I’m 100% a skeptic of “flying under the radar” from the standpoint of a team being overlooked by fellow NFL teams. There are absolutely teams of great talent and coaching that each season get overlooked by the media. The people in the media who want to select the New York Jets as an “under the radar team” – in the light of all the attention the Patriots, Ravens, and Steelers get for their off-season moves and overall abundance of stars – really haven’t talked to any NFL head coaches. No NFL employee has forgotten them playing in back-to-back AFC Championship games. Besides, while Rex Ryan may have lost 90 pounds and stopped making guarantees, you don’t avoid the spotlight when you add rookies who polarized draft pundits (Stephen Hill, Quinton Coples), and Tim Tebow is ESPN’s personal ratings magnet.
However, I am 100% a believer that teams themselves can turn perceived disrespect into an “us against the world”, unifying attitude that helps them play more cohesively and better. The team with the biggest chip on their shoulder will be the New Orleans Saints, as they fight the perception that their Super Bowl was won through sinister, borderline criminal means. What will make the Saints path to the postseason interesting – and I believe they will get there – is that the Panthers and Bucs should be much improved, and the Falcons picked up a few big pieces in the off-season. The Jets also could end up rallying around the trash talk levied at their two quarterbacks.
Here is a rundown of the big additions to the Jets in the off-season:
Offensive Coordinator Tony Sparano: Sparano’s Dolphins offenses were 1st and 9th in rushing TDs in 2008 and 2009. He’s worked under Marty Schottenheimer, Bill Parcells, Chris Palmer, Tom Coughlin, and Wade Phillips.
QB Tim Tebow: Former 1st-round pick, Tim Tebow will bring up the running game (he averaged 5.4 ypc, the Jets averaged 3.8 ypc). He was brought in to hopefully be a better #2 than McElroy or Stanton, and yet mostly to bring more looks and more options in the run game, setting up shorter third downs and making for time-consuming drives. Despite having to throw to Plaxico Burress, who didn’t have his speed for the first 10 games of the season, Sanchez still had more total touchdowns than Philip Rivers last season (32 to 28). Tebow will have to impress or Sanchez will have to tank despite having improved weapons for Sanchez to not be the starter week 1 (though Sanchez’s agent is definitely sweating it).
RB Terrance Ganaway: Similar to his buddy Robert Griffin III, Ganaway’s last year at Baylor showcased a huge jump in production (295 to 1547 yards, 2 rushing TDs to 21).
WR Stephen Hill: What happens regularly with the combine stars with unspectacular college careers is that many teams want them but are OK with gambling on passing on them, hoping to get them for more value. When you look purely at this number – 29.3 yards per catch -, you can see why Rex Ryan expects him to start week 1 of the preseason. This was supreme value, and he’ll be the opposite of what you saw from a slow Plaxico Burress during the first 10 weeks of his only season with the Jets: Hill is going to draw safety attention right away.
WR Chaz Schilens: A big target buried on a very deep Raiders receiving corps.
TE Hayden Smith: 6’7″, 240-pound Australian rugby player trained by Tim Brewster, who was former basketball player Antonio Gates’ tight end coach with San Diego.
DE Quinton Coples: One of the 5 best prospects from this year’s draft. He needs the right motivation, but he has elite ability. He had 15 tackles for a loss, 8 sacks and 3 forced fumbles last season as a Tar Heel.
SS Yeremiah Bell: A 1-time Pro Bowler (2009), Bell was part of a Dolphins defense that was 9th, 18th, 9th and 16th in passing TDs given up during Sparano’s years. Those stats are very impressive considering the lack of continuity in coordinators (Paul Pasqualoni 2008-2009, Mike Nolan 2010-2012) and that the top two corners who started the majority of those four seasons (Vontae Davis missed four games in 2011, Sean Smith was benched for a significant stretch) have only been in the league for three seasons.
SS LaRon Landry: Bell and Landry have combined for 16.5 sacks in their career, and the Redskins were not interested in using Landry in that role most of his time with them. For all the talk of how Rex Ryan can’t run a locker room, top talent keeps picking the Jets. Bell may have had an offer from the Patriots (Landry did), but he definitely turned down the Eagles for the Jets. With Aaron Maybin re-signing, that makes for a ridiculous three former first-rounders that chose the Jets in the off-season (the other was Tebow, who reportedly picked the Jets instead of Jacksonville).
K Josh Brown: Brown was 1st in the NFL in 2010 with 33 FGs made, and was also 5th in 2008. He is definitely a Hall of Fame-level kicker, but has not been named a Pro Bowler due to the fact that only one kicker makes it from each conference. The 80.9% percentage he touts is only 26th among active kickers, yet his 22 of 36 from beyond 50 yards in just 9 seasons is amazing, considering Adam Vinatieri is 12 of 24 in 16 seasons, Olindo Mare is 19 of 43 in 15 seasons, and John Kasay is 41 of 79 in 20 seasons. Obviously, Brown is helped by playing indoors for many years, but so was Vinatieri. Brown is 16 of 19 in his postseason career. That bests that of the two most accurate regular season kickers still active, Nate Kaeding (8/15), and Rob Bironas (3/5).
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