The bulk of NFL roster building is now complete. Virtually all marquee free agents have found homes. The draft is officially in the books. Worthy undrafted players have been signed. Rookie tryout invites have been issued.
And so, for the most part, Mike Maccagnan has assembled the pool of players from which he and Todd Bowles will mold their 2018 Jets roster.
Of course, it’s still very early, and a lot can happen over the next several months. Last year, Maccagnan traded Sheldon Richardson to the Seahawks for Jermaine Kearse and a second-round pick on the first day of September. But it’s unlikely a deal of that magnitude materializes for the Jets this spring and summer.
Maccagnan talks often about creating as much competition at each position as possible, and it seems he’s achieved that goal entering rookie minicamp this weekend and OTAs later in May. He and Bowles will have tough calls to make all over the roster, starting at quarterback, as the team progresses through spring and into training camp, which starts in late July.
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The Jets braintrust will have months to evaluate players before making final decisions. Still, after a flurry of additions in the past two months, it’s an interesting exercise to examine just where the Jets stand in their roster construction as Bowles and Maccagnan head into their fourth season with Gang Green.
Here is a way-too-early projection for the Jets’ initial 53-man roster. Rookies are in italics.
QUARTERBACKS (3): Josh McCown, Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater
As it stands, the Jets have five quarterbacks on their roster the three listed above, along with former second-round pick Christian Hackenberg and former fourth-round pick Bryce Petty. It’s hard to foresee a scenario where either of those guys makes the final 53-man roster. The Jets could go through training camp with four quarterbacks. But they won’t keep five. That means either Hackenberg or Petty will be gone in the very near future. The other one could hang around for the summer. The status of Bridgewater’s knee will play a huge role in what route the Jets take for their third-string QB. If the former Vikings starter is fully healthy, he should make the roster over Hackenberg and Petty.
Jets UDFA Tracker: Maccagnan lands versatile Oklahoma fullback
RUNNING BACKS (5): Bilal Powell, Isaiah Crowell, Lawrence Thomas, Elijah McGuire, Trenton Cannon
This is one of the most competitive positions on the roster. Powell, who turns 30 in October, and Crowell, a free-agent acquisition, are apparent locks. After that, it’s a toss-up. Thomas played well at fullback last year after transitioning from D-line, but he will be battling in camp with former Oklahoma fullback Dmitri Flowers, who the Jets signed as an UDFA. McGuire, entering his second year, will have to earn his spot with former Seahawk Thomas Rawls and Cannon also in the mix. The Jets targeted Cannon as a kick and punt returner, which McGuire did a little of last season.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6): Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, Quincy Enunwa, Terrelle Pryor, Chad Hansen, ArDarius Stewart
The Jets only kept five wide receivers on their 53-man for Week 1 last year, but it seems as though they will be forced to retain six in 2018 if Enunwa who missed all last season because of neck surgery is ready to go. It’s highly doubtful Maccagnan will cut Stewart or Hansen after he spent third- and fourth-rounders on them, respectively, in the 2017 draft. Pryor was a high-profile free-agent addition.
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OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Kelvin Beachum, James Carpenter, Spencer Long, Brian Winters, Brandon Shell, Brent Qvale, Travis Swanson, Dakota Dozier, Ben Ijalana
Maccagnan did not add any offensive linemen in the draft. In fact, his only OL investments this offseason came at center, when he signed Spencer Long and Travis Swanson in free agency. That means the Jets will likely go with many of the same depth linemen they’ve used over the last three seasons, including Brent Qvale, Dakota Dozier and Ben Ijalana.
TIGHT END (3): Jordan Leggett, Eric Tomlinson, Chris Herndon
In his post-draft press conference on Day 3, Maccagnan offered a telling analysis of his decision to draft Herndon out of Miami (FL) in the fourth round: “He’s probably a little more athletic than some of the tight ends we have, and probably a better pass receiver.” Those are not encouraging words for Leggett, a 2017 fifth-round pick who missed all of last season with a knee injury. We still think he makes the roster. But the starting TE job is definitely up for grabs. The Jets like Tomlinson as a blocker. Hernon is coming off a torn MCL he suffered in November, but Maccagnan expects him to be ready for full participation in about a month.
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DEFENSIVE LINE (6): Leonard Williams, Steve McLendon, Mike Pennel, Nathan Shepherd, Xavier Cooper, Foley Fatukasi
The Jets re-signed Cooper and Pennel in March. Then they drafted Shepherd in the third round and Fatukasi in the sixth round. Both rookies will play predominantly defensive end, according to Bowles and Maccagnan, effectively serving as Muhammad Wilkerson’s replacements.
LINEBACKER (9): Darron Lee, Avery Williamson, Jordan Jenkins, Lorenzo Mauldin, Dylan Donahue, Josh Martin, Kevin Minter, Neville Hewitt, David Bass
The Jets entered free agency with a glaring need at outside linebacker. They exit this roster-building period with the same need. They didn’t add a legitimate edge rusher in free agency and they didn’t select one in the draft. This comes as a surprise, considering Bowles’ defenses have finished 28th and 29th in total sacks in the last two seasons, respectively. What does this mean? Maybe the Jets are higher on their young edge rushers than those outside the building. They may expect a big leap from Jenkins. They may think Donahue and Mauldin will come back strong from injuries. Or they could be making a major mistake.
Jets draft TE Chris Herndon, trade for Colts DE Henry Anderson
SAFETY (4): Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, Terrence Brooks, Rontez Miles
Same group as last season. Brooks and Miles starred on special teams, so they bring added value.
CORNERBACK (5): Trumaine Johnson, Morris Claiborne, Buster Skrine, Darryl Roberts, Parry Nickerson
It will be fascinating to see how the Jets round out their cornerback group. Johnson was the big-splash signing in free agency, and they also re-signed Claiborne to another one-year deal. Skrine fits in as the starting slot corner. Then the Jets could go any number of ways. Juston Burris (fourth-rounder in 2016), Roberts, Nickerson, Derrick Jones (sixth-rounder in 2017) and Jeremy Clark (sixth-round in 2017) will all be competing for two or maybe three spots. Bowles said Nickerson, who the Jets took in the sixth round this week, has the capability to play inside and backup Skrine in the slot. Burris is strictly an outside corner, while Roberts played emergency slot corner for brief stints last season.
Jets draft TE Chris Herndon, trade for Colts DE Henry Anderson
SPECIALISTS (3): Cairo Santos, Thomas Hennessy, Lachlan Edwards
Santos will likely have competition this summer, with the Jets claiming Nick Rose off waivers from the Chargers earlier this month. The Jets signed Santos in March.