Five New York Jets have earned captaincy patches for the 2021 season, including three newcomers to the fold.
The New York Jets unveiled their five new captains for the 2021 season on Wednesday, as Corey Davis, Foley Fatukasi, Justin Hardee, C.J. Mosley, and Zach Wilson will have a C stitched to their jersey. Davis and Wilson will lead the offense while Fatukasi and Mosley represent the defense. Hardee received the honor on special teams.
“The best-coached teams are the teams that coach themselves and have especially veteran leadership to step in and voice their opinions and have a thought on how they can make things better,” head coach Robert Saleh said in a statement on the Jets’ website by Randy Lange. “I think that’s always important. It’s a machine, and they’re a big, big part of it. Obviously, I would always appreciate their voice.”
What’s particularly interesting about this new crop of captains is their relative lack of experience in a New York uniform. Fatukasi accounts for 30 of the 32 games in green among them, with Mosley accounting for the lingering pair. The Jets did retain two of their captains from 2020 (keeping tackle George Fant and safety Marcus Maye) but their titles did not return.
Wilson’s inclusion, coming days before his official NFL debut, likely shows the effect and impact he has had on the New York locker room in the early going, as captains are named based on results via a player vote. The early accolade was no surprise to Saleh, however.
I think it’s more of a testament to him and the way he’s been able to conduct himself here,” Saleh said in a report from Brian Costello of the New York Post. “If you go to the cafeteria, he’s hanging out with his O linemen. He’s got an infectious personality. It’s a credit to him and the way he’s handled himself so far.”
The other captains’ lack of games in green are likely offset by their extensive playoff experience: Mosley and Davis were respective AFC playoff staples in Baltimore and Tennessee while Hardee established himself as one of the league’s best special teams coverage names during New Orleans’ recent postseason runs.
Meanwhile, Fatukasi is coming off a breakout season that saw him set new career-highs in tackles (42) and sacks (2). The fourth-year pro is reminding some of the previous defensive captain Steve McLendon, who was dealt to Tampa Bay at last year’s trade deadline.
“He’s been a tremendous friend, mentor, brother to a lot of people. I was fortunate, we were fortunate as players, as friends, to have him around. But as he would tell me, the show’s still going, you have to keep going,” Fatukasi said of McLendon in another report from Lange. “I feel pretty confident, pretty good about us,” he said. “We understand we have a lot of work to get done, we have to keep sharpening our tools. But I feel like we’re coming along, taking the right steps. You know all the guys in our room, I could list all their names, but they’re all selfless. We all care about each other so far and the amount of progress that we’ve made in such a short time knowing each other has been good.”
The Jets will open their season against one of their former captains, quarterback Sam Darnold, when they take on the Carolina Panthers on Sunday afternoon (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
The lack of a proven force in the New York Jets’ cornerback group didn’t stop Robert Saleh from clearly defining his expectations.
The macabre gift of the New York Jets’ 2020 season was that things became so dire that any move they made over the offseason could’ve been viewed as an improvement. But the Jets’ offseason to-do list could stretch from one end zone to the other after a disastrous two-win season. Even with a cap space surplus, some area on the modern depth chart was going to be neglected and prevent the Jets from becoming immediate contenders.
It’s not hard to find the affected areas.
With matchups against four of the top five passing units from last season looming on their upcoming schedule (Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Houston, Atlanta), the Jets’ secondary remains undermanned and inexperienced as kickoff weekend approaches. The safeties at least have a slight safety blanket (pun intended) with Marcus Maye back on a franchise tag and Lamarcus Joyner, one of only five New Yorkers who are at least 30 years old, coming over from Las Vegas.
The Jets’ front line in the secondary, the cornerback area, leaves much to be desired. Only newcomer Justin Hardee (115 defensive snaps over the past three years) has more than two seasons of NFL experience and he was primarily brought in for his special teams expertise. Four cornerbacks have no experience at all, as the Jets spent the Saturday of draft weekend adding new names to the ranks. Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, and Brandin Echols arrived in the draft’s later rounds while Isaiah Dunn was added through undrafted free agency.
