Week 1 of the 2015 NFL season is quickly approaching, and the New York Jets still have plenty of question marks swirling around the 2015 regular season. The talent and depth is there, but can new head coach Todd Bowles take the Jets back to the playoffs coming out of the AFC East this year?
What better way to take a closer look into the Jets’ 2015 campaign than having our staff writer and New York-native Christopher Stephano answer some of the burning questions surrounding the franchise as we approach the Week 1 showdown with the Cleveland Browns?
The New York Jets 2015 Season Preview
Q: What was your initial reaction to hearing of the Geno Smith/IK Enemkpali incident and the news Geno would be out 6-10 weeks with a broken jaw?
Chris: Everyone connected to the Jets, from the owners to the coaches to the fans, had the same shocked and disgusted reaction when Geno Smith was injured. Just when the franchise seems to take positive steps forward, adding a new general manager, head coach, and some star players, an inexplicable set back like this happens. Although training camp fights occur throughout the NFL (Cam Newton was involved in one days before the Smith injury), the Geno injury was just more fuel for the “same old Jets” narrative.
Q: Do you feel the Jets can be legitimate playoff contenders with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center?
Chris: The Smith injury certainly does not spell doom for the Jets this season. Ryan Fitzpatrick has shown that he can be a consistently average veteran quarterback, and he has worked well with Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey (71 TD/54 INT with Gailey vs. 52 TD/47 INT without him). With a rebuilt secondary (CB Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Buster Skrine, FS Marcus Gilchrist), an already stout defensive line, and a defensive mastermind head coach (Todd Bowles), the Jets should remain competitive as long as they have remotely competent quarterback play. Fitzpatrick is more than capable of providing that.
Q: If Fitz under-performs in ’15, does New York go quarterback in the 2016 draft?
Chris: It is difficult to predict how the Jets will handle the quarterback position in the future. Even if Fitzpatrick lights up the league (which given his history is highly unlikely), his age (32) ensures that he will be a stop-gap option at best. Ultimately, how the Jets approach the 2016 NFL draft will depend heavily on how Geno Smith performs this season. If he ends up starting and thrives, the Jets may be set at quarterback for years. If not, they will have to decide if an aging Fitzpatrick, an inconsistent Smith, and an unproven rookie (Bryce Petty) will be enough to get them through another season. My personal hunch? The Jets will be drafting another high-profile quarterback very soon.
Q: What do you feel are New York’s biggest strengths and weaknesses heading into the regular season?
Chris: The Jets actually have quite a few strengths heading into 2015. Even with the Sheldon Richardson suspension, a defensive line of Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams, and Damon Harrison should be stout. The Jets passing defense, which was rather porous last season, should be greatly improved with the additions of Revis and Cromartie. Finally, I love the Jets receiving corp. Pairing a healthy Brandon Marshall with Eric Decker should give the Jets plenty of large and reliable end zone targets.
Of course, the team does have its flaws. The Jets open the season with only Fitzpatrick and Petty on the quarterback depth chart. And with the season-ending injury to Jace Amaro, the Jets are left without a real pass-catching threat at the tight end position.
Q: Expectations for head coach Todd Bowles’ first season at the helm?
Chris: With Todd Bowles replacing Rex Ryan as Jets head coach, I expect a dramatic change in locker room culture. While Ryan’s bravado and willingness to always support his players can spark a team, Bowles should bring a more reserved sense of discipline and professionalism to the locker room.
Considering the success that Bowles had as the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator (team ranked 7th and 5th in points per game in his two seasons as DC), I expect the Jets to continue to thrive defensively. Since Bowles has a far better roster than Ryan did last year, the Jets should show dramatic improvement this year and make the new head coach look good.
Q: Give us three players to watch for this season, that the casual fan may not know much about.
Chris: Wide receiver Quincy Enunwa is a player to watch for the Jets this season. The former sixth round pick out of Nebraska has thrived in camp, causing many to speculate that he may have passed Jeremy Kerley as the third wide receiver on the depth chart. With his size and blocking ability, Enunwa could also help the team compensate for its lack of talent at the tight end position.
Linebacker/special teams player Trevor Reilly also had a solid camp and earned a roster spot. The 2014 seventh round pick out of Utah will most likely be used as a situational pass-rusher.
With all the newly-added star power at the position (Revis, Cromartie, Skrine), don’t expect to see much of cornerback Marcus Williams during the regular season. That being said, the undrafted rookie showed some promise for the Jets last season, and followed it up with an interception against the Lions this preseason. Even if he doesn’t see much playing time this year, Williams may be a player to follow in the future.
Q: What are your first impression of rookie DL Leonard Williams?
Chris: Leonard Williams was widely hailed as the best defensive player in the 2015 draft class, if not the best player overall. Williams has already shown some promise in the preseason, notching 1.5 sacks and a safety against the Falcons. The Jets and their fans fully expect him to thrive in the Jets’ loaded defense.
Q: And finally, win-loss prediction for 2015?
Chris: Many media outlets are projecting another poor season (5-6 wins) for the Jets. Although the Dolphins and Bills also improved, the Jets reloaded roster should allow them to contend immediately. I love the additions of Fitzpatrick and Marshall for the offense, and expect that unit to finally be respectable. The rebuilt secondary should ensure the Jets will also return to having a solid defense. I would say the Jets will win between 6-11 games, with a 9-7 record (and a possible wild card berth) representing a reasonable projection.
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