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Which positions on the NY Jets roster are best suited to handle injuries? Which would falter if players went down?

Any time a starter is injured and replaced by a backup, a drop-off in talent will occur. There’s usually a reason the starter is starting and the backup is second on the depth chart. Few teams (if any) employ “great” backups. If the backups were great players, they would be starting.

With that being said, there is still a huge discrepancy in the talent level of backups across the league. Some backups are capable of closely matching the production of the starters ahead of them, while others cannot even come remotely close. Others are future starters only masked as backups simply because their time has yet to arrive.

For this reason, the consummate talent level of a team’s backups is an important factor in its overall success. The smaller the talent drop-off when a starter is injured, the less a team will be hampered when injuries inevitably strike.

The best teams in the league tend to have fairly decent backups with fringe-starter ability. When these players come in, the talent drop-off is relatively small and that player’s unit can remain competitive.

On the other hand, the worst teams in the league tend to have awful backups who are so bad that they almost completely wreck their unit’s chances of competing. It is difficult for a team to string together a winning season when injuries have this large of a negative effect on them.

How strong is the depth of the New York Jets roster entering 2021? Let’s rank each offensive and defensive group from worst to best according to the quality of its talent beyond the primary starters.

10. Quarterback

  • Projected starter: Zach Wilson
  • Projected backups: James Morgan, Mike White

This position’s depth will be a major problem if Zach Wilson goes down at any point. Neither James Morgan nor Mike White has ever thrown a regular-season pass in the NFL.

White has extensive preseason experience, playing in eight preseason games with the Cowboys from 2018-19, but he was terrible. White completed 80 of 138 passes (58.0%) for 719 yards, (5.2 per attempt), one touchdown, and two interceptions (68.5 passer rating).

At least one of these two quarterbacks needs to show some promise in the 2021 preseason to give the Jets and their fans at least an inkling of confidence that they can be competent if called upon in the regular season.

9. Cornerback

  • Projected starters: Bryce Hall, Bless Austin (outside), Michael Carter II (slot)
  • Projected backups: Jason Pinnock, Isaiah Dunn, Brandin Echols, Lamar Jackson (outside), Javelin Guidry (slot)

The only starting spot at this position that feels secured is Bryce Hall‘s position on the outside. There will be plenty of competition for the starting jobs opposite him and in the slot.

Regardless of who wins the starting roles, this unit’s depth is going to be problematic. Of the eight players listed above, four are rookies. Three are second-year players who combined for 15 starts last year. Austin is a third-year player who struggled in his second season. Three of the eight players were undrafted and the other five were drafted no earlier than the fifth round.

With inexperience and youth comes possible upside, but until any of these players proves capable of tapping into their potential, they should be considered massive question marks.

8. Linebacker

  • Projected starters: C.J. Mosley, Jarrad Davis, Blake Cashman
  • Projected backups: Hamsah Nasirildeen, Jamien Sherwood

Like cornerback, this is a position that is mired by youth and inexperience. That youth and inexperience could certainly be converted into supreme rewards. This is especially the case when you consider Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s successful backgrounds at developing linebackers.

However, most of these players will remain liabilities on paper until they prove otherwise. Rookie fifth-round picks like Hamsah Nasirildeen and Jamien Sherwood – and oft-injured former fifth-round picks with limited playing time like Blake Cashman – cannot be considered positive assets without establishing themselves as such on the field.

C.J. Mosley and Jarrad Davis will likely be your Week 1 starters. It’s anybody’s guess how things shake out alongside them. I listed Cashman as the pseudo starter simply due to his experience, but Nasirildeen and Sherwood will be smack-dab in the mix to compete for that starting WILL spot.

No matter how it shakes out, this position group is going to be a complete unknown until the players rack up extended playing time in the regular season.

7. Tight end

  • Projected depth chart (no particular order): Chris Herndon, Tyler Kroft, Ryan Griffin, Trevon Wesco (FB)

While this group is not necessarily awful, it features a lot of one-dimensional players, which is detrimental for a depth perspective. When everyone is healthy, the Jets will have the flexibility to mix and match, but when one player goes down, they will have a hard time replacing that player’s best traits.

Chris Herndon offers athleticism and pass-catching versatility that the rest of the group cannot touch. Tyler Kroft is the in-line blocking specialist. Trevon Wesco offers fullback capability. Ryan Griffin . . . well, at least in 2020, he didn’t offer much of anything. But at his best, he is a fairly good route-runner in the short and intermediate range.