At the top of the depth chart, Bless Austin and Bryce Hall…a combined 23 starts between them…are set to take starring roles. Behind them lies a hodgepodge of journeymen (Corey Ballentine, Bennett Jackson) and undrafted youngsters (Javelin Guidry, Zane Lewis, Elijah Campbell, Lamar Jackson…no, not that one, obviously).
Head coach Robert Saleh isn’t worried.
One would perhaps expect Saleh, a defensive coach in several assistant stops throughout the NFL, to assemble a more worthy group of defenders for his first year as a head coach. When that proved to be unfeasible, Saleh worked with management to come to a relative compromise of stocking up on young secondary talent on draft weekend Saturday after spending the first two days preparing for the new franchise quarterback’s arrival. So far, he’s happy with the young clay that he gets to mold in his first season at the New York helm.
Saleh doesn’t care about where they’ve been or how they were obtained. He carries one burning question for his new young talents, one he carries with him from his days as the defensive boss in San Francisco.
“Can you win on third down? That’s pretty much it. It’s that simple,” Saleh said on Thursday, per notes from the Jets. “When you’re looking at traits, we had Richard Sherman, who’s all of 6-3, long, incredibly smart, and we’ve had Jason Verrett, who’s all of 5-9, strong and wiry.”
“So they come in all shapes and sizes but the dog mentality, the ability to win in man coverage, the fearlessness to get up there in press (coverage) and win one-on-ones. That’s what matters, because at the end of the day, when it’s crunch time and you’ve got to win in football, it comes down to your ability to win in one-on-one, whether it’s man, zone, however you want to count it.”
The current starters’ respective battles with gridiron adversity are particularly inspiring to a New York team desperate to overcome relentless vibes and reminders of the “same old Jets” concept. Austin, a Queens native, enjoyed a breakout sophomore season at Rutgers but injuries limited him to only five more games in Piscataway over his last two seasons. Hall might’ve been an opening round pick in 2019, but an injury sustained during his senior year banished him to the Saturday wilderness.
To their credit, Austin and Hall have garnered positive reviews in their early camp showings. Brian Costello of the New York Post said that Hall “looks like he is ready to make a jump” in his sophomore season while Austin has been a thorn in the side of Zach Wilson early on. Saleh has been pleased with the early returns, once bringing up the size differences in analyzing each defender.
“Bryce is so long and big. Bless is obviously more wiry and twitchy, but they both have an incredible mindset to get up there, get in your face, use their length, use their athleticism,” Saleh said. “What we’ve been doing defensively is we teach a little bit different of a man technique, obviously, and our zones. So try to get them the reps they need to be able to blend the two is not easy and it does take time, but these guys have gotten better every day.”
Just because Austin and Hall have the early edge, however, doesn’t mean that Saleh is going to simply hand the primary duties for them. Saleh has been proud to work the rookie defenders into the rotation, namely calling out Echols and Dunn for “(earning) the right to get a little peek at getting some run with the ones”. He’s also excited for the ongoing nickel group, which appears to consist of Campbell, Carter, and Guidry.
Saleh had a prime opportunity to add in some veteran talent. Both Sherman and Verrett, his former Bay Area proteges, were available on the free agent market, but he opted for a young revolution that can allow for the Jets’ new staff, headlined by Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich to shape their new secondary in their image. Saleh compared the feeling to a roller-coaster on the Garden State Parkway.
“When you’re dealing with young guys, the excitement is like when you’re driving on the freeway and you’re on (empty), you’re like, ‘When’s it going to happen?’ It’s like a roller coaster, but at the same time, you see an unbelievable amount of growth happen from play-in and play-out, and day-in and day-out,” Saleh said. “I’ve seen teams win, I’ve seen teams have growth, you see everything. I’ve seen veteran teams lose, it’s a matter of gaining confidence, gelling, having the ball bounce your way and really getting confidence, and this group is a very confident group, it’s a very young, confident group.”
“They’re having a lot of success here in training camp and when they get to go against Green Bay, and Philadelphia, the Giants, and they get to test themselves against other players, I think that’s where you’ll start to see the identity of this team kind of take shape.
A New York Jets kicking competition is set to commence under the watch of the seemingly immortal coordinator Brant Boyer.
