With the New York Jets embracing a new team direction, this summer was poised to be an entertaining one, and did not disappoint. Featuring quarterback and cornerback battles, long snapper trades, and a tight end carousel, here are all the odds and ends from the Jets’ preseason:
The Quarterback Competition
What was billed as a open, summer-long quarterback contest finally concluded on Monday. In what seemed like a remorseful decision–almost a resignation–head coach Todd Bowles named veteran Josh McCown the starter, citing giving the team “the best chance to win right now.” Although the team’s three quarterbacks (McCown, Christian Hackenberg, and Bryce Petty) finished training camp even in terms of reps and performance, it became abundantly clear during the preseason that Bowles was trying to give Hackenberg every possible opportunity to win the job. Even though McCown started the first game, Hackenberg was the clear focal point, having been given 25 pass attempts to McCown’s four and Petty’s six. Furthermore, even though McCown was the only quarterback to orchestrate a scoring drive in the Jets’ 7-3 victory over the Tennessee Titans, Hackenberg looked strong. Although the offense run around him was limited to quick-hitting short passes on slant/flat combos and comeback routes, Hackenberg looked proficient, showing off seemingly tighter mechanics and staying accurate on most of his throws. For this apparent show of progress from the debacle that was Hackenberg’s performance last preseason, Hackenberg was awarded the start for the Jets’ second preseason game, against the Detroit Lions.
In that game, however, Hackenberg began to revert back to his 2016 form. Although the offense around him only exacerbated his struggles, Hackenberg showed numerous avoidable issues. For instance, his awareness of pressure seemed almost nonexistent. On one early dropback, Hackenberg simply failed to give himself enough space to operate, and was completely ignorant of DT Akeem Spence rushing up the middle. On another play, Hackenberg failed to convert a third down because he allowed the ball to slip out of his hands on a pump fake. Simply put, Hackenberg looked shaken. Bowles, however, was undeterred. In the week following that game, Bowles shut McCown down almost completely in practice, allowing Hackenberg and Petty to dominate the reps. At that point, the intentions of Bowles and the Jets as a whole were obvious. They wanted Hackenberg to get his mind right, bounce back in the subsequent “dress rehearsal” game against the New York Giants, and run away with the starting job. Instead, the “MetLife Bowl” became Hackenberg’s undoing. Again getting the start, Hackenberg put together a dreadful first half performance, leading the Jets to just one field goal while throwing two pick-sixes. The first of these was especially egregious, as Hackenberg stared down TE Eric Tomlinson for what seemed like an eternity, allowing All-Pro safety Landon Collins to make a break on the ball. To make matters worse, Hackenberg was soundly shown up in the second half by Petty, who almost engineered a miraculous comeback from a 29-3 halftime deficit. Although Hackenberg managed to pad his stats with a late touchdown after Petty left with an injury, the damage was done. The starting job had been Hackenberg’s to lose all preseason, and, finally, he had lost it.
Analysis of Major Transactions
The Bruce Ellington Fiasco
By claiming WR Bruce Ellington off waivers on August 4th, the Jets continued their bizarre wide receiver pipeline with the San Francisco 49ers. Having previously poached wideouts K.D. Cannon and Chris Harper from the Bay, Ellington originated as another 49ers castoff, and, like Cannon and Harper, was brought in as another high-upside deep threat. However, Ellington’s Jets tenure seemed to end before the ink even dried on his contract, as he was waived two days later after failing his physical. Now, however, it seems like the Jets may have made a mistake. Promptly claimed by the Houston Texans to fill the void left by Will Fuller’s injury, Ellington showed out in Weeks 2 and 3 of the preseason, recording eight catches while showing off explosiveness after the catch and strong hands at the catch point. He may only end up starting for the Texans by default, but, with the Jets starved for speed following Quincy Enunwa’s injury and Jalin Marshall suspension, it looks like the Jets may have missed out on a potentially valuable depth piece.
Cutting Marquess Wilson in Favor of Brandon Barnes
Having watched WR Marquess Wilson with the Chicago Bears, I was elated to see the Jets take a chance on his physical talent. A 7th-round pick in 2013, Wilson showed legitimate promise with the Bears, albeit in limited playing time. When WR Alshon Jeffery went down in 2015, Wilson stepped in, surpassing 450 yards in just six starts. More importantly, however, Wilson looked like a capable deep threat. The most important trait for a burner to have, aside from speed, is the ability to track and find a deep ball, and Wilson had all of that and more. Against the Lions in 2015, Wilson tracked a floater from QB Jay Cutler over both shoulders, eventually turning his body all the way around to secure the underthrown ball and pry it away from the defensive back. Wilson also demonstrated instincts as a route runner, frequently finding open space on scramble drills. In Week 1 of 2015, Wilson gashed the Green Bay Packers’ defense for 50 yards on one such play. Unfortunately, Wilson missed much of 2016 with injuries–something that has plagued him his entire career–but still showed off his athletic upside with a Jeffery-esque high-point grab against the Titans. So, when the Jets signed a finally-healthy Wilson, I presumed that he would finally break through. However, Wilson barely even got a chance to compete. After just the second preseason game, Wilson was cut in favor of TE Brandon Barnes, who may not even make the roster. For a team that is young, rebuilding, and desperate for upside, this was a rash, irresponsible, and ultimately regrettable move.
