Amid a streak of three consecutive last place finishes in the AFC East where the Jets won a total of 14 games across three seasons and extended its playoff drought to eight years, the Jets coaching staff and front office was overhauled this offseason. After a failed tenure as head coach of the Dolphins, New York hired Adam Gase as its next head coach less than two weeks after his firing in Miami.
While the decision to go with Gase is questionable, a roster loaded with young talent provides hope to a fanbase currently enduring the third-longest playoff drought in the NFL. The success of this team moving forward hinges on second year quarterback Sam Darnold who showed plenty of promise as a rookie.
Let's examine my preseason superlatives.
Breakout Guy: CB Parry Nickerson
The Jets are rock solid at safety but there are questions about the cornerback situation. In the form of 2018 sixth-round pick Parry Nickerson, New York could find an answer. A top-100 value for me in the 2018 Draft, I loved Nickerson’s ball skills and athletic ability from studying his tape at Tulane. While he isn’t the biggest corner, he projects nicely to the slot where he plays well above his weight class. In fact, Nickerson was flagged for a taunting penalty on the first defensive snap of his career.
Nickerson was featured as New York’s primary slot corner in four games last season and had his share of struggles in coverage. That said, his run defense and aggressive mentality was still present. I’m looking for him to put everything together and emerge as a key subpackage option for the Jets moving forward.
Comeback Kid: RB Le’Veon Bell
After a non-injury related year away from football, one of the best backs in football is now in the mix for Sam Darnold and the Jets offense with fresh legs. Given New York’s favorable cap position and its franchise quarterback on a rookie deal, Bell to the Jets always made a lot of sense. I’m really excited about what Bell can offer Darnold as a receiving threat out of the backfield.
I do have some concerns about Bell’s projection to the Jets offense. In Pittsburgh, Bell’s patient style of running worked perfectly behind an elite Steelers’ offensive line. The front five in New York represents a steep drop off in talent so there could be some stylistic adjustments needed from Bell to produce like he did in Pittsburgh.
Rising Star: S Jamal Adams
Earning Pro Bowl honors last season in Year Two of his career, Jamal Adams has quickly become the face of the Jets defense. While more ball production is still something Adams’ needs to take the next step as a player, his instincts, motor and physicality sets the tone defensively for New York. In today’s NFL where offenses are predicated on pace and space, Adams is the type of defender that is a neutralizer. If he starts securing more interceptions, Adams will be regarded among the best safeties in the league.
Don’t Forget About: DL Henry Anderson
The Williams boys, Leonard and Quinnen, stir up plenty of hype when it comes to considering the upside of the Jets’ defensive line in 2019. Rightfully so - both are superior talents selected high in the draft. But don’t sleep on Anderson who has emerged into a high quality defender in his own right.
New York sent the Colts a seventh round pick in April of 2018 in exchange for Anderson. Less than one year later, Anderson inked a three-year extension with the Jets worth $25.2 million. Coming off a season in which Anderson produced seven sacks and 16 QB hits, he should find even more production with better talent around him in the front seven this season.
Needs to Rebound: CB Trumaine Johnson
Let’s hope New York’s aggressive moves this offseason turn out better than Johnson did in his first season with the Jets. Coming over from the Rams, Johnson inked a five-year, $72.5 million deal with New York. Johnson dealt with a nagging quad strain that forced him to miss five games and his performance on the field yielded inconsistent results. Johnson was later benched in Week 17 due to repeated tardiness. Johnson needs to be the elite corner New York is paying him to be moving forward.
Dark Horse MVP: WR Jamison Crowder
Assuming he can stay healthy, I really like what Crowder can be for this football team. A shifty slot receiver with great ball skills, Crowder is exactly the type of weapon that can pair with Darnold who likes to find completions and keep the offense on schedule. Crowder’s ability to uncover quickly meshes well with the physical Quincy Enunwa and speedy Robby Anderson to provide Darnold a diverse group of complementary receivers. Add in Le’Veon Bell at running back and a budding star tight end in Chris Herndon and the weaponry around Darnold is taking form.
Under the Radar: G Kelechi Osemele
I was expecting bigger investments to be made to improve the offensive line this offseason for the Jets but the addition of KO is one that isn’t discussed enough. No, 2018 wasn’t his best season as he dealt with several injuries adjusting to Jon Gruden’s offense but he was one of the best blockers in the game prior to last year. He should bounce back in 2019 and be the Jets best offensive linemen. Swapping a sixth round pick for a fifth rounder was all it took for New York to gain a much-needed piece to improve the blocking in front of Darnold in 2019.