For week two of our expert roundtable segment, our writers Paul ‘Boy Green’ Esden Jr and Michael Obermuller will solve each major training camp competition that the New York Jets are facing in 2021.
Each Monday morning we’ll do our best to answer the burning questions that are at the forefront of most fans’ minds, so let us know on Facebook if there are any suggestions for week three!
That being said, let’s dive into these preseason positional battles.
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Jets Question Mark Areas, Who Will Rise to the Occasion?
1. Who do you believe the Jets two starting outside cornerbacks will be by the end of training camp, and why? Plus as a bonus, do you have a favorite for the nickel corner job?
The only lock in this group is second-year corner Bryce Hall, the other two spots? That’s anyone’s guess. Hall showed a lot of promise in his rookie campaign and showed off the talent that could’ve made him a day two pick outside of the injuries he sustained in college.
The experts lead us to believe Bless Austin will be the starter, but the inconsistencies on tape and throughout his game scare me. I went bold before and I’ll stick to my guns, Isaiah Dunn will break through and become one of the starters at corner.
In terms of the nickel job? I’ll lean towards the player with slightly more experience in Javelin Guidry, but wouldn’t be surprised if the job is stolen from him.
I agree with Boy Green that Hall will be one of the two starters on the outside, even if defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said that the 2020 draft pick will have to earn it like everyone else. I also agree that Austin will be overtaken in camp.
Where we disagree is in which young Jets defensive back will steal the job. There was a time where I truly believed Richard Sherman would settle for a Robert Saleh reunion after striking out on the free-agent market but after his recent legal trouble, it’s hard to see Joe Douglas going this route. Instead, I’ll look to the player that most resembles the veteran corner, fifth-rounder Jason Pinnock.
The Pittsburgh graduate is a long, athletic corner that excels in press coverage. He’s also a perfect scheme fit for Saleh’s defense. Pinnock had the lowest college completion rate allowed in 2020 according to Pro Football Focus.
Sticking with the “scheme fit” theme for this answer in the slot as well. Saleh told rookie Michael Carter II that he had a “genuine plan” for him in this defense and I don’t think that was the head coach blowing smoke. Carter is built for this role and I believe he’ll show that during the preseason.
2. Will Greg Van Roten win the right guard job as expected, or do you believe there is an underdog candidate that could push the veteran out of the starting slot?
I want to answer this question with conviction: Cameron Clark will be the winner. Although I also enjoy being right, so I can’t possibly say that last statement with any level of confidence. We don’t know what he is. Last year he played zero snaps and wasn’t active. I really hope he surprises us all and takes the reins, but that seems unlikely.
“GVR” will get a push from a mix of veterans and youngsters, but ultimately he will win the job. Right now this is the weakest spot of the revamped Jets offensive line. If that last statement proves true, the Green and White should be great in the trenches this year based on the rest of the pieces they have being much-improved in 2021.
I do not share the same enthusiasm as my partner for Clark. He struggled with the transition from offensive tackle to guard in 2020 and that move should be twice as hard in this outside-zone scheme. I see Clark as a natural depth tackle that could outperform a Chuma Edoga or Conor McDermott if given the chance.
As for the initial question, I don’t expect anyone to seriously challenge Van Roten this August. He’s a subpar right guard, 100%, but he’s not as terrible as people make him seem. GVR’s strengths are in pass protection and discipline (rarely penalized throughout career). If he’s your offensive line’s weakest link, chances are you’ll have a pretty decent blocking unit.
3. Not including nickel, dime, or three safety formations, predict the starting three Week 1 linebackers (SAM, MIKE & WILL) for Robert Saleh’s standard 4-3 look.
This is arguably the thinnest position on the team and gives me the most worry as I look ahead to the 2021 season. Two of the starters are written in permanent marker: C.J. Mosley and Jarrad Davis. From everyone I’ve spoken with around the team, they’re super impressed by Mosley’s energy and slimmer frame. While the team is way higher on the former Detroit Lions first-rounder than the media or fans are. Coach Saleh is a linebacker whisperer and if he trusts Davis, why shouldn’t we? I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
The other spot is fascinating at weakside (WILL) linebacker. Blake Cashman should be the starter at the beginning of camp based on his traits and prior experience. Although his injury history opens up the door for several others to make a claim for his gig. The two players that stand out to me in this competition are a pair of day three defensive backs that are making the conversion to linebacker. Hamsah Nasirildeen and Jamien Sherwood have intriguing traits that could make them pop.