Signing Kony Ealy
When the New England Patriots traded for DE Kony Ealy back in the spring, the immediate assumption was that head coach Bill Belichick’s tutelage would bring the best out of Ealy. Unfortunately, the experiment never worked out, with Ealy unable to make the roster, even despite DE Rob Ninkovich’s retirement and DE Derek Rivers‘s injury. Now, with a trade of Sheldon Richardson rumored to be in the works, Ealy could turn out to be and important depth piece. Having recorded five sacks in each of his past two seasons, Ealy is a roster-worthy talent. However, his role on the Jets will likely be that of a rotational player, if he even plays at all. Lawrence Thomas and Freddie Bishop have both shown out this preseason for the Jets, with the former showing power and balance and the latter a deadly first step. It is almost inconceivable that Ealy would play over either of them, but someone like Ealy is still valuable to have in the folds.
A Week of Trades
In what is likely a consequence of the new single-deadline cut system, the Jets have been wheeling and dealing all week since the third preseason game. On the Sunday after, the Jets swapped 2014 3rd-round picks with the Philadelphia Eagles, trading CB Dexter McDougle for S Terrence Brooks. This move helps the Jets two-fold. On top of opening a roster spot for athletic rookie CB Derrick Jones, the trade solidifies the Jets’ fourth safety spot behind Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, and Rontez Miles. Then, on Monday, the Jets pulled an absolute stunner, trading S Ronald Martin for Indianapolis Colts’ rookie long snapper Thomas Hennessy. This all but signals the end of the Tanner Purdum era in New York, while also solidifying Terrence Brooks’ roster spot.
#Jets making a heavy push to trade several players including Sheldon Richardson and Matt Forte.
— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) August 30, 2017
Dealing in Hypotheticals: Could Matt Forté and Sheldon Richardson Be on the Move?
Since Sheldon Richardson trade rumors began at last season’s deadline, the idea of Richardson being dealt has been an apparition of sorts for Jets fans: totally plausible, but seemingly destined to never happen. With spring and summer now gone by, the “Richardson to the Cowboys” rhetoric has slowly become a thing of the past–until this past Wednesday, that is. One day before the final preseason game, reputed reporter @AllbrightNFL resurrected the rumors, tweeting out, “#Jets making a heavy push to trade several players including Sheldon Richardson and Matt Forte.” This came as a complete shock for numerous reasons. First of all, Richardson has been arguably the Jets’ best defensive player all preseason, showing off devastating penetration, both on the edge and the interior. Secondly, Forté also seems to be part of the team’s future, having actually started over Bilal Powell in the “dress rehearsal” game. However, from the standpoint of building for the future, neither move would be a mistake. If the Jets are able to get value for Richardson, whether it be a high pick (second round or so) or a foundational tight end or offensive lineman, it would be a major win, especially considering that Richardson has a high cap hit and will be a free agent next year. It would also make room for other edge rushers, taking guys like Lorenzo Mauldin and Freddie Bishop off the roster bubble. Moving Forté would also be useful, as it would give further playing time to Bilal Powell and rookie Elijah McGuire, while also potentially opening a roster spot for Marcus Murphy or Romar Morris, both of whom the Jets seem to covet.
Final 53-Man Roster and Practice Squad Projection
NOTE: Rookies italicized*
Starter: Josh McCown
Depth: 2. Christian Hackenberg 3. Bryce Petty
After the third preseason game, the Jets’ quarterback room is all but decided. McCown is the starter, and Petty is no longer on the roster bubble, but Hackenberg should remain the backup, especially if Bowles decides to give him a few drives each game for development’s sake.
Running back (3):
Starting committee: 1. Matt Forté 2. Bilal Powell
Depth: 3. Elijah McGuire
Practice squad: Marcus Murphy, Romar Morris
Out: Jahad Thomas
With Forté, Powell, and McGuire, the Jets have three aggressive, slashing runners that can catch out of the backfield. If Forté is traded, Murphy could make the roster as a return specialist.
