NEW YORK JETS
By Max Robinson
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
During Rex Ryan's colorful two-year tenure as Jets head coach, the team has twice reached the AFC Championship game, both times narrowly falling to the eventual Super Bowl runner-up. The team has been built around its blitz happy 3-4 defense, which over the past two seasons has finished first and third in the NFL respectively, but wasn't nearly as dominant in 2010. The offense is a work in progress, though it has shown promise, and the front office continues to add talented yet legally-challenged skill players to take the load off their young quarterback, Mark Sanchez.
Firmly believing in ground-and-pound style football, the Jets finished fourth in the NFL in rushing last year averaging 148.4 yards per game. Their primary rusher heading into 2011 is Shonn Greene, who was in a similar situation last year until a fumble-packed Week 1 transferred the starting role to LaDainian Tomlinson. However, Greene is the real deal; a bruising back with the speed to break off long runs. Look for the Jets to commit to him in 2011, while LT slides into more of a third down role, with Joe McKnight and perhaps Bilal Powell in the mix as well.
The Jets' passing attack obviously hinges on the development of Sanchez, now entering his third year in the league. Although he's had his rough patches, Sanchez has always seemed to raise his game in high-pressure situations (a career 94.3 post season quarterback rating), accounting for multiple late-game comebacks in 2010. To help ensure some continuity, the front office re-signed his favorite target Santonio Holmes, but had to replace Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery with Plaxico Burress and veteran Derrick Mason. Meanwhile, Dustin Keller remains a classic "he would a beast if they threw it to him more often" tight end.
Defensively, there aren't many changes. The team re-signed Antonio Cromartie and David Harris, and they'll get back safety Jim Leonhard from injury. The pass rush, the defense's most suspect component last season, was addressed with their first two picks in this year's draft, though losing Shaun Ellis via free agency hurts. With Rex Ryan's system, don't expect the Jets to finish outside the top-5 in total defense.
It remains to be seen how Sanchez will adapt to his new wide receivers, but because of the consistency of both the defense and running game, the Jets will continue to contend in the AFC. If Sanchez makes even marginal progress as a passer, it could be enough to finally land the team in the big game Rex Ryan has quested for. They will compete with the Patriots, in what now looks like a two-team race, for the AFC East division title.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (30) Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Temple
With the departure of Shaun Ellis, slated to start right away.
3. (94) Kenrick Ellis, DT, Hampton
Still very raw but should see some reps this year.
4. (126) Bilal Powell, RB, Louisville
Tough to see him getting many carries considering the team's depth at RB.
5. (153) Jeremy Kerley, WR, TCU
Impressive early at camp, could make an impact in the return game.
7. (208) Greg McElroy, QB, Alabama
Will likely be the team's third quarterback on the depth chart.
7. (227) Scotty McKnight, WR, Colorado
Hard to see him making much of an impact in the receiving game.
Plaxico Burress, WR (FA)
Can he be the red zone threat he once was? And is he in football shape?
Derrick Mason, WR (Ravens)
Will Mason be able to replace Jerricho Cotchery as Mark Sanchez's favorite third down target?
Braylon Edwards, WR (49ers)
Who will be the vertical threat to stretch the field in Edwards' absence?
Shaun Ellis, DE (Patriots)
Though inconsistent in 2010, he provided a strong pass rushing presence
Brad Smith, WR (Bills)
Big in the return game and wildcat, but new kickoff rules should diminish importance of returns; wildcat will be utilized less as Sanchez improves
WILL GANG GREEN COMMIT TO GREENE?
The Jets have a dominant offensive line anchored by perennial Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold, and any premiere back running behind it should be a fantasy starter. If given the bulk of the carries, Shonn Greene should be a top-15 fantasy running back, and although the presence of LaDainian Tomlinson hinders his ability to put up numbers in the ballpark of Thomas Jones' 2008 and 2009 campaigns, there's no reason why he shouldn't be considered an RB2 with high upside. As long as he improves his ball security he'll get a high volume of carries, and it will pay huge dividends for the offense.
WILL MASON BE SANCHEZ'S NEW SECURITY BLANKET?
Although he never put up eye-popping numbers, Jerricho Cotchery was the guy Mark Sanchez felt most comfortable throwing to in pressure situations, especially between the 20's. Cotchery only caught 41 passes last season, but a team leading 15 of them moved the chains on third down. Derrick Mason, who accounted for 16 of those first down conversions in Baltimore last year, could fill the void created by Cotchery's departure. If he and Sanchez get on the same page it will benefit all facets of the Jets' offense.
CAN WE RELY ON Dustin Keller?
Keller has been a frequent preseason favorite in the fantasy universe over the last couple years. A big body with good hands and strong route running ability, he has shown glimpses of a top-10 tight end, but consistency has always been his problem. In 2010, the Jets started off the year without newly acquired Santonio Holmes for the first four games of the season, and during that time period Keller caught 19 passes and five touchdowns. Holmes returned Week 5 and Keller didn't find the end zone for the rest of the season. It would be in the team's best interest to get Keller more involved in the offense on a consistent basis in 2011, especially in the red zone. We know what Keller is capable of, but as of now it's tough to be able to count on him.
Rising: Shonn Greene should be receiving the lions' share of carries in 2011 and may be poised for a breakout season
Declining: LaDainian Tomlinson could be useful on the goal-line, but it's hard to see him getting anywhere near 900 rushing yards again this year
Sleeper: Plaxico Burress: Sure he just got out of prison, but being on a one-year contract, Plax has everything to play for
Supersleeper: There's depth at receiver but Jeremy Kerley is making noise in camp and may already be the team's primary return man
David Harris, LB
Pencil him in for 100 tackles and a few sacks
Calvin Pace, LB
Now that he's healthy, Pace should be back to racking up six or seven sacks and a couple of forced fumbles
Antonio Cromartie, CB
Gets a ton of passes thrown his way with Revis on the other side of the field and is always liable to take an interception to the house
RotoWire Rank: 5