5 New York Jets Who Mean Most to Team’s Future

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5 New York Jets Who Mean Most to Team's Future

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The New York Jets were one of the youngest teams in the NFL this season, as general manager John Idzik wanted to start breaking the roster down before he built for the future. However, the Jets surprised everyone with a solid 8-8 record, and they look like they could be just a few pieces away from being a playoff team.

The Jets have done an excellent job of finding defensive talent in recent drafts, but they have struggled to match that success on the offensive side of the ball. That leaves the team in a very unbalanced state, something the Jets are hoping to rectify this offseason. However, they have some solid young players on their roster who will be the foundation as they continue to build their roster.

The five players who appear on this list are crucial to the future of the Jets. Age, position and contract status were among the factors considered for this list, and it is not simply a list of the Jets’ five best players. Top veterans such as Nick Mangold, David Harris and Chris Ivory do not appear on this list, and young talents like Damon Harrison, Austin Howard, Demario Davis and Quinton Coples were left out as well.

The five players on this list are the five that I think will have the biggest impact on the Jets’ success or failure over the next few seasons. A few of these players are established, while a couple more have to improve in order for the Jets to take the next step. No matter where they are on their career arc, there is no doubt that these five players are extremely important to the future of the Jets.

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5. Dee Milliner

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Dee Milliner was the 9th overall pick last season, and he had a world of struggles as he adjusted to the NFL. Milliner dealt with several injuries, was benched multiple times and was basically an unmitigated disaster for the first 12 weeks of the season.

However, something clicked for Milliner in the final month, and he played some excellent football down the stretch, picking up awards for AFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 17 and AFC Defensive Rookie of the Month for December. Milliner finished the year with 56 tackles, 3 INTs and 17 pass deflections.

The Jets are counting on him to make huge strides next season and emerge as a lockdown corner. No defense can survive in today’s NFL without strong cornerback play, and Rex Ryan’s press man scheme puts a lot of pressure on corners. Milliner’s improvement will have a huge impact on the defense, and it is the Jets’ biggest defensive concern right now.

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4. D'Brickashaw Ferguson

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D'Brickashaw Ferguson is the only true veteran on this list, and his 9th year as the Jets’ starting left tackle was another solid one. However, Ferguson’s play dipped a little bit from his former Pro Bowl level, and at 30 years old the Jets have to be concerned that he could be entering his decline.

Ferguson has 3 years and roughly $43 million left on his contract, though very little of that is guaranteed. The Jets need their offensive line to keep up their strong play, and that starts with Ferguson. Having a top left tackle to protect Geno Smith’s blindside will go a long way towards the quarterback’s development, and Ferguson is capable of being that player.

The Jets simply don’t have a replacement plan for Ferguson at this time, so they are banking on him returning to a Pro Bowl level. He is paid to be that kind of player, and though he was solid this season, the Jets need him at the top of his game.

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3. Sheldon Richardson

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There were a lot of questions about Sheldon Richardson when the Jets drafted him 13th overall last April, but he silenced all the doubters with an incredible rookie season that culminated in him winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

You can’t even begin to quantify Richardson’s impact with traditional stats (which is why a lot of uniformed people criticized him winning the DROY award), but he finished the year with 77 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble. Richardson was a completely disruptive force against the run for the Jets’ 3rd ranked run defense, and he displayed some pass rushing skills as well.

The Jets have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, and Richardson is a big part of that. The D-line is the foundation for everything the Jets do defensively, and their ability to control games makes things easier for everyone else, including the offense. The Jets hope that Richardson will continue to improve and reach a Pro Bowl level, and he has that kind of talent.

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2. Muhammad Wilkerson

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Muhammad Wilkerson is by far and away the Jets’ best player, and he has become one of the most dominant defensive ends in football. Wilkerson finished the year with 64 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 1 interception, which would be outstanding numbers for a pass rush specialist. What makes Wilkerson so special, however, is that he is actually even better against the run.

Wilkerson’s absence from the Pro Bowl this season was an absolute joke, but the Jets know what they have in the 24 year old. Wilkerson is due a big contract extension, and the Jets need to make sure he stays in New York for a very long time. Richardson and Harrison are very good players, but it is Wilkerson that makes the defensive line of the best in the league.

The Jets just went through the saga of losing an elite defensive player with Darrelle Revis, and they can’t repeat their mistakes with Wilkerson. The Jets would simply not be able to perform defensively without Wilkerson up front, and the Jets hope he will continue his ascent among the league’s elite players and be the anchor of their defense for a long time.

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1. Geno Smith

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I told you this wasn’t a list of the team’s best players. Smith was awful for the majority of the season, and he was benched three times. Smith completed 55.8% of his passes for 3,046 yards, 12 TDs and 21 INTS while being sacked 43 times. He added 366 yards and 6 TDs on the ground, fumbling 7 times and losing 4.

However, Smith played some solid football over the final month, and he was much more effective overall when the Jets increased his designed runs. Smith was also working with arguably the worst receiving corps in the NFL last season, and the Jets are going to invest big free agent money and high draft picks in getting him some help.

The Jets have been searching for a franchise quarterback for a long time, and they are holding out hope that Smith is the answer. However, he obviously needs to make major, major strides next season. Quarterback play makes or breaks teams in the NFL, and Smith’s broke the Jets this year. Smith’s improvement or lack thereof will be the determining factor in whether or not the Jets tread water or take the next step as a franchise.

Greg Sulik is a New York Jets writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @GregSulik or add him to your network on Google

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