On the heels of a disappointing season, the New York Jets chose to undergo a full scale rebuild. Not just a “competitive rebuild,” as general manager Mike Maccagnan once advocated for, but a full-fledged teardown of the roster. Brandon Marshall, David Harris, and Darrelle Revis are all gone, among others, leaving sizable voids at many of the team’s most important positions. As such, training camp will feature a number of captivating position battles as young players vie for starting roles. Here are the five most intriguing New York Jets position battles as training camp approaches.
Five Intriguing New York Jets Position Battles
1. Starting Quarterback: Josh McCown vs. Bryce Petty vs. Christian Hackenberg
In 2015, I.K. Enemkpali punched then Jets quarterback Geno Smith in the jaw, breaking four bones and clearing the way for Ryan Fitzpatrick to start. The following year, it took the aforementioned Fitzpatrick nearly six months to sign a contract with the team, an ugly ordeal made even worse by the drawn out pleas of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker for the team to re-sign Fitzpatrick. In the summer of 2017, there will once again be quarterback drama at Florham Park.
Following the departure of Fitzpatrick, the team signed veteran Josh McCown to a one-year deal. Yet McCown’s not the gunslinger Jets fans will have their eye on. Because waiting in the wings are Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, the latter having played not a single second after being selected with the 51st overall pick in the 2016 draft. The assumption is that McCown will be the starter in week one. But make no mistake about it, the quarterback battle is still a three-horse race. If either Petty or Hackenberg can force the Jets’ hand with a strong summer showing, they just might win themselves the starting job ahead of schedule.
Edge: Josh McCown, for now.
2. Cornerback: Juston Burris vs. Buster Skrine
Of the four starting secondary positions, three have been solidified. Morris Clairborne will be the team’s number one cornerback, supported by rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye in the back end. Yet the second and final cornerback spot in the starting defensive backfield remains very much in question. Buster Skrine is the lone survivor from Maccagnan’s 2015 spending spree, following the departure of Revis. Skrine is a veteran player who has proven his worth as a slot and zone corner. Yet when asked to be anything beyond that, Skrine has struggled mightily. Pro Football Focus ranked him as just the 86th best cornerback in the league, of only 109 qualified players. For Skrine to win the starting job, he’ll have to show significant improvement from last year’s disappointing performance.
Also competing for the job is Juston Burris, a fourth round draft pick in 2016. Although Burris played sparingly in the early stages of last season, the NC State product received increased minutes later in the year. In an admittedly small sample size, Burris played well, allowing just a 84.4 passer rating against him. Although Skrine is perhaps the team’s number two corner heading into training camp, it would be surprising if Burris doesn’t overtake him by the team the regular season begins, especially given the team’s focus on developing young talent.
Edge: Juston Burris
3. Outside Linebacker: Lorenzo Mauldin vs. Dylan Donahue
Nowhere is the Jets’ abundance of youth more prominently displayed than at the outside linebacker position. Jordan Jenkins and Lorenzo Mauldin are both second year players, neither of whom are more than 24 years of age. Dylan Donahue is just a rookie, drafted in the fifth round of April’s draft. Donahue will be just 24 when the season begins. Of the aforementioned three, only two will be starting on opening day. Jenkins seems to be a lock for the left outside linebacker spot after playing well in 2016. In fact, Jenkins received a grade of 73.7 from Pro Football Focus, second to only Joey Bosa among rookie edge rushers.
The other edge-rusher position, however, appears to be up for grabs. Mauldin played well in his rookie season, but regressed significantly in his sophomore campaign. His third season, therefore, will likely be a make or break year. Competing against Mauldin will be Dylan Donahue, drafted out of little-known West Georgia University. Late round draft picks rarely get a shot to compete for a starting job, especially not ones who don’t play big-time college football. Yet Donahue reportedly burst onto the scene in OTAs, impressing newly hired outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene with his high-motor playing style and ability to get to the passer. Starting jobs, however, aren’t won in June. To take the job from Mauldin, Donahue will have to continue his strong play in training camp and the preseason.
Edge: Lorenzo Mauldin
4. Tight End: Austin Seferian-Jenkins vs. Jordan Leggett
It’s been a while since the Jets have gotten quality production from the tight end position. Chan Gailey‘s frustrating refusal to incorporate the position into his offense, coupled with the Jets lackluster talent on the roster, resulted in some of the worst tight end play in the league. Over the past two seasons, Jets tight ends have caught a grand total of 16 passes, far and away the fewest in the NFL.
In 2017, however, change might just be coming. Newly-hired offensive coordinator John Morton has stressed the importance of the position, and he may have the weapons to work with. Austin Seferian-Jenkins has had a troubled past, but coaches and reporters alike gushed about the former Buccaneer during OTAs. Seferian-Jenkins lost a reported 25 pounds, and according to NJ.Com’s Connor Hughes was, “the most impressive player on the field.”
Seferian-Jenkins would likely be a lock to start over rookie Jordan Leggett in week one, if only he could play. Seferian-Jenkins was suspended two games by the NFL, opening the door for Leggett and creating an intriguing battle at the position. Leggett played well for the national champion Clemson Tigers as a college senior, but is reportedly still raw in many aspects of the game. However, Leggett is talented, and if the Jets can coach him up by the time the regular season rolls around, there’s a chance he could make an impact immediately. Still, it would take an eye-popping performance in the season’s first two weeks for Leggett to steal the job from an older, more experienced Seferian-Jenkins.
Edge: Austin Seferian-Jenkins
5. Kicker: Ross Martin vs. Chandler Catanzaro
After cutting long-time kicker Nick Folk, the New York Jets signed former Arizona Cardinal Chandler Catanzaro to fill Folk’s role as the team’s starting placekicker. Catanzaro has had an inconsistent career, however, making only 75 percent of his field goals in 2016 after making a combined 89 percent in the two years prior. Catanzaro is only a $900,000 cap hit, giving the Jets flexibility to cut him with limited financial repercussions.
Competing against Catanzaro is the little-known Ross Martin, an undrafted product who was an all-ACC kicker at Duke University. Martin shined early in camp last year, and there was talk of him even upending Folk for the starting job. A subpar performance in preseason, however, quickly put those talks to bed. Still, Martin has a powerful leg, and put forth a strong showing in OTAs. It would be a considerable upset if Martin were to win the starting gig over the more seasoned Catanzaro, but I’ll give him the edge. Catanzaro is trending in the wrong direction, and the Jets will want to give Martin a shot at being the team’s long-term kicker.
Edge: Ross Martin