STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Expectations were sky high for the 2011 Jets, and why not? They were coming off two straight appearances in the AFC Championship Game, after all. With a third-year franchise quarterback (in name, anyway) and a feared defense featuring perhaps the best cover corner in the game, New York had everyone's attention as the fresh campaign got under way.
The actual season turned into a massive bomb, as the Jets skidded to an 8-8 record, punctuated by three straight losses at the end of the year. The most humiliating moment? That's open to debate. Perhaps it was the 45-19 beatdown at Philly in Week 15, or the 29-14 loss to the Giants in Week 16 (highlighted by Victor Cruz's 99-yard dash across New Jersey), or the ennui-filled 19-17 loss to Miami in the finale.
The 2011 Jets didn't make any greater sense on the stat page. The club finished 13th in points scored despite a mediocre ranking (25th) in offensive yards. You'd be happy to take the overlay, but not so fast, Gang Green: the New York defense finished 20th in points allowed despite a lofty ranking (fifth) in yardage allowed. The simple explanation is that the offense was sharper in the red zone than most realized, while the defense had a nasty habit of collapsing at precisely the wrong time (or getting sold out by the offense's mistakes). But you know the moving parts of the NFL: the truer explanations cover more players, stats and scenarios than we have time to discuss in this space.
Controversial offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was quickly identified as the team's scapegoat after the season. Despite Mark Sanchez's growth in the scoring area, he still struggled too much between the 20s and had trouble improving on the Schottenheimer's watch. Schottenheimer ultimately decided to leave on his own accord in mid-January, but he might not have had any real choice. Former Miami head coach Tony Sparano was brought in as the new offensive architect the same week.
That was the least of the bombshells, however. The Jets had a doozy ready to go two months later. When the Broncos added Peyton Manning and determined that Tim Tebow was expendable, the Jets came calling and quickly put together a modest package of two middling draft choices. Tebow Time is once again on east coast time.
Can Sanchez and Tebow co-exist in the swamps of Jersey? Has the organization stopped viewing Sanchez as a long-term solution? As always, it should be a wild and crazy ride on Rex Ryan's float. And if the brash head coach wants to keep his job, he might need to return to the playoffs immediately.
Tim Tebow, QB (Broncos)
The most polarizing football player in America is now a member of the Jets. The team plans to use him as a sub-package player and maybe on special teams, but what happens if Sanchez falls into an early slump?
Chaz Schilens, WR (Raiders)
What did the Jets have in mind when they signed Schilens? He could catch 100 balls, or he could be a special teamer, said GM Mike Tannenbaum. Gee, that's helpful.
Stephen Hill,WR, Georgia Tech (Round 2, 43rd overall)
The Yellow Jacket is a good mix of size (6-4) and agility, which makes him a perfect replacement for Plaxico Burress.
Josh Brown, K (Rams)
Nick Folk doesn't have a long leg or a consistent one, so the battle is on.
LaRon Landry, S (Redskins)
Will boost the safety corps if he can stay healthy.
Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina (Round 1, 16th overall)
The talented Tar Heel can get to the pocket, but he wasn't consistently motivated as a collegian.
Plaxico Burress, WR (FA)
Although Burress was a red-zone and goal-line monster, he wasn't consistent between the 20s.
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB (FA)
The future Hall of Famer proved useful in the passing game (42 catches, 449 yards), but the team put him out to pasture as a runner (a mere 75 carries). The NFL is No Country for Old Running Backs; LT turns 33 in July.
TABLOID DREAM: MEET THE QUARTERBACKS
The Jets took one step forward and one step back with Mark Sanchez's development this offseason. Walking away from Brian Schottenheimer was a needed and positive move no one could understand or justify Schottenheimer's wonky play calling but the Tim Tebow acquisition came completely from left field. While the team insists Sanchez is the starter and Tebow will merely be a specialist and Wildcat player, how can Sanchez possibly feel confident if he constantly has this type of shadow looming over his shoulder? How much will the absence of practice snaps affect Sanchez? And will the fans turn on Sanchez if, heaven forbid, he leads a three-and-out on the first possession of the preseason? The snarky media will have a field day with this situation, but having two visible and repetition-needy QBs might not be conducive to efficient offensive football.
WHO STEPS UP AT THE SKILL POSITIONS?
The Jets wisely recognized that Plaxico Burress and LaDainian Tomlinson were past their sell-by dates, but it's unclear who is ready to step into their vacant, and significant, roles. A combination of new and holdover talent will battle for the starting spot opposite Santonio Holmes, with rookie Stephen Hill having the biggest upside. Jeremy Kerley is probably ready to catch 60-70 passes, but he doesn't have the type of skill set that translates to an every-down role. Chaz Schilens showed consistent flashes in Oakland, but he never could seem to stay healthy.
Halfback Joe McKnight could become a speedy complement to pounder Shonn Greene in the backfield, but heads up McKnight added 15 pounds in the spring and is currently about 216 pounds as we go to press. How much speed and quickness will it cost him? The Jets might consider a free agent back later in the summer if someone interesting becomes available.
WILL THE DEFENSE LIVE UP TO THE REPUTATION?
Although the Jets defense held up last year from an efficiency standpoint (69.6 passer rating against, 3.9 YPC) and it collected a solid 31 takeaways, New York somehow was 20th in points allowed. Part of the blame lies with the offense, which handed out 34 giveaways (far too many for a playoff contender) and a silly seven return touchdowns (tops in the league). That's unlikely to repeat again. But the Jets certainly can improve their red-zone defense and their pass rush (35 sacks); they were middle of the pack in both of those areas last year. New York's linebackers were consistently exposed in pass coverage, and there wasn't a dominant edge rusher that opponents needed to worry about (which is why the controversial Quinton Coples turned into the team's first-round selection). But No. 1 receivers tell no tales when they head to the swamps of Jersey; Darrelle Revis, by most accounts, is the NFL's best man corner in the game.
RISING: Shonn Greene polished his pass-catching skills in Year 3, and his running actually improved behind a Jets' line that has quietly regressed. He'll be underrated in many drafts.
DECLINING: Mark Sanchez's efficiency stats haven't improved much in three years, though that was masked by last season's TD bonanza. Now he has to deal with the Tim Tebow distraction.
SLEEPER: Jeremy Kerley is a handy slot machine who can gobble up passes.
SUPERSLEEPER: If Mark Sanchez gets hurt or loses his way, the run-first game of Tim Tebow could translate into a Top-10 fantasy quarterback.
Quinton Coples, DE
Please attack the pocket, please attack the pocket, please attack the pocket. Where have you gone, Mark Gastineau?
David Harris, LB
His tackles have dropped for two straight years, but he did add four picks and five sacks last year.
Darrelle Revis, CB
We're just reminding you that elite cover guys seldom do much for IDP. Revis did give us four picks last year after posting a bagel back in 2010. It's the price of greatness.
RotoWire Rank: 9