seasons. This appears to catch Ben Ijalana, who is still practice squad eligible despite being headed into his sixth season, but everyone else with at least three accrued seasons is ineligible.

There's always a strong possibility that someone not currently on the roster will end up being added to the practice squad after cut down day and plenty of scope to add players from off the street over the course of the season.

Last year's practice squad

The Jets had a total of 23 different players on last year's practice squad, 10 of whom were rookies. Fourteen of those 23, including six of the rookies, are still with the team and on the current 90-man roster.

Over the past few years the Jets have done a lot less tinkering with the practice squad than they did while Mike Tannenbaum was the general manager. John Idzik only signed a total of 29 players to the practice squad in 2013 and 2014, while back in 2011 and 2012, Tannenbaum signed a total of 60, albeit that several of those were players went onto and off the squad a few times. While Mike Maccagnan's activity last year was higher than Idzik's, several additions were short-term, late-season auditions, so his approach doesn't have much in common with Tannenbaum, who of course operated with smaller eight-man squads.

Despite the relative lack of activity, there was actually only one player who remained on the practice squad all year: Rookie defensive lineman Deion Barnes. That said, there were several players who spent most of the year on the squad. Simon and Harrison started off on the active roster, then spent the rest of the year on the practice squad when the team needed their spot. Jones, Saxton and Julian Howsare also spent most of the year on there. Jones was activated for the final game, Saxton was activated for one game in Week 4 before being added back and Howsare had a three-week gap when he was released but then reinstated. Martin also spent half the year on the practice squad and the other half on the active roster.

A few of the players were added late in the season, presumably just to get a look at them with a view to signing them to a futures deal after the season. From that group, Julian Stanford and Brandon Bostick are still with the team. Titus Davis, who had already had a stint on the practice squad earlier in the season, is another such player.

The Jets made good use of the extension to the rules in order to place players on the practice squad that wouldn't otherwise have qualified. They did this with Daryl Richardson and Matt Simms in 2014, and Mike Catapano and Kenbrell Thompkins -- each of whom eventually made their way onto the active roster -- in 2015.

Who are good candidates for the 2016 practice squad?

The extension to the new rules this year affords the Jets a wider selection of players from which to choose. With that in mind, there typically seem to be three types of players you would want to fill out your practice squad with.

First, anyone who almost made the roster as a reserve is useful to keep around in case an injury creates the need for the Jets to fill in on the active roster. Johnson is a good example of this from last year's team. Secondly, a team will look to retain anyone who is a developmental prospect. This could be either because they have technical or physical limitations they need to work on to realize their potential or because they are learning a new position. Howsare, having transitioned to full back, and Barnes, who needed to add some strength, are good examples from last year. Finally, they might look to fill out the squad with some professional players with strong character, simply because they can rely upon them to work hard and do a good job on the scout team.

From the potential fill-in category, there might be a defensive back such as Bailey or McDougle if the team can't find room for them on the active roster. It might also be a good place to stash a receiver, perhaps one that can also return kicks and brings some upside like Jalin Marshall or Chandler Worthy. Offensive line reinforcements are also useful to have, so a player like Dozier or Johnson could also find his way onto here.

In terms of players with developmental potential, it's best to to be careful about who is placed on the practice squad because if there's a high-profile player with potential, then another team could poach them. In such situations, the team might instead opt to preserve their rights by stashing them on the roster as a healthy scratch all year as the Jets did with Dozier in 2014, or at least keep them on there until the early season player movement settles down, as they did with Harrison and Simon last year.

With that in mind, the Jets likely wouldn't risk putting someone like Christian Hackenberg or -- if he shows promise -- Brandon Shell on the practice squad. However, it could be a good spot for one of their undrafted rookie defensive linemen or their only undrafted rookie offensive lineman, Kyle Friend. Other interesting potential development options include Bryce Petty, Tom Hackett and converted-tight end Jason Vander Laan.

Bishop would also be a good candidate and remaining on the practice squad would earn him approximately double what he would have earned if he stayed in the CFL, so that's a worthwhile and achievable target for him to shoot for that would justify his decision to leave Canada to try and earn an NFL job.

Conclusions

While it's obviously far too early to project who will be viable practice squad candidates, it's still interesting to look at some recent trends to get some idea of what the team's approach might be in 2016.

The importance of the practice squad is something that can be both understated and overstated at times. Nevertheless, there are usually some contributors each season that had spent time there. In addition to Thompkins and Catapano, the likes of Brent Qvale, Rontez Miles and Marcus Williams have all spent time on the practice squad over the past couple of seasons, but went on to contribute for the Jets last season.

Heading into the 2016 season, I'm sure Maccagnan will make productive use of the practice squad. If used correctly, it enables you to effectively extend the active roster by a few spots and retain the rights of some promising players that you can continue to develop until they're ready to contribute.

Tags: Ben Ijalana , Bryce Petty , Calvin Pryor , Dakota Dozier , Deon Simon , Dexter McDougle , Jace Amaro , Jarvis Harrison , Julian Howsare , Mike Catapano , Ronald Martin , T.J. Barnes , Taiwan Jones , Trevor Reilly , Wes Saxton

Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, right, tries to escape Keenan Robinson, who has moved from the Redskins to the Giants. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, right, tries to escape Keenan Robinson, who has moved from the Redskins to the Giants. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

In between now and training camp, I'm going to be looking at some of the veteran players on the Jets roster to assess what kind of contribution we might expect from them in 2016. Sunday, I'm going to take a look at Quincy Enunwa. The 2014 sixth-round pick out of Nebraska caught 22 passes for 315 yards for the Jets last season.

I'm going to look at Enunwa's role in 2015 and where he was able to have success, then project how that might fit in with what the Jets will do this season.

Note: Some stats from this article are exclusively provided by Pro Football Focus

Production

As noted, Enunwa caught 22 passes for 315 yards in 2015, a big step forward from his rookie campaign where he was injured in camp, spent most of the year on the practice squad and ultimately was only on the field for three offensive snaps.

Most of Enunwa's production came after week 10, as he made his return from a four-game suspension for a conduct policy violation that had taken place during his rookie campaign. Before the suspension, he had caught eight passes for 94 yards in the first five games with 5-50 (and over half of his targets) coming in the loss to the Eagles.

During Enunwa's four-game absence, Bilal Powell was also out with an injury. Although both were only backups, their loss affected the offense dramatically, as the Jets lost three out of four. That means the Jets were 9-3 with Enunwa in the lineup, although they were 9-2 without Powell, because he also missed the season finale. The team saw a dropoff in scoring and total yardage with Enunwa out, but one of the biggest effects was in the running game, as the Jets averaged just 80 yards a game -- 36 less than their season average.

The last seven games, Enunwa caught 14 passes for 221 yards and helped spark the Jets on a five-game winning streak which almost got them into the postseason.

Role and personnel packages

There's a perception that Enunwa was actually employed as a motion tight end or H-back most of the time. However, that wasn't exactly the case. He did see some time there though, so let's consider all of his various roles and how he fared in each of them.

His primary role was simply as a pure slot receiver. While this did sometimes involve him going in motion or lining up close to the tackle in a bunch formation, that was where he saw most of his work and had the bulk of his statistical production.  

I think the perception of Enunwa in terms of mostly being a tight end comes from the fact that you simply wouldn't notice him most of the time if he lined up at wide receiver but didn't factor into the play. However, if he motions to the edge of the line before the snap, you're more likely to notice him and he might even get a mention from the play-by-play announcer. If that happens 10 times, it might seem like a lot, but then he could be in the game for 50 snaps and lined up primarily in the slot without it being immediately apparent.

