New York Jets 2008 Preview Report
New York Jets
By Andy Benoit, www.NFLTouchdown.com
2007 Record: 4-12 (3rd AFC East)
Head Coach: Eric Mangini (3rd year)
****Brett Favre was traded shortly after this report was published. Most of the Jets content, surprisingly, remains the same. But to read the Favre analysis, click here****
Roster Quick View
QB: Chad Pennington Wet noodle for an arm, but at least he’s accurate and smart.
RB: Thomas Jones Disappointing in his New York debut last season. But should have 1,300 yards behind this O-line in ’08.
FB: Tony Richardson** Estimable veteran leader. Has lost a step at 36, but is still a good addition to the ground game.
WR: Laveranues Coles Can be petulant when upset, but he deserves to be listened to. Admirable character and toughness.
WR: Jerricho Cotchery Has surpassed Coles as the preeminent possession receiver on this team.
TE: Chris Baker Days in New York could be numbered after he ripped the organization throughout the offseason.
LT: D’Brickashaw Ferguson Is developing better than people think. Very lithe, but that’s not always what you want in an OT. Must improve his strength and knee-bend.
LG: Alan Faneca** His five-year, $40 million deal is the richest contract both in team history and NFL offensive linemen history.
C: Nick Mangold In just his third season is one of the upper-echelon centers in the game. Superb run-blocker and adequate in pass protection.
RG: Brandon Moore Not a shimmering starter, but can get the job done just about anywhere inside.
RT: Damien Woody** Was a Pro Bowler early in his career, but work ethic and output tapered off when he went to Detroit. Boom or bust addition.
QB: Kellen Clemens No way this is what the Jets thought they were getting when they drafted him in Round Two. Average tools, questionable football IQ and inconsistent overall.
RB: Leon Washington Needs to get more touches in 2008, as he’s one of just two key offensive players who has any speed.
WR: Brad Smith The other speedy player. QB in college who is still learning the WR position. Jets love to call on him in gadget plays.
WR: Wallace Wright Joined the Jets as an undrafted rookie in ’06. Has worked his way up from special teams but will have to hold off 6th-round rookie Marcus Henry.
TE: Dustin Keller* Has turned some heads and been compared to Dallas Clark.
OL: Will Montgomery Utility presence inside who at least has some, albeit minor, starting experience to his name.
LDE: Shaun Ellis Not a great fit in a 3-4. And, judging by his vacillating intensity level, he knows it.
NT: Kris Jenkins** A behemoth force, but has never had to play two gaps. Will he remain motivated with so many blockers draped over him?
RDE: Kenyon Coleman When he gets a jump, he dictates the action and devours the run. Needs to get a jump more often in 2008.
LOLB: Bryan Thomas Former DE, has settled into his outside role okay. But not okay enough to discourage the team from signing Calvin Pace and drafting Vernon Gholston.
LILB: Eric Barton Offers excellent strength in high-traffic areas. Over-aggression can be a problem at times.
RILB: David Harris Started as a rookie midway through the ’07 season and went from iffy to okay, to decent, to solid, to good, to great. Big things are in store.
ROLB: Calvin Pace** Fine athlete who found his niche as a 3-4 OLB. But $22 million guaranteed for a guy coming off a 6.5-sack season?
CB: Darrelle Revis Second-year stud who is already one of the top 10 CB’s in football. Will have a chance to return punts and kicks, and establish himself as a star in ’08.
SS: Kerry Rhodes Team leader who possesses tremendous range and big-play instincts. Signed a well-deserved five-year, $33 million contract over the offseason.
FS: Abram Elam Very good tackler but doesn’t quite match challenging backup Eric Smith’s grasp of Mangini’s complex scheme.
CB: Justin Miller Missed all of last season with a torn ACL. If he’s healthy (and more mature), he can be an above average corner. Worth taking a chance with.
DL: Sione Pouha Jets gave him a three-year extension because his 325-pound size makes him an excellent clogger up front.
