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How Much Has Each New York Jets Positional Unit Improved This Offseason?

John SheaContributor IIIJuly 12, 2014

How Much Has Each New York Jets Positional Unit Improved This Offseason?

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The New York Jets face several crucial question marks at multiple positions heading into training camp. General manager John Idzik deliberately shored up the most glaring deficiencies over the offseason without breaking the bank, but Gang Green remains in full-blown rebuilding mode.

    The Jets are an up-and-coming team when you consider the bounty of talented youthful players on the roster, particularly on defense. New York's offense remains a work in progress.

    For the Jets to surpass expectations in 2014, they need second-year quarterback Geno Smith to progress his skill set while also becoming less turnover-prone. Smith's steady improvement should translate into a higher-scoring offense, which now flaunts capable playmakers such as Chris Johnson and Eric Decker.

    The Jets' depth at wide receiver remains suspect, especially given uncertainty surrounding former second-round pick Stephen Hill, who has failed to satisfy expectations through his first two seasons as a pro.

    Assuming the Jets can mount greater productivity on offense in 2014, they should compete for a playoff spot, courtesy of a stout front seven on defense that frequently limits opponents' scoring chances.

    The following slideshow examines how much each Jets positional unit has improved over the offseason.

    Note: All (R) references refer to rookie players.

Special Teams

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Depth Chart: Nick Folk (PK), Ryan Quigley (P), Tanner Purdum (LS), Jake Schum (P), Andrew Furney (PK/R)

    The Jets will enter training camp with a familiar special teams unit, headlined by place-kicker Nick Folk, who enjoyed the best season of his seven-year career in 2013. Folk pinned down 33 of 36 field-goal attempts, registering a 91.7 conversion percentage, the highest mark of his career.

    Folk's reliability netted a four-year contract worth $12 million, according to Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com. Folk has often faced modest competition in Jets training camp during his four-year stint in Green and White but now owns the luxury of job security.

    Rookie kicker Andrew Furney has been invited to Jets camp but is an unlikely candidate to make the 53-man roster. The Washington State product converted just 31 of 41 kicks over three seasons at the collegiate level.

    Level of Improvement: 5/5

Wide Receiver

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Depth Chart: Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley, David Nelson, Jalen Saunders (R), Stephen Hill, Shaquelle Evans (R), Jacoby Ford, Quincy Enunwa (R), Clyde Gates, Greg Salas, Saalim Hakim, Michael Campbell

    The Jets' formerly anemic receiving corps is improved in 2014 but remains one of the weakest positions on the depth chart. Free-agent acquisition Eric Decker is a big-time upgrade over disgruntled wideout Santonio Holmes but isn't a clear-cut No. 1 receiver.

    The Jets are hopeful that slot receiver Jeremy Kerley can stay healthy and are also optimistic that Hill can somehow develop into a dependable downfield target.

    New York will feature 12 receivers in total during training camp, six of which will make the final 53-man roster. Decker, Kerley and David Nelson are virtual locks to earn roster spots, barring injury, which leaves three open spots for nine contending players.

    The Jets boasted the worst receiving offense in the NFL last season, averaging 204.4 receiving yards per game. Even though the unit is on the upswing, New York remains distant from compiling a legitimate core of playmakers at wideout.

    Level of Improvement: 4/5

Tight End

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Depth Chart: Jeff Cumberland, Jace Amaro (R), Zach Sudfeld, Chris Pantale, Colin Anderson

    The Jets vastly improved their playmaking ability at tight end after selecting former Texas Tech pass-catcher Jace Amaro in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft. Amaro must improve his blocking technique in order to hammer down the starting gig with the first-team offense, but he's going to be a formidable receiving target regardless.

    Jeff Cumberland showcased modest playmaking ability in 2013. His performance suffered in part because of lingering concussion symptoms, a product of a vicious hit he absorbed from Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Dashon Goldson in Week 1 of last season. In total, Cumberland averaged 15.3 yards per catch on 26 receptions, recording 398 total receiving yards with four touchdowns in 15 games.

    Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast offense requires significant involvement of the tight end position. Amaro and Cumberland should prove to be a solid pass-catching tandem.

