The New York Jets must consider special teams at the NFL Draft

The New York Jets have to consider using their expanded draft stash on special teams solutions, which will put a developing offense at ease.

Special teams conspiracy theorists could probably claim that the NFL’s latest innovations and trends are trying to get rid of the third phase of the game entirely.

When extra points got too automatic, the league tacked on 15 yards to them, leading to increased tries for two points. Whereas the point-after-touchdown was moved back, kickoffs were moved up. Some felt their travels to the 35-yard-line (as well as a “reward” for a touchback being access to the 25) were the first step in having the kickoff go the way of the single-bar facemask. The increasingly prevalent analytics departments also weren’t helping matters, as evidence continues to mount that it makes more sense to go for it on fourth down in lieu of kicking or punting.

But special teams undoubtedly hold a place in the modern game. For a team that is situated with an offense that struggles to enter the end zone on a consistent basis, having a proven kicker is a perfect safety blanket. If defeat must be admitted, the least you can do is arm yourself with a good punter.

Hence, the New York Jets must spend this draft session, at least the latter portions, on special teams assistance.

New York Jets
NASHVILLE, TN – APRIL 25: The video board shows that the New York Jets have turned in their pick during the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft on April 25, 2019, at the Draft Main Stage on Lower Broadway in downtown Nashville, TN. (Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Jets obviously have aspirations of becoming frequent end zone visitors. They moved up in the draft to find a franchise quarterback. Free agency currency has been dealt to a star running back and blocker to clear the way for him. But until the team can find the end zone on a regular basis, having reliable specialists are absolutely vital. Considering the fact that Robby Anderson (by far their most reliable receiver since 2015) sought bluer pastures in Carolina, regular six-point possessions are easier said than done.

The long-term long snapper spot was readily fulfilled last season. Thomas Hennessy has played four incident-free years thus far and is destined for four more through 2024. But there are several needs that must be fulfilled as the Jets’ latest rebuild continues.

Over the past two seasons (the first of hopefully many overseen by Sam Darnold), the Jets have kicked 63 field goals, a number tied for seventh in the NFL. The surplus was tolerable when Jason Myers was booting triples from all over the field (17-of-19 from at least 40 yards out), but the Marist alum has moved on to Seattle. Since then, four different kickers have dressed in a green uniform, the most recent of which is Sam Ficken.

Those we believe that special teams are meaningless to the Jets…who, granted, still have holes to fill…surely missed their opening weekend tilt against the Buffalo Bills. The Jets’ heartbreaking 17-16 loss was made all the more painful by a missed field goal and extra point from first-game participant Kaare Vedvik. Ficken surfaced shortly after, but was hardly reliable with a 70 percent success rate (19-of-27).

The Jets did bring in a new kicker shortly after the season’s end. Alas, it was Brett Maher, one of only two qualified names below Ficken for conversion rate (20-of-30, 67 percent). Simply put, the Jets need competition, barring a miraculous scoring outbreak next season.

It’s understandable why the Jets didn’t upgrade in free agency. The most reliable names (Mason Crosby, Ka’imi Fairbairn, Dan Bailey) re-signed with their prior squads. Greg Zuerlein was coming off a career-worst season, while Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Succop were working off injuries.

The Jets are blessed with a deep draft in several of their need positions. Kicker is one of them.

2020’s kicker slot is highlighted by the bespectacled wonder that is Rodrigo Blankenship of Georgia. The former Bulldog may be more of an Athens staple than the hedges and Uga combined. Save for Georgia’s unfortunate collapse in the 2018 National Championship Game, Blankenship might’ve earned everything a kicker could achieve at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. He capped things off with the 2019 Lou Groza Award but his name also appears in the slots reserved for the kicker of the longest field goal in Rose Bowl history and the all-time leading leg scorer in SEC history. Blankenship also has an appearance in the 2019 ESPN Body Issue and a rap track to his name, certainly a unique accomplishment amongst his peers.

Also among the draft options is the perfectly named Jet Toner out of Stanford. Toner’s distance needs work, and he’s coming off a leg injury, but he completed all 101 of his extra points and went 14-of-15 in his last full season. Small-school option Tyler Bass (Georgia Southern) struggled in his senior season but impressed during the Senior Bowl preparation in Mobile. With the Jets afforded an eighth draft pick, particularly their final one in the sixth obtained from Kansas City through the Darron Lee transaction, they can afford to use capital on a kicker spot.

Somewhat murkier is the Jets’ dilemma at punter. It seems like an avoidable spot, but the fact remains that current free agent Lac Edwards led the league in punts with 87. That does come with a Luke Falk-sized asterisk (25 of Edwards’ boots alone came during Darnold’s three-game absence), but the Jets can’t afford to be negligent. If they fail to bring Edwards back, an SEC trio of Braden Mann (Texas A&M), Tommy Townsend (Florida), and Joseph Charlton (South Carolina) could fill in the gap.

The Jets can also fulfill their special needs earlier in the draft. After enjoying the antics of Andre Roberts’ first Pro Bowl season, their average kick return plummeted to 22nd in football after enjoying a third-place finish last season. While the team enjoyed some late traction in the punt return game with Vyncint Smith, it wouldn’t hurt to full multiple needs within the first two days. Virginia’s Joe Reed led the ACC in kick return average twice and also can work as a sizable slot receiver (6’0, 224 lbs.). Jalen Reagor and K.J. Hamler could each go in the second-round and can contribute in more ways that one.

