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New York Jets' 53-man roster projection: Plenty of moving parts, trade rumors



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    Rich CiminiESPN Staff Writer

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets open the 2021 NFL regular season against the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 12 at Bank of America Stadium. The Jets are coming off a 2-14 season, a last-place finish in the AFC East, and their 10th consecutive year out of the playoffs, the longest active drought in the NFL.

As the Jets prepare for the final cuts, their roster feels like a jigsaw puzzle scattered across a table top. It won't be easy to put together. With so many glaring holes and the No. 2 waiver priority, general manager Joe Douglas figures to be in a roster-churning mode over the next few days. He also could be in the trade market, looking for help at quarterback, defensive end, linebacker and cornerback.

The Jets' best bargaining chip is wide receiver Jamison Crowder, who took a pay cut in the offseason and plays a position where the Jets actually have good depth. Douglas also has 11 draft picks at his disposal in 2022, including four in the first two rounds.

Surprise cuts? There are always surprises with a new coaching staff, led by coach Robert Saleh. Wide receiver Denzel Mims, tight end Chris Herndon and quarterback James Morgan were disappointments in camp, fueling speculation about their status.

The roster will be cut to 53 players by 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Here is a projection:

QUARTERBACK (2): Zach Wilson, Mike White

Wilson became the presumptive starter the moment he was drafted No. 2 overall in April, and he hasn't done anything to make people question that. The backup situation is anyone's guess.

Do they go with the unheralded White, who has no regular-season experience, or give the job to journeyman Josh Johnson? The hunch is White, by default. They can always re-sign Johnson, 35, in an emergency situation. (Some might say the current circumstances constitute an emergency.) One thing is certain: The QB2 won't be James Morgan, a 2020 fourth-round pick. He showed no progress throughout the summer, and it would be a waste of a roster spot to keep him on the 53. He belongs on the practice squad.

What Douglas should do is call the Chicago Bears about Nick Foles ($4 million base salary), but it sounds like they don't want to pay above the veteran minimum. This is no place to be cheap.


RUNNING BACK (4): Tevin Coleman, Ty Johnson, Michael Carter, La'Mical Perine

When in doubt, go with the committee approach. That's a nice way of saying the Jets don't have a running back worthy of 20 carries a game. Coleman and Johnson created separation in the preseason, so look for them to take the lead. Carter has the most upside, but the rookie might need a little time before he finds a niche. Perine is fourth in the pecking order, based on preseason usage. He's the most physical back, but he lacks the step-on-the-gas acceleration required in an outside-zone scheme. He will stick for depth, beating out Josh Adams.




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FULLBACK (1): Trevon Wesco

Wesco is a tight end/fullback hybrid, but he lined up in the backfield most of the time in the preseason. He has value because offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur will run more two-back sets than most teams, and Wesco is the only fullback on the team.

WIDE RECEIVER (7): Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Crowder, Keelan Cole, Braxton Berrios, Mims, Vyncint Smith

The Jets should trade Crowder if they can get an edge rusher or linebacker in return. He's a reliable slot receiver and his contract isn't over the top (one year, $5.5 million). Moore can replace him in the slot, assuming he's up to speed after missing two games with an injury. Mims was outplayed in camp by at least six other wide receivers, as he struggled with the offense. That said, the Jets are not expected to cut a 2020 second-round pick, but maybe they will listen to trade offers. Berrios sticks because of his punt returning. Jeff Smith got a decent amount of reps with the starters in camp, but he gets crunched by the numbers game.

TIGHT END (3): Tyler Kroft, Herndon, Ryan Griffin

Despite a lackluster preseason, Herndon's roster spot appears secure. He's their best blocker and the rest of the depth chart is suspect, especially with Griffin nursing a hamstring injury. Herndon has struggled in the offense, his third system in four years, and was replaced by Kroft as the TE1. Unless they import a proven vet, Herndon probably will sneak through. Griffin could get picked off if they decide Daniel Brown needs to stay because of his special teams ability.