    Former undrafted free agent Zach Sudfeld and Chris Pantale will compete for the third and final slot on the depth chart at tight end.

    Level of Improvement: 5/5

Running Back

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Depth Chart: Chris Johnson, Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Alex Green, Daryl Richardson

    The Jets' biggest splash of the offseason occurred well after the initial free-agency flurry, when the signing period originally began. The acquisition of Chris Johnson reinvigorated the Jets offense. He is a true dual-threat running back. He wreaks havoc on opposing defenses both as a rusher and a receiver.

    Johnson is the only active running back to record 1,000-plus rushing yards in six consecutive seasons. He recorded 1,422 all-purpose yards in 2013, scoring 10 touchdowns. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield makes him a perfect fit for the Jets offense.

    Johnson's presence will give Smith a viable checkdown option in the face of pressure and will also force opposing defenses to cover the flats in play-action situations, potentially creating space over the middle of the field for Kerley and Amaro.

    Johnson will presumably split the work load in the backfield with Chris Ivory, although Bilal Powell also figures to be in the mix. The Jets' core of running backs is now their strongest unit on offense.

    Level of Improvement: 5/5

Fullback

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Depth Chart: Tommy Bohanon, Chad Young (R)

    The Jets stood pat at fullback over the offseason, despite second-year player Tommy Bohanon being relatively average during his rookie season. New York is hoping that Bohanon can progress in 2014 and continue to improve as a blocker.

    The former seventh-round pick was a marginal contributor on offense, recording 17 carries for 62 yards in 2013 and averaging 3.6 yards per carry. Bohanon also added 69 receiving yards on 11 catches, registering 131 total yards from scrimmage on 28 touches in 16 games.

    Bohanon will face subtle competition from rookie Chad Young, who split time as a halfback and fullback during his final collegiate season at San Diego State. Young averaged just 5.5 yards per catch on 44 receptions in three seasons at the college level.

    Level of Improvement: 2/5

Offensive Tackle

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Depth Chart: D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Breno Giacomini, Ben Ijalana, Patrick Ford, Brent Qvale (R), Markus Zusevics

    The Jets faced the immediate challenge of overcoming the loss of ascending tackle Austin Howard at the start of the free-agent signing period. Idzik replenished the Jets offensive line by signing Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl champion Breno Giacomini, who played just nine games during the regular season but was an integral part of the 'Hawks pass protection during the playoffs.

    Giacomini missed extensive time with a knee injury in 2013 but will enter training camp fully healthy. The Jets are hoping that he can cover the loss of Howard, who did an excellent job of providing solid pass and run protection during his two seasons as a starter.

    The Jets don't flaunt a ton of depth on their offensive line, which means it's vital for each starter to stay healthy enough to remain on the field throughout the entire season.

    Level of Improvement: 3/5

Offensive Guard

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Depth Chart: Willie Colon, Brian Winters, Oday Aboushi, Dakota Dozier (R), Will Campbell

    Offensive guard is the biggest question mark the Jets face on offense. Seven-year veteran Willie Colon is expected to be ready for training camp despite undergoing offseason arthroscopic knee surgery, although his health remains a concern.

    Colon was able to play in all 16 regular-season games in 2013 during his first season with the Jets, but he suffered a torn biceps in the season finale against the Miami Dolphins. Last season marked the first time since 2009 that Colon was able to start every regular-season contest.

    The success of the run game depends on whether Colon can duplicate that feat in 2014.

    Second-year guard Brian Winters will assume a starting role on the left side of the line from Day 1 in camp. It's imperative for him to demonstrate an ability to place a stranglehold on that position. The Jets' backup options aren't flashy, although Furman product Dakota Dozier could develop into a future starter.

    Level of Improvement: 2/5

Center

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Depth Chart: Nick Mangold, Caleb Schlauderaff, Dalton Freeman

    New York's depth chart at center remains static from the 2013 season. Nick Mangold, a five-time Pro Bowler, anchors New York's offensive line. Mangold and tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson are the two most reliable pieces in the trenches on offense for the Jets.