Most of Enunwa's snaps came in a one-back, four-wide personnel grouping. Therefore, the scope existed for him to motion into an H-Back position and operate as an effective tight end, giving the Jets an "11" personnel package while the defense might be set up to defend against a four-wide set. Enunwa's physicality and blocking ability, coupled with the fact that the defense would have an extra defensive back on the field instead of a front-seven player, would give the Jets a potential advantage should they try and run the ball.

Conversely, if the defense becomes wise to this and leaves an extra linebacker or lineman in the game, then the Jets could revert to a spread formation and Enunwa (or perhaps someone else) will end up with a speed mismatch.

Approximately 30 percent of Enunwa's snaps saw him in the game with at least one other tight end. He was only in the game with two other tight ends a handful of times, so most of these snaps saw him operating as the third receiver in a three-wide set, again primarily in the slot. Within these personnel packages, there is still scope for the "real" tight end to also line up in the slot and make a four-wide formation.

When Enunwa lined up as an H-back, it was common for him to motion into that spot.

He would start off in the slot or occasionally out wide and then either motion all the way to the tackle's outside shoulder on the other side of the formation or he would reverse his course once he got level with the nearside guard and line up on the nearside tackle's outside shoulder instead. However, as the year went on, it became more common for him to line up there without going in motion. This would usually lead to someone else (typically Eric Decker) going in motion to the opposite side of the field.

Enunwa also played about 10-15 percent of his snaps on the outside and these often involved him going in motion too. It was pretty common for him to line up in the slot but then motion out wide to help the quarterback get a read on what coverage the defense was in. From there he was mostly used as a clear-out decoy; either vertically, by running a downfield route or horizontally, by motioning to an extra-wide position to draw his man away from the middle of the field. He would also sometimes end up on the outside by default because the outside receiver motioned in to the slot.

Finally, he also saw some time in the backfield, but these can be grouped in with the tight end snaps, because he was always shading the offensive tackle's outside shoulder or directly behind him, so it's not as if he ever had a lead-blocking fullback role.

Route success

The first thing to note was that Enunwa didn't generate production while lined up outside. As noted, he was more of a decoy and the Jets did see some success with him in that role. Both of Brandon Marshall's touchdowns in the December win over the Patriots came with Enunwa lined up outside, including one where Marshall came across the formation in motion and used an Enunwa rub-route to ensure he was wide open in the flat

While lined up outside, Enunwa was targeted unsuccessfully three times. One was a screen pass where Ryan Fitzpatrick threw low and Enunwa couldn't pick it off his shoe-tops. The second saw him get some separation over the top on an inside release, but Fitzpatrick was hit as he threw and the pass was behind him over his outside shoulder. Finally, he had a memorable drop on a shovel pass against the Bills in the season finale which probably would have gone for a 20-yard touchdown.

As a tight end/H-back, Enunwa caught eight passes, most out in the flat. They went 110 for yards, including gains of 21 and 48 against New England as he was able to break free of the defense to turn a short pass into a bigger gain. Interestingly, when targeted in this role, the only two incompletions were both passes that were batted down at the line.

While most of these were caught in the flat, there was a bit of variation. One was more of a quick out, one saw him come underneath the formation and out into the flat on the opposite side and one saw him cut block a pass rusher before getting up to leak out into the flat. Of the two that weren't caught in the flat, one was a screen pass and there was one short catch over the middle.  

Those quick dumps into the flat are reminiscent of what former Jet Chris Baker used to do. Unlike Enunwa, Baker was an inline tight end who sometimes moved out to the H-back position or into the slot. Conversely, Enunwa is moving inside when he transitions into that role. His ability to make yardage after the catch while also being a downfield threat and competent blocker gives him the edge over a guy like Baker, who basically used to rack up production through a lot of easy 6-8 yard gains.

In terms of production from the slot, Enunwa caught 14 passes for 205 yards. However, his catch rate from the slot was below 50 percent and he had five dropped passes. In fact, according to PFF, he was the only receiver to play more than 25 percent of his team's snaps in the slot to end up with a catch rate of less than 50 percent there.

Enunwa did have some positive moments out of the slot, with seven of his 10 first downs and six of his eight 15-plus yard gains coming from there. While he had success as a tight end going to the outside, he did more damage over the middle when lined up in the slot.

Other considerations

It was interesting to see how Enunwa's role evolved over the course of the season. He was contributing more as a blocker initially, with the team running the ball almost 40 percent of the time while he was in the game prior to his suspension. Perhaps due to how teams responded to that and the matchups it produced, that reduced to just over 30 percent after he returned from his suspension. In addition, he was used more in the H-back role after his return and the team passed the ball less than 20% of the time with him in that role before his suspension but more than 40% of the time once he returned.

Is this an indication of how they'll be using him going forward though? After all, with Jace Amaro making his return from injury, there's one more candidate to get reps in an H-back role, so perhaps the Jets will require Enunwa to contribute more as a conventional receiver this year. Had Amaro been available last year, perhaps Enunwa wouldn't have seen much action in that role. but having shown some good things there, perhaps he's earned the right to keep getting those snaps.

Enunwa's physicality and ability to create matchup advantages are beneficial, but he did drop a disappointing number of passes last year. Could this hold him back from being a more impactful contributor in the passing game?

It's interesting to observe that none of those drops came while he was playing in the H-back role, although each of his 10 targets while there were short passes. Perhaps there was a bit of a chemistry issue between Enunwa and Fitzpatrick on the more downfield throws. Whether due to timing or a deficiency in the youngster's route running or anticipatory instincts, they seemed not to be on the same page on a lot of the downfield throws. However, Enunwa showed that he is capable of demonstrating slick hands by bailing Fitzpatrick out with some tough catches like this one:


So, maybe his hands aren't that bad after all, but he needs to get on the same page with whoever the quarterback will be. Then he can be a more reliable pass-catcher and a more statistically productive offensive weapon.

One other factor is special teams, where Enunwa seemed to come on strong late in the season. Enunwa saw action on a variety of units and in a number of roles, including punt gunner. In the end, he saw action on 170 special teams snaps, ninth-most on the team despite missing four games.

Conclusions

Twelve months ago, it seemed that Enunwa was destined to be a bust. However, he overcame a disappointing rookie campaign and an uphill battle just to earn a roster spot in 2015 to end up being a useful offensive weapon.

Enunwa made some highlight-reel plays over the course of the season and had some important moments during the stretch run. The combination of athletic ability and physicality he brings gives Chan Gailey a useful option that he can create special package plays for and give the offense flexibility in terms of its formations and personnel groupings.

What I'd like to see from Enunwa in 2016 is better production as a wide receiver. While he was an effective decoy at times, his overall production wasn't that good, even if you factor in the solid contributions he also made in the H-back role.

If Enunwa can improve the consistency of his hands and also develop better chemistry with the quarterback then he should continue to improve this season. Whether he can ever become more than a role player and develop into someone who can step up once Decker and Marshall eventually move on remains to be seen, but hopefully he can continue to make progress this year.

 

Tags: Quincy Enunwa

New York Jets strong safety Marcus Williams (20) catches an interception intended for Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns (88) in front of New York Jets free safety Marcus Gilchrist (21) during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium. (Brad Penner)
New York Jets strong safety Marcus Williams (20) catches an interception intended for Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns (88) in front of New York Jets free safety Marcus Gilchrist (21) during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium. (Brad Penner)

In between now and training camp, I'm going to be looking at some of the veteran players on the Jets roster to assess what kind of contribution we might expect from them in 2016. Today, I'm going to take a look at cornerback Marcus Williams, who could be anything from a full-time starter to a situational role player based on the current depth chart.

I'll be assessing who Williams is up against in the battle for playing time and reviewing some of the factors that will be under consideration as he tries to establish his spot.

