With numerous offseason subtractions surrounding veteran players, are the New York Jets truly the least of the east?
For what seems like the last two decades, the New England Patriots are far and above the class of the AFC East. Nothing new to the Gang Green faithful.
The Miami Dolphins look like a distant second. With the play of Jay Cutler during Week 3 of the NFL Preseason, a Wild Card berth is not out of the question.
This leaves the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets in a fight for the bottom of the division. Both organizations have done their darnedest to weaken their squads for a run at a top flight pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Buffalo Bills made headlines by trading former first round pick Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams, getting E.J. Gaines and a third round pick in exchange. They also moved defensive back Ronald Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles for sure-handed wide out Jordan Matthews and an additional pick.
Matthews is the type of volume receiver that can aid in the growth of a young quarterback, which new Head Coach, Sean McDermott may be eyeing next spring. He has compiled 225 receptions over a three-year span.
But make no mistake about it, the Bills offseason isn’t about garnering players. The goal for this season is to get into the bottom five of the league and to snag one of the highly touted college quarterbacks.
So far this offseason, the Bills have been able to move on from Sammy Watkins, Reggie Ragland and Ronald Darby. Anquan Boldin, who the Bills hoped to be a veteran locker room presence retired at the beginning of August.
Boldin’s departure opened the need for a veteran wide receiver, leading to the trade of Darby to the Eagles for Matthews and a third round pick. Additional asset gathering for next year’s draft has been the priority.
For the New York Jets, they have also done a bit of cutting the fat. Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, David Harris and Brandon Marshall are all gone. Harris to the rival New England Patriots and Marshall to the cross-town New York Giants.
While Mangold and Revis remain lingering in free agency, father time may have diminished the skills of the once prominent duo. Their services may or may not be requested by contenders as the preseason winds down, but one thing is for sure: another stint with the Jets isn’t expected.
With extreme turnover for both squads, ESNY takes a look at how the two organizations shape up on offense and defense, and determine who is actually the “Least of the East” heading into the 2017 campaign.
Buffalo Bills Offense vs. New York Jets Offense:
First-time head coach Sean McDermott will experience growing pains over 2017 with youth and lack of depth on offense. However, he will begin the year with veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor under center.
Taylor can be a steady presence when he is right. A concussion during the third week of the preseason may affect his status for the opener. Consequently, the opener is a game against the New York Jets.
In the event Taylor isn’t ready to go, the Bills may be forced to call on rookie Nathan Peterman. The Pittsburgh Panthers product has only passed for one touchdown during his first preseason.
That could be due to the collection of receivers at his disposal. The wide out depth chart leaves a lot to be desired outside of Jordan Matthews. Rookie Zay Jones could eventually make a splash, but he lacks experience.
It is doubtful that the Bills faithful will be raving about Andre Holmes and Rod Streater running routes in what will be an abundance of blowouts not in their favor. While Charles Clay is a more than capable tight end, his value may be in the return he can garner on the trade market rather than his red zone receptions.
Though an offensive line rarely gets the praise it deserves, the Bills compiled a pretty good one with early round picks Cordy Glenn and Eric Wood anchoring it. The line has provided the openings needed to allow for LeSean McCoy to remain at the height of the running back bests.
McCoy is coming off another 1,000-yard season with double-digit touchdowns. Now in his ninth season, he will not only be the lead back, but play mentor to Jonathan Williams. That is … if he remains with the Bills.
The quarterback situation for the New York Jets is very comparable to that of the Buffalo Bills. Josh McCown is about as capable of a backup quarterback as there is in the league, unfortunately, he looks like the Jets first option.
Christian Hackenberg will be the wildcard for Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles during the 2017 season. There is a great chance, that at some point during the season, he will be under center. They need to see with their own eyes if there is a future for the former Penn State signal caller.
The biggest challenge McCown and Hackenberg will face is the inexperience that surrounds them on the offensive side of the ball. Both the offensive line and wide receiving corp are young. When you subtract players like Nick Mangold, Brandon Marshall and Ryan Clady, the glue a veteran can represent disappears too.
While optimism will surround the defense due to the talent ceiling of the young players, the offensive skill positions don’t carry the same pedigree. Quincy Enunwa, the breakout star of 2016, will miss the entire season.
First and second-year players such as Robbie Anderson, Charone Peake, ArDarius Stewart or Chad Hansen will need to establish a presence in the NFL for the Jets to rise to respectability. Stewart, a former Alabama standout will be one to watch moving forward, as he has shown great strength during the preseason.
Tight end has never been a strength of the Jets. Maccagnan drafted national champ Jordan Leggett to change that. While Leggett is still raw, a new, focused Austin Seferian-Jenkins may be the Mac acquisition who could provide the biggest payoff.
Though he didn’t make waves during his time in Tampa Bay, a more focused version of ASJ could mentor the rookie, whose reputation is one of being a bit on the lazy side. At some point, the pair could become one of the most dangerous red zone duos in the league.
No stranger to the end zone, veteran running back Matt Forte is one of the few senior members of the Jets who remains — unless Maccagnan can find a trade partner over the next several weeks.
Bilal Powell, a similar type running back who also has reached an age where his days are numbered, could play handcuff to the incumbent Elijah McGuire. McGuire, a late round pick, has all the makings of an NFL volume carrier. How long Forte will be around to hold him back remains to be seen.
Verdict: At this point, the New York Jets seem to be lacking in the two places where it matters most on the offensive side of the ball, quarterback and offensive line.
Buffalo Bills Defense vs. New York Jets Defense:
The New York Jets spent the offseason offloading high priced veterans. Revis and Harris were the two most high profile releases in the veteran sweep conducted this spring.
The Bills, on the other hand, traded their defensive stars that are just entering their prime. Reggie Ragland and Ronald Darby are two players who have extremely high ceilings, who instead of became building blocks, were cashed in for future assets.
Sean McDermott, a defensive mind who studied under the great former Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, will look to add players more suitable to his style of defense. Those players may not currently be on the squad and could be targets in the 2018 draft.
Cornerback Tre’davious White and second-year defensive end Shaq Lawson will provide the base for McDermott’s defense. With a mix of youth and veteran presence, the Bills will undoubtedly spend their newly acquired draft picks to upgrade a defense that will need to combat the greatness that is Bill Belichick.
The Jets have implored this strategy over the last several years, building a defensive base to stifle quarterback great Tom Brady. A task they have not yet conquered.
With Leonard Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson, Darron Lee, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye adding undeniable talent to the three levels of Todd Bowles’ defense, an organization who has tried to build an identity on defense, may not be far from doing so again.
If the latter names mentioned can create the aura of an early Rex Ryan defense, one side of the ball will be able to keep the Jets in the majority of games during 2018. Whether the offense can provide the points to win those games remains the biggest question going into the season.
Verdict: As it currently stands, the Bills defense pales in comparison to the talent compiled on the Jets’ roster.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if these two teams finish as the worst two teams in the league. For both, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Having that chance at a franchise quarterback is the key to success and as it stands now, the 2018 NFL Draft could offer enough for both organizations.