With the free agency frenzy relatively pacified, ESM looks back on the New York Jets’ March signings and ranks them by their 2021 impact.
The third month on the calendar has been filled with realized dreams, jaw-dropping surprises, and, quite simply, madness.
We are, of course, referring to the NFL’s free agency proceedings…what were you thinking?
Even in its dormant stages, the gridiron has matched the hardwood in drama and intensity through its annual transactional period. We’ve seen the metropolitan football landscape shift as both the New York Jets and Giants seek to claw their ways back to respectability.
From the former’s green standpoint, perhaps anything short of a perfect offseason renovation was going to be able to loosen the current stranglehold the Buffalo Bills have on the AFC East. But the Jets have had a solid, methodic offseason that has at least laid down the groundwork for the team’s potential redemption.
But which newly-minted Jets can have the biggest impact in 2021, in the short term future? ESM looks back on the Jets’ March signings and investigates…
1. RB Tevin Coleman
After the Le’Veon Bell debacle, it’s going to be a long, long time before the Jets break open the bank for a running back. Even so, a strong rushing attack can help remove some of the offensive burden from the quarterback, whether it’s a Sam Darnold desperate for stability or a rookie looking to get off to a good start. There’s potential in the La’Mical Perine-Ty Johnson-Josh Adams triumvirate, but veteran assistance was definitely needed.
Coleman was a rare carry-over from San Francisco for Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur. He struggled last season, dealing with a sprained knee for a majority of the year, but earned some vital carries during the 49ers’ run to the Super Bowl the year before. Coleman’s offensive firepower, capable of earning yards and scores through both rushing and receiving antics, is something the Jets have sorely lacked, as a shortage of big-play talent has stifled any progress they’ve been trying to make in the modern NFL.
2. WR Corey Davis
The Jets were without a big-play receiver after letting Robby Anderson walk to Carolina without much resistance and Denzel Mims’ NFL debut was delayed. Time will tell if Davis is capable of becoming a No. 1 receiver, a billing he never truly lived up to in Tennessee. But, for now, he grants further offensive stability and is a proven talent that knows how to play in big games, having partaken in three playoff treks in Nashville.
Despite falling just short of four digits in yardage, forced to the reserve/COVID-19 list, Davis is nonetheless coming off a career-best season (65 receptions, 984 yards, 5 touchdowns). Getting a young talent on the upswing was vital for this offense, and Davis was perhaps one of the better options available in that realm.
3. LB Jarrad Davis
While Saleh and the Jets avoided splurging on former 49ers, they were nonetheless able to acquire personnel that can seamlessly fit in what the new head coach is trying to do.
Davis never lived up to first-round billing in Detroit but was very successful in a 4-3 set under co-coordinators Randy Shannon and (current Georgia Tech boss) Geoff Collins. Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich have had success in the set before and will bring it over to New York. Having a relative expert in the field like Davis will help the transition.
4. DE Carl Lawson
Perhaps overshadowed by Geno Atkins in Cincinnati, Lawson has a prime opportunity to shine in New York. He couldn’t have arrived at a better time, as the Jets are faced with the prospect of two yearly meetings with both Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa, necessitating a strong pass rush. His versatility should allow him to contribute on the edge as both an end and a Linebacker. Lawson is particularly excited about working with what Saleh has to offer.
“I looked up some stuff on YouTube about Coach Saleh and I heard some stuff around the league,” Lawson said in his introductory statements, per team reporter Randy Lange. “Listening to some interviews, I came away with how impressive he was. Even in a video, he felt like he was talking to me. And then there was availability at the spot [on the D-line], so those were the first two things that really attracted me here.”
5. WR Keelan Cole
One can debate whether the Jets have a true “No. 1” receiver right now. But with Cole, Davis, and the returning Mims and Jamison Crowder, there’s some strong potential and a sizable arsenal for the quarterback to worth with. The arrival of Cole is just another weapon to work with and helps the Jets start the season with a far more experienced receiving corps. Making Cole even more valuable is the fact that he has carved a strong NFL path for himself despite a carousel of quarterbacks working their way through Jacksonville.