Note: Some stats from this article are exclusively provided by Pro Football Focus.

The contenders to start

When the Jets released Antonio Cromartie one year into the four-year contract he signed last March, they opened up a starting spot on the opposite side from Darrelle Revis. Williams is one of three main contenders to steal this role, but has arguably received the least attention out of the three as we head towards camp, despite a strong 2015 campaign.

Currently atop the depth chart is Buster Skrine. While Skrine has a reputation as a slot specialist, he did start on the outside for the Browns in the season before the Jets signed him to a long-term deal. Skrine arguably played the best football of his career during that season and so has proven he can handle such a role. 

Gaining momentum throughout the offseason has been Dee Milliner, who has so far stayed healthy and earned praise for his performances at OTAs and mini-camp. Milliner was a top-10 pick, so he was obviously drafted with the expectation of being an eventual starter, albeit not by this regime. Injuries have held him back since his rookie year where he struggled for most of the year, but performed tremendously over the last month. He ended up leading the league in passes defensed over the second half of his rookie season but has only started two games in the two years since then.

If Skrine ends up starting and Milliner ends up as the number three, then I'd expect Milliner to play on the outside in nickel situations, with Skrine reverting to the slot, as he did when starting for the Browns. That would be similar to how the Jets employed Kyle Wilson when Revis was injured in 2012. That was probably Wilson's best season.

With Skrine and Milliner garnering so much attention, Williams has flown under the radar, despite leading the Jets in interceptions in a rotational role in 2015. Let's look in more detail at that performance and what it tells us about his chances of beating out Skrine and/or Milliner.

Assessing Williams' 2015 performance

Williams made headlines last year with his knack for intercepting passes. In the end, he had six interceptions in fewer than 300 total snaps. He was one of only five NFL players - and just three cornerbacks - who had more than five interceptions last season and the other four all played at least 900 snaps. No other cornerback to play fewer than 300 snaps had more than two interceptions.

Here was one of those plays, a key play to ice the win over Miami in London:

Such playmaking ability would seem to suggest he might have deserved more playing time, especially with a struggling Cromartie and a banged-up Revis and Skrine ahead of him. His other coverage numbers were acceptable, as he allowed a completion percentage of 63 (better than Skrine's 67 percent) and gave up just two touchdowns and only one 30-yard play.

The concern might be that a bigger role might expose some of his flaws. If you triple his workload, it's far more likely to translate to six touchdowns than 18 interceptions. However, the main concern wasn't so much in terms of his coverage, as became clear when he did see an increase to his workload.

Williams played 30 snaps in the season opener due to a Cromartie injury that turned out not to be as bad as it looked, but then moved back into the fourth cornerback role and had played just 29 more snaps entering week eight. However, he was then called into action as a starter at safety due to an injury to Calvin Pryor and missed six tackles in a bad loss to the Raiders. After bouncing back with two interceptions as he moved back to a situational corner role the following week, he started the game after that against the Bills in place of Cromartie and missed four more tackles.

Ten missed tackles in the only two games where he played more than 30 snaps are certainly cause for concern, but he only had two missed tackles in the rest of the season, so is this a trend that we could expect to continue if his role was to increase? If only there were a bigger sample size of Williams starting to draw upon…

Looking back on 2014

Something often overlooked when assessing Williams is the fact that he actually started for the second half of the season with the Jets in 2014. Williams joined the Jets around midseason and was inserted into the starting lineup for his first appearance in week nine as the 1-7 Jets had been struggling to find a reliable starter. He managed to retain his job for the rest of the season with the Jets going 3-5 in his eight starts, so it's worth looking more closely at this spell.

The first thing to note is that he only had one interception in 455 snaps, which perhaps suggests that an expectation of his interception rate remaining high if you increase his snap count is unsustainable. Then again, that interception came in the penultimate game of the season, so it's possible he had started to develop his confidence to the point where he could start to make more plays on the ball and then carried that over to 2015.

In terms of his coverage numbers, while he gave up a 75 percent catch rate, he wasn't beaten for a touchdown and again only gave up one 30-yard play, in the last game of the year. Also, he gave up fewer yards per catch, so his yards-per-target in 2014 was in line with his 2015 season at a respectable average of just under eight.

What about the missed tackles, though? In those eight starts, he had seven, which is still not very good. However, once again, most of these were bunched together, as he had four in a loss to the Bills. Also, his missed tackle rate was nowhere near as bad as in 2015, as he missed one in every 65 snaps (23 in 2015) and had a tackle rate of 83 percent (61 percent in 2015).

Other considerations

Williams has made some minor contributions as a pass rusher (1.5 sacks last year) and on special teams (six tackles last season). He also hasn't been a major liability in terms of penalties, with just four in his two seasons, two of which came in his first game with the team. Like Skrine, he has the ability to play outside or in the slot, so that helps his chances of securing a top-three role.

Also, while it hasn't been a factor yet, he's a threat with the ball in his hands. He scored nine touchdowns in his college career, seven on interceptions and two on kickoff returns.

One final factor is that he's been more durable than Skrine and Milliner over the past two seasons. That could prompt the coaching staff to view him as a more reliable option. 

Conclusions

Williams has undeniably been an excellent pick-up, ironically poached from the Houston Texans by the John Idzik regime while Mike Maccagnan was still on their staff. Entering last year, it didn't seem like he'd have a high profile role or even that he was a lock to make the roster, but he made the most of his playing time and forced some crucial turnovers. With Cromartie gone, a younger player has to step up and Williams is in that mix.

However, while Williams has held up well in coverage even when teams have tried to pick on him, he's been disappointingly shaky as a tackler. He has a tendency to come up too fast trying to make a play and this led to some big plays last year, including two long touchdowns in the loss to the Raiders. That's something that can be improved upon if he works on his technique and, at 25 years old, he's still young enough to improve upon his weaknesses.

What's unusual is that the missed tackles he has had all seem to be bunched together. Fourteen of his 19 missed tackles have come in just three games and he's otherwise never had more than one in a game. Certainly, at times, these could be attributed to a lack of focus, so that's something he needs to convince the team isn't going to be an issue if the Jets are to place their trust in him to play more.

While we're concerned with missed tackles, it's worth remembering exactly who Williams would be replacing if he was to win the starting cornerback role. Cromartie had a reputation as a poor tackler over the course of his career, so even if Williams remains below average in terms of his tackling, that might not be a downgrade. That said, Cromartie did improve as a tackler over the duration of his time with the Jets. Still, perhaps that bodes well for the youngster Williams in terms of his own potential to improve that weakness.

Even if Williams only ends up as the fourth cornerback I would expect him to play a key role next year. The Jets regularly operated out of a four-cornerback dime package last year and Revis, Skrine and Milliner all missed time through injuries. 

Could he win the battle to start, though? Ultimately, the pads haven't even gone on yet, so it's still too soon to project which of the three contenders will win that starting role across from Revis. However, I think it's reasonable to suggest that the Jets have three viable candidates, so hopefully whoever shines enough to win the job in camp will do a good job. Don't rule out the possibility of Williams being that guy.

Tags: Marcus Williams

 (Noah K. Murray)
(Noah K. Murray)

Jets DL Sheldon Richardson has been suspended for one game due to a violation of the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy, the league announced.

Richardson served a four-game suspension last season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, and his recent suspension stems from a road race last July.

He'll be allowed to participate in all preseason practices and games, and will be eligible to return to the Jets' active roster on Sept. 12, after their season-opening game against the Bengals on Sept. 11.

The 25-year-old Richardson had five sacks and two forced fumbles in 11 games for the Jets last year.

He has 16 1/2 sacks and four forced fumbles in 43 career games with New York.

Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter

I'm actually surprised at this outcome. I always thought it was a toss-up as to whether he actually got suspended or not, but figured on it being an all-or-nothing situation where he either loses four-to-six games or gets away with it. The one game compromise actually seems like the NFL did something pretty sensible for once.

Richardson's case for not being suspended was two-fold. First of all, the fact he was already suspended last year for a substance abuse violation is irrelevant because this particular indiscretion falls under the conduct policy and was therefore his first offense. Secondly, Eagles tackle Jason Peters got away with something extremely similar a few years ago.

The differences between that case and this one -- namely the involvement of a young child and the fact that the NFL has essentially acknowledged some of their punishments have been too lenient in the past -- made a suspension possible. And I expect that the fans, team and Richardson himself are relieved that one game was all it ended up as.

Richardson will be glad to put this behind him, and he can now focus on the season ahead. This is a big one for him, as he seeks to prove to the team how dedicated he is to fulfilling his tremendous potential, which could make him a very rich man in a few years' time. He's very lucky, though, and hopefully that will influence some of his decisions away from the field in the future.

Brian Bassett, theJetsBlog.com Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | TJB Posts

Just like Bent, I'm a little suprised it was just a one-game ban. I'm certainly not complaining, but considering the cloud Sheldon was already under when this transpired last year I thought it might be substantially worse.

I think this is good proof that the NFL Substance Abuse and the Player Conduct programs are running concurrently and disconnected from each other. A transgression in one area doesn't bleed over to the other, which is as it should be.

The Jets must be relieved as well, considering it looks as if Richardson is the player they want to pay the big money to compared to Mo Wilkerson, who is still working under the auspices of his franchise tag. If Richardson can fly right over the next 18 months, the Jets might be willing to give him a big contract, albeit one that might come with some risk management baked into it to account for any further violations.

Tags: Sheldon Richardson

Jun 9, 2015; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) and New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) during New York Jets minicamp at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports (Ed Mulholland)
Jun 9, 2015; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) and New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) during New York Jets minicamp at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports (Ed Mulholland)

As NFL training camp approaches and the Ryan Fitzpatrick situation remains unresolved, Jets WR Brandon Marshall wants Geno Smith to be ready to step into a starter role.

"Eventually he's going to get a shot," Marshall said Wednesday. "That could be this year. It could be in camp. It could be next year."

Smith was projected to be the Jets starter last season after being the Jets starting quarterback 29 out of 32 games his first two years in New York. However, a locker room fight with then-Jet IK Enemkpali that resulted in a fractured jaw put Smith on the injured reserve list. Fitzpatrick would take his place and go on to set the Jets franchise record for touchdown passes, and Smith has not started an NFL game since.

If Fitzpatrick's contract situation with the Jets is not resolved by the first week of the season, all indications are that Geno Smith will return to the starting quarterback position for the Jets.

Tags: Brandon Marshall , Geno Smith

 (Tony Tomsic/USA TODAY Sports)
(Tony Tomsic/USA TODAY Sports)

Legendary football coach Buddy Ryan, who coined the "46 Defense," died Tuesday morning. He was 82.

Ryan was a member of the Jets defensive coaching staff from 1968-75. He played an intrical part in the defensive scheme that held the Baltimore Colts to seven points in New York's stunning Super Bowl III upset. Ryan also served as defensive coordinator for the 1985 Chicago Bears, arguably one of the greatest team defense's in NFL history, that went on to win Super Bowl XX. 

His two sons, Rex and Rob, followed in his coaching footsteps. Rex, the former New York Jets head coach, is the Buffalo Bills' head coach, while Rob serves as his defensive coordinator.

Ryan coached for 35 seasons. He was 55-55-1 as a head coach.


The New York Jets announced its 2016 training camp schedule on Monday.

The Jets open up the regular season on September 11 at home against the Cincinnati Bengals.


Rontez Miles (45) was one of the Jets standouts on special teams last season. (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports) (\)
Rontez Miles (45) was one of the Jets standouts on special teams last season. (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports) (\)

In between now and training camp, I'm going to be looking at some of the veteran players on the Jets roster to assess what kind of contribution we might expect from them in 2016.  

Sunday and Monday, we've been taking a broader two-part look at some of the best special teams contributors on the current roster. With the Jets' special teams continuing to struggle over the past couple of seasons, which current players would upgrade these units if they made the team?

In part one, we looked at some of the areas where the Jets could use some improvements in terms of the contributions they receive and those players who offer some kind of ability in those areas. In part two, I'm going to pick out some of the main potential contributors who offer good special teams play across the board and assessing their roster chances.
Note: Some stats from this article are exclusively provided by Pro Football Focus.

The potential studs

Let's start off with a recap of the likely standouts. Although most of these players have been mentioned in part one in respect of one particular thing they do well, something they have in common is that they are capable of contributing in a variety of ways on special teams.

One player not mentioned in part one, but who shows good abilities across the board is safety Rontez Miles. Miles had 10 special teams tackles last year and also blew up a punt on fourth down which set up the Jets for what could have been a game-winning touchdown against the Bills. A recent NJ.com article suggests that Miles is on the bubble but another recent article from the Jets official site makes it sound like they are positioning Miles for a potential special teams captaincy-type role.

As fullback isn't a key role within the offense, you wouldn't have thought Tommy Bohanon's contributions are irreplaceable, but Julian Howsare is still widely considered a longshot for that role. Can he show enough development in the lead blocker role he converted to last season to convince the staff that he can make similar contributions on offense while upgrading the special teams unit? Also, coming from a small school where he had a speed and strength advantage over a larger proportion of his opponents, would he be able to have the same kind of impact on special teams at the NFL level anyway?

Here's an example of what Howsare can do:

Bruce Carter seemed to have a ready-made role on defense when he signed with the Jets. His abilities in coverage - he intercepted five passes a few years ago to lead all NFL linebackers - would have made him an ideal sub-package replacement for the coverage-challenged Erin Henderson. However, the Jets have since drafted Darron Lee and, by all accounts, Henderson did quite well in coverage during mini-camp anyway. Now Carter might be facing a situation where his special teams abilities - primarily his knack for blocking kicks - could be his only hope of securing a roster spot.

The potential for Josh Martin to be a contributor across the board is enticing, but he'd have to beat out guys such as Mike Catapano, Trevor Reilly, Deion Barnes and Freddie Bishop to win a spot. His situation was summed up by what happened when the Jets added him last year. Desperate for special teams contributions, the Jets signed him in late November, but then couldn't find room for him on the gameday roster despite the obvious upgrades he had the potential to provide down the stretch.

Darryl Morris could similarly fall victim to a logjam at the defensive back positions. If Dee Milliner can remain healthy, the top four cornerback roles would appear to be locked-in, so Morris might be competing for just one or two spots with several players including some recent mid-round draft picks. However, if he (or someone like Kendall James) is clearly an upgrade in the gunner role, then shouldn't the Jets find a spot for him, much as they did with the outstanding Wallace Wright in the Eric Mangini era?

Conclusions

As discussed in part one, the Jets have loaded up on players who can provide a significant boost to the playmaking ability and consistency of the special teams units. Unfortunately, in many cases, these players are facing an uphill battle to make the final roster. That could just land the Jets in the same situation as in recent years, with players who don't necessarily excel on special teams being forced into a special teams role because the team feels compelled to retain the best offensive and defensive prospects on the active roster.

Could this perhaps be time for a change in philosophy? Bad special teams play has contributed to several close losses over the past few years, with perhaps the most memorable recent example being the loss in Buffalo last season. In that game, Devin Smith was placed into an unfamiliar kick return role and took an unnecessary risk that led to a fumble return for a crucial touchdown.

