Jets Year in Review
2015 Pass Attempts Rank: 15th (604)
2015 Rush Attempts Rank: 10th (448)
2015 Total Offensive Plays Rank: 6th (1,074)
2015 Yards Per Play Rank: 15th (5.5)
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Projected Starting Lineup
Passing Game Outlook
I saved the Jets for last in my Team Previews in hopes they'd settle their quarterback situation, but they still had not as of this posting. I think the likeliest outcome remains New York re-signing Ryan Fitzpatrick at some point in camp. Elevated by a tissue-soft schedule and the elite wideout play of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, FitzMagic posted career highs in passing yards (3,905) and touchdown passes (31) en route to a cumulative QB12 finish among fantasy quarterbacks last year. Turning 34 in November, Fitzpatrick's career-high 5.5% touchdown rate (TDs/pass attempts) is primed for regression -- his previous career TD rate was 4.2% -- while Gang Green's schedule is much more imposing versus the NFC West and AFC North after they preyed on the AFC South and NFC East last year. One of the reasons GM Mike Maccagnan has balked at meeting Fitzpatrick's asking price is because he realizes Fitzpatrick is a limited, mistake-prone passer who in terms of on-field skill level isn't an upgrade on Geno Smith. When/if Fitzpatrick re-signs, he'll be best approached as a low-end two-quarterback-league starter and streamer against weak defenses, of whom the Jets won't face many this season.
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The chances Geno Smith starts for the Jets still seem long, but they grow every day Fitzpatrick remains unsigned. Although Smith is widely perceived as incompetent, his physical tools are average at worst, and he has flashed competency in spurts. He was reinstalled as the Jets' quarterback following a midyear benching in 2014 and over seven games since has completed 115-of-176 throws (65.3%) for 1,420 yards (8.07 YPA) and an 8:4 TD-to-INT ratio, including a top-ten fantasy quarterback week against the Raiders in November last year. Even under a new regime, the Jets sounded committed to Smith as their starter all last spring before his jaw was broken in a fight with then-teammate IK Enemkpali. Smith spent his 21-interception rookie season with Jeremy Kerley and David Nelson as his top-two receivers, followed by a hamstrung Eric Decker in 2014. It is certainly fair to maintain extreme skepticism, but it would also be a stretch to say Smith has been given a fair NFL shake. With Brandon Marshall and a healthy Decker at receiver, Geno could probably put up similar stats to Fitzpatrick over 16 starts.
Strangely discarded in some circles following an injury-marred final season in Chicago, Brandon Marshall showed he is still a dominant NFL receiver last year by turning in his third top-five WR1 finish in the last four seasons. His ADP never exceeded the fifth round in 12-team drafts, yet Marshall went on to rank fifth in the league in catches (105), fourth in receiving yards (1,502), tied for first in touchdowns (14), and seventh in 20-plus-yard receptions (19). Marshall's numbers figure to regress facing tougher defenses in his age-32 season, but he will continue to soak up targets in a Jets offense that runs a tight ship in terms of passing-game distribution. Marshall could even see a slight uptick in targets if New York trails on the scoreboard more. Marshall is a very good deal at his third-round ADP. I have him ranked over Mike Evans, Jordy Nelson, and Brandin Cooks, all of whom are being drafted ahead of Marshall right now.
Eric Decker moved into the slot in his first season under OC Chan Gailey and flourished there with unrivaled consistency, topping 80 yards and/or scoring a touchdown in 15-of-15 games. 56 of Decker's 80 receptions came on slot routes. Gailey proactively dialed up goal-line plays for Decker, frequently using him on rubs and picks in scoring position. Decker led the league in red-zone targets (28), converting ten into TDs. He was also targeted more than any NFL receiver from the ten-yard line and in. Whereas Marshall has some age-cliff risk at 32 years old, Decker arguably offers the higher floor entering his age-29 campaign. Even if Geno Smith is the Jets' starter and not Ryan Fitzpatrick, Decker's extreme scoring-position usage should translate into another high-touchdown season. Decker is a solid WR2 and warrants serious consideration beginning at the 4.12/5.01 turn in season-long leagues.
