Juggernaut Index, No. 30: The Jets have issues, but Sam Darnold offers hope

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Andy Behrens
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Jets fans should really focus on the team’s new quarterback. All else is secondary this season. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
Jets fans should really focus on the team’s new quarterback. All else is secondary this season. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Sam Darnold, the future face of the New York Jets, just turned 21 on Tuesday. This team’s fans have good reason to feel at least guardedly optimistic about the trajectory of the franchise. Darnold is a gifted passer who possesses pretty much every trait desired by scouts. When you have a young potential star at quarterback, you have hope.

New York’s short term outlook, however, is complicated. Both the offense and defense ranked in the bottom-half of the league last season, the O-line graded poorly and the team led the AFC in total punts. No Jets skill player reached 1000 scrimmage yards last year. An alarming number of dudes on this roster have recently been arrested. This club has issues, no question.

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Veteran quarterback Josh McCown has wrung every drop of value out of his career as an athlete, and he enters his age-39 season as a mentor and temporary seat-filler. Very soon, it’s Darnold’s show.

How early in the year will Sam Darnold take the controls for the Jets?

Darnold was the third overall pick on draft night, so he’s definitely gonna play. High-value young quarterbacks like this don’t remain on the sidelines for long. McCown still seems likely to open the season behind center for New York, but if he’s starting in December … well, that will only happen if everyone else is injured. The Jets have a string of three straight home games scheduled in October (Den, Ind, Min) and it’s tough to believe we won’t see Darnold in one or all of ’em.

Welcome to New York, Sam Darnold. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Welcome to New York, Sam Darnold. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Darnold is a fearless passer with the arm strength necessary to make every NFL throw. He has ideal size (6-foot-3, 220) and he’s capable of making on-the-money anticipation passes. He had plenty of nice moments under pressure and on the move as a collegiate player, too. If you somehow haven’t seen much of him, it’s worth viewing his work in USC’s classic Rose Bowl win over Penn State, a game in which he passed for 453 yards and five scores. (That game was full of pros, a fun watch. USC’s receivers left a few yards on the field.) Darnold is excellent. He was presumably a strong candidate go No. 1 overall; he’s two full years younger than Baker Mayfield, for what it’s worth.

Of course it can take Darnold as long to complete his windup and release as it took you to read that last paragraph, so it’s not as if he’s without flaws. He threw 13 interceptions last season, though six of them were in his first three games (all home wins). Darnold isn’t a finished product, which is obviously fine. It’s not as if the Jets offense is otherwise ready to steamroll the league. New York fans should feel great about the team’s new franchise QB. Jeremy Bates, the Jets OC, has a nice history as a quarterbacks coach. McCown is a phenomenal resource and mentor as well. It’s no surprise that Josh hits all the right notes when asked about Darnold:

“Coaches will make those decisions on when [Darnold] is ready to play and when the time is right,” McCown continued. “And I’ll support him whole heartedly. To me, that’s what it’s about. It’s about stabilizing this position for this organization. In the short term, if that means going out and playing games and winning games, then I’ll do that. If Sam shows himself ready to go and they make that decision, then I’ll support him 100 percent and be right beside him.”

It should go without saying that you can’t draft McCown or the rookie in standard redraft fantasy leagues. But the future looks bright for the Jets at the game’s most important position, and the team’s receiving corps has a few interesting pieces.

Robby Anderson is looking to make another leap

Anderson, a burner with 4.34 speed, led the Jets in targets (114), touchdowns (7) and receiving yards (941) last season. He also ranked among the top-20 in the league in yards per catch (14.9) and receptions of 20-plus yards (17). If you had him on a roster in November, he probably carried you into the playoffs. Anderson was thoroughly useful while McCown was at QB. No reasonable observer can blame him for struggling during the Bryce Petty weeks.

Unfortunately, Anderson has had a few legal entanglements over the past year, so, if you were drafting a league today (which is a terrible idea), you’d have to fret about a potential suspension. His ADP offers profit potential (110.7), so no complaints there.

Quincy Enunwa has reason to smile, now that he’s back in the game. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Quincy Enunwa has reason to smile, now that he’s back in the game. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

New York’s secondary receivers are a respectable group, with a dash of upside. Quincy Enunwa missed the 2017 season following August neck surgery, but he should be good to go in camp after participating in OTAs. Enunwa led this team in receiving yards two seasons ago (58-857-4) and he’s only 26 years old. He ranked top-20 at his position in yards-after-catch in 2016 (365), so he’s not some catch-and-fall specialist, despite his size. If for some reason I was determined to draft a Jets receiver other than Anderson, Enunwa would be the guy.

Veteran Jermaine Kearse remains in the mix, plus the team signed notable 2017 bust Terrelle Pryor. At the moment, Pryor is recovering from a reportedly minor surgical procedure on his right foot, but he’s expected to be ready for camp. (If you’re still interested in Pryor, I won’t fight you for him. All yours, buddy.) The team is high on second-year Cal receiver Chad Hansen, so file away his name, too. You can safely ignore the Jets tight ends in standard fantasy formats; it’s a sketchy group of names, and the position won’t be heavily targeted.

Is this the year Bilal Powell final—?

Yeah, I’m gonna stop you right there and say no. Emphatic no. Sorry, Bilal zealots. You guys will always have December, 2016. Good times. Treasure those memories.

Powell has been a productive runner (4.4 YPC) and receiving threat for the Jets over his seven seasons, but he turns 30 in October. We’ve very likely seen his best. Also, it should be abundantly clear that the team views him purely as a committee back, not a workhorse. Powell is a nice player, a serviceable flex in deep-ish fantasy formats, but he’s not mid-draft gem for ZeroRB sharks. He’s fine.

Newly acquired Isaiah Crowell figures to receive at least as many touches as Powell, and the two players should complement each other well. Let’s not forget that Crowell caught 40 balls two seasons ago in Cleveland, so his usage shouldn’t be limited to early-down runs. If you draft either of these backs in a 10-team league, there’s a good chance he’ll be among your first drops. And if/when either player suffers an injury, Elijah McGuire or Thomas Rawls will step up to maintain the committee arrangement.

Crowell is the one player on the Jets roster who currently has a top-100 ADP, and he’s buried in the middle rounds (92.4). This is a team that only a deep league fantasy manager can love. Darnold’s development is the essential story for New York in 2018. Everything else is distraction.

(Just for the record, this has to be the first time in the 11-year history of this silly index that three teams from the same division have ranked 30-32. Wow. Finally, the Patriots catch a break.)

2017 Offensive Stats & Ranks

Points per game – 18.6 (24th in NFL)
Pass YPG – 198.9 (24)
Rush YPG – 106.4 (19)
Yards per play – 5.0 (21)
Plays per game – 61.5 (25)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Buffalo, 31) Miami

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