LB: Vernon Gholston* No. 6 overall pick who must prove he can play with consistent energy and adapt to a two-point stance.
NB: David Barrett Shaky at times, but one of the few players in the league who gets away with face guarding.
Key Players Acquired
CB Ahmad Carroll (FA)
RB Jesse Chatman (Mia)
G Alan Faneca (Pit)
TE Bubba Franks (GB)
DT Kris Jenkins (Car)
LB Calvin Pace (Ari)
FB Tony Richardson (Min)
RB Musa Smith (Bal)
OL Damien Woody (Det)
Key Players Lost
G Adrien Clarke (Bal)
OT Anthony Clement
FS Erik Coleman (Atl)
CB Andre Dyson
LB Victor Hobson (NE)
WR Justin McCareins (Ten)
DT Dewayne Robertson (Den)
TE Sean Ryan (Mia)
OL Wade Smith (KC)
QB Marques Tuiasosopo (Oak)
Not exactly pleased about going 4-12, the Jets brought in immediate reinforcements. Faneca is a great addition no matter which way you spin it. At 31, he still has a few years left being the best G in the game. Jenkins is another great player, but they gave up two draft picks as well as $20 million in guarantees just to get him. Considering his history of injuries and disgruntlement, and his inexperience with the NT position, that’s a substantial risk. It’s a gamble to guarantee Pace $22 million. The ex-Cardinal never lived up to his first-round status until his contract year. The hope is that his move to OLB was what prompted his outbreak. Woody could thrive or flounder here, depending on his effort. Richardson is old but not washed up. Franks is younger but definitely washed up. All of New York’s departures have either been adequately replaced or weren’t needed inbeing with.
2008 – New York Jets
Rd Sel # Player Position School
1 6 Vernon Gholston DE Ohio State
1 30 Dustin Keller TE Purdue
4 113 Dwight Lowery CB San Jose State
5 162 Erik Ainge QB Tennessee
6 171 Marcus Henry WR Kansas
7 211 Nate Garner T Arkansas
Gholston can be a prototypical 3-4 pass-rusher, but he’ll have to get comfortable with a move to OLB. Keller is a converted WR, though some scouts believe he has only mediocre hands. The Jets ask their tight ends to block a lot, so Keller may have a slow insertion into the starting lineup. New York’s third-round pick was sent to Carolina as part of the Kris Jenkins deal. Many question Lowery’s speed, but the Jets play enough zone coverage to offset those concerns. Ainge comes from a high-profile sports family; his uncle is Boston Celtic GM Danny Ainge.
New York Jets 2008 Preview Report
Well that didn’t last long. Eric Mangini’s reign as God, that is. After being canonized for leading what was thought to be a moribund franchise to a 10-6 record in his first year as head coach, “Mangenius” quickly fell from Einstein to Frankenstein during his team’s 4-12 ’07 campaign.
Now, Mangini––and GM Mike Tannenbaum, for that matter––is subject to questioning as he enters his third season as a head coach. Does his chilly Belichick-esque demeanor really get through to players? Are his practices too tough? His rules too draconian? What about his game plan? Too conservative offensively? Too complicated defensively?
Sure, it’s somewhat impetuous to raise these questions only one year after awarding a guy the unconditional benefit of the doubt. But Mangini understands––he’s probably asked himself the same thing.
After all, look at the personnel changes made during the offseason. The Jets are a portrait of a team that’s bent on winning now. They signed 31-year-old guard Alan Faneca to the richest contract in offensive lineman history (five years, $40 million, $23 million of it guaranteed). Faneca is still the crème de la crème at his position, but not even the Steeler team that he’d been with for over a decade was willing to consider such hefty compensation.
New York didn’t stop there. Breaking away from the Patriot model that this organization is built around, Mangini and Tannenbaum shipped their third-and fifth-round draft choices to Carolina for discontented defensive tackle Kris Jenkins. They signed the eighth-year pro to a new five-year, $35 million contract upon arrival.
