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Grading New York Jets' Positional Units at the First Quarter Mark

Ryan AlfieriCorrespondent IIIOctober 4, 2013

Grading New York Jets' Positional Units at the First Quarter Mark

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    As disappointing as last week's loss was, the Jets still stand at a respectable 2-2 thanks to quality defense and a few timely throws from rookie quarterback Geno Smith. 

    While the Jets have been much more competitive than most thought they would be before the season, they have a glaring turnover and penalty problem that is holding them back from having an even better record. 

    The following grades will be based on how well a unit is performing relative to expectations. For example, Bilal Powell is no Adrian Peterson, but he has had as good a start to the season as anyone could have hoped.

    Here are grades for each positional unit on the Jets through the first four games. 

Quarterback

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    The first four games of Geno Smith's NFL career have certainly been eventful, but the up-and-down nature of his play should not come as much of a shock to anyone when considering his skill set when he came out of West Virginia. 

    Smith was generally regarded as an above-average arm talent that would take some time adjusting to the NFL game because he came from a one-read system at West Virginia. So far, Smith has lived up to the script rather well.

    Smith has shown off his great arm strength on several deep throws over the course of the last four games, including a game-winning 69-yard bomb to Santonio Holmes against the Bills

    The most impressive trait Smith has shown, however, is his poise in the pocket against pressure and in clutch situations. He is willing to take a hit to deliver a throw and is not fazed by adversity like most rookies are, as evidenced by his last-minute touchdown drive in Week 1. 

    For as much promise as Smith has shown, he has cost the Jets dearly with his rookie mistakes. His lack of ball security is Sanchezian; he is currently tied with Eli Manning for the most turnovers in the NFL, four of them coming from last week alone. 

    The Jets need Smith to cut down on the turnovers if they are going to be remotely competitive over the next dozen games, but they have to be generally pleased with what they have seen from their second-round pick so far and excited for what he could develop into.

    Grade: B-

Running Back

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    Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

    John Idzik may have misfired on his veteran additions to the running back position so far, but he can be thankful for the previous regime's decision to draft Bilal Powell back in 2011. 

    As a player who was once pegged as a third-down utility back, Powell has proven week after week that he is capable of being a starter. With a 4.4 average, Powell is the AFC's second-leading rusher through four games. Powell may not have great speed or power, but his lateral agility allows him to create yards that most backs would not get.

    When you combine what he adds in the passing game as a receiver and in protection, Powell is one of the most indispensable players on the entire Jets roster.

    The first-quarter results for Chris Ivory have not been nearly as impressive. Before succumbing to a hamstring injury in Week 3, Ivory was averaging just 2.8 yards per carry. While Ivory is more physical than Powell, he is not nearly as versatile in the passing game and has not made as many defenders miss. 

    Now, questions about his durability have resurfaced after his latest brush with the trainer's room.

    The dynamic of this unit could change greatly with Mike Goodson finally returning from suspension. The Jets will likely bring him along slowly, but he could be help bring a spark before Powell is worn out. 

    The Jets' running game has not quite been dominant over the first month, but the emergence of Bilal Powell has made up for the disappointing production from the new additions. 

    Grade: B

Wide Receiver

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Due to the uncertainty of Santonio Holmes' injury and Stephen Hill's lack of development, there was a ton of uncertainty surrounding this position group headed into this season. 

    While they have not quite morphed into the Greatest Show on Turf, the Jets' receiving corps is definitely an improvement over last year. 

    No one knows exactly how close Santonio Holmes is to being 100 percent, but he has been a very effective player nonetheless. He only has 10 catches in four games, but his average of 24.3 yards per catch has produced a handful of big plays that helped get the Jets their second win. 

    Meanwhile, Stephen Hill has been much more consistent than last year, as he has also produced several big plays with 17.9 yards per reception. However, he has continued to struggle with drops and fumbles, particularly in a Week 2 loss to the Patriots

    Jeremy Kerley has been one of Geno Smith's targets in he slot. His absence in Week 2 (concussion) was noticeable.

    The concerning part of this group is that both Holmes and Hill will miss time with a hamstring injury and a concussion, respectively, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN. As a result, the Jets will have to rely on the unimpressive half of their depth chart to get them through the next few games. 

    Clyde Gates has yet to learn how to use his elite speed, while Ryan Spadola has yet to produce like the dominant player he was in the preseason. Despite playing 40 snaps last week, Ben Obomanu's miscues forced the Jets to replace him with David Nelson this week, according to the team website.

