The New York Jets were supposed to be the worst team in the NFL, struggling to find a single victory in 2017, while the New England Patriots were supposed to make a run at the perfect season. Both teams sit at 3-2 through five games, although the Patriots are much more hopeful about their future prospects and sustaining their winning ways.
Most expected the Jets to tank this season with the hopes of drafting one of the handful of top quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft. USC’s Sam Darnold, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Washington State’s Luke Falk, and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson are the top talents in the class, with Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, and Washington’s Jake Browning the next in line. It’s a deep class, although only three are seniors and might actually declare for the draft.
And with the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and New York Giants all hungry for quarterbacks and boasting 3-game leads over the Jets in the race for the #1 pick, it’s possible the Jets could be playing their way out of their franchise savior at quarterback.
We spoke with Michael Nania of GangGreenNation.com to get his thoughts on the Jets and Patriots heading into week 6.
1. Are Jets fans happy about being 3-2 or upset that it’s affecting their draft stock?
There's still some conflict among the fanbase, but I think the latest win, putting them above .500 and tying them for first place (even if it was a sloppy win against the Browns), has most of the fans enjoying the surprising start. Then again, there are still some fans who realize that the Jets haven't come close to proving themselves to be true contenders yet, and in turn are upset at the loss of ground in the tank race.
2. How are the Jets apparently better than they were last year after shedding all their veterans?
Many of the veterans shed by the Jets simply aren't good anymore, as they have all proven at the start of this season. Eric Decker, Brandon Marshall, Calvin Pryor, Nick Folk, and David Harris with you guys over in New England have all had either negative, little, or no impact on their respective new teams (Pryor and Folk were cut). Nick Mangold, Ryan Clady, and Darrelle Revis never even made it onto a new team.
Many of the young players taking their place have come on faster than expected. Defensively, young safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye have arguably been the team's best two players. Demario Davis, reacquired after spending one year in Cleveland, has come on strong over the winning streak. Former Patriot Kony Ealy has been a playmaker when healthy.
Offensively, the Jets have failed to score big and are still turning it over a bit too much, but they have still been much steadier and more mistake-free than last year's offense. Josh McCown hasn't been as good as his stats would suggest, but players like Jermaine Kearse, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Bilal Powell, and the rookie Elijah McGuire have all pitched in to spark the offense.
3. What would be the biggest weakness on the Jets right now?
Do not trust the box scores. Quarterback is still a weakness on this team. The Jets' conservative attack gives him an inflated completion percentage, but McCown leaves a ton of yards and points on the field. He takes bad sacks and like any journeyman quarterback makes too many poor decisions with the ball, often locking on to his first read.
The offensive line is not the worst in the league, but its inconsistencies have it closer to the bottom than the top. Count most on center Wesley Johnson to struggle. He is overpowered far too often up the middle and is likely at the core of the line's many communication issues.
On defense, the Jets are thin at cornerback past Morris Claiborne. He has had a strong start even though he has been facing some limited quarterbacks. The only other established starter is slot corner Buster Skrine, a magnet for negative ire from the fanbase because of his coverage issues. Past those two, it's a revolving door of young, inconsistent players like Juston Burris and another former Patriot, Darryl Roberts.
Darron Lee, the second year inside linebacker, also has been a weak spot. He has made a few more splash plays in the backfield over the past few weeks, but the lapses have still been there. He has unfortunately been burnt toast in coverage too often (particularly against running backs) and makes plenty of mental errors, from biting on play action to leaving daylight up the middle as he fills the wrong gaps.
4. The Jets have three new key faces in the secondary with Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, and Morris Claiborne. How have they fit with the secondary and what Todd Bowles tries to accomplish?
These three (the safeties in particular) are the biggest reason the Jets are 3-2. Adams and Maye both possess unique interchangeability at the safety position, lining up literally everywhere on the field besides the defensive line. Both have showcased instincts and IQ that is quite rare for a rookie to display from the very start.
Last season, the back end of the defense was a breakdown machine, yielding big plays drive after drive. That has been completely turned around this season, as Adams and Maye prevent far more big plays than they allow. The versatility possessed by both has helped Bowles be a lot more creative with his defense. Maye will spend most of his time lined up deep, but is a force in coverage, against the run, and as a last line of defense. Adams has actually seen a lot of snaps lined up at corner and linebacker.
Claiborne has not exactly had to face a gauntlet of passing offenses to start his Jets career, but he has held up well. Good quarterbacks might exploit his losses more often, but the production teams have had throwing in his direction has been low. Claiborne does consistently make some strong plays as a tackler in the open field, an ability that allows him to play a lot of off coverage to take away the deep ball (much unlike a certain #1 corner that wore green last season).