Following the conclusion of minicamp activities, the NFL offseason is officially over. The next time the New York Jets convene in Florham Park, they’ll be getting ready for preseason and regular season action for the 2021 campaign.
With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. Our look back on the offseason comes to an end by wrapping up with special teams…
Much has been made about the constant turnover in the Jets’ franchise quarterback role. But compared to what’s happened in the kicker’s role, that role is among the stable in football.
Since Jason Myers’ historic 2018 campaign…and after the Jets let him abscond to Seattle without much resistance…six different kickers (three alone during the 2019 preseason) have tried and failed to pick up where he left off. Lacking a reliable kicker for two straight seasons is always unacceptable, but missing one during a would-be franchise quarterback developmental years is gridiron doomsday.
Sam Ficken, to his credit, was refreshingly close to ending the trend. His three-point attempts were the one thing that was going right for the Jets over the opening portions of their 2020 season, converting each of his first nine attempts (five alone coming in a nationally televised showdown against Denver). But a groin injury suffered in October derailed his season, forcing the Jets to turn to CFL/XFL veteran Sergio Castillo before staging a meaningless finale with Chase McLaughlin.
Sixth-round pick Braden Mann was one of the busiest men in football last season. He was called upon to punt it away a league-high 82 times, but his 43.9 average was 28th in football. While the Jets would like to see him move up the stat ledger (though, ideally, he won’t be on the field as often this season), Mann did manage to go somewhat viral for some touchdown saving tackles.
In the return game, receiver Braxton Berrios has been reliable on punts. Over the last two seasons, Berrios is one of six returners (min. 30 attempts) to average at least 10 yards (fifth-best at 10.5). On kicks, Giants draft pick and cornerback Corey Ballentine was a pleasant surprise as a late arrival, averaging over 26 yards per return over the last six weeks.
Long snapper Thomas Hennessy lived up to the four-year extension he earned in the midst of the 2019 season and completed another incident-free season.
How It’s Going
Never mind cockroaches; when the apocalypse comes, Brant Boyer might be the last living thing to stick it out. The special teams coordinator was the sole survivor of the post-Adam Gase coaching purge, having also survived the erasure of Todd Bowles’ army.
“So many people called on his his behalf,” head coach Robert Saleh said of Boyer in January, per team reporter Ethan Greenberg. “He’s held in such high regard.”
The Jets spent this offseason delivering Boyer some welcome back gifts. He was particularly excited about the arrival of cornerback Justin Hardee, who became one of the NFL’s most respected gunners in New Orleans. Hardee was added on a three year deal and will certainly help a punt return unit that allowed over 11 yards a return last season, the sixth-worst mark in the league. In comparison, Hardee’s Saints allowed less than three.
“I was ecstatic on that one,” Boyer said in video from the Jets. “We played 13 different gunners last year, so it was a real struggle.” Boyer was also pleased about the leadership role Hardee took in the specialists’ room. “He’s been fantastic, and what he’s done is he’s taken over a leadership role in the room, and that’s what the biggest thing we needed in our room especially losing a bunch of our core guys and things like that.”
“We just need somebody to emerge at that other gunner, so they can’t double (Hardee) every time…we’ll see what happens, which I fully expect someone will do.”
The answer to Boyer’s quandary could lie within the latter rounds of the draft. Defensive project and sixth round pick Hamsah Nasirildeen was an elite gunner during his freshman year at Florida State (seven tackles in special teams coverage) while Brandin Echols served in specialist duties during his JUCO days.
In the return game, Berrios should be retained on punts, while Ballentine could face competition on kickoffs from running backs Michael Carter (24.5 average in his junior year at North Carolina) and Ty Johnson (27.2 in his senior year at Maryland).
Ficken was waived in December but was retained on a future deal. He’ll face competition from undrafted rookie Chris Naggar (AAC Special Teams Player of the Year at Southern Methodist) to retain his role.
Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Are They Better Off?
As the Jets try to return to relevancy, they can’t overlook their special teams group. They’re preparing to embark on yet another quarterback development adventure with Zach Wilson as the lead protagonist and special teams can make an immediate difference in terms of helping him earn wins and losses.
When the new quarterback reaches opposing territory, a reliable kicker can ensure such drives end with points, building his confidence. If Mann takes a step forward and Hardee lives up to his sterling gunner reputation, the opponent can start in dire straits, and make the defense’s job a lot easier.
