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Team previews: New York Jets fantasy report
Can we send “Hard Knocks” back to New York?
It made for great television and a host of sound bytes and storylines, and the Jets lived up to the hype with a huge run into the AFC Championship Game against the Steelers. Rex Ryan deflects much of the attention away from his team with his boisterous personality and bravado. Well, he deflects as much as he can when trying to out-talk or out-Tweet Bart Scott and some of the powerhouse personalities on the New York roster.
What’s in store for the Jets in 2011? Many of the pieces are in place for another deep run into the playoffs, but free agency looms for several of the biggest components of this squad.
Mark Sanchez enters his third season as the Jets’ signal caller, and he’s taken on a much larger leadership role this offseason. Sanchez has been running players through their paces in the “Jets West” workouts.
In 2010, Sanchez enjoyed the arrival of Santonio Holmes (post-suspension) and a more balanced play-calling process that saw him attempt 143 more passes than he did as a rookie. As a result, Sanchez increased his yardage output by 42.8 yards per game. However, his completion percentage improved by only one percent. He’ll face challenges in this third year as questions surround the receiving corps (see below).
Sanchez’s primary backup as of this writing is 40-year old Mark Brunell, who remains under contract for another season. Brunell appeared in two games for the Jets last season and completed 7-of-13 attempts for 117 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Kellen Clemens, the Jets’ former second-round selection, is still on the roster and will be challenged by rookie Greg McElroy (seventh round out of Alabama).
Rex Ryan’s squad is built on attitude. The defense gets its sound from Bart Scott. The offensive line just blows up opponents at the line of scrimmage (and works around Vince Wilfork of the Patriots). New York ranked fourth in rushing offense last season, first in 2009 and ninth in 2008. D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold continue to anchor this unit. The rest of the line (Brandon Moore, Matt Slauson and Vladimir Ducasse) was grown internally. Moore was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2002. Slauson was drafted in the third round of 2009 and Ducasse was added in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Shonn Greene was expected to assume the lead role for the Jets last season, but ceded much of the workload to veteran LaDainian Tomlinson. That isn’t to say that Greene was left a bystander, as he did still amass 201 touches (185 carries) and 886 total yards. He’s looming as a very large figure for the Jets this season, and fantasy owners, though possibly reluctant, are starting to recognize him as a starter in early drafts.
Tomlinson has spoken of stepping back and playing the second role behind Greene. He remains a strong receiver out of the backfield (52 receptions in 2010) and posted 4.2 yards per carry behind the strong New York offensive line, an improvement of nearly one full yard over his 2009 efforts.
Another player who may factor into the rotation as a change-of-pace player and injury replacement is second-year running back Joe McKnight out of USC. McKnight averaged 4.8 yards per carry on 39 attempts at a rookie, 32 of which came in the finale against the deplorable Buffalo run defense. He potentially becomes a receiving option should an injury befall LaDainian Tomlinson. That’s certainly not Greene’s strength.
It’s potentially a huge season of change in the New York receiving corps. Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith are all set to enter free agency when the new CBA gets ratified. Holmes will undoubtedly be the first priority for New York management. Edwards has spoken directly about his desire to return to the Jets, indicating that the team could receive a hometown discount. Smith has been much less optimistic about his chances of returning to the team.
Another wrinkle in the rumor mill and chatter is the potential arrival of Randy Moss. The mercurial veteran bounced between teams last season, but still produced a couple of highlight-reel worthy receptions against the Jets.
Lest we forget, the Jets drafted Sanchez’s friend (and current running mate of Hayden Panettiere) Scotty McKnight in the seventh round after selecting Jeremy Kerley in the fifth round.
Dustin Keller established new career marks in each of the standard categories, though fantasy owners would have liked to see him factor into the red zone offense in the final three quarters of the season (he scored all five of his touchdowns between Weeks 2 and 4). Still, Keller caught three or more passes in 11 of 15 games and topped 40 receiving yards on seven occasions.
Nick Folk converted 30-of-39 field goal attempts in his first season for the Jets. Six of his nine misses came from distances of at least 40 yards (three from 50+). Folk certainly had his issues along the way, much as he did during his tenure in Dallas. Still, though the team likely brings in competition during camp, I suspect that Folk will be booting behind this efficient machine again.
The Jets ranked sixth in total defense last season behind the stellar effort of the defensive line (90.9 rushing yards allowed per game) and fantastic play at cornerback from Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis. New York will need to make a decision on whether to keep those bookends intact, as Cromartie is expected to be one of the most sought-after free agents this summer.
The other decision point for the front-seven concerns Shaun Ellis. The veteran defensive end has spoken of his desire to return to New York, much like receiver Braylon Edwards. His departure or that of veteran sackmaster Jason Taylor, who put off retirement to join the Jets in 2010, would leave the team searching for pass-rushing support.