Wide receiver (6):
Outside starters: 1. Robby Anderson 2. Chad Hansen
Slot: ArDarius Stewart
Depth: 4. Charone Peake 5. Chris Harper 6. Frankie Hammond
Suspended: Jalin Marshall
Practice squad: Gabe Marks
Out: Lucky Whitehead (IR), Kenbrell Thompkins, Myles White, Daniel Williams
This is the most difficult position to project, by far. Anderson, Stewart, and Hansen are the only roster locks, and Anderson and Stewart are the only two with secure starting roles. Hammond was only included due to his role as a return man, and could be out in favor of Thompkins if he bungles another kick, or when Marshall returns from his suspension.
Tight end (3):
Starter: 1. Eric Tomlinson
Depth: 2. Jordan Leggett 3. Chris Gragg
Suspended: Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Out: Jason Vander Laan (IR), Brandon Barnes
Although suspended, Seferian-Jenkins has emerged as the clear starting tight end for the Jets. Until he returns, Tomlinson should have the job due to his blocking ability, and Gragg will likely sneak on due to his speed and ability to get open.
Offensive line (8):
LT: Kelvin Beachum
LG: James Carpenter
C: Wesley Johnson
RG: Brian Winters
RT: Ben Ijilana
Swing tackles: Brandon Shell, Brent Qvale
Swing guards/centers: Jonotthan Harrison
Practice squad: Ben Braden
Out: Dakota Dozier, Craig Watts, Chris Bordelon
, Jeff Adams, Javarius Leamon, Alex Balducci
While it may not be completely true that all five of the starting jobs are up for grabs, depth will be key for the Jets. Shell and Qvale have been pushing Beachum and Ijilana at tackle all summer, and having Harrison as insurance for Wesley Johnson is critical. Rookie Ben Braden will likely make it on as a practice squad player due to some flashes as a run-blocker, but is unlikely to crack the 53.
Starter: Julian Howsare
Practice squad: Anthony Firksir
Firksir has been touted as the better receiver, but consistency could limit him to the practice squad. With the Jets having used tight end Eric Tomlinson as a lead blocker, there is also a chance that no fullbacks make the roster at all.
Defensive interior (6):
Nose tackle: Steve McClendon
Defensive end: 1. Leonard Williams 2. Muhammad Wilkerson
Tackle: Deon Simon
End: 3. Lawrence Thomas 4. Kony Ealy
Practice squad: Patrick Gamble
Out: Mike Pennel, Jeremy Faulk, Claude Pelon
Barring McClendon as a cap casualty, the depth chart here seems set. Gamble has shown solid hip technique rushing on the end, but is unlikely to beat out Ealy for the final spot.
Edge Rusher (6):
Starters: 1. Sheldon Richardson 2. Jordan Jenkins
Depth/rotation: 3. Josh Martin 4. Lorenzo Mauldin 5. Dylan Donahue 6. Freddie Bishop
Out: Corey Lemonier
Unless Richardson is shipped or Mauldin is on the chopping block, the edge defenders are set as well. A player to watch is Freddie Bishop, who has showing impressive quickness, both in terms of first step and in tracking down runs from behind, and could climb the depth chart as the season progresses.
MIKE: Demario Davis
WILL: Darron Lee
Depth: 3. Julian Stanford 4. Bruce Carter
Practice squad: Frank Beltre, Connor Harris
Out: Spencer Paysinger
The linebackers are tough to project, but the top three of Davis, Lee, and Stanford are set. Carter is the favorite for the last spot due to his experience, likely landing youngsters Beltre and Harris on the scout team.
Outside: 1. Morris Claiborne 2. Juston Burris
Nickel: Buster Skrine
Depth: 4. Marcus Williams 5. Darryl Roberts 6. Derrick Jones
Practice squad: Xavier Coleman
Out: Jeremy Clark (PUP), David Rivers
With Dexter McDougle out of the picture, the top six are all but solidified, save for Marcus Williams and Buster Skrine as potential cap casualties. Jones and Coleman are close, but Jones has been more instinctive in finding the ball and should snag the final spot.
FS: Marcus Maye
SS: Jamal Adams
Depth: 3. Rontez Miles 4. Terrence Brooks
Practice squad: Armagedon Draughn
Out: Shamarko Thomas, Robenson Therezie
With the top three of Adams, Maye, and Miles locked in, it is down to Brooks and Thomas for the last slot. Brooks should ultimately win it, having been a specific trade target of the organization. Draughn is a newcomer, but, as a young, intriguing talent out of the CFL, he could find a spot on the practice squad.
Special Teams (3)
Kicker: Ross Martin
Punter: Lachlan Edwards
Long snapper: Thomas Hennessy
Kick returner: Frankie Hammond
Punt returner: ArDarius Stewart
Out: K Chandler Catanzaro, LS Tanner Purdum
Martin lost the kicking battle last year, but should make the team after an impressive camp, especially in terms of long range kicking. In the long snapping battle, Hennessy likely gets the edge by virtue of being a trade acquisition.