Thursday, January 2, 2014
New York Jets season wrap-up
By Rich Cimini
Final power ranking: 19
Preseason power ranking: 32
Biggest surprise: The rookies. The New York Jets played most of the season with five rookie starters -- cornerback Dee Milliner, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, quarterback Geno Smith, guard Brian Winters and fullback Tommy Bohanon. The Jets figured to be a young team because of how the roster was purged last offseason, but you didn't think they'd be this young. The five draft picks combined for 65 starts. Their performances ranged from exceptional (Richardson) to inconsistent (Smith) to shoddy (Winters), but coach Rex Ryan -- perhaps on orders from general manager John Idzik -- stuck with them through difficult stretches. The growing pains hurt, but all five were ascending by the end of the season.
Biggest disappointment: Cornerback Antonio Cromartie was supposed to anchor the rebuilt secondary, but he regressed from a Pro Bowl year in 2012. A season-long hip injury obviously factored into his performance, but it didn't cause him to miss any games. He surrendered far too many big plays, exacerbating the absence of Darrelle Revis, who was traded last offseason. Instead of shutting down the opponents' No. 1 receiver, as he did on a consistent basis in '12, Cromartie struggled along with Milliner. Unable to rely on his corners to supply tight man-to-man coverage, Ryan was forced to adjust, taking a more passive approach with regard to blitzing.
Biggest need: Playmakers on offense. We're talking about wide receivers and tight ends, but mainly wide receivers. The Jets had only two pass plays more than 50 yards, and they came in the same game. Without a game-breaking element on the perimeter, the offense faced a steady diet of eight-man fronts and consistent blitzing. Stephen Hill didn't take that big step in Year 2, as the organization had hoped. Santonio Holmes is a goner, so now New York must find a No. 1 receiver through the draft or free agency. Actually, the Jets could pluck one from each because, yes, the need is that glaring.
Team MVP: Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was the best player on the dominant side of the ball, so we're picking him over running back Chris Ivory, whose physical running sparked the offense late in the season. Wilkerson recorded a career-high 10.5 sacks and, although he wasn't selected to the Pro Bowl (an injustice), he established himself as one of the better defensive linemen in the league. He faced double-teams and often rushed from an interior position, hurting his ability to produce gaudy stats. His steady, blue-collar approach set a tone for the run defense, which dominated for most of the season. Wilkerson was voted MVP by his teammates, which says something. The Jets will try to lock him up to a long-term deal before next season.