When healthy and happy, Jenkins is one of the best players in the NFL. However, he missed virtually all of the ’04 and ’05 seasons with injury, during which time he battled alcoholism and depression. Commendably, he’s regained his status as an elite interior D-lineman. However, he’s never played in a 3-4. Furthermore, Jenkins’ contract includes weight clause incentives––something you never like to see in a deal flux with $20 million worth of guarantees.
Wanting to bolster their pass-rush, the Jets signed Arizona free agent Calvin Pace to a six-year, $42 million deal, with $22 million guaranteed. Last year, the former first-round pick moved to outside linebacker after four disappointing seasons at defensive end. Praise was heaped all over Pace when he set a career high in sacks…with 6.5. The guy soared from bad to decent, yet the Jets paid him record-setting money as if he were great. Maybe he is. Or, maybe he was in a contract year. Only time will tell. But would the Patriots have done this?
New York wasn’t done there. Needing a better return on their running game investment than Thomas Jones’s 3.6 yards per carry, they signed 36-year-old fullback Tony Richardson. The hope is that he can remain an elite lead-blocker for another year or two. They also signed serial underachiever Damien Woody. Once a Pro Bowl force for New England, Woody started just 13 games the past two seasons in Detroit because of injury and weight issues. The Jets also signed tight end Bubba Franks, a blocking presence who runs like he’s wearing snow boots.
None of these are terrible moves. But, aside from Faneca, they’re all riskier than riding shotgun next to Lindsay Lohan. What’s more, the front office’s munificence towards free agents has irked some of the players at home. After finally receiving a new five-year, $33 million contract, fourth-year safety Kerry Rhodes admitted that a few of the veterans had been miffed by management’s reluctance to reward its own.
Venerable veteran wide receiver Laveranues Coles––who played through a concussion and high ankle sprain despite the team’s rudderless season last year––flat-out called the front office liars during dilatory negotiations for the new contract Coles says he was promised. The two sides finally agreed to a deal in March.
No harmony has been found with Chris Baker. With the arrival of first-round pick Dustin Keller (drafted 30th overall) and the addition of Franks, Baker, a starter, is the team’s third-highest paid tight end. Claiming he’d been promised a new deal last year, Baker spent the offseason avoiding all voluntary activities and ripping the organization at every turn. At one point, he asked reporters if they thought Mangini would be happy being the third-highest paid coach on the staff. Interesting angle.
Baker compared his saga to the Pete Kendall ordeal from a year ago. Also claiming to have been victimized by a broken promise about a new contract, the 13th-year guard publicly aired his grievances last season. Eyes rolled and heads shook when the coaching staff flippantly demoted the veteran who, a year earlier, had helped save New York’s season. Shortly before the season opener, the Jets dealt Kendall to Washington, leaving a gaping hole at left guard that helped kill the run game.
No doubt, the Jets front office and coaching staff operate staunchly. Iron fists can rule if they bring forth prosperity. But unless a head coach has won a Super Bowl––like a Parcells or a Belichick––he had better at least be somewhat malleable in dealing with his players.
Also, Mangini and Tannenbaum want to accelerate to the top, but they must not turn their back on the construction of this franchise’s long-term foundation. There are some really good pieces in place here.
Third-year offensive linemen D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold are developing well. Fourth-year safety Kerry Rhodes is a star. Second-year linebacker David Harris is fast becoming one, if he isn’t already. Same goes for second-year cornerback Darrelle Revis. And this year, sixth-overall pick Vernon Gholston arrives at outside linebacker.
The Jets have a system in place. Stocking it with young talent must be the top priority. As the Bills have noticed, this is especially true considering New England’s utter dominance in the AFC East. (Of course, never in a million years would Mangini or Tannenbaum bow down to the Patriots.)
Yes, with Faneca, the offensive line is now one of the best in the AFC. And the defense is almost a lock to improve it’s ranking of 18. Overall, the Jets had a productive offseason. But in spending $140 million on risky free agents, they created a bubble. Not to mention, after Brett Favre refused to speak with them, they settled for a third edition of the humdrum quarterback competition that has almost stagnated them. The term Wild Card applies to this club in every way.