Much like his work on the offensive line, it’s good to see that general manager Joe Douglas is willing to valuable offseason capital on special teams, though it’s time for the arrivals to start rewarding his faith on the field. Adding elite, proven names in the arena like Hardee and Carter losses the pressure.
Final Offseason Grade: B-
How do you think the Jets’ special teams contribute to their resurgence? Follow Geoff Magliocchetti on Twitter @GeoffJMags and keep the conversation going.
The New York Jets’ draft and free agency classes all received their metropolitan numerals for the 2021 season.
The New York Jets’ free agency and draft classes received their official numbers for their first seasons in green on Monday. ESM looks at what the newcomers will be rocking once the season gets underway…
No. 23 Tevin Coleman
Coleman wore 26 in prior stops in Atlanta and San Francisco, but it’s probably best for the Jets to avoid rushers wearing No. 26 for a while after the Le’Veon Bell debacle.
Notable No. 23’s in Jets History: RB Shonn Greene, DB Shafer Suggs
No. 25 Brandin Echols
Echols, a sixth-round pick appears to be sharing No. 25 with rusher Ty Johnson, as the 26 he wore at Kentucky is taken by fellow defensive back Elijah Campbell.
Notable No. 25’s in Jets History: S Kerry Rhodes, RB Scott Dierking, S Calvin Pryor
No. 29 Lamarcus Joyner
Joyner will be wearing a number previously borne by fan-favorite rusher and returner Leon Washington, who’s now on the Jets’ coaching staff.
Notable No. 29’s in Jets History: WR Bake Turner, RB Bilal Powell, RB Adrian Murrell, RB Leon Washington, DB Donnie Abraham
No. 30 Michael Carter II
Another former bearer of 26, Carter takes over the 30 worn by Bradley McDougald last season. He’ll also have the Roman numeral “II” on the back of his jersey to separate himself from the offensive Michael Carter.
Notable No. 30’s in Jets History: RB Brad Baxter, DB LaRon Landry
No. 32 Michael Carter
Running backs are allowed to wear single digits under the NFL’s new uniform mandates, but Carter opted to multiply it four. He follows in the footsteps of Super Bowl champion and green rusher Emerson Boozer.
Notable No. 32’s in Jets History: RB Emerson Boozer, RB Blair Thomas, RB Leon Johnson
No. 34 Justin Hardee
It’s a tough break for anyone who hoped the Jets would bring back Brian Poole, but the special teams standout Hardee will keep the number he had during his prior endeavors in New Orleans.
Notable No. 34’s in Jets History: RB Johnny Hector, RB LaMont Jordan
No. 41 Jason Pinnock
Pinnock’s No. 15 from Pittsburgh has been taken over by someone he’ll presumably cover come training camp, receiver Lawrence Cager. His new digits were worn by Matthias Farley last season and best known from a Jets standpoint as the numbers Matt Snell wore in the Super Bowl III triumph.
Notable No. 41’s in Jets History: RB Matt Snell, S Buster Skrine
No. 43 Del’Shawn Phillips
Phillips wore No. 46 in his first season in Buffalo but moved on to 43 last season. He’ll apparently stick with those numerals as he moves on to another New York football journey.
Notable No. 43’s in Jets History: DB Michael Brim
No. 44 Jamien Sherwood
With 44 last worn by the New England-bound Harvey Lagni, the defensive back-turned-linebacker Sherwood takes a traditional number as opposed to the single digits now available.
Notable No. 44’s in Jets History: RB John Riggins
No. 45 Hamsah Nasirildeen
Another converted secondary member who made the move to linebacker, Nasirildeen also makes the move to 45, as the 23 he wore at Florida State was taken by Coleman.
Notable No. 45’s in Jets History: DB Earlie Thomas, CB Otis Smith
No. 52 Jarrad Davis
The new Jets’ linebacker’s number from Detroit and his college days in Florida (40) is now worn by Javelin Guidry, but there’s a strong group of both linebackers and lineman that have previously repped his new digits.
