Do not get your hopes up: the 2017 New York Jets offense will not score 25 points per game. They may even have a difficult time surpassing 17.2 points per game, its lowly mark from a dismal 2016 season.
While the unit is projected to be one of, if not the, worst in the NFL, it’s important to remember that the 2017 season is 100 percent about progress for Gang Green.
As New York is just days away from embarking on its 2017 campaign, it’s worth highlighting several offensive positions and players that could define the success of the team in 2017 and years to come.
Quarterback: Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty
With all due respect to 38-year-old veteran Josh McCown, this season isn’t about him. In a best-case scenario, McCown sees the field for a few games, plays well, but ultimately is able to pass the baton to Hackenberg.
The Jets’ 2017 offensive mission is clearly defined as figuring out what Hackenberg is, and what he can become. In the preseason, it didn’t look as if the former Penn State quarterback could last in the league. His progressions were few, and often slow; his accuracy was spotty, especially on deep passes; and he took too many sacks.
Football is a weird sport. Who knows? Maybe Hack spends the first few weeks on the sideline learning from McCown, comes in a few weeks from now and lights it up. But way, way more likely, New York will need to find a new “franchise quarterback.”
The other intriguing player at this position is Petty. After four average-at-best games in 2016, Petty put together a nice preseason this year. He may not be anything more than a career backup, but if McCown and Ryan Fitzpatrick are any indications, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Running back: Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire
If you had to place a bet on one offensive Jet to have a great season, Powell would be the smartest investment. The 28-year-old back had a tremendous finish to his 2016 season and seems ready to break out. Whichever quarterback is under center, Powell is instantly a pass-catching option and arguably a leading candidate to lead the Jets in receiving.
The key for Powell’s 2017 is figuring out when he will become the “RB1” and take over Matt Forte’s role. It’s certainly possible that 2017 is Forte’s last season as a Jet, and in that case, Powell deserves the full-time position at some point this season.
McGuire is a rookie to watch and the wild card of the group. He played well in the preseason and could find his way into the running back shuffle as the season progresses. Would New York be comfortable employing a 1-2 punch of Powell and McGuire?
Wide receiver: ArDarius Stewart, Chad Hansen and Robby Anderson
Well, I might as well list the entire depth chart while I’m at it.
It’s pretty clear why Stewart and Hansen are important: Both are rookies with potential. Stewart flashed his skills at Alabama, where he was one of the country’s best receivers at running after the catch. Hansen, meanwhile, was solid at Cal and the fourth-round pick improved as the preseason progressed.
Since the Jets cut Kenbrell Thompkins, it seems as if head coach Todd Bowles wants to utilize the youth movement once again. It’ll give Stewart and Hansen opportunities to take strides as rookies in the NFL.
Meanwhile, they will get their chances behind Anderson and Jermaine Kearse. We know what Kearse is capable of — he showed how reliable he can be during Seattle’s Super Bowl runs. The bigger question mark is Anderson. It’s so rare that a second-year undrafted wide receiver gets a chance to be a team’s WR1. That is Anderson’s job this year.
It will be exciting to see if Anderson remained just a tremendous deep route runner, or if he improved his game and become a more well-rounded pass catcher.
Tight end: Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Jordan Leggett
Ah, the tight end position. The one position group the New York Jets have struggled with more than quarterback.
There are two legitimate options the Jets have at tight end now and, although it’s not entirely clear what offensive scheme new offensive coordinator John Morton will deploy, it certainly will involve more tight ends than Chan Gailey did.
Seferian-Jenkins will serve a two-game suspension and Leggett will miss Week 1 with an injury. That’s not a great start for the unit, but the duo will get their chances as the year goes along. Gang Green is currently employing three other tight ends, including Will Tye who was recently signed after the New York Giants waived him, so maybe we’ll see production from them in the early stages of 2017.
Offensive line: Wesley Johnson and Brandon Shell
New York’s offensive line is projected to be so mediocre, but two youngsters could help the group be better than expected in 2017.
Johnson, who unofficially took over Nick Mangold’s job at center a year ago, is now the full-time center. He has a chance to solidify himself as a staple of New York’s offensive line after he did a serviceable job last season.
Shell is the unknown of the group. It seemed as if some Jets fans were ready to induct him into the Hall of Fame after a handful of good plays in 2016, but his true test will come as a starter in 2017. I’m not doubting the second-year pro. In fact, I think he’s shown some positive things. But it’s important to remember that he is still getting his first starting experience and will have rough games.
Other names to watch on the offensive line include Kelvin Beachum, the left tackle who inked a three-year deal with the Jets this offseason, and Ben Ijalana, a reserve tackle who may see time at some point during the year if poor play or an injury sidelines either of the tackles. If nothing else, at least the Jets have two good guards in James Carpenter and Brian Winters.