It’s as bland as a quarterback competition in New York could possibly be. And it’s almost getting old. For as long as Eric Mangini has been with the Jets, Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens have been vying for the starting job. The fact that there even is a competition says everything about Clemens.
Pennington is a known commodity. The only question about him is Can he stay healthy? As long as he’s on the field, the Jets know they’ll have an accurate but weak-armed game manager who will be a leader and protect the football. That’s not entirely bad (Minnesota would kill for such a player right now). But if you don’t have a stifling defense and dynamic rushing attack, conservative quarterbacking is not great.
Clemens wasn’t considered to be NFL-ready coming out of Oregon. But he was considered the future of the franchise. Clemens went 3-5 in eight uninspiring starts last year. He threw 10 interceptions and just five touchdowns, and didn’t show off his heralded mobility when defenders regularly converged on him in the backfield. His decision-making and poise were spotty at best, and aside from a nice deep ball or two, his arm strength was closer to trifling than striking.
At this point, the bigger question is not whether the 25-year-old Clemens is ready to be The Guy in 2008, but whether he’s capable of ever being The Guy. Pennington––who is still only 32––does not have an NFL arm, but with slow-footed receivers like Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has no reason to call for many deep passes anyway.
Coles and Cotchery are both laudable possession receivers. The former is one of the most courageous men in football, and the latter is coming off a breakout season in which he caught 82 balls for 1,130 yards. Still, the Jets desperately need someone who can stretch the field. The hope is that third-year pro Brad Smith can emerge as a serviceable slot receiver in ’08. A quarterback at Missouri, Smith has been utilized as a gadget weapon his first two seasons. Though rough around the edges, he’s a shifty runner who can conjure up big plays with the ball in his hand.
The Jets don’t have any other serviceable receivers, which is why the tight end position needs to become integrated more into the passing game. Judging by how they traded back into the first round to snag Purdue’s Dustin Keller, Tannenbaum and Mangini agree. Keller is a former wide receiver who has enough speed to extend routes down the seams. He’s an unpolished blocker, though, which is why Chris Baker, and perhaps even Bubba Franks, could get snaps ahead of him early on.
With the arrival of fullback Tony Richardson and the upgrades on the offensive line, the Jets may not require their tight ends to block quite as often in 2008. The hope is that they’ll rarely have to ask tight ends to block on the left side. That’s where third-year tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson resides. Drafted fourth overall as an underclassman from Virginia, Ferguson has endured trials and triumphs through his first two seasons as a pro. But if he continues down his current path, he’ll sprout significantly toward the end of this season and be in full bloom sometime in 2009. Ferguson is extremely athletic, and his technique, while still inconsistent in terms of hand placement and timing in pass protection, is improving. Staying above 300 pounds and playing with leverage are ongoing challenges for him.
Ferguson is not as far along as fellow third-year pro Nick Mangold. Calling the protections his first two years, Mangold has quickly matured and is poised for a Pro Bowl campaign. He’s a superb tactician who can play with power and get to the second level on a regular basis.
Helping both third-year gems on the left side is Alan Faneca lining up between them. He’ll bring great mobility to the ground game. And he’s a wall in pass blocking.
The guard on the right side will be Brandon Moore, a reliable sixth-year pro with decent power. Moore can play guard or center, just like his new partner at tackle, Damien Woody. The Lions were bothered by Woody’s poor conditioning, though they begged him to stay and be their right tackle this past offseason. They didn’t beg him to the tune of $11 million guaranteed though.
Depth is a major concern along the front five. Assuming the linemen stay healthy, New York should see an improvement in sacks allowed (the Jets gave up the third most per play last season) and rushing output (they ranked 29th a year ago). Though he was the featured ballcarrier on a Bears team that reached the Super Bowl, Thomas Jones is not a top-notch running back. Given that he’ll be 30 on opening day and possesses mediocre speed with only intermittent tackle-breaking abilities, there are more than 20 runners in the league who are more threatening than Jones. But most will not run behind a lead-blocker like Tony Richardson.
