All eyes are on Sam Darnold, but the Super Bowl drought won’t end this year. Darnold is going to make mistakes and experience some growing pains. The Jets hope he doesn’t experience much physical pain though, especially behind a line that’s projected as one of the worst in the league. The Jets allowed 47 sacks last season, tied for the seventh most. But Darnold has shown mobility and awareness, which are important traits to have on this team. He also has a good veteran and pro to learn from in last year’s starter Josh McCown. The Jets have no standouts at the other skill positions. But they have a collection of quality players and depth at each spot to play in new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates’ system that combines a West-Coast style passing game with an outside zone blocking running scheme. The receiving core is decent when healthy. Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa, who missed all of last season, should vie for No. 1 receiver status, while Jermaine Kearse and Terrelle Pryor give the Jets a solid group. They like rookie tight end Chris Herndon and what he can become. They also have Eric Tomlinson and last year’s fifth-round pick Jordan Leggett for that spot.
The Jets have two every-down backs in Bilal Powell and former Brown Isaiah Crowell. Powell will start, but both have been productive and good pass-catchers. The more weapons and options the better for Darnold.
The Jets have talented, young defensive players, and they spent money filling some holes. But the Jets still need an edge rusher, badly. It’s the most glaring weakness for a defense that ranked fifth from the bottom in the NFL last year with 28 sacks. The Jets couldn’t swing a trade for Khalil Mack, but they still have free-agent money and draft picks that they can use to fill this void. Bottom line, the Jets have to find a way to put more pressure on the quarterback. “It is a passing league so at some point in time you got to affect the quarterback,” coordinator Kacy Rodgers said. Pro Football Focus has the Jets ranked last in the league in pass-rush defense coming into this season. Todd Bowles talked about possibly using a rotation at outside linebacker. Josh Martin and Jordan Jenkins — the two combined for 4.5 sacks last season — are expected to start with newly signed Jeremiah Attaochu, who has 10 career sacks, and Brandon Copeland in the mix. Fourth-year defensive end Leonard Williams, this defense’s best player, had a strong camp and preseason as he looks to be more effective as a pass-rusher after a disappointing two-sack season. Rookie Nathan Shepherd has earned the other starting end job in the 3-4 scheme with Steve McLendon (if healthy) and Mike Pennel at nose guard. The Jets inked former Titans inside linebacker Avery Williamson to play next to Darron Lee and replace Demario Davis, who led the team in tackles last year. The Jets secondary should be their defensive strength. Second-year safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye are aggressive players with bright futures and they have more help. The Jets’ big offseason signing came at corner, where they gave ex-Ram Trumaine Johnson a five-year, $72.5 million contract. Johnson is a legit No. 1 corner and one of the better ones in the league. His arrival moved Morris Claiborne to No. 2 corner spot and will allow Buster Skrine to play more in the slot, where he is comfortable. With the talent back there Bowles could blitz more.
There’s nothing special about this unit. It was a mess during training camp and the preseason. In the third game against the Giants, the Jets special teams committed four penalties, coughed up a kickoff, missed an extra point and allowed 145 punt return yards and a touchdown. The Giants, incidentally, totaled 148 punt return yards all of last season. The Jets are hoping speedy rookie running Trenton Cannon could be the next Tarik Cohen, an explosive returner as a rookie for the Bears last season. But Cannon muffed kickoffs and punts in practice and games. He is a work in progress as a returner, but he’s a quick, elusive runner. The more experienced and proven Andre Roberts is the safer bet right now, particularly for punts. The kicking game was unsettled for much of camp with former Jaguar Jason Myers winning the job, but the Jets were still working out kickers leading into the opener. Lachlan Edwards, who was tied for third last year with 33 punts downed inside the 20, returns as punter.