    The receiving corps has done an adequate job helping out Geno Smith through four games, but things could get ugly over the next month without Holmes and Hill.

    Grade: C

Tight End

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    It has been a very up-and-down year so far for this position. At times Kellen Winslow has been the most dynamic player on the field, only to disappear for games at a time. 

    Despite being quiet for the second and third weeks, Winslow has proven to be one of the biggest surprises of the season. Before he made the Jets from a spring tryout, Winslow's career was just about over. Now, he is clearly the Jets' best tight end, which he proved against the Buccaneers when he led the team in receiving. 

    Just as importantly, Winslow has been a veteran presence in a locker room that saw a lot of longtime veterans leave in the offseason and has been one of Geno Smith's favorite go-to targets. 

    Jeff Cumberland, on the other hand, has been a bit of a disappointment. Cumberland was given the chance to prove that he can be a No. 1 tight end, but he has yet to make much of an impact in any of the four games. He has just four catches for 60 yards, although he did score the team's only touchdown against the Titans

    Because of Winslow's age and Cumberland's ineffectiveness, the Jets will be in the market for a tight end next season. Still, this was supposed to be one of the weakest tight end groups in football, but thanks to Winslow's production, the Jets can be comfortable about this position for at least the remainder of the season. 

    Grade: B-

Defensive Tackles

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    The Jets have gotten tremendous production out of the defensive tackle position so far, but not from the source they had originally envisioned. 

    Coming into this season, the Jets were prepared to let Kenrick Ellis, a third-round pick from 2010, to be their starting nose tackle. However, because of his chronic back problems, former undrafted free agent Damon Harrison has assumed the starting role—and the results have been spectacular.

    According to Pro Football Focus, no defensive tackle in the sport is better than Damon Harrison at defending the run.

    The Jets clearly saw something in Harrison when they brought him on to the 53-man roster last year, but in no way could they have envisioned this type of production in just his second year.

    While Harrison has stole the show, Ellis has gotten off to a slow start because of his back injury, as he has played in just 38 snaps in four games. 

    Despite the slow start from Ellis, the Jets have been stellar against the run in large part thanks to the stellar play of Damon Harrison, who is budding into a star before our eyes.

    Grade: A-

Offensive Line

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    There was a lot of uncertainty about this group headed into the season, but the offensive line has emerged as one of the few offensive strengths of the team. 

    D'Brickashaw Ferguson has been his usual dominant self in pass protection, although his run blocking continues to leave a lot to be desired—he is Pro Football Focus' 61-ranked run blocker among all tackles. Nick Mangold is also off to a slow start for his standards, allowing seven quarterback pressures on the season. 

    Austin Howard, on the other hand, has been stout so far, giving up just one sack in 303 snaps. 

    The question marks before the season surrounded the guard positions. Willie Colon has been one of John Idzik's better moves of the offseason, as he has been able to stay healthy and replace Brandon Moore as a veteran presence. 

    The left guard position is in much more of a flux. Vladimir Ducasse was off to a solid start, but two penalty-littered games in a row has gotten him benched, as Kimberly Martin of Newsday reports that rookie Brian Winters will start over him this week.

    While the individual stats of the front five has been underwhelming, they have excelled in pass protection as a whole. Despite Geno Smith's tendency to hold on to the ball for too long (especially in the first two games), the line has held up well as a group, which is impressive considering the fact that there are two new starters and all five are learning a brand new system.

    Over the course of four games, the Jets have to be relatively pleased with how their offensive line has performed, especially when you consider that they replaced two starters. 

    Grade: B+

Defensive Ends

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    Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

    Simply put, the Jets' dynamic pair of defensive ends has have evolved into the new face of the team. 

    The Jets took a fair amount of criticism for selecting a second defensive player in the first round of this year's draft, but the selection of Sheldon Richardson is looking like one of the smartest picks of the draft.

    Richardson was drafted because of his great quickness and ability to put pressure on the passer from the interior, but that is not where he has shined. Ironically enough, Richardson has become dominant in an area that he was criticized for coming out of Missouri—run defense. 

    According to Pro Football Focus, Richardson is the best run-stopping defensive end not named J.J. Watt.

    Meanwhile, Wilkerson has picked up where he has left off as one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the game, except his game is now more well-rounded than ever. Wilkerson has clearly developed his pass-rushing skills with three sacks in four games. 

    Lost in the excitement with this duo is the play of the reserve end, Leger Douzable. In just 48 snaps, Douzable has a sack to his name and has been effective in relief of Wilkerson and Richardson. 

