- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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This is the 14th part of our daily, position-by-position analysis of the Jets’ roster. This concludes the series.
Focus: Special teams.
Depth chart: Nick Folk (PK), Steve Weatherford (P), Tanner Purdum (LS), Brad Smith (KR), Jim Leonhard (PR), Kyle Wilson (PR), Joe McKnight (PR/KR).
Expiring contracts: Folk, Weatherford, Smith.
Rear-view mirror: Overall, the Jets fielded one of the better special-teams units in the league – and, no, they didn’t get demerits for the Sal Alosi fiasco. The Dallas Morning News, in its annual statistical study of special teams, ranked the Jets No. 7 overall. The bright spots were Smith and Weatherford. Smith, who led the league in kickoff returns, made one of the highlight plays of the year – his shoeless touchdown return against the Bengals. He practically won the game singlehandedly. Weatherford tied an NFL record with 42 punts inside the 20. He lost his touch in the postseason, compiling six touchbacks – two more than his regular-season total. Purdum didn’t have a bad snap all year.
Folk caught a lot of flak, but save for a three-game slump in November, he wasn’t as shaky as critics thought. Five of his nine field-goal misses came in that stretch, but none of them cost the team a victory. His signature moment was his game-winning, 32-yard field goal in the wild-card game against the Colts, a kick that came perilously close to the upright. He lost distance on his kickoffs as the season progressed, but all things considered, he was a solid replacement for Jay Feely.
Numbers game: The kickoff-return unit was outstanding all season, with no returns longer than 44 yards. It’s a shame it let down on the biggest return of the season, late in the AFC title game. Folk’s kickoff was short (to the Steelers’ 14) and the Jets surrendered a 27-yard return, setting up the Steelers in excellent field position.
Crystal ball: Coordinator Mike Westhoff has to be a bit nervous, with his two kickers, his star kickoff returner and his top four tacklers (Lance Laury, James Ihedigbo, Smith and Eric Smith) all due to be free agents. The Jets will try hard to keep Brad Smith and they’d also like to have Weatherford back – unless his asking price is unreasonable. Folk is a tough call. The Jets will look to upgrade, but they could do worse than re-signing Folk to a one-year contract.
Positional rating (scale of 1 to 10): 9.0.