I suppose loading up on special teams talent could still be beneficial, even if most of that talent isn't necessarily active on gameday. It could force a young bac-up to focus more on special teams play and put in the effort to elevate their own game. There could also be a benefit for those young players in terms of learning exactly how to be productive from the more experienced special teamers ahead of them.

Ultimately, for any of the players mentioned above to make special teams contributions during the season, the team would have to find room for them - not just on the 53-man roster, but on the 46-man active gameday roster. That's going to prove difficult. However, maybe instead of trying to make the backups, you intend to keep into better special teamers, maybe you could give those guys who you know can excel on special teams more of a fair shake in terms of being able to earn a backup role.

Since some backups don't see many offensive or defensive snaps on gameday, would it be too risky to carry more special teamers, even knowing that they might not quite fare as well if called into emergency action? You could always call up offensive or defensive reinforcements the next game if you needed to. With the flexibility of both the offensive and defensive schemes, you should be able to scheme around any short-term personnel losses, especially at those positions where you were barely getting replacement level play anyway.


Jeremy Ross, left, is one of several newcomers who could return kicks for the Jets this season. (Reinhold Matay)
Jeremy Ross, left, is one of several newcomers who could return kicks for the Jets this season. (Reinhold Matay)

In between now and training camp, I'm going to be looking at some of the veteran players on the Jets roster to assess what kind of contribution we might expect from them in 2016. Sunday and Monday, we're going to take a broader two-part look at some of the best special teams contributors on the current roster.

The Jets special teams have struggled for some time now, with Pro Football Focus ranking them in the bottom 10 teams in the league for five straight seasons and Football Outsiders ranking them in 25th place last year. The Jets gave up two punt return touchdowns, had a blocked punt recovered in the end zone and fumbled away a kickoff for another score in 2015.

By contrast, their own special teams created hardly anything, with no blocked kicks of their own and only two 35-yard returns all season, both by players who have since departed (Antonio Cromartie and Jeremy Kerley).

I'll be assessing where the Jets have added talent that could provide a potential upgrade and looking at the chances of each of these players actually making it onto the roster.

Note: Some stats from this article are exclusively provided by Pro Football Focus

Kicking game

While unquestionably a key aspect of special teams play, the kicking game specialists don't really fit in with the premise of this article because they will be assessed solely based on their special teams play with no chance for the front office to prioritize a player's other contributions over what they bring to the table on special teams.

The one possible exception to that could be in terms of the long snapper position, where a team might seek to create some roster flexibility by using a player who can also contribute in other ways. For the Jets, that might mean releasing Tanner Purdum and replacing him with rookie Jason Vander Laan, who could also contribute on other special teams units, as a package player on offense and even as an emergency quarterback.

However, the reality is that teams are nearly always reluctant to rock to boat and tend to stick with their specialist for that role. While longtime Jets  long snapper James Dearth occasionally used to also get some snaps at tight end, that was only very early on in his career and he didn't catch a single pass in any of his last eight years in the league.

For the kickers and punters, the decision the front-office will make will depend on how they prioritize cost and longer-term potential over immediate contributions. I discussed those issues when I reviewed the rookie kickers here.

Return game

When Mike Westhoff was running the special teams units, touchdown returns were pretty common, regardless of who the return man was. However, the Jets haven't had a touchdown return since opening day in 2012 and the man who had that touchdown, Kerley, has since moved on. The return specialist roles are wide open right now, with three main contenders as we head towards training camp.  

The recently-signed Kyle Williams will be added to the mix with rookie Jalin Marshall and another recent addition, veteran Jeremy Ross. While Williams has a reputation due to the two costly fumbles he had in the Giants-49ers NFC title game in 2012, he has actually provided better ball security than Ross over the course of his career. Marshall also had some issues with that in college.

Nevertheless, Ross has been much more statistically productive than Williams and more of a big-play threat in the return game. He is also the most experienced of the three in terms of kickoff returning, which is important because I assume they will retain one player for both roles. I suspect kickoffs are a lower priority for the team than punt returns due to recent rule changes that place limitations on their importance. Marshall brings youth and upside to the role, although Jets fans will remember a recent similar prospect (Jalen Saunders) who didn't last very long due to his own ball-security issues.

These aren't the only three contenders for a return role. Youngster Chandler Worthy was more of a kickoff returner in college, but impressed the Texans enough with his punt return skills to see regular season work there last year. Also, running back Romar Morris returned kickoffs as a freshman and is regarded as a promising special-teamer.

Again, while this is a key area of special teams and somewhere the Jets needed to upgrade, I think the best performing returner will earn these roles with their offensive contributions merely serving as something of a tie-breaker, if required. It's in those other less-heralded roles where the best special teamers might lose out to someone whose defensive or offensive contributions will be potentially greater.

One of those roles also affects the return game and that's the blocking on the return units; primarily the kickoff return units.

Josh Martin is a player who has excelled in this area, as detailed in this great article. His blocking contributions, along with good wedge-busting and kick coverage, helped him land on PFF's all-NFL team for 2014. He was their highest graded special teamer in the whole league, excluding kickers and return men.

Players such as Mike Catapano and Julian Stanford have made good contributions as blockers on the kick return unit too.

Coverage

The Jets' coverage units have been decimated in recent seasons with the loss of players such as Nick Bellore and Ellis Lankster still resonating to this day. Bellore and Lankster developed into two of the most productive and highly-regarded special teamers around the league, which is exactly the sort of player the Jets need to develop to anchor the current unit.  

One returning player who hasn't received a lot of attention is Zach Sudfeld. Having missed all of the 2015 season through injury, it was a mild surprise when the Jets opted to re-sign him for 2016. However, with the total non-factor that the tight end position turned out to be, he almost certainly wouldn't have been a downgrade there and his special teams contributions would have undoubtedly provided an upgrade. According to the Jets' own numbers, Sudfeld led them with 20 special teams tackles in 2014 (although official NFL figures credited him with 14, second to Bellore's 15).

Other potentially productive players in kick coverage include Erin Henderson, who led the Jets with 12 special teams tackles last year and Trevor Reilly, who added 10. However, both are currently listed as first teamers so could end up getting taken off special teams duties until rookies Darron Lee and Jordan Jenkins overtake them, as expected.

In any case, most of these players are making tackles as part of the second wave. The fact they're able to rack up statistics like these is perhaps just further evidence that the faster players on the team aren't getting downfield fast enough to make the play themselves.

In that regard, they could do with some better play from some of their receivers and defensive backs. Devin Smith was supposed to provide an instant impact as a gunner, but struggled in the role. The team attributed those struggles to the fact he wasn't used to being double-teamed which is perhaps something they should have anticipated. The slower but much more physical Quincy Enunwa had much more success getting downfield and showed some real promise over the course of the season. Smith is currently rehabbing a serious knee injury and might not be ready for the start of the season.

One under-the-radar offseason move which might pay dividends in that area is the signing of free agent defensive back Darryl Morris. Morris is one of the fastest players on the team and had seven special teams tackles as a rookie and six more last season. He's done well as a gunner, in the vice role and on kick-off coverage. That speed is on evidence here, although this isn't a special teams play:

 

Kendall James and Doug Middleton are two more on-the-bubble defensive backs who have produced well on special teams in the past. There are also several defensive backs who have potential in that area based on their skill-set and measurables, even though they concentrated on defense in college.

Blocking kicks

Kick blocking is an underrated aspect of special teams play, but it's certainly somewhere the Jets could potentially give themselves an edge in close games. Recent departure Ryan Quigley had one punt blocked in each of the last three seasons and Nick Folk has had some field goals blocked, including a potential game-winner against New England in 2014. However, the Jets didn't block a single kick in 2015 or 2014. Back in 2013, Antonio Allen blocked two punts, helping the Jets to wins over the Falcons and Raiders.

