Competition is king in football, and the 2021 New York Jets feature rabid competition that should lead to plenty of roster surprises.
The owners hire the general manager. The general manager hires the head coach. The head coach hires his staff. The staff decides on the roster.
Welcome to the new New York Jets.
The organization’s fresh hierarchical setup isn’t as black and white as the above projects, but it’s certainly a worthwhile guide for the future of this organization.
No more co-head coaches, offensively and defensively. No more overemphasizing “Jet decisions,” as frequently seen during the painful yet unforgettable John Idzik era. If Joe Douglas is ever asked about a player’s future status, he would undoubtedly tell the world that it’s a Robert Saleh decision. If Saleh is ever asked about a player’s contractual world, he’d unmistakenly label it a Douglas topic.
The division of labor has become clear within an organization that hasn’t always crystalized intent—for better or worse, depending on the situation.
Late June brings football fans to one of the dead periods of the NFL calendar year. The NFL draft has come and gone, as has rookie minicamp, OTAs and mandatory minicamp. All that remains is training camp, the battleground that decides professional football careers and fates.
Let’s take a look at the New York Jets’ projected 53-man roster post-minicamp. And yes, the “final 53-man roster” should more aptly be labeled the “first 53-man roster,” but organizing the team’s depth chart is always a worthy exercise. And also yes, it’s understood that it’s possible that the 55-man roster will continue in 2021—with teams enjoying the ability to elevate two players to the active roster per week.
- Zach Wilson
- Mike White
Does Douglas actually enter the season without a veteran backup quarterback? It’s one of the top storylines of this Jets summer.
If Mike White can duplicate his 2020 training camp performance this coming August, it’s possible the Jets take the inexperienced route. Perhaps the most valuable idea lost is that of a wily veteran adding experience to the room as a whole.
The other question surrounds quantity. How can Saleh and Douglas make a two-QB room work? Is Mike White enough to feel comfortable?
Considering it’s likely the NFL keeps the COVID-19-adjusted roster rules from a year ago, Wilson and White rostered with James Morgan on the practice squad is what makes the most sense. Anybody without an accrued season (six or more games) to their name is eligible.
Running Backs (4)
- Michael Carter
- Ty Johnson
- Tevin Coleman
- La’Mical Perine
He won’t enter training camp as the top dog, but by the time it’s all said and done, young Michael Carter should enter Week 1 as the starting running back.
Expect a season-long rotation that features Carter, Ty Johnson and Tevin Coleman, all of whom add specific skills. La’Mical Perine vs. Josh Adams is the real battle at the position.
- Trevon Wesco
Yeah, go for it: Label Trevon Wesco the team’s fullback. We’re at that point, despite the idea that Wesco will also see plenty of time as an in-line tight end. (Besides, Richie Anderson used to line up all over the place back in his day.)
Wide Receivers (6)
- Corey Davis
- Elijah Moore
- Denzel Mims
- Jamison Crowder
- Braxton Berrios
- Keelan Cole
The Jets’ wide receiver group could be as deep as any in the NFL. Labeling them as “the best” in the NFL isn’t something worth doing at this time, but if Elijah Moore or Denzel Mims step up into the “legit weapon” category, special things can unfold.
Speaking of Moore, it’s obvious that this kid has the chance to become something special. Not only is he explosive in short spaces, but he’s also sure to care and practice the details that go into professional football employment.
Ensuring he stemmed far enough inside on a 9-route against Bryce Hall—in order to leave more than enough room for Wilson to hit him on the outside shoulder on a particular play in minicamp—was just one example of the kid’s smarts on the field this spring.
Although Braxton Berrios emerged as Wilson’s favorite target this spring, he still has a long way to go. Improving his tough-catch attributes will go a long way for his future.
The biggest question right now is whether or not the team carries seven wideouts—assuming no major injuries occur. Vyncint Smith, Lawrence Cager, Josh Malone and Manasseh Bailey are those currently fighting for a job.
Tight Ends (3)
- Tyler Kroft
- Chris Herndon
- Kenny Yeboah
Interestingly, Tyler Kroft snags the top spot here. On the outside, it’s a bit of an eyebrow-raiser. It makes sense, however, once a peek under the hood is had.
Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur seems to like Kroft a lot. He’s already asked him to assume a lot of unique roles in OTAs and minicamp, something that signals early trust.
Don’t think this spells the end for Chris Herndon. The three-year pro will see the field plenty, along with Kroft, in 12 personnel packages. He’ll even see the field as the only tight end on the field at times while removing Kroft from the game. Both guys could assume a rotational role in this offense.
Kenny Yeboah vs. Ryan Griffin vs. Daniel Brown is the big tight end question of the moment. It’s extremely possible the Jets keep four, but considering Wesco will also be rostered, it seems more likely just three are kept. Griffin just hasn’t been the same since he underwent ankle surgery towards the end of the 2019 season.