    The Jets have built their team around their defensive line over the past few years, and it is finally starting to pay off.

    Grade: A

Linebackers

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    While the defensive line is getting all of the attention, the linebacking corps has quietly become one of the most-improved units on the team. 

    What was once a slow, ineffective group a year ago is faster, more dynamic and versatile than it has even been in the Rex Ryan era. 

    The key for this revitalization has been the play of second-year pro Demario Davis. With incredible speed for an inside linebacker (which he displayed on a game-saving tackle on Vincent Jackson). Because of his ability in coverage, no longer are tight ends and speedy running backs giving the Jets headaches on a weekly basis. 

    Meanwhile, David Harris has returned to his All-Pro form after a dreadful 2012 campaign. Through four weeks, Harris if Pro Football Focus' top-rated inside linebacker. 

    Harris is not the only veteran linebacker to experience a revitalization. Calvin Pace is a much faster and fluid player than he was a year ago. He already has 2.5 sacks on the season—a half of a sack short of matching last year's total. 

    The opposite outside linebacker spot remains in flux. Quinton Coples has been rather ineffective in his two games back from ankle surgery, although Antwan Barnes did a solid job filling in and providing some spark as a pass-rusher, notching sacks on a bi-weekly basis.

    As Quinton Coples continues to heal, this unit will only be more effective and versatile as the season goes along. 

    Grade: A-

Cornerbacks

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    What was once the greatest strength of the team has become the biggest weak link on an otherwise-dominant defense.

    Rookie Dee Milliner has stumbled out of the gate, getting benched in the second game. He rebounded well in Week 3, but a nagging hamstring injury has prevented him from returning to the field and getting back on track.

    The Jets were finally willing to give Darrin Walls a chance to start at outside cornerback in Week 4 after watching him impress in practice and preseason, but the results were disappointing. He let up a bad touchdown and allowed a 127.6 quarterback rating against him. However, that should not take away from how well he played in nickel and dime packages that earned him the job in the first place. 

    Meanwhile, Kyle Wilson has actually played as well as he ever has giving up a mere 45.3 quarterback rating against him, but his meltdown in Week 3 in which he drew four straight penalties to extend a Bills' drive.

    It would be easy to point at all of the young corners as the source of the Jets' coverage problems, but even Antonio Cromartie has been off his game. Cromartie has allowed a 105.6 quarterback rating against him. Clearly, the hip injury he suffered in training camp is having lingering effects on his game.

    This unit could get much better as they get healthier and Milliner gets more experience, but the Jets corners have been a letdown so far. 

    Grade: C-

Safeties

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    Like the tight end position, the Jets' safeties were viewed as a major problem area before the season started. 

    Also like the tight end position, the Jets' safeties have played much better than anyone could have predicted. 

    Outside of one crucial missed tackle on Vincent Jackson that nearly cost them the game in Week 1, Dawan Landry has been a reliable veteran presence at strong safety defending the run and playing deep in coverage. 

    Second-year safety Antonio Allen has made a nice transition to free safety, performing much better in coverage than anyone could have predicted for someone who was an "in-the-box" player in college. Allen has been used often in the slot covering slot receivers, showing off his versatility. He has allowed a 59.0 quarterback rating when thrown at.

    The Jets even have some quality depth with Jaiquawn Jarrett, who nearly won the job from Allen in training camp.

    Before last week, the Jets have not allowed a lot of big plays in either the run or passing game—when they did, it was usually because of a mistake by the cornerbacks.

    The safeties have not made any game-winning plays, but they have not yet cost the Jets a game either (although they came close).

    Grade: B

Special Teams

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    No player on the Jets has been as consistent as Nick Folk. Not only is Folk perfect on the season with his field goals (eight for eight) and extra points, but his kickoffs have prevented a return on all but 30 percent of his kicks.

    The Jets replaced their punter midway through the season, looking for more consistency from Ryan Quigley. Quigley has avoided disastrous shanks, but his punts have been the epitome of mediocre, averaging 41.6 yards per punt. 

    The Jets' usually potent return game, on the other hand, has been below average. Both Clyde Gates and Jeremy Kerley have been ineffective returning kicks and punts, respectively. They are currently ranked 31st in kickoff return average, and have tried out Josh Cribbs this week as a result, ProFootballTalk.com reports.

    As good as Folk has been, special teams have been anything but "special" for the Jets. 

    Grade: C

     

    Advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).

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