Generally, kick blocks are not that common. Field goals are typically blocked around 2-3 percent of the time, which translates to about once a season per team on average. Punt blocks are rarer, but punts are more common than field goal attempts, so again most teams would expect to get about one a year on average.

Still, if a team could get two instead of none, that could produce a win or two that could impact your whole season. New England blocked over 10 percent of field-goal attempts in 2014 to lead the league, whereas Jets' opponents in 2011 made 28 of 29 field goals with the only miss being a 56-yarder. You wonder how different those teams' respective seasons could have been if those outcomes were reversed.

With this in mind, the Jets have quietly loaded up on guys with a history of blocking kicks, perhaps with a view to hopefully having a couple of games swung by decisive kick blocks. In Julian Howsare and Bruce Carter, the Jets have two players who blocked eight kicks in college. Jarvis Jenkins blocked four in high school and four more in college. Recent addition Shelby Harris also blocked a few kicks in college, including a game-winner in overtime and undrafted rookie Claude Pelon has also had some success in that area.

Carter's knack for blocking kicks, especially punts, has continued into the NFL, as he's blocked three more - although one, in preseason, was negated by a dubious penalty.

Unfortunately, other than Jenkins, all of these players are facing a tough battle to make it onto the final roster. They could block several kicks in preseason, but it's not going to help them much if nearly all of the players that made those plays aren't even on the team when the real action starts.

In part two Monday, I'll be recapping some of the main potential stand-outs and their chances of making the final roster. We'll then wrap up with some conclusions about where the Jets' priorities will lie - or perhaps where they should lie.
 


New York Jets offensive tackle Ben Ijalana (71) against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. (Andrew Weber)
New York Jets offensive tackle Ben Ijalana (71) against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. (Andrew Weber)

In between now and training camp, I'm going to be looking at some of the veteran players on the Jets roster to assess what kind of contribution we might expect from them in 2016. 

We begin with a look at a couple of back-up offensive linemen, Brent Qvale and Ben Ijalana. Can either of these players compete with Breno Giacomini for a starting role at right tackle and which one is best equipped to fill in if Giacomini or Ryan Clady gets hurt?

Let's compare and contrast the two players in terms of their physical attributes, technical ability and performance so far at the NFL level to get a better idea of where their futures may lie.

Note: Some stats from this article are exclusively provided by Pro Football Focus.

The story so far

Qvale was an undrafted rookie who eventually earned a contract with the Jets after initially attending their rookie camp on a try-out basis. After spending his rookie year on the Jets' practice squad, the coaching staff suggested he was in the mix to start at right guard in 2015. However, in preseason, he only saw action at tackle.

Qvale was retained on the 53-man roster all season as a reserve tackle and saw action on offense in seven games, albeit only 33 snaps in total. Most of that work saw him operating as a sixth lineman in short yardage packages.

Entering 2016, there has once again been some buzz that Qvale could be in the mix to start, this time at right tackle, where he was getting some first team reps at mandatory minicamp. Whether this promise will actually manifest itself in preseason remains to be seen, though. 

By contrast, Ijalana was a highly heralded draft prospect and eventually went to the Colts with the 49th pick of the 2011 draft. However, two ACL tears later, he failed to make their roster in his third season and the Jets picked him up off waivers.

Ijalana has been retained as a reserve tackle for the past three regular season campaigns. However, he's been a healthy scratch most of the time, seeing action in just three regular season games with the Jets. 

He perhaps would have seen more action last year if not for the fact he suffered a minor injury in preseason. This put his availability for opening day and therefore his roster spot in doubt, but the Jets opted to take the risk that Qvale wouldn't be called into emergency action in his first game, over perhaps retaining the veteran Charles Brown until Ijalana's return. Brown ended up in Dallas, essentially playing the same jumbo tight end/emergency back-up role as Qvale had with the Jets.

When his contract expired at the end of last season, it didn't look like the team would bring Ijalana back. However, nobody picked him up in the first few weeks of free agency and when news broke that starting left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson was planning to retire, the Jets re-signed Ijalana to a one-year deal on the same day.

The Jets' current starters at tackle are Clady and Giacomini and current indications are that it is likely to stay that way. However, Clady has been injury prone over the last few years, so whoever wins the swing tackle role might get called upon to start at some point. Also, Giacomini had an uneven year in 2015 and the team will save over $4 million if they release him, so if anyone cheaper can push him close, that might give them an edge.

Physical attributes

My initial impression of Ijalana was an athletic and polished tackle in a prototypical frame that perhaps lost a step due to his knee issues. By contrast, Qvale seemed like a typical Nebraska lineman, being more of a road-grading run blocker without natural athleticism. However, they actually profile more similarly than you would expect.

While Ijalana's long (36") arms are one of the main things that attracted scouts, Qvale also has long arms and is actually 2½ inches taller than Ijalana.

In terms of athletic numbers, they're both above average with an identical 40-yard dash time of 5.20. Qvale has the better vertical jump and three-cone drill, while Ijalana has the edge in terms of short shuttle and broad jump, so they are pretty evenly matched. Ijalana looks strong on film, but didn't do the bench press at his pro day because he was coming off a hernia injury. Qvale did 24 reps, which is pretty good for someone with long arms.

All-in-all, these numbers probably suggest that if Ijalana has lost a step due to his knee issues, then Qvale is probably more athletic right now. That hasn't seemed apparent from watching their film so far, though.

As noted, injuries have been a factor for Ijalana, while Qvale has only had minor knee and head injuries since missing the 2009 season with a shoulder issue.

Performance

While the Jets have been and remain high on Qvale, there's a major discrepancy between the consistency of his performance and that of Ijalana.  

In preseason action since 2013, Ijalana has played 268 snaps and compiled a +9.1 overall grade according to Pro Football Focus. However, in 258 preseason snaps over the last two seasons, Qvale has recorded a -12.1 grade. He also graded out worse in 2015 than in 2014, so while that might be a sign that he received tougher assignments last season, there's no positive trend we can point to from the grades.

While we must account for the fact that these reps would mostly be against back-ups so we couldn't necessarily expect Ijalana to grade out as well in real-game action, it's still a strong indicator of how well they performed on those reserve units. In Qvale's case, what's doubly intriguing is the fact that he actually had four positively-graded games and only three negatively-graded games. He just struggled particularly badly in those games, but there were still signs that he could hold his own at times.

While neither has played much in regular season action, the trend continues there with Ijalana grading positively (+1.0) in 43 snaps, while Qvale struggled to a -4.3 grade in 33 snaps last season. 18 of his snaps came in the Jaguars game where the Jets used six linemen a lot as they tried, in vain, to get the running game going. Excluding quarterback runs, they gained just 12 yards on 14 carries with Qvale in the game, but weren't much better (10-17) with him out.

The discrepancy in terms of pass protection numbers is just as bad, with Ijalana allowing just one sack and five total pressures in 170 pass rush snaps of preseason and regular season action, while Qvale allowed four sacks and 12 total pressures in 137.

Penalties are a big issue for Qvale too, as he had six in 191 snaps of preseason and regular season action, while Ijalana played with much more discipline and had none in 211 snaps. Four of those penalties on Qvale were false starts.

Technical ability

Going back and looking over the footage, Qvale's performances were littered with rawness and errors. With the team still being high on him, I would assume they believe most of these issues can be fixed or at least mitigated.

