The kicking game is often an afterthought in the NFL, but it is something that often decides games, playoff berths, and coaches’ futures. The New York Jets were lucky enough to have a good one last season, and it was a big part of their surprising 8-8 finish. Nothing has changed from last season, so let’s look at the depth chart.
Starters: K Nick Folk, P Ryan Quigley, LS Tanner Purdum
Returners: Jalen Saunders, Jacoby Ford, Jeremy Kerley
Folk turned in a career year for the Jets last season, converting 33 of 36 field goals, including three game winners. Folk was unlucky to miss out on the Pro Bowl, but the Jets recognized his efforts with a 4-year, $12 million contract. Folk is still just 29 years old, and he became one of the best kickers in the league last season. The Jets are thrilled to have him, and they hope he can repeat last year’s performance.
At punter, rookie Ryan Quigley took over the starting job in Week 3 and turned in a decent season. Quigley ranked 17th in the NFL in punt average but just 23rd in net average, mostly because the Jets were one of only nine teams to allow an average punt return of 10 yards or more. Quigley was only able to down 21 punts inside the 20 yard line, good for 28th in the league, and the Jets will be looking for improvement in that area this season. Undrafted rookie Michael Parlady will compete with him in camp, but Quigley should emerge with the job without too much trouble.
Purdum will handle the long snapping duties once again, as he has for each of the last four years. He is about as reliable as they come, and the Jets are happy to have him. Consistency is a huge part of success in the kicking game, and the Jets are lucky to have that. If Quigley can improve in his second season then the Jets will be in great shape in this area.
The return game, however, is something the Jets certainly want to improve. They went through a revolving door of players at both return positions, and it showed in their performance. The Jets ranked 18th in kick return average, 16th in punt return average, and didn’t score any return touchdowns.
The most likely candidate to change that for the Jets this season is fourth round pick Jalen Saunders. Saunders is small, but he is quick, shifty, and devastating in the open field. He should immediately take over punt return duties from Kerley, whom the Jets want to keep healthy for offense. Saunders could also handle kick return duties, though the speedy Ford could get a shot there if he makes the team.
The Jets are hoping that whichever combination of these players takes the field will be able to provide a little more explosiveness in the return game, as the Jets’ offense needs all the field position help it can get. Special teams may not be as important as offense or defense, but it still plays a significant role in the outcome of games. If the Jets can get a little improvement from Quigley and Saunders, they should have a very solid unit.