If Herndon, Kroft, or Wesco go down, the Jets won’t have another tight end who can adequately match what that player brings to the table.

Kroft and Wesco don’t have the athleticism that Herndon does. From a blocking perspective, Herndon can pass-block well, but he cannot replicate the run blocking of either of those two players. And while both Kroft and Wesco are solid blockers, Kroft does not have as much fullback experience as Wesco, and Wesco is not as strong of an in-line blocker as Kroft.

6. Offensive line

  • Projected starters: Mekhi Becton, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, Morgan Moses
  • Projected backups: George Fant, Dan Feeney, Alex Lewis, Cameron Clark, Chuma Edoga

The addition of Morgan Moses arguably does more for the second-team offensive line than the starting group. Moses is an upgrade over George Fant at right tackle, but Fant is an even bigger upgrade over Chuma Edoga as the backup swing tackle.

Fant would be one of the most appealing backup tackles in the league if he does indeed take on that role. His experience at both tackle spots, capability to contribute as a sixth offensive lineman, and competent performance as a full-time starter in 2020 all come together to make him a fantastic reserve option.

The rest of the offensive line depth is a mixed bag.

Dan Feeney is a wild card. The fact that he was a 16-game starter in each of the past three seasons should make him an appealing backup – especially when considering the versatility he offers, with experience at both left guard and center. Nonetheless, he’s been a relatively bad starter thus far. Feeney allowed the most pressures among interior offensive linemen from 2018-20 (122). Can he really be considered a good backup if he was one of the worst starters in the league?

Alex Lewis is a decent backup option. While he is consistently below-average as a starter, he usually grades out better than a handful of the league’s starters.

Fant will need to stay healthy because the Jets do not have another good backup tackle option. Chuma Edoga and Conor McDermott have generally performed poorly in the NFL.

Cameron Clark is the biggest question mark here. He could end up providing the Jets absolutely nothing, or he could develop into a solid backup with future starting potential. That could happen at either guard or tackle.

5. Edge

  • Projected starters: Carl Lawson, Vinny Curry
  • Projected backups: Bryce Huff, Jabari Zuniga, Kyle Phillips, Ronald Blair

I like this unit’s depth more than many other observers.

Although this depth chart is young and largely unproven, it features a good number of players who can be trusted to thrive in one particular area. Considering that this EDGE is a highly rotational position in which players are placed on the field in situations that suit their skill sets, the fact that the Jets have a bevy of solid one-trick specialists makes this a good depth chart in my opinion.

Vinny Curry and Bryce Huff are your pass-rushing specialists. Curry has been putting up great pressure numbers as a situational player for years. Huff had a rookie season in which he struggled when playing a lot of snaps but was very efficient when his playing time was limited, making him an enticing option to rotate with Curry on passing downs.

Plus, the two players offer different strengths. Curry’s game is built around power while Huff’s is built around speed.

Ronald Blair and Kyle Phillips will be the run-stopping specialists. Both are strong edge-setters with great motors who perform well against the run. They are effective at doing the dirty work and fulfilling their roles while also making big plays at an above-average rate.

That gives the Jets two solid rotational pass rushers and two solid rotational run defenders at their disposal. Additionally, it’s worth noting that both duos feature one established veteran and one young player with possible untapped potential, a healthy blend.

It is hard to tell what Jabari Zuniga might provide after a dead-silent rookie season. He was a third-round pick just a year ago, though, so some upside still exists within him.

Another key aspect of this unit’s depth is John Franklin-Myers. He figures to primarily remain on the interior as he did last season, but his ability to play the edge in a pinch will help the Jets cover up holes at this position. Heck, he could even end up starting on the edge if the Jets so please. His rookie-year film at 5-technique suggests he could be capable of doing so.

4. Running back

  • Projected depth chart (no particular order): Ty Johnson, Tevin Coleman, Michael Carter, La’Mical Perine

The Jets are poised to utilize a committee approach in the backfield – which is entirely predicated upon the concept of depth. Without a lead bell-cow, the offense will not be built around the strengths of one player, making it easier to adapt when someone goes down. Additionally, the spread of carries across the backfield should reduce injury risk.

This backfield has the potential to be a deep one. Unlike the tight end and edge positions, it features players who offer multiple skills, which should help the Jets weather the storm when one goes down.