If you could combine them you’d have the perfect player, but since that technology doesn’t exist yet, the Jets will have to likely settle for a rotation at the position. Based on the down and circumstance, they’ll likely have different types of players on the field. My official guess is Cashman as the Week 1 starter, but we’ll see how long that lasts.
I phrased the question that way because I do believe the Jets will use two linebackers a large portion of the time, whether that third spot turns into an extra safety like Ashtyn Davis or a nickel corner. In theory, Sherwood and Nasirildeen would be well-suited for this job as well with their history as defensive backs but expect a large rotation behind Mosley and Davis.
Having said that, I agree with most of what Boy Green had to say so I won’t reiterate but I do have one or two revisions. I think Nasirildeen is more of a developmental prospect than Sherwood and personally see him as the ideal backup at strongside (SAM) linebacker behind Davis. When all is said and done, I see Cashman as the backup MIKE-backer behind Mosley.
That would leave a young group at WILL that includes Del’Shawn Phillips and undrafted prospects like Camilo Eifler and Brendon White. If they make the team, these players will likely be special teamers at heart. The only gameday-ready WILL that has the traits to match the position is the former Auburn Tigers tackler, Mr. Jamien Sherwood.
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Any Surprises That Are in Store?
4. Who will be the Jets starting tight end after training camp in terms of snap count, Chris Herndon or Tyler Kroft, and why?
If you searched the entire planet, you are unlikely to find a bigger Chris Herndon fan than me. I love the former Miami product and last year I incorrectly predicted that he would become “one of the best young tight ends in football” … yikes. That wasn’t one of my brightest moments, but I’m going double or nothing heading into 2021.
The talent is obvious and the fit in this new offense revs my engine, but I can’t catch the passes for Herndon. He has to realize his own potential in a contract year. Luckily for him, the rest of the competition is weak so he should cruise to the starting gig. It’ll be up to him to make the most of it.
Although our answers have differed slightly, Boy Green and I have been close to the same wavelength till now. I’m sick of hearing about Herndon’s potential and I think he would have a real shot of getting cut if the Jets actually had some talent on the depth chart behind him.
Kroft doesn’t really move the needle either — I’d rather see Douglas trade for Zach Ertz or take a flyer on a player like Trey Burton — but I’ll roll with him given the choices. I expect the Jets to rely heavily on their rushing attack in 2021, and that skews towards Kroft getting more action than Herndon.
5. Do you foresee any other depth chart surprises during the preseason at any other position? Is there a dark horse you like to steal a starting job, or a major role in terms of snap count and usage?
I already mentioned Dunn as my big surprise. John Franklin-Myers is my pick for the edge rusher opposite of Carl Lawson, I think he could be a sneaky candidate for a breakout year considering all the other talent upfront.
Michael Carter (the running back) won’t be a starter from day one — if that were to happen it would really surprise me. His talent and versatility are unreal though and I think eventually he will take away the starting gig, maybe a month or so in. That could be due to injury (Tevin Coleman), or simply a situation where you can’t keep him off the field because he’s so gosh darn talented.
I like my partner’s selections here and agree whole-heartedly outside of Dunn, who I do believe will make the Week 1 roster as a backup. There’s really only one other surprise that makes sense and some might not even consider it to be one because of the hype surrounding the player.
Who else could I be talking about other than wide receiver Elijah Moore? Many think of the Ole Miss product as a slot receiver based on his usage in college, I see him as a dynamic future WR1. Saleh told reporters that Moore was difficult to defend because “he can line up at Z, F or X.” He has also been developing a tremendous rapport with Zach Wilson this summer.
Expect Mike LaFleur to utilize different weapons in different situations, but I do believe Moore will be a top-three Jets wide-out in terms of both snap share and yardage. I also expect Jamison Crowder to be in that top three so long as he wears a green jersey. Denzel Mims is the WR I have slipping out of the starting circle.
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