Highlighting New York Jets' 5 Best Preseason Performers so Far
New York Jets' training camp has been highlighted by smack talk, personal foul penalties and injuries to half a dozen rookie draft picks. The Jets will be challenged to overcome adverse odds to earn a playoff spot in 2014 but don't appear shaken by the stiff competition they'll face throughout the regular season.
The Jets are a confident bunch. They're both confident in second-year signal-caller Geno Smith and confident that head coach Rex Ryan is the right man for the job, despite the sixth-year head honcho formerly being labeled "on the hot seat."
According to Rich Cimini of ESPN New York, the Jets' strong finish to the 2013 season probably saved Ryan's job.
The Jets flaunt added intrigue in 2014, specifically because of key additions on both offense and defense. Former 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson has flashed elusive cut-back ability in two preseasons games whereas rookie safety Calvin Pryor showcased a brutal ability to level ball-carriers in open space during his debut.
The Jets are 2-0 in preseason action, but neither their first-team offense or first-team defense has appeared playoff-worthy. Certain players are turning heads, regardless.
The following slideshow highlights the Jets' five best preseason performers so far:
5. Geno Smith (QB)
The Jets' starting QB hasn't been rock solid through two preseason games, but he has done enough to prove that he's a more capable leader on offense in 2014 than he was during his rookie season.
Smith has completed 14 of 19 pass attempts for 131 yards and one interception in approximately three quarters of action. He has also rushed for 30 yards and one touchdown on five attempts. His one glaring mistake—the interception—appeared to be an instance of poor route running from receiver David Nelson.
Still, it's a quarterback's job to make sure the offense is on the same page.
Smith's 73.7 completion percentage is encouraging, especially considering his extreme lack of efficiency from a season ago. He looked sharp in delivering passes on time to open receivers against the Cincinnati Bengals, who ranked third in total defense in 2013.
For Smith to advance his development, he needs to do a better job of reading through his progressions. Smith showed signs of that in the Jets' first preseason game against the Colts but often targeted his primary receiver in Cincinnati.
4. Demario Davis (ILB)
The steady emergence of Demario Davis has the potential to make the Jets' front seven one of the best units in the NFL in 2014. Davis showed strong pass-coverage ability against the Bengals, registering one pass defensed while also recording two solo tackles and one sack.
Davis' continued improvement is a good thing for the Jets defense, which often struggled to prevent third-down receptions over the middle of the field in 2013. The seeming downside to Davis' ability to defend the pass is added pressure on the secondary to perform at a high level.
The Jets defensive backfield will be challenged all season. Gang Green boasted the best run defense in the NFL in 2013 per attempt (3.4 yards), which will force opposing offenses to throw the ball by default.
Having guys like Davis, who can cover some serious ground, planted in the middle of the field will help mitigate what could be the worst passing defense of Ryan's tenure as head coach.
Davis effectively manned the "Will" linebacker position during his first year as a starter in 2013, recording 64 tackles with 1.0 sack and one pass defensed.
3. A.J. Edds (ILB)
Former fourth-round pick A.J. Edds has been a bright spot throughout Jets camp, racking up tackles like it's no one's business. Edds has recorded a team-high 14 tackles, including one for loss, and a fumble recovery in two preseason games for the Jets.
Edds' worth ethic is evident on the field. He swarms opposing ball-carriers in a heartbeat, flashing strong tackling technique. His strength, durability and pure competitive nature make him a probable candidate to make the Jets' 53-man roster as a former long shot.
According to NFL.com, Edds' biggest flaw as a draft prospect in 2010 was his inability to read route progressions and challenge athletic receiving targets in man coverage. Four years later, he's excelling in Ryan's system.
Fifth-round draft pick Jeremiah George has seemingly fallen by the wayside due to the emergence of Edds and is likely bound for the practice squad.
2. IK Enemkpali (OLB)
Former Lousiana Tech standout IK Enemkpali has been a force to be reckoned with for the Jets during preseason action, recording a team-high two sacks and also flashing serious signs of athleticism on a blocked punt.
Enemkpali has excelled under Ryan's system—albeit against second- and third-team offensive players—while showing a strong ability to blast through the trenches and penetrate the backfield. This isn't new for Enemkpali, though.
He was brutally unstoppable in Conference USA last season, recording 41 total tackles, including 11.0 for loss, with 5.5 sacks and two interceptions.
Enemkpali's versatility as a pro-style linebacker who has experience manning the defensive line makes him an ideal fit for Ryan's 3-4 base defense. He's an explosive player who can operate in multiple formations on defense, increasing his value to the Jets defense.
1. Calvin Pryor (S)
The "Louisville Slugger" didn't disappoint in his NFL debut after being held out against the Colts due to concussion protocol.
Pryor's open-field tackling ability is going to be a much-needed component of the Jets defense in 2014, especially if the seemingly incapable tandem of Antonio Allen and Ellis Lankster draw first-team responsibilities at cornerback early in the season.
Pryor was exceptional against the Bengals, recording seven total tackles, including one for loss, with two passes defensed. At the moment, Pryor is presumed to be the Jets' No. 2 strong safety behind Allen, according to Ourlads.com, although that could soon change, given New York's situation at safety and Pryor's explosive debut.
Jaiquawn Jarrett started over Pryor at safety in Cincinnati but could potentially draw some first-team reps against the New York Giants on Friday night with the infamous Snoopy Trophy on the line.
Pryor's ability to read opposing quarterbacks and quickly react makes him difficult to beat in the open field. His natural instinct and strong tackling ability will make him the Jets' best option at safety come Week 1.