In pass protection, he had one game where he held his own in pass protection only to then fade down the stretch and get beaten a few times as he presumably tired out. Contrast that to Ijalana who had a couple of games with an early mistake or two, where he then settled down from that point onwards and held up well. Qvale struggles at times with speed rushers, so might some help against that type of player. However, that is already the case with Giacomini. Post-injury, Ijalana didn't seem to move as freely and perhaps had lost some agility and the ability to recover inside, but maybe that's less of an issue now he's four years removed from his latest surgery.

In terms of run blocking, both Qvale and Ijalana have shown promise at times. Qvale is aggressive and can make good kick-out blocks and blocks on the move. They've also had some success running behind him on short yardage or goal line plays. However, he is far too inconsistent at the point of attack. Pad level seems to be an issue for him because he'll lose leverage and his man will either get off his block or leverage into the path of the ball carrier to bottle up runs. 

Ijalana impresses in terms of his ability to get out to the second level on runs and screen passes and also displays good strength to drive his man out of a play. Here is an example of when Ijalana (#71) dominated his man on the left side of the line to help set up the winning touchdown in a 2014 game.

 

Intangibles

Both Ijalana and Qvale are regarded as smart players with no attitude concerns. Qvale made some mental errors on the field, including those four false starts, but part of that could perhaps be attributed to his inexperience. Ijalana is about to enter his sixth season so he has a lot more experience. Despite this, he's still only 26, just one year older than Qvale.

Both players provide some versatility and can fill in at the guard position as well as at either tackle spot, if required. Ijalana has mostly played left tackle in preseason and regular season action, but did step in for Willie Colon for a couple of snaps at right guard in 2014. In addition to his regular season jumbo package work, Qvale has mostly played at right tackle in preseason action, but saw some action at left tackle and spent large parts of training camp working at guard. I understand he's also been learning to snap the ball for potential emergency center duties.

One other factor that might be overlooked is their respective salaries. As he's been in the league longer, Ijalana has a minimum salary that is $840K and therefore higher than Qvale's at $525K. However, since he qualifies for the minimum salary benefit, only $680K of Ijalana's salary will count towards the cap. The Jets also guaranteed $150K of that sum so there is not much of a net saving if they release him.

Other alternatives

Could someone other than Qvale or Ijalana force their way into the conversation? Looking at the current roster, the Jets have a lot of players that can play tackle but that are probably better suited to playing inside. For example, 2015 draft pick Jarvis Harrison was getting some reps at right tackle last week according to Rich Cimini, although he apparently struggled in pass protection.

Waiting in the wings, but perhaps a year away from contributing, is rookie Brandon Shell. Shell, the team's 5th round pick this April, has good measurables and I was impressed with his film. If Shell's development curve can be accelerated faster than expected that will give the team another viable option, but we'll have to wait and see what he looks like once the pads go on.

The only other player listed at tackle is futures signing Jesse Davis who I broke down here. Davis has to be considered an extreme long-shot to make the roster and had apparently been getting work on the inside anyway during OTAs.

Conclusions

It's evident that the Jets see something in Qvale. On performance alone, he probably didn't deserve to make last year's team, but they obviously viewed him as a player with room to grow that could eventually be a valuable asset. The way they used him last year, giving him the occasional low-complexity offensive assignment as an extra blocker and finding a few garbage time snaps here and there is a good way of giving him some real-game experience and helping him to build some confidence.

Contrast that with Ijalana, who rode the pine all year and then didn't seem like an option to return until Ferguson's retirement and you can see where this regime has invested their time. While Ijalana's performances at the NFL level have been much more consistent, the team perhaps views him as being closer to his ceiling.

Qvale didn't really live up to the pre-camp hype of being a potential starter last season, as it seemed like he was never really in the mix once Colon was brought back into the fold. As he enters his third offseason, he needs to become a lot more consistent if he's going to deliver on the organization's faith in him.

With Shell perhaps being groomed as a future starter, Qvale must make advancements this offseason otherwise his role will stall at the extra blocker/potential injury replacement stage again.

As for Ijalana, doesn't he deserve more of a shot? While injuries may mean he might not have the same athleticism he entered the league with, he's still a player with good length and technique who has shown in spot duties that he can play with good consistency. He has been unfortunate to play for a team who has had both starting tackles play virtually every snap in each of his three seasons. 

Had he received a chance to start at some point, maybe Ijalana would have proven that he could play with the same level of consistency in real game time and that he could have been the kind of viable starter teams expected him to develop into back when he was a draft prospect. Instead, once he hit the open market, no teams seemed to show any interest, perhaps assuming that because he never got a chance to start with the Jets, his development must have stalled, when the reality is probably that he was just behind more established veterans.

It should be fun to gauge the progress of Qvale and Shell against that of Ijalana in camp this summer. If one of these three can show that they deserve a longer look as a potential starter, then that will get Giacomini looking over his shoulder and it will be interesting to see how well he responds.

Tags: Ben Ijalana , Brent Qvale

Jets WR Brandon Marshall was ranked 25th and CB Darrelle Revis 24th on the NFL's Top 100 Players list...

Tags: Brandon Marshall , Darrelle Revis

 (Cary Edmondson)
(Cary Edmondson)

Earlier this week, the Jets bolstered their depth by signing veteran wide receiver and return specialist Kyle Williams. I've been looking at game footage to try and assess what Williams brings to the table.

The 27-year-old Williams is listed at 5'10" and 186 pounds and was a sixth-round pick in the 2010 draft by the 49ers. Williams was with San Francisco for three and a half seasons, but injuries have limited him to just one appearance in an NFL regular season game since they released him in 2013. 

He caught 47 passes and scored four touchdowns in four seasons with the 49ers but is best known for his two costly fumbles in the 2011 NFL title game against the Giants, which helped cost the team a place in Super Bowl XLVI.

Let's recap Williams' career so far and assess some of his strengths and weaknesses.

Note: Some stats from this article are exclusively provided by Pro Football Focus.

Who is Kyle Williams?

Williams played college football for Arizona State, where he caught 109 passes for 1,626 yards and 18 touchdowns in four seasons and also rushed for 130 yards. His best year was his senior year, where he was among the leaders in the Pac 10 with 57 catches, 815 yards and eight touchdowns. In addition, Williams excelled as a return specialist with the Sun Devils, placing in the top-ten for punt return average in each of his four seasons. He also returned kickoffs in 2008, averaging 23.3 yards per return.

After a solid but unspectacular performance at the scouting combine, Williams really turned heads at his pro day, improving his 40-yard dash time to 4.34 and his vertical jump to 37 inches.

Williams didn't feature much as a rookie for the 49ers, playing in just five games and catching one pass. However, he took on a more significant role in 2011 and posted career-highs of 20 catches, 241 yards and three touchdowns, while also seeing action as a return-man. His season ended on a sour note during the NFC title game as his fourth quarter muff led to the Giants taking a 17-14 lead and then his fumble in overtime set up the winning points.

Williams remained with the team in 2012 and averaged 27.2 yards per kickoff return, which would have placed him sixth in the NFL if he had returned enough to qualify. His production on offense was reduced, though, and his season ended when he tore a ligament in his knee in November. The 49ers reached the Super Bowl with him on injured reserve, but lost to Baltimore.

In 2013, he made the team again, but was released in November. The Chiefs signed him and he played for them the following week, only to then tear his ACL in practice -- once again ending his season. 

In 2014, he played for the Chiefs in the preseason but was released with an injury settlement after spraining his shoulder and didn't sign with another team. Finally, last year, he looked to resurrect his career by signing with Denver, only to suffer a torn Achilles early on in training camp. Denver won the Super Bowl, so he'll receive a Super Bowl ring despite never playing for the team.

