New York Jets: 4 Bold predictions for the 2017 season

Jan 1, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Christian Hackenberg (5) warms up before a game against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

With training camp still over two months away, it’s time to peer into the crystal ball and make four bold predictions for the New York Jets in 2017.

The start of training camp is still over two months away for the New York Jets, but OTAs commence on May 23 and the team’s three-day minicamp begins on June 13. With the 2017 NFL Draft now in the rear view mirror, it’s a good time to reflect on how much Gang Green improved their roster via the draft and free agency while also looking ahead and pondering what the Jets might accomplish during the 2017 NFL season.

There is no doubt that New York is in full-blown rebuilding mode. That’s fine with Jets fans as long as they know that the team is enriching their roster with young, quality players. Building a playoff contender takes time. Gang Green fans are fine with that — to a point. The Jets need to be pointed in the right direction or the patience of their fans will be severely tested.

Now is a good time to peer into the crystal ball and make four bold predictions for the upcoming 2017 campaign. May we have the envelope please.

Nov 13, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (81) catches a pass as Los Angeles Rams cornerback Troy Hill (32) defends at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

4. Quincy Enunwa will compile 1,200 receiving yards

While Leonard Williams was one of the few bright spots on the defensive side of the ball for the Jets in 2016, wide receiver Quincy Enunwa was arguably the offensive MVP for New York last year.

The University of Nebraska product enjoyed a breakout season with a career-high 857 receiving yards, 452 more than the previous season. A sixth-round pick (209th overall) in the 2014 NFL Draft, Enunwa also had a career-high 58 receptions and scored four touchdowns while averaging 14.8 yards a catch.

The Moreno Valley, CA native has breakaway speed in the open field and has shown excellent YAC (yards after catch) ability. Brandon Marshall was released  by the Jets and signed with the New York Giants earlier this year, so there is an opportunity for Enunwa to step up into the No. 1receiver role this coming season, even if Eric Decker is still on the team.

Sure, the quarterback situation is in a state of flux as presently constituted for New York, but don’t forget that Enunwa had his stellar season last year with Ryan Fitzpatrick as his main quarterback. As we all know, the bearded signal-caller suffered through a dreadful 2016 campaign with a putrid 45.4 quarterback rating. So Enunwa has shown the ability to shine no matter who is under center. Don’t be surprised if Enunwa even makes the Pro Bowl in 2017.

Dec 17, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles coaches against the Miami Dolphins during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

3. The Jets will not finish last in the AFC East

The doomsayers seem to be everywhere: The Jets will be brutal in 2017. Gang Green will be vying for the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. They are destined for last place again in the AFC East. I have three friends that are knowledgeable Jets fans and not one of them thinks that New York will finish with more than five wins in 2017.

Even Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News is predicting a 4-12 record for the Jets this coming season. I respectfully disagree. I realize there is a lot of doom and gloom out there, but one thing I’ve learned as a long-time fan of Gang Green is that when expectations are very low, the Jets usually overachieve to some degree. Conversely, when expectations are high, the Jets always seem to underachieve.

With the influx of rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, the Jets should vastly improve their defensive secondary from last year. Fellow rookie wide receivers ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen are both physical receivers that excel in YAC. Couple that with strong bounce-back seasons from Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson and a Pro Bowl campaign from Leonard Williams and I predict that New York finishes with a 7-9 ledger, good enough for third place in the AFC East.

So who places dead last? The Buffalo Bills will own that dubious distinction at 6-10.

May 5, 2017; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets player Jamal Adams (33) during New York Jets mini rookie camp at Atlantic Health Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

2. Rookie safety Jamal Adams will be named to the Pro Bowl

It’s not easy to make the Pro Bowl, especially in your rookie season. However Jamal Adams will be named to the all-star classic, becoming the first Jets safety to be so honored since LaRon Landry in 2012. Landry was already a six-year NFL veteran at the time of his selection.

The LSU product was the sixth-overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft and many scouts and player personnel people thought that Adams was the best prospect on the board. He does everything well.

Adams has excellent coverage skills, is a fierce tackler and has leadership qualities that go through the roof. He can play both free and strong safety and has been known to come up into the box to help stop the run. Adams can also cover the slot and tight ends effectively and has the speed and athleticism to close on the ball when in the air. The sky appears to be the limit for the 6-1, 214-pounder from Lewisville, TX.

Here is what Pro Football Focus had to say about Adams:

The biggest knock on Adams is that he doesn’t have freaky range. That shouldn’t stop him being a top safety at the next level, and when you look at his body of work in college, there’s every reason to believe he is going to develop into a very special player.

If he stays healthy, Adams should be a perennial Pro Bowl player. Yes, he’s that good.

Sep 1, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New York Jets quarterback Christian Hackenberg (5) looks to pass against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second half at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles defeated the Jets, 14-6. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

1. Christian Hackenberg will start the season opener

Of all the storylines that will be on display at Jets training camp this July, the battle for the starting quarterback position will undoubtedly be the most interesting — and most important. The combatants will be veteran Josh McCown, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg.  Yikes, that’s an ugly trio.

At first glance, you might think that the favorite to open the season would be McCown, a 15-year veteran with 14,242 passing yards and 79 career touchdown passes to his credit. McCown could be a placeholder for one season while the other two young quarterbacks watch and learn. What purpose would that serve though? McCown will be 38 years old when training camp opens and he’s been a backup for most of his NFL career. Let him hold a clipboard in 2017 — it’s time to look towards the future.

Petty appears to be option No. 2, but he was pretty unimpressive in his four starts for Gang Green last season — his QB rating was a dismal 19.4 — so all eyes should turn to Hackenberg, a second-round pick (51st overall) in the 2016 NFL Draft.

The Jets have a lot invested in the Penn State product and it’s time to see what he can do on the gridiron. Hackenberg is not going to progress standing on the sideline; he needs to start the season opener at Buffalo on Sept. 10. This is a rebuilding year anyway. Not much is expected of New York. There is no better time to find out how the 6-4, 223-pound signal-caller can perform in regular season NFL action than the present.

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