Every year there are a select group of players that will need to go above and beyond to stay with the team. There are one year wonders that fall from grace, players who could never get their feet off the ground, and even draft busts that were kept on the team solely because of where they were selected. Jets fans know all too well about these kinds of players especially when it comes to draft busts. What is Vernon Gholston doing these days? On the other hand there are players who come out of nowhere and perform at a level no one expected. Jets fans also know these kinds of players. Aaron Maybin was thought to be done in the NFL and completely resurrected his career with the Jets. Mike Devito was never a big name but he definitely performs like one. Sione Pouha started off very slow with the Jets and now is one of the defensive leaders. Going into the upcoming season there are players that meet the requirements from each group. Only the strong survive in the NFL, the question is who will make the cut and be a long term option for this team?
The best way to decipher the severity of how big this upcoming season will be for certain players is to compare them to other players who may also be in doubt. Here is the list of the players and specific groups who need to step up this season to latch on long-term.
11) Josh Baker- He is a great athlete with nothing but upside. The reason his spot may be in doubt after this upcoming season stems from his lack of a position. Baker plays both fullback and tight end but doesn’t start at either position. The odds of Baker starting at tight end are nonexistent with Keller and Cumberland on this team. There is an off chance that Baker may be able to latch on as the starting fullback if John Conner stays in the doghouse. With minimal chance of securing a starting job at any position, Baker needs to perform at a high level to show the coaches he deserves a roster spot.
10 Patrick Turner- The Jets receiving core is stocked full of talent which is a breath of fresh air to say the least. Based on this there is a chance that Turner may not even make the team, although the odds are in his favor. The top four receivers are basically set in stone with Holmes, Hill, Kerley, and Schilens which leaves two spots open for numerous men. Even if Turner makes the team this year he will have young talent nipping at his heels. Jordan White, DaMarcus Ganaway, and Scotty McKnight are some players who may put pressure on Turner’s spot. He needs to play at 100% every time he sees the field because his playing time will be limited. His connection with Mark Sanchez is a big reason why Turner was brought to New York; it is his time to prove why he needs to stay there.
9 Winner of both kicking battles- There are four men fighting for two spots. There will be camp battles with the best man taking the job. Josh Brown will be going against Nick Folk and TJ Conley will be going toe to toe with Travis Baltz. From a fans perspective these competitions are scary and even the winner may not be up to par. You have a 75% kicker in Josh Brown facing a 76% kicker in Nick Folk. Hitting 3 out of 4 field goals just is not good enough in the NFL. Both men need to turn it around or neither will last with the team passed next season. One of the Jets biggest holes is at the punting position. Field position is extremely important and the Jets simply did not have the punter to help them in that category. If Baltz can outperform Conley in training camp and preseason the job is his. It seems anything is better than Conley at this point.
8 Hayden Smith- Everyone wants to strike it rich and find the next Antonio Gates. Players like this have great risk but also a chance of great reward. Hayden Smith was a rugby and basketball player, not a football player. Not only does he need to learn the playbook, he needs to learn the whole entire sport in a short time. The tight end class is very deep at receiving tight end which doesn’t help Smith’s cause. This next season will be a trial period, what he does with it is up to him.
7 Eric Smith- Anyone who watches Jets games regularly knew that the team had to upgrade the safety position in order to keep up with teams such as the New England Patriots. The core last year got demolished by what seemed to be every tight end they faced. The Jets brought in LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell to boost the position. They also drafted Josh Bush and Antonio Allen to build a pretty impressive young core around the older veterans. Eric Smith has gone from starter to backup when LaRon Landry is healthy. The team simply replaced him which does not bode well for his future passed this upcoming season.
6 Kenrick Ellis- His legal issues may be behind him and his time has been served, but he needs to step up to stay on this team. Last year he was a healthy scratch numerous times and it raises questions. It seems much harder to cut draft picks especially when they are picked as high as Ellis was. The Jets cut their loses with Gholston but it is highly doubtful that Ellis is another Vernon Gholston. There is no reason why Ellis should not beat out Martin Tevaseu for a roster spot and if he can’t do that then he does not have what it takes to be on this team.
5 Bart Scott- There are rumblings in the Jets organization that Bart Scott currently looks better than ever. If he can play better than ever he will have a chance to secure his job and possibly an extension. Right behind him on the depth chart is Demario Davis, a man who was a vocal leader in college as well as an absolute brawler on the field. If Scott stumbles at all it is expected that Davis will jump in and take over the position. Bart Scott simply “can’t wait” to perform when the season starts or it will be his last year with the team.
4 LaRon Landry- LaRon hits opponents with unbelievable force and was signed by the team to be a starter. Sounds like a perfect fit besides one very big issue. It is an issue that plagued Landry’s career, I am of course talking about injuries. When healthy, Landry is a great player, but it is questionable if he can withstand an entire season injury free. If he does go down with an injury it will be out with the new and in with the old which is Eric Smith. If he can stay healthy Landry could be great in Rex Ryan's system lessening Eric Smith's playing time in the process.
3 The Running Back Core-When you think of the Jets mindset the phrase “ground and pound” comes to mind because the coaches say it all the time. The NFL is a passing league but the Jets are an old school based team and need to have a great running back to keep up with other teams. Shonn Greene broke the 1,000 yard rushing total last year but it still doesn’t seem like he is an NFL feature back. Greene’s backups are also very shaky which causes concern for the team. The team will most likely carry only three to four running backs which means the backups need to step up to get a roster spot. Joe McKnight needs to prove he can be a full time backup or he could be designated to return duties. The running back battle is wide open with Ganaway, Powell, and Griffin to pick up one or two spots. If one of these players show they can be great Greene and McKnight may lose carries.
2) Mark Sanchez- Two words, Tim Tebow. When your backup has more supporters than your starter there may be issues that need to be resolved. Statistically Sanchez is getting better as a quarterback year after year but his decision making needs to improve. Sanchez has more pressure on him than he ever had in the past. He either needs to rise to the occasion or he could get overtaken in a quarterback battle. Sanchez is surrounded by so much talent at wide receiver there is no excuse to not prosper in this offense. The team will be running more this upcoming season so Sanchez should be fresh and be able to operate better. If he fails in this current situation he will lose his job and possibly his future with this team.
1) Vladimir Ducasse and Wayne Hunter- It is fitting that these two men share the top spot because they enjoyed sharing in missed coverage last year. From the very beginning Vladimir Ducasse was a turnstile for the defense to get an open shot on Sanchez. He improved slightly but still is not at an NFL level for a right tackle. He was drafted to eventually start but that notion seems absurd at this point. Wayne Hunter is a player that best serves as a backup plain and simple. When he was asked to start things went haywire and he never got on track. The fact that Wayne Hunter is penciled in to start the season makes right tackle the biggest hole on the team by a landslide. Don't be surprised if Austin Howard starts at right tackle if Hunter and Ducasse falter in any way.