Based on all the footage watched, here is what Williams brings to the table, divided into categories:

Measurables/Athleticism

Although he ran a 4.4 at the scouting combine, the overall numbers for Williams weren't that good. Other than his 40-time, only his short shuttle was above average. However, he improved his 40-time to 4.34 and his vertical and broad jump by four and two inches respectively at his pro day.

His acceleration and speed are impressive on film too, but he isn't very big. Also, most of his film comes from before some of the recent injuries, which would suggest he's unlikely to have retained that.

Usage

With the 49ers, Williams played mostly on the outside. However, he did see some playing time in the slot. Interestingly, when he was with the Chiefs in the 2014 preseason, they used him almost exclusively in the slot. 

When he did play in the slot with the 49ers, he produced quite well with 18 catches, but did not score any touchdowns.

Deep threat

Williams has shown the ability to get deep just once in his NFL career, catching this bomb from Colin Kaepernick against the Bears in 2012 against a third-string cornerback.Other than that play, they've looked for him a lot on deep balls but not really had any success in doing so.

His only other downfield catch in regular season action saw him trying to get deep, but then as he was unable to get any separation, Alex Smith smartly made a back-shoulder throw and Williams adjusted to make the catch and also beat the defender with an open field move to score a 43-yard touchdown.

On his college highlight reel, Williams made a ton of deep catches and big plays, though, so it's obviously something he was capable of against college opposition.

Routes

Williams has shown he can have success with a variety of routes, but most of that success comes from a reliance on his speed rather than being technically proficient. However, while he entered the league with a reputation as a raw route-runner, he has looked good at times.

One of his touchdowns with the 49ers saw him run a route where he initially started to run a slant but then broke to the outside on a curl route. In his most recent action with the Chiefs in 2014, he caught four passes for 45 yards on a couple of screens to the flat, a deep-crosser and a throw down the middle.

Hands

Williams has short arms and small hands but hasn't had major issues with drops at the NFL level. He did drop a couple that went through his hands due to poor concentration and a few more where he seemed to misjudge the flight of the ball.

From his college tape, you can see Williams is capable of making some spectacular diving grabs and can secure the catch in traffic or over a defender. Perhaps the best catch he made was a leaping one-hander on a pass thrown slightly behind him, although he did have one drop for the 49ers where he unnecessarily tried to make a one-handed catch in the flat. He made a nice sliding grab for the Chiefs in the preseason two years ago.

More concerning than dropped passes for Williams are the fumbles and muffs he is well known for because of that infamous Giants game. It's worth noting these are the only two lost fumbles he has ever had in the NFL. However, he has actually fumbled a total of six times, three of which were in postseason play.

The only time he actually dropped a catch was a muffed punt that went harmlessly out of bounds. He had one other muff but that was when a bouncing ball made contact with his knee. He's also had three stripped away from him in the open field and one dropped pitch on a gadget play, although he recovered three of those four himself.

Yards after the catch

As you'd expect from a player with return skills, Williams has the ability to make things happen after the catch. However, he's perhaps not had as much success doing this at the NFL level as you'd like. He scored a 56-yard touchdown on this play, as he caught the ball at the marker and then accelerated away from the cornerback who came up too fast trying to stay with him, but hasn't had much success turning short passes into nice gains.

Every now and then, he makes a nice open field move that would suggest he could have more success after the catch, but he's never really managed to be as dynamic as he was in college, where he had plenty of success, including a screen pass where he broke a couple of tackles to get in down the sideline.

Blocking 

Williams hasn't contributed much as a blocker at the NFL level, which perhaps isn't surprising given his lack of size and length. He did pancake a couple of guys on his college highlight reel, though.

There was one play with the Chiefs where he tried to block a linebacker from the slot, but his man got off the block to make the stop.

Physicality 

Williams isn't what I would consider a particularly physical player, but has his moments. On the deep ball linked above, you can see he was able to get away with a sneaky push-off, for example. The book on him coming out of college was that he was going to struggle to get off press coverage and that's not something I've seen him do in the pros.

Williams has been called for three penalties in his NFL career. One was for an illegal block and another was offensive pass interference.

Instincts/Intelligence

There were a couple of moments where the ball was thrown and Williams didn't seem to be expecting it. In the closing seconds of a 2012 game against the Rams, he motioned into the backfield on third down and then ran a wheel route, but didn't look back for the ball in time and couldn't make the catch for what would have been at least a first down and possibly a touchdown. San Francisco had to settle for a game-tying field goal and the game ended up as a 24-24 tie.

His most high profile blunder, however, was the play in that Giants game where he let a punt bounce, then tried to field it and then inexplicably ran away from the ball after it brushed his knee, perhaps hoping nobody would notice.

One thing he seems to do well is adjusting his routes when a play gets extended. He also has good instincts as an open-field runner.

He was called for one penalty in the NFL because he lined up incorrectly.

Scheme Fit

As we know, the Jets don't really have much use for smaller receivers in their current offensive system, so Williams' best chance at making the roster probably comes down to special teams.

Special Teams

It's interesting to contrast Williams with Jeremy Ross, the other veteran return specialist the Jets brought in this offseason.

Despite Williams' reputation due to his high profile fumbles, he's actually been more sure-handed than Ross at the NFL level. However, he hasn't been as dynamic or statistically productive as Ross and also hasn't made the same kind of contributions as a gunner or in coverage. Maybe the Jets aren't entirely comfortable with Ross' ball security and that's why they've brought in Williams as an alternative.

As a return-man, Williams has only had two kickoff returns of over 40 yards on 28 attempts and three punt returns of more than 20 (with a long of 36) on 21 attempts. Those numbers fall well short of the same numbers for Ross, who I broke down here.

Williams' longest return was a 94-yard kickoff return from deep in his end zone. That came on a low line drive kick which saw him untouched through a huge lane and then forced to cut back inside down at the 30. He has had some more impressive returns that didn't generate the same kind of yardage.

Injuries

It's depressing to list all of Williams' injuries, which have caused him to miss games in each of his seasons in the league.

As a rookie, his career got off to a slow start due to a toe injury. In 2011, he had a concussion. The next two seasons each saw him placed on injured reserve in November with a serious knee injury. After he worked hard to make a fast recovery, he ended up missing all of 2014 due to a shoulder injury and all of 2015 when he tore his Achilles.

Attitude

Williams deserves all the credit in the world for getting back into the league after all these injuries. His determination and work ethic are a credit to him.

Perhaps even more impressive than overcoming the injuries is the fact he was determined not to let that Giants game define his career. He had to deal with a lot of negativity and harassment from fans, reportedly including some death threats.

Conclusions

Williams has put up good but not great numbers as a return-man in the NFL. However, he's been serviceable and (despite that Giants game) sure-handed for the most part. This gives him a chance to compete for the return specialist role against Ross and rookie Jalin Marshall.

To bring Williams in at this time of year, the Jets obviously feel he can make an impact in camp. They've brought him in to work out a few times, so presumably he's managed to convince them that, despite all the injuries in recent years, he's still capable of producing in a role which relies on him displaying good speed.

Williams was an exciting player in college, but it seemed like he was always destined to be a fourth or fifth option at the NFL level. On the basis of the Jets' current system, it seems unlikely he'd play much of a role on offense, unless he makes the team as a return-man and then gets forced into action due to injuries.

It seems like the Jets are serious about bolstering their special teams unit this offseason after disastrous results from last year's group. The return game roles are wide open right now, so I guess adding another contender to the mix can't hurt. This should be fun to watch once training camp and preseason gets underway.


GEICO SportsNite: Jets minicamp 00:01:47
Jeane Coakley catches up with Jets head coach Todd Bowles to chat about all the recent news surrounding Jets minicamp.

Jeane Coakley catches up with Jets head coach Todd Bowles to chat about all the recent news surrounding Jets minicamp.

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