Nobody ever said being a New York Jets fan is easy. Nobody in their right mind, anyway.
But even in that context, the 2017 NFL season looks poised to try the patience of even the most faithful fans. Buckle up for some major turbulence ahead of Sunday’s season opener in Buffalo.
The team wasn’t exactly starting from a strong foundation after a disappointing 5-11 slog in 2016 under head coach Todd Bowles, who returns for his third season at the helm. But vital players on both sides of the ball were cut loose or shipped out in the eight months since the Jets lost to the Bills, 22-17, to end their season.
Top two receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are gone. Longtime starting center Nick Mangold was let go. Former All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis was kicked to the curb. Linebacker David Harris refused a pay cut and now plays for the rival New England Patriots. Just last week, defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was shipped to the Seattle Seahawks. In all cases except Revis, who clearly had lost a step, the replacements appear inferior to the players they replaced.
At quarterback, where Ryan Fitzpatrick struggled a year ago and has been replaced with journeyman Josh McCown, there’s little to be excited about. McCown, 38, is a placeholder for whomever the Jets select with their first-round pick in April, expected to be near or at the top of the board. It’s possible former second-round pick Christian Hackenberg could impress if called upon later this season, but the fact he didn’t win the job outright in August casts doubt upon that scenario.
Regardless of who starts, this group of runners and receivers leaves much to be desired. At this point, running back Bilal Powell likely is the Jets’ best weapon on offense, followed by his 31-year-old backfield mate Matt Forte. The handful of healthy wideouts and tight ends might be the worst of all 32 teams.
The offensive line, meanwhile, is a work in progress after significant turnover the past two years and just one draft pick — 2016 fifth-rounder and starting right tackle Brandon Shell — used on the unit. Maybe it’s just as well there’s no quarterback of the future on the field to absorb weekly punishment.
Not all is doom and gloom for Gang Green thanks to some intriguing pieces on defense.
Anchored by 2015 first-round pick and 2016 Pro Bowl selection Leonard Williams, the front three of their 3-4 scheme should apply more pressure than most. If Muhammad Wilkerson bounces back from a disappointing 2016 season, all the better for the defensive line.
Darron Lee, the team’s 2016 top pick, appears to have been a great find at linebacker. His development in Year 2 should be fun to watch. Ditto for rookie safeties Jamal Adams — a contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year — and Marcus Maye as they begin their careers after going in the first and second rounds, respectively.
Although it’s probable the defense will go through growing pains this season, fans can take solace the kids are indeed growing.
Jets 2017 Schedule
Sunday @ Bills
Sept. 17 @ Raiders
Sept. 24 vs. Dolphins
Oct. 1 vs. Jaguars
Oct. 8 @ Browns
Oct. 15 vs. Patriots
Oct. 22 @ Dolphins
Oct. 29 vs. Falcons
Nov. 2 vs. Bills
Nov. 12 @ Buccaneers
Week 11 Bye
Nov. 26 vs. Panthers
Dec. 3 vs. Chiefs
Dec. 10 @ Broncos
Dec. 17 @ Saints
Dec. 24 vs. Chargers
Dec. 31 @ Patriots