New York Jets 2017 Positional Preview: Special Teams

There’s so much to complain about when dissecting the New York Jets’ offense and defense that it’s easy to forget all the issues the team has on special teams, too.

Brant Boyer enters his second season as the Jets’ special teams coordinator with a new kicker in town, an open competition at returner and a job that’s less in the spotlight than, say, the job new offensive coordinator John Morton has (mercy on his soul). But special teams is one area of football where mistakes seem to add up and can get out of hand too easily. It will be Boyer’s task to keep the mistakes to a minimum. That way, this unit can show some semblance of professionalism that hopefully would spread to the other players.

This will be the team’s first year without Nick Folk kicking field goals since 2010. As part of wide-ranging cost-cutting measures, Folk, one of the more expensive kickers in the league last year, was cut. Former Arizona Cardinals place kicker Chandler Catanzaro was signed to a one-year, $900,000 contract in March.

Projected starters: Chandler Catanzaro (kicker), Lachlan Edwards (punter), Jalin Marshall (returner), Tanner Purdum (long snapper)

Depth players to watch: Ross Martin (kicker), Elijah McGuire (returner)

One big number: Zero touchdowns. The Jets have not scored either a kick return TD or a punt return TD since the 2012 season, putting up a goose egg in both categories for four straight seasons.

Youngster to watch: McGuire, a running back out of UL-Lafayette, was drafted in the sixth round. Though he will have Matt Forte and Bilal Powell in front of him on the RB depth chart, he can make his home on the Jets’ roster as a kick and punt returner. Marshall gave fans a lot of hope as a rookie last summer, but when the regular season arrived, he fumbled on three returns and never scored. He’ll also start the regular season with a four-game PED suspension, and the Jets are open about calling this a competition. Another 2017 rookie who would’ve had a good shot at the job, Brisly Estime, lost his rookie year to an Achilles tendon tear during OTAs. McGuire has lived a life full of adversity on his journey to the NFL, and it won’t be hard for Jets fans to root for him as they get to know him.

Don’t forget about: Lac Edwards. Look, when you follow a team as bad as the 2017 Jets are going to be, little moments of optimism are crucial for one’s sanity. Edwards didn’t have that bad of a rookie year in ’16, per se. For instance, the Australian only booted four touchbacks in 75 punts and 24 of his punts were downed inside the 20. Expect him to have an even better sophomore campaign, as Boyer’s punt protection team ought to improve during his second year in charge–and because Edwards will have plenty of opportunities to punt throughout the year.

Jet Factor: Catanzaro had a quick rise and fall in his three years kicking for Arizona. Freshest in fans’ minds is probably the overtime chip shot he should have made to beat Seattle, but shanked, leading that game to end in a tie.

But the guy has a boot–he made a 60-yarder in Buffalo in Week 3. Kickers’ NFL careers are fickle, as some veterans catch on with multiple teams and last two decades, while others disappear from the league without warning. If Catanzaro doesn’t catch on with the Jets, his career may well be over, so he should count himself lucky for getting a second chance and approach 2017 as a make-or-break year.

How it all goes well: It starts, as mentioned at the top, with limiting mistakes. In a best-case scenario, the Jets’ special teams coverage contains opposing returners, because they don’t need opponents to get any more advantages than they’ll already start with. Whether it’s Catanzaro or Duke youngster Ross Martin, at least one kicker shows up to play, wins the competition and establishes himself as the team’s kicker of the future. Edwards doesn’t take a step backward, and McGuire breaks off a return touchdown to snap this embarrassing slump. Teams can have success without a top-flight return man, but having an X-factor on your side is always advantageous.

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