Although Yeboah hasn’t done much to open too many eyes, betting on the receiving type with the blocking already looking good (Kroft and Wesco) makes the most sense.
- Mekhi Becton
- George Fant
- Morgan Moses
- Conor McDermott
Mekhi Becton and George Fant are cemented as two of the (at least) three tackles rostered. It appears likely that Morgan Moses is on his way, but that’s far from a reality at this moment.
But hey, the name of this game is predicting the roster, so we’ll go with Moses and Conor McDermott as the final two guys. This means Chuma Edoga will be one of the mini-surprise cuts. Douglas loves McDermott, a man who can play both inside and out.
Interior Offensive Linemen (4)
- Alijah Vera-Tucker
- Connor McGovern
- Greg Van Roten
- Dan Feeney
This team’s offensive line is also incredibly deep. The top-end talent is something of a question still, but the depth cannot be argued.
Alijah Vera-Tucker at the top of the list was an incredibly comfortable idea to put to paper, as rookie offensive linemen make that transition much more seamlessly than other positions.
Previously thought of as a goner, Alex Lewis’s restructure deal suggests he’ll be back. Then again, he’ll still have to beat out the likes of Corey Levin and James Murray, and also hope the team keeps more than eight total linemen. McDermott’s versatility makes it possible the Jets keep just eight.
Interior Defensive Linemen (5)
- Quinnen Williams
- Foley Fatukasi
- Sheldon Rankins
- John Franklin-Myers
- Jonathan Marshall
One of the interesting notes at camp has been John Franklin-Myers’s utilization. It’s why he’s listed as an interior defender on this projected roster.
Again, as is the theme of this entire article, the depth is pretty stout. Kyle Phillips and Tanzel Smart both find themselves on the outside looking in. The final spot could come down to rookie Jonathan Marshall vs. veteran Nathan Shepherd. Obviously, the drafted rookie always has the advantage in those specific situations.
Edge Defenders (5)
- Carl Lawson
- Vinny Curry
- Ronald Blair
- Bryce Huff
- Jabari Zuniga
If JFM is listed as an interior player, the opposite edge (at least on paper) is wide open. (Don’t think JFM will be limited to just the inside, though.)
The newly acquired Ronald Blair should earn a spot, as should Bryce Huff and Jabari Zuniga. But should is the critical word in that last sentence. An entire training camp is left to decide those fates.
The one certainty is this: Expect Saleh to keep big numbers at the defensive line position. Here, we have him keeping 10 total defensive linemen.
- C.J. Mosley
- Jarrad Davis
- Blake Cashman
- Hamsah Nasirildeen
- Jamien Sherwood
If Noah Dawkins doesn’t make the squad, Jeff Ulbrich will have just five linebackers to play with. It makes sense. In fact, I’d be shocked if they kept more than five.
The 4-3 scheme doesn’t need a lot of second-level linebackers. And considering the nature of special teams in today’s league—fewer real plays and a much faster environment needing defensive backs and skilled players—four linebackers are even a possibility.
Whether Blake Cashman can stay healthy or not is a legit question. Hamsah Nasirildeen edges out Jamien Sherwood for that fourth spot.
- Bryce Hall
- Jason Pinnock
- Michael Carter II
- Javelin Guidry
- Isaiah Dunn
- Brandin Echols
- Justin Hardee
What makes the cornerback spot interesting is two-fold: Justin Hardee needs a spot as a special teamer and, yet again, there are a lot of names with a bunch of rookies.
The seven above include an outrageous four rookies. Jason Pinnock gets the start opposite Bryce Hall, while Michael Carter II takes the slot. How Isaish Dunn wasn’t drafted is still a mystery, and the idea that Brandin Echols might have the ability to play outside and in the slot is a major advantage.
Yes, this means Blessuan Austin is a surprise cut. It also means Lamar Jackson, Corey Ballentine and Elijah Campbell are left out in the cold.
Remember, though: This is a roster prediction that doesn’t take into account the practice squad or impending injuries. The odds are good that Austin makes the squad, considering one of the rookies can be placed on the practice squad.
Although the number is an outrageous seven, treat it as six, thanks to Hardee’s unique position on the roster.
- Marcus Maye
- Lamarcus Joyner
- Ashtyn Davis
- Sharrod Neasman
From all early indications, the Jets like J.T. Hassell. Then again, his playing time at OTAs and minicamp was largely dependent on the idea that Marcus Maye, Ashtyn Davis and Bennett Jackson were all away from the team.
Sharrod Neasman has to be the favorite to snag that final spot (if the Jets keep just four). After all, there’s a reason Douglas acquired the guy while the safety depth looked thin this spring.
Special Teams (3)
- Chris Naggar
- Braden Mann
- Thomas Hennessy
The only question here is Sam Ficken vs. Chris Naggar. OTAs and minicamp saw Ficken slightly edge out the new guy when the two squared off in a semi-live field goal environment.
We’ll go with the surprise in Naggar, expecting a big August from the undrafted free agent.
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