How far away are the Jets ?
Over the past five seasons, the New York Jets haven't had a single
player go over 1,000 yards receiving in a season. That's not some
exclamation point meant to define the era, it's part of a bigger point.
Four of those years consist of the unofficial Mark Sanchez era -- a
period that has been defined by very good defense and consistently
inconsistent play on offense. (The high point for passing yards per game
during this period was 21st in the NFL, in 2011.)
We tend to call the Jets a team built on defense, one that needs to
"control the ball." Except the running game also has fallen apart over
the past two seasons, as the Jets have averaged 3.8 yards per carry each
year. Add it up and you have an official period of decline over the
past two seasons consisting of 8-8 and 6-10 records.
It's an outmoded way of thinking to say offenses need to establish the
run or establish the pass. Teams play to their strengths, and you don't
consistently do something likely to be less successful just to set up
something better. The fact with the Jets over the past two seasons is it
really hasn't mattered what they have tried to do. The running game has
been completely devoid of explosiveness, and the passing game under
Sanchez has been simply bad. One side hasn't been able to set up the
other, because neither side can consistently offer a threat.
Bottom line : The offense has been the problem. And despite where the
offense is in terms of personnel, I still don't believe the Jets are in
some total rebuild mode.
Here are some reasons why and why the draft can be a part of the solution.
The defense is still strong
The 2012 Jets were sixth in total defense. Think about that based on
what this defense was dealing with. It lacked any consistent pass rush
off the edge; it lost the best corner (Darrelle Revis) in the NFL early
in the season; safety play wasn't great; and it saw decline years from
Bart Scott, David Harris, Calvin Pace and LaRon Landry. Oh, and the
offense was a three-and-out machine. Add up all the problems and that
still-good No. 6 ranking represented the worst defense statistically in
the Rex Ryan era. The Jets can be better at every position they were
lacking in 2012, and the defensive line is going to be a major strength
with the continued development of recent first-rounders Muhammad
Wilkerson and Quinton Coples. I don't care what you give Ryan to work
with, he's going to scheme his way to a top-10 defense. I don't think
this unit is going to take a step back.
The passing game should be better :
Santonio Holmes' return from injury will boost New York's passing attack.
Yes, that's a relative statement given how bad it was in 2012, but even
if Sanchez is under center in 2013, the passing game should improve. The
loss of Dustin Keller doesn't help, but the return of Santonio Holmes
gives the passing game at least one reliable target it lacked last
season. Wideout Stephen Hill was bound to see major growing pains as a
rookie given the college system he came from, but he should take a step
forward in 2013. I still believe they need to find more help in the
draft, but whether it's Sanchez, David Garrard or someone else entirely
throwing passes, the passing game has no place to go but up.
Same with the running game:
Sorry, but regardless of what you think of Shonn Greene, his absence in
2013 isn't a setback. He lacked the ability to make defenders miss and
isn't even the power back some consider him -- just 2.1 yards per carry
after contact, which was good for 44th among qualifying runners last
season. The current combination of Bilal Powell and Mike Goodson isn't
impressive, but it offers more than Greene and the draft could provide
Draft options :
So what can the Jets do in the draft ?
For one, the Jets can improve the defense by adding a pass-rusher
offenses truly need to account for on every play. An athletic freak such
as Barkevious Mingo or a productive pass-rusher such as Jarvis Jones
are among the options for an upgrade at No. 9.
Even if the offense is bound to be a little better in 2013, I still
think the Jets need to add at least one "fear factor" element via the
draft. By that I mean a player who can create explosive plays or clear
matchup problems. Because the value range for that player isn't really
at No. 9 -- unless they go for a guy like Tavon Austin or Cordarrelle
Patterson that early -- the Jets could consider trading down to pick up
an extra first-, second- or even an early third-round pick.
This is a draft with a decent amount of depth at tight end, so finding a
replacement for Keller in Round 2 or 3 could be an option, and adding
another wideout who can cause safeties to play a little deeper -- Justin
Hunter, Da'Rick Rogers and Terrance Williams come to mind -- could be
had after the first round.
The Jets also need help on the offensive line (right tackle was a pass
protection issue last season), but they could certainly find help at
that position beyond the first round.
One other reality of this draft that could help the Jets is the fact
that the safety class is really deep. Even if it's a third- or
fourth-round pick, the Jets could find some immediate help at that
currently depleted position.
Finally, there's the big question at quarterback, but this isn't a draft
class that offers any assurances of an immediate upgrade, even over
Sanchez or Garrard. With Jacksonville, Oakland, Cleveland, Arizona and
Buffalo all drafting ahead of them, there is no chance Geno Smith slips
to No. 9, and taking any other quarterback that high would be a massive
reach. Could they grab another QB later in the draft? Absolutely. But no
one in this class will offer help for Week 1 of 2013.
Drafting well offers no certainty that the Jets will make major strides
in 2013. But by health, subtraction and development alone they could
have a chance to be a little better at the skill positions. Remember
that Ryan also has an uncanny ability to piece together an above-average
defense and there should be reasons for hope.
It all starts at quarterback, but at least the new front office is
taking a healthier approach to the idea of competition at the position
headed into a new season. Every year we see teams we reflexively wrote
off before the season make major strides and land back in the playoffs.
The Jets were a total disaster in 2012 yet were still 6-10. This isn't a
total rebuild; it's a team that could get better both through the draft
and because, in some areas, it'll be hard-pressed to play any worse.