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Geno Smith remains the presumptive favorite to start at quarterback for the Jets in 2014, despite the team's offseason addition of Michael Vick. Smith ran with the first-teamers during OTAs, and he's expected to dominate reps with the varsity offense when camp begins. There's little reason to believe, as of this writing, that a true position battle is taking place at quarterback in New York.
And this fact leads us to the first and most obvious problem facing the Jets: Geno was dreadful last season, even by rookie standards.
Smith started all 16 games for Rex Ryan's team, yet finished with only twelve TD passes. He completed just 55.8 percent of his throws, tossed 21 interceptions, lost four fumbles and was sacked 43 times. It was basically a season full of negative plays, with occasional flashes of competence against the worst defenses on New York's schedule. Smith had a largely unimpressive preseason — remember this gem? — followed by a largely unimpressive regular season. During one four-week stretch, he failed to reach double-digit completions in any game.
Sure, Smith was an effective runner last year, particularly over the season's final four weeks (186 yards, 3 TDs), which helped salvage his fantasy value to a certain extent. But he'll need to improve substantially as a passer, in all areas, if he's ever going to put himself on the radar in our game. He should not be drafted in fantasy leagues of standard size. Vick, at the moment, is merely an aging, inaccurate, injury-prone backup.
If Geno is going to make a leap in his second NFL season, he'll need plenty of help from the Jets' retooled receiving corps. The most significant addition to that group was free agent wideout Eric Decker, who subsequently appeared on every fantasy guru's list of offseason losers. You shouldn't need an expert to tell you that the downgrade from Peyton Manning to Geno will kneecap Decker's fantasy value. That's not useful analysis. Decker was targeted 136 times last season, operating in the most prolific passing offense in NFL history. The Broncos out-gained the Jets by a ridiculous 2,302 passing yards last year, finishing with 42 more passing scores. Without question, Decker's numbers will suffer.
But is he undraftable? Of course not. I actually feel as if Decker will be so universally pilloried that he'll emerge as a decent draft-day bargain. At the moment, his ADP in Yahoo leagues is a not-too-terrifying 81.7; we're treating him as a fringe WR3/flex-type, which seems appropriate. At 6-foot-3, Decker remains an inviting red-zone target. If Geno manages to pass for 16-20 scores, Decker is a decent bet to catch 7-9.
It should go without saying that New York's offense is unlikely to produce a second ownable fantasy receiver, so there's no need for you to closely monitor the camp catfight to be this team's No. 2 wideout. The reliable-if-unspectacular Jeremy Kerley remains in the mix, along with 6-foot-5 David Nelson and talented underachiever Stephen Hill. The Jets also used a fourth-round pick on UCLA rookie Shaq Evans, who profiles as a chain-moving possession receiver. Again, if you're playing in a typical 10 or 12-person redraft league, there's absolutely no need to consider any player mentioned in this paragraph. So let's move on...
For dynasty purposes, I'm plenty interested in rookie tight end Jace Amaro, a player who feasted at Texas Tech last year (106 catches, 1,352 yards). Highlights and hype can be found right here. Amaro broke the single-season FBS record for receiving yards last year, and he'll serve as another large target (6-foot-5) for Geno in 2014. It's extremely rare for any first-year tight end to make a splash in fantasy, of course, so no one should get too bullish on Amaro (or Ebron, or ASJ). But you need to keep him in your long-range plans. He's obviously landed on a team with a dearth of receiving talent, so there's a chance he'll make noise in his first season.
As everyone knows, New York is fundamentally a ground-and-pound team in a pass-happy world. The Jets ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing last season (134.9 YPG) and fifth in total rush attempts (493). No one should expect the run-pass blend to be so different in 2014. Chris Johnson was signed to a two-year, $8 million deal back in April, and he projects to be the lead dog — though not the lone dog — in this team's backfield. To Johnson's credit, he's never missed a game due to injury in his pro career, and he played with a meniscus tear last season. Whatever else he is, CJ isn't some delicate player. But he's also entering his age-29 season, and he's a high-mileage back with over 1,700 career carries. Thus, the expectation is that Johnson will serve as the head of a committee:
"He's got some miles on him," Jets running backs coach Anthony Lynn conceded. "So we're going to have to be strategic in how we use him, and when we use him, to keep him fresh so that he can be the explosive guy that I know that he can be."
"This year, it’s about winning," Johnson said [shortly after signing]. "I want to come into a program where I think we could win. And if that’s what the coach feels we [have to do to] win, then that’s what we have to do.”
So he'll share the backfield touches with Chris Ivory and, to a lesser extent, Bilal Powell. A reasonable workload projection for CJ would be something like 165-185 carries and perhaps 40 catches. The hope is that by dialing back his touches, the Jets can maximize his per-carry effectiveness. Johnson has been selected ahead of Toby Gerhart in Yahoo drafts so far (ADPs 76.6 and 86.3), which I do not condone, but I certainly expect CJ to remain a viable low-end fantasy starter. Ivory is now a handcuff with benefits.
New York's defense shut down the run last season, allowing just 3.4 yards per carry (best in the league) and 88.3 yards per game. This team's D-line is terrific, led by notable IDPs Muhammad Wilkerson (10.5 sacks) and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson (77 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two rush TDs). Stopping opposing QBs was another matter entirely for the Jets, as this defense ranked 22nd against the pass (246.7 YPG) and allowed 26 TDs via the air. You'll own this D/ST in Week 1, when New York hosts Oakland, but you really need to kick 'em to the curb following the opener. The schedule takes a brutal turn in Weeks 2-7: at GB, CHI, DET, at SD, DEN, at NE. Good luck in that stretch, Gang Green.
2013 New York Jets team statistics: 18.1 PPG (NFL rank 29), 204.4 pass YPG (30), 13 pass TDs (32), 134.9 rush YPG (6), 30.8 rush attempts per game (5), 30.0 pass attempts per game (29)