This article is part of our Team Previews series.
On the heels of a 5-11 effort in 2017, the Jets predictably went through their share of offseason churn. Ultimately, the team's fortunes hinge on how quickly rookie signal-caller Sam Darnold, whom many had pegged as a candidate to be the No. 1 pick in the draft, can develop into an NFL starter.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
WHEN WILL DARNOLD START?
For the second consecutive year, the Jets enter training camp without a confirmed Week 1 starting quarterback. The team re-signed veteran journeyman Josh McCown after a 2017 campaign that saw him throw for 2,926 yards and 18 touchdowns in 13 games before suffering a season-ending broken hand. Joining the competition for positioning on the QB depth chart is former Vikings first-rounder Teddy Bridgewater. Initially, it looked like McCown and Bridgewater would battle it out for the gig, but that changed when the Jets made an aggressive move to trade up for the No. 3 pick in this year's draft. The act landed the team Sam Darnold, who could have been the top overall selection in 2017 had he been eligible. There seems to be little doubt that Darnold get some run as a rookie because he's now the future (present?) franchise quarterback, but a contract dispute is keeping him away from training camp as of press time. Despite his pedigree, it would be surprising if Darnold were to avoid struggles if/when he takes the field, given that he'll need to iron out some ball-security issues. His arrival predictably led to the release of 2015 fourth-round pick Bryce Petty, as well as the trade of 2016 second-rounder Christian Hackenberg. No matter how the Darnold situation plays out, McCown seems to be the favorite to be under center in the season opener.
WIDEOUT CORPS IN FLUX
The Jets approached last season with a hodgepodge of wide receivers, none of whom were elite in any way. After severing ties with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, Robby Anderson topped the depth chart and ended up pacing the team by catching 63 of 114 targets for 941 yards and seven touchdowns. Unfortunately, some off-the-field issues could see him suspended for the first few games of 2018. The Jets had plans for Quincy Enunwa to take on a bigger workload, but he suffered a serious neck injury during the preseason and missed the entire 2017 campaign. On the plus side, he's ahead of schedule in his recovery, as evidenced by practicing in full to begin training camp. Enunwa's injury paved the way for the Jets to acquire Jermaine Kearse from the Seahawks, giving them a reliable veteran presence in an otherwise young wide receiver group. Added to the mix this offseason was Terrelle Pryor, who fizzled out in Washington after racking up 77 receptions for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns for a dismal Browns team in 2016. With only $2 million in guaranteed money for this year, Pryor will be looking to break out in hopes of earning a new contract, a situation that could be a win for a Jets team that needs its wideouts to step up, especially with uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position.
BACKFIELD WELCOMES CROWELL
Last season, Bilal Powell and Matt Forte propelled the backfield with 281 carries for 1,153 yards and seven touchdowns, adding 60 catches on 78 targets for 463 receiving yards and one score, totals that hardly made them must-own fantasy players. Powell did have two games with more than 140 rushing yards and a score, but he was more prone to posting less than 50 yards (12 times) than topping the 70-yard mark (three). Forte has since retired, but Powell returns to face new competition for touches, mainly from free-agent pickups Isaiah Crowell and Thomas Rawls. Crowell appears in line to win the starting job but likely won't be used as an every-down back, especially with Powell fit for passing downs. During his four years in Cleveland, Crowell failed to hit the 1,000-yard plateau, though he did eclipse 850 yards on the ground the last two seasons. Rawls could be an option as well, though he's never been able to regain the form that saw him turn 147 rushes into 830 yards and four touchdowns for the Seahawks in 2015 before suffering a serious ankle injury. Elijah McGuire was a candidate for work as a receiving back, but after suffering a serious foot injury of his own at the start of training camp, he's in danger of missing significant time. If one thing is clear, the Jets have no clear bell-cow running back, potentially limiting the upside of every back on the depth chart should the top three manage to stay healthy.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Josh McCown
McCown returns for another season with his name atop the Jets' depth chart, though not in permanent ink. Thus, in the short term, the 39-year-old's run as a starter could extend into extra time. However, McCown figures to transition into a mentorship role, with a freshly-minted face of the franchise now in the fold.