6. DT Sheldon Rankins
Rankins should be an instant starter on the Jets’ defense and is another versatile option that has lined up as an end, tackle, and nose. The revamped front seven can benefit from that flexibility and experience. Ranking, the 12th overall choice of New Orleans in 2016 should also serve as a great mentor to Quinnen Williams, who appears ready to follow in the Louisville alum’s footsteps.
“I watched the true impact defender that (Williams) really is, watching him flourish last year, but he’s really only scratching the surface,” Rankins said of his potential mentorship role, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “He’s still doing a lot of things of just being better than a lot of people. I think once you fine-tune some things…I’ve been around this game going on for six years now. I’ve seen a lot, been through a lot. I can give him some nuggets here and there.”
7. S LaMarcus Joyner
The Joe Douglas era has been relatively bereft of long-term deals, and Joyner’s one-year offer ($3 million) was no exception. He should probably take over the primary strong safety spot alongside Marcus Maye as the 30-year-old searches for some long-term roots after spending the last two seasons with the migrating Raiders.
If anything, Joyner can be a strong mentor to previous third-round choice Ashtyn Davis, who enters a de facto second rookie season after his original was marred by injuries.
8. TE Tyler Kroft
When’s the last time the Jets have had a reliable red zone target? Scoring has been a major concern in the first place, but they could use someone able to create the necessary red zone separation. There was hope Chris Herndon could be that scorer, but he hasn’t matched the firepower of a strong rookie season.
Kroft probably isn’t going to challenge Herndon for the top spot just yet, but he can be that option for a quarterback in desperate need of stability. Each of the Rutgers alum’s dozen career touchdown receptions has come from 20 yards or fewer, including three from Josh Allen last season, including the game-winner in a September win over the Rams. Kroft has also earned positive reviews for his blocking, indirectly addressing an area of need that has unfortunately been otherwise neglected.
9. G Dan Feeney
Going into the offseason, the Jets’ most pressing need was not the quarterback, but the protection in front of him. Thus far, the Jets have done little to remedy the situation as Feeney, high in personality but low on the analytical ranking lists, is the only offensive line acquisition they’ve made thus far, thrusting a brighter spotlight upon him.
It’s unknown exactly where Feeney will fit in on the Jets’ official depth chart. The best estimation right now probably has him backing up Greg Van Roten at right guard. But, at least until the Jets add some protection through the draft, he’s the only difference from last season and he might get called upon to make some changes, especially in the interior.
10. CB Justin Hardee
Hardee is officially listed as a cornerback, but it’s far more likely he’ll bolster the Jets’ coverage units. When you’re a team like the Jets, one that struggles to score, pinning the opponent deep on kickoffs and punts remains vital. Hardee, a mainstay amongst the top special teams tackle leaders, should help the Jets improve on their punts, as they allowed 11.7 yards per return last season (27th in the NFL), a number that could’ve been higher if not for some crucial stops by Braden Mann.
11. DE Vinny Curry
Curry has had his moments of NFL glory, but no one’s expecting the nine-sacks, four-forced fumble season he earned in 2014. Last season in Philadelphia showed that the 33-year-old still has some power left in the tank, so he can serve as a reliable depth option, which could’ve come in handy last season when Jabari Zuniga and Kyle Phillips went down. It’s more likely, though, he’ll be used in more of a mentorship role for Williams and Foley Fatukasi.
12. LB Del’Shawn Phillips
The former JUCO star has an inspiring story, working his way into a Big Ten school (Illinois) after academic ineligibility ended his original Division I dreams at Western Michigan. Even with the Jets’ issues at linebacker, Phillips likely faces an uphill battle to reach the Week 1 lineup.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags