Juggernaut Index, No. 32: The New York Jets

Andy Behrens

The Juggernaut Index is our annual preseason ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FANTASY PURPOSES. Here, we care primarily about yards and points. We’re not forecasting wins and losses. This isn’t your standard NFL power ranking. If a team’s roster features multiple upper-tier fantasy assets, that group will rank near the top of the J.I. If instead a team features nothing but fantasy drek, you’ll find ‘em near the bottom. Make sense? Great. Really, the J.I. is just a gimmick, a way to deliver team-by-team fantasy spin.

In the six years that I’ve been producing the Juggernaut Index for Yahoo!, there has never been a more obvious choice for No. 32. This year’s version of the New York Jets is painfully light on talent at the skill spots, and the team’s presumptive starting quarterback is kind of a walking plague. Let’s just try to get this big green [expletive] pile out of the way quickly, so we can get to the useful teams.

The Jets will have their third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, as Marty Mornhinweg joined the coaching staff back in January. Mornhinweg will either need to resuscitate the career of Mark Sanchez — somehow turning a reckless, scattershot passer into a competent West Coast quarterback — or he’ll need to get second-round rookie Geno Smith up to speed in a hurry. Both of those tasks seem difficult.

Sanchez is coming off a funny-bad season in which he threw 18 interceptions, lost eight fumbles, and tossed only 13 touchdown passes. He’s entering his fifth year in the league, and his best single-season completion percentage is 56.7, which of course isn’t very good. Sanchez has averaged just 6.5 yards per pass attempt for his career (6.4 in 2012), and he’s thrown more picks (69) than TD passes (68).

Simply put, Sanchez is a mess. He’s not draft-worthy in standard fantasy formats. If you’re involved in a league where you can start two QBs, your primary draft-day goal is to avoid Mark Sanchez.

(By the way, don’t give me any nonsense about Sanchez “leading” New York to back-to-back AFC title games. Just please don’t do it. The Jets had the league’s top-ranked defense in 2009, then the No. 3 defense in 2010. You know perfectly well why those teams won.)

Of course it’s entirely possible that Sanchez won’t actually be at the controls of New York’s offense this season. Let’s hope. Geno Smith is plenty interesting, and he put up silly numbers last year at West Virginia: 4,205 yards, 71.2 completion percentage, 42 TDs, six interceptions. He slipped in terms of efficiency in the second half of the Mountaineers’ season — all of his picks and just two of his wins occurred in his final seven games — but he’s an NFL-quality passer. He can make the throws, he can find his secondary targets. If you’re looking for thoughtful hype on Smith, here’s a link to a scouting take from Shutdown Corner’s Doug Farrar.

Like most first-year quarterbacks, Smith faces a steep learning curve as he adjusts to a (very) different system and makes a serious leap in quality-of-competition. These were a few of Rex Ryan’s recent comments, when asked about Smith’s transition from the collegiate ranks (via the Newark Star-Ledger):

"I think when we get out to training camp and we have that time we'll see if [Smith] is ready or not ready. We'll make that decision. Are there things he's working every day at? Absolutely. He came from a system that this is not a surprise. He came from a system that primarily was a shotgun system.

“His steps — dropbacks — his mechanics footwork wise weren't dialed in the way they'll have to be at this level. I think some of that is your five and seven step drops, it's all new to him. But sometimes you can't even notice it. Because when he's on, the guy is absolutely terrific.”

I’m certainly ready for the Geno Era to begin, though it may not happen in Week 1. There’s talk that Smith could run a read-option package in New York, but fantasy owners need to understand that we’re not talking about Kaepernick or RG3 here. Don’t expect a heaping mound of rushing goodies. For now, Smith is strictly of interest for the dynasty crowd.

This team’s receiving corps is pretty miserable, barely worth our time. In fact, I have to imagine that in most 8 and 10-team standard fantasy leagues, no Jets receivers will be drafted, except by mistake. Santonio Holmes is coming off a worrisome Lisfranc injury and isn’t a lock to be ready for the opener. Wherever you’ve slotted him in your ranks, it’s probably too high. Stephen Hill has never seen a pass he couldn’t drop, and Jeremy Kerley is just a guy — not bad, but not special. Tight end Jeff Cumberland had such an unimpressive minicamp that the team decided to kick the tires on Kellen Winslow Jr.

Bottom line: Don’t draft anyone mentioned in the previous paragraph. Realistically, this team probably needs to sign another receiver or two. Laurent Robinson, maybe? Mike Sims-Walker? Austin Collie? Dunno. Whoever the Jets add, don’t draft that guy, either.

New York’s running game is moderately interesting, because we can assume the volume will be there. Last year, in a six-win season, the Jets finished sixth in the NFL in rush attempts (30.9 per game). Shonn Greene was relentlessly ordinary, yet he still gained 1,063 yards on the ground and broke the plane eight times in 2012. If Chris Ivory can remain healthy for a full season — and that’s no small if — he should at least be able to match Greene’s level of performance.

Ivory has put a few highlight runs on tape over the years — here’s a personal favorite — and he possesses both power and the ability to make tacklers miss. I like him just fine. Everyone likes him. He’ll appear on a few thousand sleeper lists this summer, which kinda kills his sleeper status.

Still, Ivory is worth your attention. He’s in line to get 250-plus carries, assuming he stays unbroken, and the price tag won’t be outrageous. Ivory will receive considerably more attention from opposing defenses than he ever did in New Orleans, because the downgrade from Drew Brees to Sanchez/Smith is … well, it’s ridiculous. But he’s a talented back, probably the only Jets player capable of delivering, say, a top-16 season at his position. New York's line can run-block, so no worries there.

At one point, Mike Goodson seemed like a significant threat to Ivory’s workload. But now, after the offseason arrest on gun and drug charges, he really just seems like a threat to public safety. If he's going to achieve fantasy relevance, he’ll need the ugly legal predicaments to be resolved in his favor. Don’t eliminate Goodson from the lowest tier of your draft board just yet, but you can't draft him with enthusiasm. The uninteresting Bilal Powell figures to open the season third on the backfield depth chart for New York. I don't need to talk you out of him, right? Good.

The Jets defense was a bottom-half unit in every meaningful category last year: points allowed (23.4), total yards (323.4) and turnovers (23). So it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that this team’s DEF wasn’t a fantasy difference-maker in 2012. Darrelle Revis is gone, which can’t possibly help, but the team is making noises about dialing up pressure this season. So there’s that. The Jets certainly didn’t ignore the defense during the offseason, drafting CB Dee Milliner and DT Sheldon Richardson in the first round. New York also added LB Antwan Barnes and SS Dawan Landry, two players who have a history with Ryan. The Yahoo! experts have ranked this team’s D as a high-end streaming option (No. 14), not as a unit that needs to be owned throughout the year.

OK, that’s more than needed to be said about Gang Green’s fantasy potential. You probably didn’t need an expert to tell you that the outlook isn’t spectacular. The first week is always rough with these Juggernaut posts, gamers. I promise it gets better.

2012 team stats: 17.6 points per game (28), 198.6 passing yards (30), 118.5 rushing yards (12), 24.8 yards per drive (30), 0.185 turnovers per drive (31)