    Mangold has missed just two games during his eight-year career. The Associated Press has labeled him a First-Team All-Pro lineman twice (2009, 2010); both times came in seasons where the Jets reached the AFC title game.

    Caleb Schlauderaff, a 305-pound lineman out of Utah, will serve as Mangold's primary backup if the former All-Pro were to succumb to injury. Schlauderaff, a former tight end, has played in 12 games during three seasons as a pro, making one start.

    Former undrafted free agent Dalton Freeman will cap the depth chart at center behind Schlauderaff.

    Level of Improvement: 4/5

Quarterback

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Depth Chart: Geno Smith, Michael Vick, Tajh Boyd (R), Matt Simms

    The most intriguing positional battle at Jets training camp will be at quarterback, where veteran Michael Vick will attempt to unseat second-year signal-caller Geno Smith as the team's leader on offense. The ideal scenario would be to have Vick serve as a mentor to Smith, who shares a similar style of play to that of the former Philadelphia Eagles starter.

    New York needs to know if Smith is indeed capable of developing into a front-line QB at the NFL level, which is partly why he is the coaches' favorite to reclaim the starting job heading into camp.

    Vick's proneness to injury goes without saying, but if he's able to demonstrate an ability to better operate Mornhinweg's offense than Smith, it won't be surprising to see him under center for Week 1.

    The Jets improved their viability at the quarterback position over the offseason by adding Vick to the roster. New York's most experienced QB in 2013 was David Garrard, who was essentially unavailable due to chronic knee problems. The depth and leadership that Vick will provide should help Smith enhance his skill set in the short term.

    Level of Improvement: 4/5

Defensive End

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    Ron Antonelli/Getty Images

    Depth Chart: Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Leger Douzable, Tevita Finau, IK Enemkpali (R), Kerry Hyder (R), Zach Thompson (R), Anthony Grady (R)

    New York's front three was one of the nastiest units in football last season but is bound to be even better in 2014. New York ranked third in total rushing yards allowed in 2013 (1,412) and led the league in yards per attempt against (3.4).

    Beastly defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson anchors Gang Green in the trenches on defense, wreaking havoc on should-be blockers. He registered career highs in tackles (43) and sacks (10.5) while also recording three passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one interception last season. Somehow, he didn't get the Pro Bowl nod.

    Former first-round pick Sheldon Richardson earned defensive Rookie of the Year honors for his stellar performance in 2013. The defensive tackle was one of the biggest reasons why New York was so stingy against the run, an ability that will only continue to improve.

    Level of Improvement: 5/5

Nose Tackle

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Depth Chart: Damon Harrison, Kenrick Ellis, T.J. Barnes

    Nose tackle Damon "Big Snacks" Harrison was a driving force on the D-line, using all 350 pounds of body weight to manhandle offensive linemen. He started all 16 games for the Jets in 2013, recording 36 tackles as a run-stuffing machine.

    Second-team NT Kenrick Ellis was the presumptive favorite to land the starting job during preseason action, but Harrison's ability to clog the middle of the field quickly became a staple of Gang Green's highly touted rush defense.

    Harrison, a William Penn product, is a former undrafted free agent. He played in five games for the Jets in 2012 but developed into one of the league's most brutal nose tackles last season.

    Ellis remains a work in progress and will likely continue to see limited playing time. He has started just five games over the course of his three-year career, recording 27 tackles and one forced fumble.

    Former Georgia Tech defensive tackle T.J. Barnes, a 369-pound wrecking ball, will compete for a roster spot.

    Level of Improvement: 4/5

Outside Linebacker

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Depth Chart: Calvin Pace, Quinton Coples, Garrett McIntyre, Antwan Barnes, Jermaine Cunningham, Tim Fugger, Trevor Reilly (R)

    After being granted his outright release after the conclusion of a disappointing 6-10 season, Calvin Pace appeared destined for potential retirement. The Jets took a flier on him thereafter. The 11-year veteran didn't hold ill feelings toward his former employer at that juncture, opting to sign a one-year contract in an attempt to revitalize his career.

    Pace accomplished exactly that.

