This is a series covering the position battles in training camp and projecting the roster and depth chart for the New York Jets this season. The final installment will cover the specialists.
The New York Jets had a difficult season last year and that extended to the kicking game. Neither kicker Nick Folk nor punter Robert Malone had an impressive season, and both saw the team bring in players to challenge them in camp. The Jets did have a solid return game, however, and they will likely be able to repeat that success this season.
Players in Camp: Billy Cundiff, Folk, Malone, Tanner Purdum, Ryan Quigley and Patrick Scales.
Projected Kicker: Folk.
Projected Punter: Malone.
Projected Long Snapper: Purdum.
Projected Kick Return Depth Chart: Joe McKnight, Antonio Cromartie and Clyde Gates.
Projected Punt Return Depth Chart: Jeremy Kerley and Kyle Wilson.
Despite the additional challengers in camp, the Jets should return the entire specialists group from last season. Purdum has been the team’s long snapper for the last three years, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Malone was essentially the league-average punter last season, ranking in the middle of the pack in average, net average and punts downed inside the 20. Quigley will have a chance to unseat him, but Malone has proven that he can be effective. Most teams don’t have a Shane Lechler-type weapon as a punter, and the Jets aren’t looking for miracles out of Malone.
At kicker, Folk converted 21 of 27 attempts last season, good for 77.8 percent. All of those numbers rank in the bottom third of the NFL and the percentage, which is the most important, ranked 28th. Folk can’t control how many attempts he gets, but he has to make the ones he does at a higher clip. The Jets are going to need points wherever they can get them this season, and a reliable kicker is a must.
That is why the team brought in Cundiff to challenge Folk. Cundiff only appeared in five games with the Washington Redskins last season and was very unimpressive, and his career average is lower than Folk’s. When you add in the fact that Folk has made some big kicks for the Jets in the past, you come to the realization that Cundiff’s presence in camp is nothing more than motivation for Folk.
In the return game, Kerley handled most of the punt return duties and figures to do so again. He ranked 10th in the league in return average and scored one touchdown, but he also led the league in fair catches. The team needs him to run back more punts and improve their field position.
At kick returner, McKnight proved to be one of the best in the business, ranking third in the NFL in kick return average and added a touchdown of his own. He routinely sets the team up with good field position, and his return skills are by far the biggest reason he will make the Jets’ final roster.
The Jets are going to have a very bad offense this season, and they will need the support of the kicking game. Improvement on special teams could be the difference between a very bad season and a respectable one.