Do I have this right? Do Jets fans actually have something to look forward to this season? The traces of former GM Mike Tannenbaum’s reign are slowly seeping away, giving fans a reason to get excited as the 2014 season approaches. The disgustingly messy Tim Tebow era is long gone. Troubled, frequently injured, and costly receiver Santonio Holmes is gone. Ever-declining Mark Sanchez is gone. Mike Tannenbaum himself, of course, is gone. New General Manager John Idzik was rather quiet last offseason, but this spring he made no bones about participating in the so-called free agency “splash” that hasn’t had me this excited since 2008, when the Jets added Calvin Pace, Alan Faneca, and Damien Woody. Between the impact free agent signings and the solid draft, Jets fans finally have a season to look forward to. The usual preseason cloud of disappointment and sorrow is almost entirely broken up. We can see the light.
More so than any other position, the role of team leader/quarterback needs to be solidified. In his first year Geno Smith showed some signs of promise, especially when out of the pocket where his explosiveness was truly displayed; the rookie proved that he can break tackles and scramble effectively against NFL defenses, often finding the end zone. We can probably blame 50% of his failures on the worst collection of skill position players in the league. Last year the Jets didn’t have a single receiver hit the 550-yard mark, and tight end Jeff Cumberland led the team with only four receiving TDs. With only one touchdown catch last year, waning receiver Santonio Holmes will be happily replaced with Denver playmaker Eric Decker, who thrived in the Bronco’s offense with 1,288 yards and 11 touchdown catches a season ago.
With a premier route-runner in Decker (and we expect him to be the primary receiving target), we can hopefully expect to see Geno Smith’s TD/INT ratio balance out. 12 touchdowns to 21 interceptions might be a relatively expected outcome for a rookie, but not someone so highly anticipated, especially when adding in his eight fumbles. Smith will have a fresh year with a new set of skill position players and a new mentor in Michael Vick (I don't expect Vick to beat out Smith for the starting QB job. I think Vick is at the point in his career where he completely understands his role as mentor and no longer as starter. Expect him to push Smith in the right direction without interfering with his production and psyche. I firmly believe this. I hope I’m right.)
In a 2014 draft that was deep at the receiver position, it would have been nice to see Idzik and Rex go for a top receiver in the late 1st round like Odell Beckham Jr., as everyone expected, or Brandin Cook, or even Marqies Lee in the early second round. Instead we took two fourth round receivers who may complement each other nicely judging by their sizes. Jalen Saunders, labeled “tiny and undersized” is fast—think an even smaller version of Desean Jackson… maybe. Shaq Evans, a 6’1” possession receiver who will add to the Jets’ desperately dismal red zone receiving offense. 6”5” Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro will also prove helpful alongside Cumberland in stretching the field and adding depth to this newly minted set of receivers.
It also doesn’t hurt to add a former 2,000-yard rusher in Chris Johnson to the team. With a couple of off years in Tennessee, look for Johnson to be rejuvenated with a fresh start in New York. The skill is clearly still there, though we probably won’t see the exact same record breaker rusher as we have in the past. Add his elusiveness to the up-the-middle power runner in Chris Ivory and we should expect to see a significant improvement to the 23rd ranked rushing offense in the NFL.
Overall, the Jets ranked 16th in total defense. They were at the top of league in rushing defense, where they ranked 2nd, thanks to AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson and All-Pro lineman Muhammad Wilkerson. Ranked toward the middle of the pack at 18th at pass defense, this is probably the area with the most questions. Since Revis’ departure (who is now a member of the Patriots. Great.), Antonio Cromartie has taken over the number one cornerback slot. But with Cromartie now gone as well, all eyes are on last year’s first round selection Dee Milliner to provide a hell of a lot more than he did last year. Journeyman Dimitri Patterson can’t be expected to make a huge impact right away, so our hopes lay with this year's first round selection Calvin Pryor at safety. What he lacks in coverage skill he makes up for with ball pursuit and sheer strength and power. If coached well enough we could be looking at the next Rodney Harrison, but his coverage has to improve.
Hey, so not bad right? Considering the atrocity that could have occurred last year, the Jets wound up finishing 8-8, giving Rex Ryan another chance at bringing this team back to the playoffs like we had seen in his first two years as head coach. They lost some key players, but actually had a solid free agency period, the first we’ve seen under fresh GM John Idzik. Most importantly, the Jets improved their dismal recieving corps, possibly giving Geno Smith the confidence and assurance to ascend to a prominent and effective quarterback. It starts and ends with Geno, and the Jets seemed to make additions catering to his needs. Let’s hope they live up to expectations.
Here’s to the future.