2021 New York Jets

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OFFENSIVE LINE (8): Mekhi Becton, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, Morgan Moses, George Fant, Dan Feeney, Jimmy Murray

The Moses-Fant battle at right tackle is ongoing; the Jets are in no rush to declare a winner. This has been a rough summer for the O-line. Vera-Tucker, one of New York's 2021 first-round draft picks, missed most of camp with an injury, Alex Lewis retired and Conor McDermott and Cameron Clark went down with season-ending injuries. Don't be surprised if a veteran is added for much-needed depth. Chuma Edoga is an injured-reserve candidate following a knee scope, which means he would have to be on the initial 53 to be eligible to return. The starting five has a chance to be decent when Vera-Tucker gets comfortable.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9): Quinnen Williams, Folorunso Fatukasi, John Franklin-Myers, Sheldon Rankins, Nathan Shepherd, Bryce Huff, Ronnie Blair, Jonathan Marshall, Hamilcar Rashed Jr.

Douglas needs to trade for an edge player, pronto. Disgruntled Arizona Cardinals pass-rusher Chandler Jones has been mentioned in the rumor mill, but he doesn't sound like a Douglas guy. Keep an eye on the San Francisco 49ers; they have depth and Saleh knows the personnel there. The season-ending injures to Carl Lawson and Vinny Curry leave the Jets in a bad way at defensive end. Right now, the two starters are Franklin-Myers and Huff. Yikes. Disappointing 2020 third-rounder Jabari Zuniga is an IR candidate. The interior is fine. Led by Williams, they go five deep.

LINEBACKER (5): C.J. Mosley, Jamien Sherwood, Noah Dawkins, Hamsah Nasirildeen, Blake Cashman

This was a young and thin unit before Jarrad Davis' injury; now it's perilously thin. Alongside Mosley are rookie Jamien Sherwood, a converted safety, and Noah Dawkins (four career defensive snaps). In nickel, it was supposed to be Mosley and Davis, but now one of the kids will have to be an every-down player. Clearly, Douglas needs to be on the lookout for veteran help. Even Mosley isn't a sure thing -- he hasn't played a full season since 2018 -- although he looks quicker after dropping weight.

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CORNERBACK (6): Blessuan Austin, Bryce Hall, Michael Carter II, Javelin Guidry, Jason Pinnock, Justin Hardee

Douglas dropped the ball by not adding a veteran. It's still a possibility, but we all know Darrelle Revis isn't walking through the door to save the day. This group has combined for 35 starts, which wouldn't be a bad thing if it had an anchor. But there's no true CB1, just a bunch of interchangeable parts. The likely starters are Austin and Hall, with Carter in the slot. Carter, Brandin Echols and Pinnock are rookies. It will be a successful season if one develops into a solid starter, but but Echols -- injured Friday night -- might have to wait. He could start the year on IR. Isaiah Dunn, another rookie, is a practice squad candidate.

SAFETY (5): Marcus Maye, Lamarcus Joyner, Sharrod Neasman, Elijah Campbell, Ashtyn Davis

Maye and Joyner are seasoned pros, which makes this position a rarity on this team. Maye will patrol near the line of scrimmage in most of the defenses, with Joyner the deep middle. Joyner was a productive safety before the Las Vegas Raiders turned him into a slot corner. Davis, a 2020 third-rounder, will join the group at some point. The question is, when? If he remains on the physically unable to perform list, he can't practice for the first six weeks of the season. The hunch here is that he's closer than that; he makes the 53.

SPECIALISTS (3): Matt Ammendola (PK), Braden Mann (P) and Thomas Hennessy (LS)

Ammendola was signed during training camp and kicked the bejeezus out of the ball to win the job. Can he deliver when it's money time? Can he stop the Jets' maddening game of musical kickers? We will know soon enough.

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