    The 33-year-old outside linebacker excelled in head coach Rex Ryan's famed defense in 2013, cleaning up the backfield. He recorded 37 tackles including 16 assists, with 10.0 sacks, three passes defensed and two forced fumbles. It was Pace's best statistical season since 2008, when he registered 62 tackles, 8.0 sacks and five forced fumbles.

    The Jets are hoping Pace can somehow duplicate his brilliance from last season in 2014. Most importantly, he'll provide converted down lineman Quinton Coples with valuable leadership at a crucial position.

    The Jets finished tied for 13th with 41 total sacks in 2013. Pace and Wilkerson combined to register a whopping 50 percent of that total. New York needs greater production from Coples in order to fuel its defense toward top-five status in 2014. 

    Level of Improvement: 3/5

Inside Linebacker

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Depth Chart: David Harris, Demario Davis, Nick Bellore, Troy Davis, Jeremiah George (R), Steele Divitto (R), A.J. Adds

    The Jets added an infusion of youth to their crop of inside linebackers over the offseason, selecting former Georgia Tech LB Jeremiah George in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft. George demonstrated his strength at the combine, recording top-performer status on the bench press by pumping 28 reps, according to NFL.com.

    At 234 pounds, George has added approximately 15 pounds of muscle since the conclusion of senior season at Iowa State, where he dominated Big 12 competition.

    He has the potential to develop into a formidable inside linebacker at the pro level. He recorded a stunning 133 total tackles, including 12.0 for loss, with 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two interceptions in 2013.

    While George competes for a roster spot, veteran David Harris and ascending LB Demario Davis will look to reclaim their starting positions on the first-team defense. Davis was a valuable component of the front seven in 2013 during his first year as a starter, recording 63 tackles.

    Level of Improvement: 4/5

Cornerback

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Depth Chart: Dee Milliner, Dimitri Patterson, Kyle Wilson, Darrin Walls, Dexter McDougle (R), Ellis Lankster, Ras-I Dowling, Lowell Rose, Johnny Patrick, Brandon Dixon (R), Jeremy Reeves

    After trading Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prior to the 2013 NFL draft, the Jets secondary suddenly became much less formidable. Former first-round draft pick Dee Milliner struggled at times, although he came on strong toward the conclusion of the regular season.

    Milliner is now in line to become the Jets' No. 1 cornerback.

    The addition of veteran Dimitri Patterson figures to increase the viability of the secondary, although his proneness to injury remains a problem. Patterson has played in all 16 regular-season games just once during his eight-year career (2010).

    Third-round draft pick Dexter McDougle has already earned praise from Jets coaches, drawing comparisons to Revis from Ryan in regard to his tenacity in walk-through activity, he but isn't going to be an immediate impact player. McDougle missed nearly the entire 2013 college season with a shoulder injury.

    The Jets took a ton of heat from fans over the offseason in regard to their seeming disregard for acquiring a top-tier CB, although the unit should be moderately improved in 2014, considering the addition of Patterson and steady progression of Milliner.

    Level of Improvement: 4/5

Safety

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Depth Chart: Calvin Pryor (R), Antonio Allen, Dawan Landry, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Josh Bush, Rontez Miles, Brandon Hardin

    First-round pick Calvin Pryor has already made himself a household name among Jets fans, openly voicing his dislike for the New York Giants and archrival Patriots, a sentiment shared by the team's projected signal-caller, Smith.

    The smashmouth safety has essentially been anointed a starting gig in the 2014 season, but for good reason: The Jets' depth at safety was mostly abysmal before Pryor arrived on scene. Former seventh-round draft pick Antonio Allen will presumably start alongside Pryor to begin the season but will face competition from Jaiquawn Jarrett and Josh Bush.

    Veteran Dawan Landry's playing time figures to take a dive in 2014, assuming he earns a 53-man roster spot. Landry's production dipped a bit in comparison to his career averages in 2013, but he remains a viable backup option, so as long as that sits well with him.

    Safety was a primary position of need over the offseason. The Jets increased the ferocity of their defense by adding Pryor, which should pay dividends.

    Level of Improvement: 4/5

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