Enough tired memes and jokes have been made at the specialists’ expense. Enough Jets fans are also, perhaps, still traumatized by the second-round selection of Mike Nugent during 2005’s proceedings (especially when Vincent Jackson and Frank Gore went not so long after).

But if the Jets want to end their endless cycle of misery, or at least start to put a dent into it, extra draft capital should go toward the third phase of football. The new Jets brass has already shown that they’re willing to do things differently, especially when it comes to the offensive line. Logic at least hints you can find an undrafted rookie in the scrap pile (i.e. Fairbairn to the Texans in 2016), but the Jets have played by the laws of football logic long enough.

These draft diamonds in the rough, practitioners of football’s third phase, could help provide the spark that burns the perception of “Same Old Jets” down.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

 

 

The New York Jets Lose A Heart Breaker To Buffalo

I’m not going to lie this one hurts, real bad. This game and this season were things Jets fans went into with loft expectations. Just like they always do, the Jets can’t be perfect. There was a lot of good and bad in this game. Ultimately though, the New York Jets blew many opportunities to win this game and the Bills walked away with a 17-16 win.

Le’Veon Bell Is The Focal Point Of The Offense

Everything went through Le’Veon Bell, the questions about rust were dispelled. The Jets gave him reps early and often. He had 17 carries for 60 yards and 6 receptions for 32 yards and a score. He showed off his patience and big-play ability that made him a superstar in the first place and he showed that he wasn’t missing a beat. The problem was, it was almost as though Adam Gase was too reliant on Bell. He didn’t mix match Ty Montgomery in there which is something that can throw defenses off. The ball was not spread around it was just continuously fed to Bell. Bell is a superstar but Gase needs to spread the ball around to see some more offensive success.

Jamison Crowder Was A Safety Net

Jamison Crowder was a slightly underrated acquisition by the Jets. He never really has fulfilled his potential due in part to injuries. Crowder and Sam Darnold have built up really good timing and seem to be working well. Crowder was able to bail Darnold out and be a scapegoat of sorts. However he was almost fed the ball to much, he had 14 receptions for 99 yards. Crowder played great but the Jets really need to spread the ball around more.

Kicking Woes Continue For Gang Green

Kaare Vedvik was a mess right from warm-ups. He was inconsistent and as the game began it was apparent. After a big pick 6 by C.J. Mosley, Vedvik missed the extra point then despite a bad hold, Vedvik missed a field goal by a country mile. Vedvik isn’t the answer and the Jets will continue to search because the kicking heavily contributed to this loss.

Mosley Shines, Hewitt Impresses

C.J. Mosley finished today’s game with 5 tackles, 2 PDs, 1 FR, 1 INT, and a TD. He lit it up and began to prove the New York Jets made a really wise investment. Then when he was out with his groin issue (something to watch), the team seemingly fell apart. Mosley was a huge part of the success today and shined big time. Neville Hewitt, in replacement of Avery Willamson, shined as well. Hewitt had an INT, 8 tackles, 1 TFL, and a PD. He had a solid day and raised some eyebrows of many.

Missed Opportunities

This section will be short. Any time a team has 4 forced turnovers and a 16-0 lead. It should be bigger and at the very least have been a win. The football Gods seemingly gave the Jets every shot to win and they couldn’t.

Browns Are Next

This one stung, I’ll dive more in-depth throughout the week but now it’s Cleveland Browns week. The Browns played even worse than the New York Jets and both sides have a lot to prove. It’s gonna be a hell of a battle and the Jets will need to bounce back.

The New York Jets Add Kaare Vedvik and 3 Other New Waiver Claims

New York Jets, Kelvin Beachum

On Saturday the New York Jets assembled their 53-man roster and they acquired some interesting pieces through waivers. The New York Jets enter the season with a roster that oozes talent but lacks depth. Expect at least two of the four pickups to play a big part on the Jets and contribute to a potentially great season of Jets football.

DB Bennett Jackson

Bennett Jackson is a former 6th round pick of the New York Giants back in the 2014 NFL draft. Bennett has experience playing both cornerback and safety and provides depth and versatility for the Jets secondary. Bennett hasn’t played a regular-season game in his five-year career but has been solid in preseason.

K/P Kaare Vedvik

The New York Jets have potentially found their new kicker for the 2019 season in Kaare Vedvik. The Norwegian native was released from the Minnesota Vikings weeks after being traded for a 5th round pick from the Baltimore Ravens. The New York Jets have expressed interest in Vedvik over the last two seasons, but they never were able to materialize a trade for him. Over the past two seasons, Vedvik has been a preseason standout and has garnered the attention of many executives around the league. Vedvik is also special because of his ability to be an effective punter as well. If Vedvik can kick for the New York Jets the same way he was in Baltimore the Jets will have found their kicker for the next couple of years.

DE John Franklin-Myers

John Franklin-Myers is a former 4th round pick of the Los Angeles Rams and special teams’ standout. JFM is defensive end who was arguably the Rams best special teams player last year. JFM has shown flashes of being a solid player in the league racking up 10 tackles and 2 sacks in 2018 as well as forcing a fumble against the New England Patriots in last years super bowl. JFM was a fan favorite in Los Angeles last year and won team rookie of the year.

WR/PR Braxton Berrios

Berrios is a former 6th round pick of the New England Patriots in 2018 who played wide receiver for the University of Miami. Berrios will be an essential part to the New York Jets this year as he will be their punt returner following the release od Greg Dortch. Berrios averaged 10.4 yards per return in college and has one return touchdown.