RISING: Isaiah Crowell
Crowell could have his most productive campaign now that he's no longer playing for the worst team in the NFL. There will be tough competition for touches, but he's good enough to cement the starting job.
FALLING: Bilal Powell
Though Powell was the Jets' most consistent back last season, leading the team in carries and rushing yards, he's part of a crowded positional group. That context will limit his touches and upside outside of PPR formats.
SLEEPER: Quincy Enunwa
Many recognized Enunwa as a sleeper heading into last year thanks to his excellent size and pass-catching ability, but a season lost due to injury delayed the breakout. Now healthy, he could shine with enough targets.
KEY JOB BATTLE – BREAKDOWN OF RECEIVING CORPS
The Jets arguably have the least impressive tight end situation in the league, and the running backs are nothing to write home about, so the wide receiver position will be counted upon for a big chunk of the team's production on offense. With four guys that have topped 800 receiving yards in the past two seasons on the roster, it's still anyone's guess who will emerge as the Jets' highest flier. Robby Anderson is the favorite to lead the group after posting 941 yards and seven touchdowns last year, though the league could choose to hand him a suspension related to his two arrests in the past 13 months. While Jermaine Kearse's ceiling is well below that of Anderson's, the former Seahawks wideout did have a career year in New York with 810 yards and five scores after coming over in a trade. Terrelle Pryor and Quincy Enunwa both saw their 2017 campaigns derailed by injuries, but they posted 1,007 and 857 yards, respectively, in 2016. Enunwa's excellent blocking and proficiency on inside routes could also land him some reps at tight end if New York gets really desperate there. Owners in deeper settings should file away the name Chad Hansen, as the 2017 fourth-rounder has reportedly been outstanding in camp while drawing comparisons to Pierre Garcon. To round out the receiving corps, fellow sophomore ArDarius Stewart has hurt his chances of climbing the depth chart with a two-game suspension for a violation of the substance abuse policy.
Sam Darnold – QB (Rd. 1, No. 3 – USC)
After moving up in the draft, the Jets finally land their man.
Isaiah Crowell – RB (from Browns)
Should start, but likely will lose touches to others in the backfield.
Terrelle Pryor – WR (from Redskins)
Signed a one-year deal in the hopes of regaining 2016 form.
Trumaine Johnson – CB (from Rams)
Could be the best Jets cornerback since Darrelle Revis.
Matt Forte – RB (retired)
Shared carries with Bilal Powell last year before retiring.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins – TE (to Jaguars)
The best TE the team has had in years but cashed in with the Jaguars.
Muhammad Wilkerson – DE (to Packers)
Greatly disappointed after signing massive deal in 2016.
THE INJURY FRONT
Teddy Bridgewater, QB – Bridgewater has been limited to just two pass attempts since the end of the 2015 campaign due to a torn ACL and dislocated kneecap in his left knee, but he appears to have recovered fully from that career-threatening injury. While Bridgewater performed without limitations at camp, it will be tough to trust that his knee is completely healed until he's able to take part in live game action without showing any ill effects from the hits that inevitably come from doing so. With New York in no rush to hand the reins to third overall pick Sam Darnold, a healthy Bridgewater could challenge Josh McCown – who dealt with his own injury woes last year – for the starting job under center.
Josh McCown, QB – McCown had his campaign ended by a broken hand in Week 14 last season, but he outperformed expectations prior to going down, with a career-high 18 passing touchdowns against only nine interceptions. He indicated in January that he was a "few weeks away" from being completely healthy, so there's little reason to think McCown is operating at less than 100 percent at this point. Given his performance in 2017, he appears to be the best bet to start at quarterback in Week 1.
Quincy Enunwa, WR – After breaking out with 857 yards and four touchdowns on 58 receptions in 2016, Enunwa missed the entirety of the following campaign due to a bulging disk in his neck. He cleared a key hurdle in OTAs by practicing with a helmet on, and the physical pass-catcher practiced in full at the outset of training camp. Given the uncertainty surrounding New York's receiving corps, Enunwa should carve out a major role considering he's showed himself to be healthy.