Ty Johnson is a good wide-zone scheme fit thanks to his vision and burst, and he also showed some capability as a safety-blanket check-down option last season. Tevin Coleman has experience as an explosive rusher in the wide-zone scheme and will make an impact with his abilities in the passing game. Michael Carter is another back who can take the field on passing downs thanks to his great pass blocking ability and soft hands, while he has similar explosiveness to Coleman. He also has the best elusiveness of this trio.

La’Mical Perine needs to improve after a lackluster rookie season, but the Jets should at least be able to rely on him for downhill power in short-yardage situations.

Josh Adams may be the odd man out at this position. If he does make the roster, though, he offers great tackle-breaking and elusiveness.

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3. Safety

  • Projected starters: Marcus Maye, Lamarcus Joyner
  • Projected backups: Ashtyn Davis, Sharrod Neasman

A big part of depth is interchangeability. Having starters who can handle multiple positions helps the team manage its available talent as efficiently as possible when another starter goes down.

The Jets have that at the safety position. Marcus Maye, Lamarcus Joyner, and Ashtyn Davis have all shown to be versatile defensive backs, so if someone goes down, the Jets do not have to pigeonhole a backup into the lost player’s primary position. They will have the flexibility to maneuver everybody around to ensure each player is in the best possible position for their skill set.

Maye has proven he is capable of handling roles both in the box and deep. Joyner has spent full seasons as both a free safety and slot cornerback. Davis lined up all over the field in his rookie season, slowly transitioning from the rangy deep safety that he was in college to a Swiss Army knife weapon in the box.

The late-offseason addition of Sharrod Neasman is a great boost to this position’s depth. Neasman is the type of backup that every team covets – one who has established that he is able to consistently replace starters and perform around a league-average level.

2. Interior defensive line

  • Projected key players: Quinnen Williams, Sheldon Rankins, John Franklin-Myers, Foley Fatukasi
  • Projected backups: Nathan Shepherd, Jonathan Marshall

Four-deep with players who range from good to elite, the interior of the Jets’ defensive line is stacked.

No matter the down or situation, the Jets can throw out a combination of players that will be difficult to stop. To boot, those players will be well-rested. Having so many good players on the defensive front allows the Jets to keep their rotation moving fluidly so everyone can remain fresh.

Positional interchangeability and versatility are a big plus here, just like at the safety position. Quinnen Williams can play anywhere from nose tackle to 4i-technique. The same can be said for Sheldon Rankins. John Franklin-Myers can range from 2i-technique to 5-technique, while Foley Fatukasi can range from nose tackle to 3-technique. If someone goes down, the Jets will still have plenty of options on how to distribute their talent.

Nathan Shepherd would likely be the third or fourth-best defensive tackle on many teams. He is the fifth-best by a wide margin on this team, which says a lot about how intimidating the group is. Shepherd provides explosive get-off and good pass-rushing at the cost of shaky run defense, typically lining up from nose tackle to 3-technique.

Rookie Jonathan Marshall may steal Shepherd’s roster spot if he makes the roster. His explosiveness and athleticism on the interior – at the cost of being bullied around at times in the run game – is reminiscent of Shepherd.

1. Wide receiver

  • Projected starters: Corey Davis, Denzel Mims, Elijah Moore
  • Projected backups: Jamison Crowder, Keelan Cole, Braxton Berrios

The wide receiver group that the Jets have assembled is the epitome of the word “depth” in sports. It is handcrafted to be able to weather not one, not two, but even three injuries.

Say the Jets go into a game without Corey Davis, Denzel Mims, and Jamison Crowder. They could still throw out a starting trio of Elijah Moore, Keelan Cole, and Braxton Berrios.

That trio – or any trio you draw up out of the six players listed above – is substantially better than what most NFL teams would be left with if they lost three key wide receivers.

The Jets were without their top three receivers (Crowder, Mims, and Breshad Perriman) in their Week 3 game against the Colts last year. Their starting wide receivers were Braxton Berrios, Lawrence Cager, and Chris Hogan (who is a lacrosse player now).

Berrios was the Jets’ top option when they faced an injury crisis last year. Now, he would be the third option if the Jets faced a similar situation.

This is not the best wide receiver group in the league – for that to happen, the Jets would likely need two of Davis, Mims, and Moore to prove themselves as stars – but it just might be the deepest.

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Michael Nania is the best analytical New York Jets mind in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: [email protected] - Twitter: @Michael_Nania

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