Notable No. 52’s in Jets History: LB David Harris, C John Schmitt, C Mike Hudock, LB Pepper Johson
No. 58 Carl Lawson
Lawson may be changing from tiger stripes to green and black, but he’ll be wearing a familiar number leftover from his Cincinnati days.
Notable No. 58’s in Jets History: LB James Farrior
No. 65 Corey Levin
Levin is one of the newcomers on the Jets. If/when he takes the field in an NFL regular-season game for the first time since 2018, it’ll be in a different number, as he wore 62 during his time in Tennessee.
Notable No. 65’s in Jets History: OL Joe Fields, G Brandon Moore
No. 67 Dan Feeney
Undrafted rookie Teton Saltes has Feeny’s No. 66 from his days as a Charger, so he moved one up, perhaps indirectly emulating some other notable veteran blockers in Jets history.
Notable No. 67’s in Jets History: OL Dave Herman, T Kareem McKenzie, OL Damien Woody
No. 81 Tyler Kroft
In his return to New Jersey football, Kroft won’t have the No. 86 he wore at Rutgers (his Piscataway number now on fellow tight end Ryan Griffin) but he retains the number he’s worn in his first two NFL stops (Cincinnati and Buffalo) and it’s a number that has made a New York impact on both sides of the ball.
Notable No. 81’s in Jets History: DE Gerry Philbin, TE Dustin Keller
No. 84 Corey Davis
Davis will keep the number he wore at both Western Michigan and Tennessee. That’s rather appropriate, as the most famous wearer of 84 in his new team’s history is in fact a New York Titan.
Notable No. 84’s in Jets History: WR Art Powell
No. 88 Keelan Cole
With Davis taking over the No. 84, Cole’s moves four digits up to 88, emulating some of the more productive receivers in New York history.
Notable No. 88’s in Jets History: WR Al Toon, TE Rich Caster, TE Anthony Becht
No. 96 Jonathan Marshall
Henry Anderson’s old number wasn’t gone for long, as it’s been taken over by the former Arkansas captain who became the final pick of the Jets’ 2021 draft proceedings.
Notable No. 96’s in Jets History: DT Muhammad Wilkerson
No. 98 Sheldon Rankins
Undrafted standout Kyle Phillips wore No. 98 but he’s moving onto 93 to allow Rankins to keep the number he had during his six years in New Orleans.
Notable No. 98’s in Jets History: LB Anthony Pleasant, DL Kyle Phillips
No. 99 Vinny Curry
Curry has had a pretty accomplished NFL career, and he’s going to take over the numerals of some of the most storied defenders on the team.
Notable No. 99’s in Jets History: DE Mark Gastineau, DE Bryan Thomas, DT Steve McLendon, DE Hugh Douglas
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.
No worries, Dan Feeney will take care of both the 1st and 2nd level blocks to make this touchdown happen. pic.twitter.com/qahddFSx8p
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.
Per Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.Football, the New York Jets are set to sign cornerback Justin Hardee to a three-year deal. Hardee, an undrafted fifth-year man out of Illinois, has developed a strong reputation as one of the better special teams defenders in the league.
Hardee, 27, is officially listed as a cornerback but has truly made a name for himself on special teams. He has earned 44 special tackles over the past four seasons, including eight in 2020. Hardee is likely best known for taking a blocked punt back for a touchdown in a 2017 win over Tampa Bay, an endeavor that earned him NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. Though Hardee has only 115 defensive snaps to his name in the NFL, he also earned an interception during a Monday night win over Washington in 2018.
Formerly a receiver in college (earning 841 yards and a touchdown over four seasons with the Illini), Hardee knows what it’s like to pull off some special teams trickery at MetLife Stadium. During a September 2018 win over the Giants, Hardee united with Taysom Hill to earn a fourth-down conversion through a fake punt that continued an eventual New Orleans scoring drive.
The defender partook in 10 games last season, missing six due to a groin injury that put him in injured reserve.
Hardee should help the Jets’ coverage game, one that needed punter Braden Mann to pull off touchdown-saving-tackles. The Jets were one of nine teams to allow over 10 yards on opposing punt returns, finishing sixth-worst at 11.7. In their purge of Adam Gase’s staff, the Jets retained special teams coordinator Brant Boyer, who has held the role since the Todd Bowles regime.