The concentrated nature of the Jets' passing-game distribution allows for next to no chance of fantasy viability from New York's sub-package pass catchers. Marshall and Decker monopolized 50.7% of the Jets' targets in 2015, dwarfing a team like the Saints, whose Nos. 1 and 2 pass catchers accounted for just 36% of the targets. Behind Marshall, Decker, and the Jets' stable of skilled receiving backs, H-back/slot receiver Quincy Enunwa, so-far-failed 2014 second-round pick Jace Amaro, and 28-year-old journeyman Kenbrell Thompkins will compete to pick up the scraps. 2015 second-round pick Devin Smith (ACL) is believed to be headed for reserve/PUP.
Running Game Outlook
Beyond a Week 8 MCL sprain that cost him three games, Matt Forte showed no tangible signs of decline last season in Chicago. Forte's 16-game pace stats -- 268-1,105-5 rushing and 54-478-4 receiving -- were in line with his career norms, while Forte's yards-per-carry (4.12) and yards-per-catch (8.8) averages improved on the previous year. Forte finished as the RB7 in points per game in both PPR and non-PPR scoring. Signed to a three-year, $12 million deal by the Jets, Forte enters a Chain Gailey-coordinated spread offense that coaxed career years out of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller in Buffalo, before doing the same for Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell last year. The fantasy community seems split on Forte, whom some view as overvalued at his RB14 ADP because Powell and/or Khiry Robinson may vulture a lot of work. Last year's Jets running backs combined for 386 carries and 94 catches. Even if Forte logs only 55% of that workload, he would be set up for 264 touches in a run-friendly scheme. 60% would put him at 288 touches. Turning 31 later this year, Forte probably does not offer league-winning upside with Powell expected to be heavily involved. But I am a fan of drafting Forte as a fringe RB1/2 in the mid to late fourth round of PPR drafts. I would prefer him as a fifth-rounder in standard leagues.
Bilal Powell beat out Zac Stacy and Stevan Ridley for the Jets' No. 2 job last year, opening the season as New York's third-down and two-minute back. His role grew as the year progressed, partly because Chris Ivory wore down but mostly because Powell was so effective. He finished as the RB23 in PPR points per game, setting career highs in targets (63), catches (47), receiving yards (388), catch rate (74.6%), and yards per carry (4.47) while ranking No. 13 among 68 backs in Pro Football Focus' yards-after-contact per rushing attempt metric (2.7) and No. 9 in pass blocking. On game tape, Powell appeared to run with more quickness and purpose than in years past. The Jets re-signed Powell to a three-year deal worth $11.25 million -- only slightly less than Forte's -- and beat writers foresee the duo working in tandem. From a skill set standpoint, Forte and Powell can be interchangeable parts. Whereas Forte's draft value is debatable, Powell's isn't. In PPR especially, Powell is a no-brainer pick in the early double-digit rounds.
The lead contenders for New York's No. 3 tailback job are Zac Stacy and Khiry Robinson, who are both worth monitoring in training camp because Forte turns 31 later this year and combined with Powell to miss eight games last season. Robinson is a better talent than Stacy, but fractured his right tibia last November and landed just $80,000 guaranteed on his one-year deal. Stacy's 2015 season also ended in November with a broken right ankle. The loser of this battle figures to be released at final cuts. Robinson has been discussed as a potential short-yardage and goal-line specialist should he carve out a role in the Jets' backfield. Whereas Forte has converted only 30-of-167 (18.0%) career rushing attempts inside the ten-yard line into touchdowns, Powell has converted 6-of-21 (28.6%) and Robinson is 7-of-13 (53.8%).
7/27 Update: The Jets failed Zac Stacy (ankle) on his training camp physical and cut him, which may solidify Robinson's roster chances. The Jets did sign Bernard Pierce, but he is suspended for the first two weeks of the season and has been utterly ineffective as a ball carrier since his 2012 rookie year.
2016 Vegas Win Total
The Jets go from facing the AFC South and NFC East last year to the NFC West and AFC North this season. Before a Week 11 bye, Gang Green mixes six road affairs with home games against the Bengals, Steelers, Ravens, and Rams. Immediately after the bye, the Jets will take on the Patriots and Colts. It should come as no surprise that New York's schedule was rated the NFL's third most difficult by Warren Sharp. The Jets are a well-coached team built to "win now" by second-year GM Mike Maccagnan, yet still spent the offseason playing hardball with their quarterback in large part due to cap constraints caused by heavy investment into aging players. The Jets deserved to be in the playoffs over the Texans last year, and should by no means be viewed as a "bad" team entering 2016, but I'm taking the under on their 7.5-game Win Total.