Leon Washington needs to see his touches at least double in 2008. He had only 71 carries and 36 receptions last year. Though his 5’8”, 202-pound size caps his availability, Washington offers the speed and quickness that are absent from this offense. Free agent pickups Jesse Chatman and Musa Smith bring nothing the Jets don’t have already.
The Jets employ the same Byzantine 3-4 scheme that Mangini learned while coaching in New England. It aims to confuse offenses with a multitude of pre-snap movements, blitzes and deceptive zone coverages.
There are three key new components in the New York front seven, plus two second-year players who figure to make a deeper impact. The new central figure is Kris Jenkins who, as the nose tackle, is responsible for leading the all-important fights in the trenches. Though Jenkins has played a three technique throughout his career, he is potentially the first true blocker-eater that Mangini has had in New York. Previous nose tackle Dewayne Robertson lacked the necessary size (6’1”, 308) to clog the interior. The 6’4” Jenkins outweighs Robertson by at least 30 pounds. There was a noticeable difference in New York’s front line in times when 325-pound Sione Pouha subbed for Robertson last year. This past offseason, Pouha was given a three-year contract extension to return as the No. 2 nose tackle.
If Pouha had a little more quickness, he could be the formidable run-stopping end needed to push Shaun Ellis. Ellis is a good pass-rusher (from 2003-04 he notched 23.5 sacks), but this scheme rarely asks him to pressure the quarterback. He has recorded only five sacks in each of his two seasons under Mangini. At times, Ellis looks disinterested in playing the run. He doesn’t have the ideal strength to anchor, but he’s athletic enough to get movement and do damage, much like a Ty Warren for the Patriots. This is what Mangini and defensive line coach Dan Quinn need to coax out of the ninth-year veteran.
Kenyon Coleman is the other end. He didn’t quite live up to his huge contract last season, though he has the tools to thrive in this system. With C.J. Mosley and Kareem Brown being the only other options up front, the Jets need Coleman to prosper.
Sixth overall pick Vernon Gholston was a defensive end at Ohio State, but the Jets have followed through on plans to convert him to outside linebacker. At 6’4”, 264, this is a natural fit for the rookie. Gholston will begin the season in the reserve pass-rushing role that 10th-year veteran David Bowens has occupied. (Bowens in turn could challenge backup inside linebacker Brad Kassell for his job.)
When Gholston matures as a pro––which could be right away, sometime around Halloween, sometime next season or, according to those skeptical of his motives and motor, never––he’ll replace 2002 first-round pick Bryant Thomas in the starting lineup. Thomas, a longtime defensive end, has recently gotten comfortable making reads in space. But he’s not a playmaker. Calvin Pace will handle the outside duties on the right.
Mangini and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton do not send pressure only from the edges. Last season, standout rookie inside linebacker David Harris posted a team-high five sacks, all of them coming after Week 7. Harris’s week-to-week improvements were enthralling to Jets fans. He was an okay backup, then made 17 tackles in his October 28 starting debut against Buffalo. He followed that with a 24-tackle performance against Washington. A lot of those tackles, however, came downfield (Clinton Portis torched New York for 196 of his team’s 296 yards rushing that day).
As the season wore on, Harris improved his diagnostics and became a greater presence near the line of scrimmage. Now semi-experienced playing in a 3-4 alongside acceptable starter Eric Barton, Harris should ascend to Pro Bowl status in the very near future.
Remarkably, Harris might not be New York’s most impressive sophomore. Cornerback Darrelle Revis has thus far exceeded his first-round billing. Always game for facing the opposing team’s best receiver, Revis has the shadow skills of an elite cover corner. He surrenders virtually no room in short-area coverage and has dangerous playmaking abilities in zone. Part of the reason Revis finished second on the team with 87 tackles last year was he did give up a few catches––mainly early on. That will change in 2008, as the former Pitt Panther has proven to learn quickly from his youthful mistakes.
