FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The New York Jets open training camp on July 26 at the Atlantic Health Training Center in Florham Park. Is this the year they turn it around? Despite the NFL’s longest active playoff drought (11 years), the Jets fueled optimism with a strong offseason, highlighted by making three first-round picks.
Coach Robert Saleh, 4-13 in his first season, is trying to change the losing culture. They have a coaching foundation, with all three coordinators returning. The Jets are the only AFC East team that can boast such continuity.
They have tougher roster decisions than last year, which is a good thing. It illustrates better depth at certain positions, meaning players such as wide receiver Denzel Mims and cornerback Bryce Hall might generate trade interest.
Circumstances have changed. Instead of player development, the primary objective last year, they have to put more emphasis on winning now. That will affect how they stack certain positions.
Our 53-man projection:
QUARTERBACK (3): Zach Wilson, Joe Flacco, Mike White
New year, different philosophy. Criticized last season for carrying two untested quarterbacks on the opening day roster — Wilson and White — the Jets now have a seasoned backup in Flacco, whom they re-signed after a midseason trade. It might be a luxury to carry three, but White, who achieved folk-hero status with an epic performance against the Cincinnati Bengals, is viewed by the organization as a starting-caliber player.
RUNNING BACK (4): Michael Carter, Breece Hall, Tevin Coleman, Ty Johnson
Carter and Hall, a 2022 second-round pick, are the only true roster locks; they represent the present and future of the position. Coleman, Johnson, La’Mical Perine and undrafted rookie Zonovan Knight will battle for the third and fourth spots. Perine, a holdover from the previous coaching staff, is down to this last chance.
FULLBACK (1): Nick Bawden
Bawden and Trevon Wesco both played well in the spring, but the edge goes to the ultraphysical Bawden.
WIDE RECEIVER (6): Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Garrett Wilson, Braxton Berrios, Jeff Smith, Denzel Mims
Does Mims get another chance, or does he become the latest in a long line of Jets second-round failures? He slips through for now, but he shouldn’t get comfortable because this could go either way. Typically, they have six receivers, dressing five for games. Special teams, where Smith has an advantage over Mims, is a consideration for the WR5 job. Moore and Garrett Wilson, a first-round pick, have star potential.
TIGHT END (3): C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Conklin, Jeremy Ruckert
This is one of the most improved areas on the team. They spent a combined $25 million in guarantees on Uzomah and Conklin, then used a third-round pick on Ruckert. That means the top three jobs are locked up unless there’s an injury.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9): George Fant, Laken Tomlinson, Connor McGovern, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Mekhi Becton, Conor McDermott, Dan Feeney, Nate Herbig, Max Mitchell
The ideal number is eight, but Mitchell complicates matters because he’s a fourth-round pick who will be given at least a year to develop. Former third-round pick Chuma Edoga looks like the odd man out. The Becton-Fant decision — which one gets moved to right tackle? — will be one of the top stories in camp.
DEFENSIVE LINE (9): Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, Carl Lawson, Jermaine Johnson II, Sheldon Rankins, Jacob Martin, Solomon Thomas, Nathan Shepherd, Michael Clemons
It’s a rotation-heavy line that loaded up in free agency and the draft, setting up a numbers game that will result in two or three legitimate players getting cut — i.e., Vinny Curry and Bryce Huff. Lawson, returning from surgery on his left Achilles tendon, could start camp on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) but should be ready for Week 1. Clemons will have a hard time seeing the field, but he’s not going anywhere as a fourth-round pick.
LINEBACKER (5): C.J. Mosley, Quincy Williams, Hamsah Nasirildeen, Jamien Sherwood, Marcell Harris
This is the weakest area on the team. Mosley and Williams are fine, but it’s dicey beyond them. For now, Nasirildeen, a college safety who played only 28 snaps last season as a linebacker, is the third starter. Sherwood, recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, could start camp on PUP. They’re searching for better depth.
CORNERBACK (7): D.J. Reed, Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Michael Carter II, Brandin Echols, Bryce Hall, Javelin Guidry, Justin Hardee
Last year’s starters — Echols and Hall — project as this year’s backups, which should tell you something about the overall improvement of the position. Look for the Gardner-Reed tandem to open on the outside. Gardner, a first-round pick, needs seasoning, but he’s too talented to keep on the bench. Carter is favored in the slot. Isaiah Dunn, on the bubble, impressed coaches in the spring and could challenge Hardee, who earns his keep on special teams.
SAFETY (3): Jordan Whitehead, Lamarcus Joyner, Ashtyn Davis
Whitehead, Joyner and Davis appear set. The question is whether they keep Jason Pinnock, who was excellent in the spring. Pinnock, a converted cornerback, still is learning the position. Joyner, 31, sticks because of his experience and man-to-man coverage skills, although he hasn’t intercepted a pass in four years.
SPECIALISTS (3): Greg Zuerlein (kicker), Braden Mann (punter), Thomas Hennessy (long-snapper)
Zuerlein and incumbent Eddy Pineiro kicked well in the spring and will take their “neck and neck” competition into training camp, according to special teams coordinator Brant Boyer. Where have we heard that before? Every year, regardless of the kickers, it turns into a mess.