Last year, when writing my annual ‘What the New York Jets should be thankful for?’ column, I struggled to find an optimistic angle to take on a season full of gloom.
I settled on a theme of rebuilding, and how a few large — yet terminable — contracts could set up the beginning of a successful rebuild. New York followed through with these plans, getting rid of several veterans such as Nick Mangold, Darrelle Revis, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and quite a few more.
Just one year later, there is much more to be optimistic about, both in the Jets’ short- and long-term plans.
1. AFC: Awful Football Conference
Still rebuilding, the Jets have a chance at the playoffs in 2017. Seriously. I know, I can’t believe it either.
Gang Green lost back-to-back games during which it had a double-digit point lead, then followed that up by blowing a halftime lead to the Falcons. A few weeks after that, the Jets lost to a Tampa Bay team that was without its starting quarterback, best offensive playmaker and had only three wins.
But because of the horrendous AFC conference, the Jets are just as much in the hunt as anyone else. The 6-4 Tennessee Titans seem to be the best non-division leader in the conference. Behind them lies the incredibly mediocre Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, Los Angeles Chargers, Oakland Raiders and, of course, the New York Jets — all of whom are either 5-5 or 4-6.
That’s kind of the landscape of the NFL: outside of a handful of division leaders, no one is really good. And that’s something for which the Jets should be thankful.
2. Young defensive playmakers
The Jets should be most thankful for their young budding stars on defense, especially the two safeties they drafted this past year, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye.
New York’s first- and second-round picks have been studs and are both candidates for the wide-open Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Perhaps only New Orleans cornerback Marshon Lattimore has a better case than Adams.
While he has had a few blunders in pass coverage, some of which cannot be entirely blamed on him, Adams has still exceeded very high expectations. He is versatile and has played snaps in the box, out of the box, in pass coverage, in run defense and in blitz packages. Adams’ 13 run stops are the most for any rookie safety through 10 weeks in the last decade, per Pro Football Focus.
Meanwhile, Maye is tied for the team lead with two interceptions, is second on the team in tackles and has been phenomenal in coverage.
It’s also worth noting that as the year has progressed, Leonard Williams, Darron Lee and Jordan Jenkins have all been noticeably better.
3. Buffalo and Washington’s mishandling of quarterbacks
If the Jets land either Kirk Cousins or Tyrod Taylor, it will be a huge victory for a franchise desperate for help at quarterback. Thankfully for them, Taylor and Cousins’ current teams — Buffalo and Washington, respectively — haven’t done the right thing with either passer.
Washington hasn’t given Cousins, who has completed at least 66 percent of his passes in the last three years, the long-term extension he deserves. He has also thrown 71 touchdowns in his last 42 games.
Taylor was benched in favor of Nathan Peterman, Buffalo’s rookie quarterback that threw five interceptions in the first half before passing the torch back to Taylor. The move made no sense, considering Buffalo is currently in the thick of the playoff race.
These two franchises have their quarterbacks and have foolishly put them in a position to leave after this season. If the Jets get either Cousins or Taylor, it’s certainly something to be happy about.
4. Maccagnan’s rentals have paid off
Austin Seferian-Jenkins was ousted by his former team after he had many off-the-field troubles. Kony Ealy had bounced from a pair of teams after he was an early-round draft pick in 2014. Demario Davis was shipped out of Cleveland back to the Jets, the team that drafted him in 2010.
All three rentals have reaped benefits for the Jets in 2017 and have been some of Mike Maccagnan’s best moves as general manager.
Seferian-Jenkins has provided life to a Jets tight end position that has been lifeless for the better part of a decade. The 25-year-old has caught 39 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns.
Ealy is the best defensive line at deflecting passes, not just on the Jets, but in the NFL. He has tipped nine passes behind the line of scrimmage, a league-high for defensive linemen. That trend could continue as he seeks for revenge against the Panthers, the team that drafted him, on Sunday.
Davis has been the rock of the defense. While he’s shown similar struggles defending tight ends and running backs in pass coverage, he has led the team in sacks (3.5) and tackles (82) in what has been his best season to date.
5. Robby Anderson’s speed
We knew this coming into the season, but wide receiver Robby Anderson is very fast and very fun to watch.
He’s 12th in the league in yards per reception and has been a constant deep-ball threat for a team that otherwise struggles to make big plays offensively. The acquisition of Jermaine Kearse (another strong Maccagnan rental) has taken the pressure off Anderson to be the team’s No. 1 receiver and given him the ability to work against opponent’s second-best cornerback.
With a strong finish to 2017, and Quincy Enunwa returning to the lineup, Anderson could be in line for another big year in 2018.