Mangini was Hank Poteat’s secondary coach in New England. New York’s zone coverage assignments are second nature to the soon-to-be 31-year-old, which is why he has started 15 games the past two seasons (and why he was given another one-year deal worth the veteran minimum, $750,000, over the offseason). Poteat has never been dazzling; his two interceptions last season were a career high.
Thus, the Jets are hoping that Justin Miller can mature into a solid starter in his fourth year. Miller missed all of ’07 with a torn ACL, but he was able to partake in most of this year’s offseason activities. He has a terrific skill set. But off-field issues have been his vice. Another deviation from the right path could make Miller the next Ahmad Carroll (who, by the way, is on the roster and hoping to capitalize on a fortuitous last chance).
David Barrett has proven too inconsistent to start, but he should beat out Drew Coleman and Dwight Lowery for the nickel back job. If Poteat doesn’t start, he’ll likely push for dime duties, as he’s not a great fit as a nickel in the slot.
With his close friend Jonathan Vilma being traded, strong safety Kerry Rhodes becomes the vocal leader of this Jets defense. Rhodes is cut from the Troy Polamalu/Adrian Wilson model. He’s an effective tackler, viable blitzer and, more than anything, rangy pass defender. He’ll shoulder a lion’s share of the load from whoever starts next to him at free safety, whether it be the more productive Abram Elam or the more reliable Eric Smith.
For the most part, Mike Nugent has fulfilled the promise that made him a second-round pick in 2005. He’s improved his leg strength but was only 1/4 from 50-yards-out last season. Ben Graham netted an acceptable 37.2 yards per punt in ’07.
Leon Washington is a superb return artist. He averaged 27.5 yards per kick return and scored three touchdowns last year. That said, Darrelle Revis is electrifying in the return game. He got a lot of return reps during the offseason. The Jets could put Revis back on punts (where Washington caught 14 of the 34 balls he fielded, and failed to break a return longer than 33 yards). Revis could also line up as the No. 2 option on kick returns, which may discourage teams from avoiding Washington.
Any team would improve after bringing in $140 million worth of new veteran talent. The hope is that the newcomers and youngsters on defense can pick up the scheme, and an upgraded front five can compensate for the offense’s lack of speed. The Jets are good enough to contend for a Wild Card in 2008.
Thomas Jones is an elite running back
Thomas Jones is effective, but so are most of the starting running backs around the league. No one will argue that the 10th-year veteran is in the top stable of NFL ballcarriers with guys like LaDainian Tomlinson, Steven Jackson, Adrian Peterson, Joseph Addai, Larry Johnson and maybe Frank Gore.
In the second tier, players like Marion Barber, Jamal Lewis and Clinton Portis are more proficient workhorses than Jones. Willie Parker, Fred Taylor and Brian Westbrook are all greater homerun threats.
Jones still doesn’t rank high after that. There is a slew of young backs that any smart coach would prefer over a 30-year-old runner on his fourth team. Names like Marshawn Lynch, Brandon Jacobs and Ryan Grant come to mind. Heck, even unconventional weapons like Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew and Reggie Bush are better choices.
Players who are similar to Jones in terms of style are Willis McGahee, Ernest Graham, Ronnie Brown and Laurence Maroney. All are younger and more dynamic.
What we can say about Jones is that he’s still a little better than his younger brother, Julius, and he’ll always be a lot better than Cedric Benson.
Laveranues Coles did something a few years ago that the sports world did not adequately recognize: he disclosed to the New York Times and on Oprah that he was a victim of sexual abuse growing up. His stepfather––whose name Coles chose not to reveal––spent nearly 10 years in prison for the crime.
Coles’s reason for sharing his deeply personal trauma was that “If it gets one kid to come out and say, ‘Look, this is happening to me,’ … I think it’s right.” This brave act of selflessness overrides the machismo that defines the football culture––a culture Coles has spent most of his life in. It shows true character on his part.
| analysis, commentary, New York Jets preview, predictions