The New York Jets made it abundantly clear in March what they were planning for the 2017 season.
With clearance from ownership, general manager Mike Maccagnan was given authorization to blow up the roster. The strategy essentially has been to sacrifice the 2017 season, give young players an opportunity to develop and either find a franchise quarterback in the 2018 NFL Draft, or discover such traits in Christian Hackenberg.
New York’s blueprint was hailed by some and questioned by others. There have been concerns about Maccagnan’s ability to pick up the pieces via the draft. But in the end, the Jets picked a direction. Gang Green said goodbye to almost every costly player north of 30 years old and are left with just four players in their thirties.
Quincy Enunwa’s neck injury is a startling example of how that brash strategy can completely backfire.
Enunwa, who was the clear-cut No. 1 receiver within New York’s offense, will miss the entire 2017 campaign with a bulging disc in his neck. Coach Todd Bowles said Enunwa will miss six-to-nine months and will likely require surgery. One of the team’s most promising players will lose a vital opportunity to, you know, develop.
The Jets aren’t the only team to have lost a crucial starter to an unfortunate injury. It happens league-round and on a weekly basis. Not even Bill Belichick is able to prevent injuries. But Enunwa’s loss makes a positional group devoid of measurable talent even worse and pokes a gigantic hole in New York’s rebuild.
The entire point of this 2017 campaign was to give young players a look, but how young is too young? Did the Jets really have to give the axe to a useful veteran such as Eric Decker? Sure, he would’ve been costly. But the best way to ease the transition for younger players is to have at least a small group of veterans who can ease the workload, lead the way and set an example. The Jets have practically none in the receiving core.
Robby Anderson, Charone Peake and Jalin Marshall are the only three returning receivers who caught a pass for the Jets last season. Only the oft-injured Marquess Wilson has more than three years of NFL experience and even he has only 56 career receptions. Expecting rookies ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen to make immediate impacts in these circumstances is simply asking too much. All of the other veteran receivers not previously mentioned in this paragraph have combined for 43 career-receptions.
Imagine being Christian Hackenberg right now. The entire season is essentially about your development and progression after a redshirt rookie season. You’ll likely get your shot at some point with every throw being highly-scrutinized. And to make matters worse, you’ll have to throw to the worst receiving corps in the NFL by a wide margin. A margin that just got wider with the loss of your No. 1 target.
Hackenberg will get a chance to show what he can do this season. It’s only a matter of when he gets it. But it won’t be a fair opportunity and probably wasn’t even with Enunwa healthy. Sure, Bilal Powell, Matt Forte, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Jordan Leggett — the latter two some are expecting far too much out of — will serve as reliable safety valves. But none of them present the upside that Enunwa provided.
Enunwa’s injury further cements the Jets into at least a top-three selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. That’s the end goal, after all. But the team’s plan to let the youngsters prove themselves took a gigantic blow Monday and it could set those same players back going forward.