One indisputable fact can be said about the 2019 version of the New York Jets: The do not look the same.
That extends beyond their new vibrant green uniforms and helmets, the first major face-lift to the team’s look in more than 20 years. Changes throughout the organization yielded new head coach Adam Gase, first-year general manager Joe Douglas and a new superstar offensive weapon in running back Le’Veon Bell.
For a team that’s whiffed on postseason qualification in each of the last eight years, it’s easy to see why Gang Green made such sweeping changes. Last year’s 4-12 finish followed consecutive 5-11 campaigns with no reason to believe the status quo was building to something better.
After a decade of men at the helm with strong defensive coaching backgrounds, Gase brings with him a noted offensive mind. Given the Jets haven’t ranked among the Top 10 offenses in the NFL since 2008 and was frequently among the bottom 10 ever since, he couldn’t do much worse.
There’s not much room to go down from here, but how high can these Jets climb on the metaphorical NFL standings altimeter? Read on for some best- and worst-case scenarios for the upcoming season, which begins Sunday afternoon when the division rival Buffalo Bills visit MetLife Stadium.
It all starts with the face of the franchise, second-year quarterback Sam Darnold. After some natural early struggles as a rookie, the young passer came back from a midseason injury to play some of his best pro football over the season’s final month. That momentum carries over into 2019 with the addition of the multitalented Bell, who held out all of 2018 with the Pittsburgh Steelers rather than signing a second one-year franchise tender.
Darnold joins Cleveland Browns quarterback and fellow 2018 first-round pick Baker Mayfield among the new wave of star quarterbacks poised to appear regularly in the postseason, tallying more than 4,000 passing yards and 30 touchdown passes.
Pittsburgh’s loss is the Jets gain, as Bell springboards off a year of rest to regain his standing as one of the finest talents in football, regardless of position. Squarely in his athletic prime at 27 years old, he surpasses 2,000 yards from scrimmage for the second time in his career and becomes just the fourth player in franchise history with more than 1,300 rushing yards in a season.
Bell’s prowess as a pass-catcher offers higher quality looks to wide receivers Robby Anderson and newcomer Jamison Crowder. Anderson, a speedy deep threat, eclipses double-digit scores. Crowder makes good on bold offseason predictions by approaching 100 receptions and blowing past 1,000 receiving yards. Even tight end Chris Herndon, once he returns from his four-game league suspension for violating the NFL substance abuse policy, builds off his modest rookie success in 2018 to stake his claim as the long-term answer at the position.
The new blood acquired to bolster the offensive line gels together well. Joining holdover left tackle Kelvin Beachum — in a contract year — are left guard Kelechi Osemele and center Ryan Kalil. Osemele, traded by the Oakland Raiders, returns to his 2016 First-Team All-Pro level to form a sturdy wall to Darnold’s left. Kalil, who retired after 12 standout seasons with the Carolina Panthers but got the itch to play and signed on during training camp, enjoys the same level of health that allowed him to start all 16 games last season while playing at near Pro Bowl levels.
Renewed emphasis on offense breathes new life into a defense which already featured some elite talent and brought in high-profile additions since the end of 2018. Already one of the premier strong safeties in football, Jamal Adams takes his game to the next level in his third pro season with a First-Team All-Pro selection. He tops 100 tackles for the second year in a row, punishing opposing quarterbacks on sneaky blitzes and overall wreaking havoc in the defensive backfield.
Joining Adams is inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens. His first season in green after inking a lucrative five-year contract leads to the fifth Pro Bowl selection in his six seasons and merits discussion as an All-Pro honoree. Fellow newcomer Quinnen Williams, the Jets’ No. 3 overall selection in April’s draft, benefits from joining fellow Alabama alumnus Mosley with a beastly rookie campaign as an interior disrupter.
Williams meshes perfectly with returning defensive linemen Leonard Williams (no relation) and Henry Anderson. The latter Williams finally makes the leap from one-time Pro Bowler to perennial standout, while Anderson surpasses last year’s career-high seven sacks and approaches double digits in that category. Such standout play on the D-line leads to plenty of interceptions on bad throws for cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Darryl Roberts, who will more than double their combined five from 2018.
With balance on both sides of the ball, the Jets finally supplant the bitter rival New England Patriots as AFC East champions, the first division crown for the franchise since 2002.
All that sounds great, but dire results could await Gang Green more easily than lofty success.
For starters, Darnold could miss time for the second year in a row and find himself struggling mightily against the many elite defensive units on the schedule. A league-worst 19 interceptions raises serious questions about his ability to lead an NFL team as Jets are forced to mull options in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Bell, who was heavily used in Pittsburgh, shows signs of both wear and rust after his unique on-field history comes back to bite him. He fails to rush for 1,000 yards for the third time in six seasons, extending a team drought to four years without a thousand-yard back. He also misses significant action, a trend evident from just one season in which he played all 16 games.
Receiver Anderson suffers from consistent drops, offering Darnold little help as the QB faces pressure thanks to a return of bad offensive line play. Crowder flops in his first year with the Jets, and Herndon and slot receiver Quincy Enunwa can’t get open with enough frequency to sustain scoring drives. Kalil looks like he should have stayed off the field, and the right side of the line featuring guard Brian Winters and tackle Brandon Shell resembles a turnstile.
Adams struggles, encountering the first downturn early in his thus far brilliant career. From there, everything else unravels. The rest of the defensive backfield is a mess, giving up big plays weekly. The Williamses disappear amid a sea of opposing blockers without creating openings for outside linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Harvey Langi to hit the quarterback. Mosley earns the label of $85 million bust, with his contract quickly becoming an albatross.
All of this leads to the Jets approaching the infamous 1996 season’s level of futility, when the team went 1-15.
The current AFC landscape is crowded at the top, so a successful season should be one in which the Jets win two or three more games than a year ago. That’s an achievable goal thanks to the key additions of Bell and Mosley and the expected and continued development of cornerstones Darnold and Adams. They realistically can be the second-best team in the division, but still well off the level of defending Super Bowl champion New England.
Jets 2019 schedule
Week 1: vs. Buffalo Bills, Sept. 8, 1 p.m.
Week 2: vs. Cleveland Browns, Sept. 16, 8:15 p.m.*
Week 3: at New England Patriots, Sept. 22, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Bye
Week 5: at Philadelphia Eagles, Oct. 6, 1 p.m.
Week 6: vs. Dallas Cowboys, Oct. 13, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: vs New England Patriots, Oct. 21, 8:15 p.m.*
Week 8: at Jacksonville Jaguars, Oct. 27, 1 p.m.
Week 9: at Miami Dolphins, Nov. 3, 1 p.m.
Week 10: vs. New York Giants, Nov. 10, 1 p.m.
Week 11: at Washington Redskins, Nov. 17, 1 p.m.
Week 12: vs. Oakland Raiders, Nov. 24, 1 p.m.
Week 13: at Cincinnati Bengals, Dec. 1, 1 p.m.
Week 14: vs. Miami Dolphins, Dec. 8, 1 p.m.
Week 15: at Baltimore Ravens, Dec. 12, 8:20 p.m.**
Week 16: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, Dec. 22, 1 p.m.
Week 17: at Buffalo Bills, Dec. 29, 1 p.m.