This is part three of a four part series for all four teams in the AFC East.
The young quarterback chase is on in the AFC East as Josh Rosen (Miami), Sam Darnold (New York), and Josh Allen (Buffalo) battle to determine the next great quarterback in this division that has been dominated by 6-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady (New England). But, while the Bills coaching staff has remained intact this off-season, the Dolphins, Jets, and Patriots have swapped some of their coaches with Adam Gase moving from Miami to New York and Brian Flores moving from New England to Miami. With these coaching changes, could Josh Allen be the one to challenge Tom Brady over the next few seasons while Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen are learning under their new head coaches?
With preseason training camps almost here, each AFC East team has questions to answer on both sides of the football. I will give my opinion on two questions for each team (one concerning the offense, one concerning the defense) to keep an eye on during the regular season this year.
- Can Adam Gase turn Sam Darnold into a Pro Bowl quarterback and will Le’Veon Bell take some pressure off of Darnold in his sophomore season?
When Adam Gase was the offensive coordinator for the AFC champion Denver Broncos in 2013, Sam Darnold was just beginning to emerge as a star quarterback for San Clemente High School (a 67 mile drive from USC). Three years later, Gase led the Miami Dolphins to a 10-6 record in his first season as a NFL head coach while Darnold led USC to its first Rose Bowl win since 2008 and was named Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year as well as Archie Griffin MVP Award winner. This year, Gase and Darnold are ready to transform the Jets offense after three straight 10+ loss seasons under head coach Todd Bowles.
In his first season as the Jets starting quarterback, Sam Darnold did not have a great receiving corps, but this offseason, the Jets signed former Redskins wide receiver Jamison Crowder to a three year contract. From 2015 to 2017, Crowder had 192 receptions for 2,240 yards and 12 touchdowns before an injury limited his production last year. Crowder will join Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, and 2018 rookie sensation tight end Chris Herndon as they will try to form a solid receiving unit while Darnold is learning Adam Gase’s new offensive scheme to become a surprise Pro Bowl candidate this season. But, while Gase is trying to improve the Jets receiving unit, Le’Veon Bell is ready to make his impact on the Jets offense this year after sitting out the 2018 season.
After a career high 406 touches (321 carries, 85 receptions) for the Steelers in 2017, Le’Veon Bell did not appear in a single game last season due to contract issues, but this off-season, the Jets signed Bell to a four year contract to improve their running game. The Jets have not had a 1,000 yard rusher since 2015 when Chris Ivory was named to the Pro Bowl and Gase is hoping Bell can be a dynamic playmaker in the Jets offense this year. With Bell’s dual threat ability as a patient rusher and a reliable receiver, Sam Darnold could have a great sophomore season in the NFL if Le’Veon rushes for at least 1,000 yards to take some pressure off of his young quarterback.
- Can Quinnen Williams as well as Jachai Polite join Leonard Williams to form one of the AFC’s best defensive lines and will Gregg Williams have a top 10 defense in his first year as the Jets new defensive coordinator?
When Leonard Williams was an All-American first round draft pick by the Jets in 2015, he was a student under Pro Bowl defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and Pro Bowl defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. Four years later, Williams is ready to be a mentor to the Jets first round draft pick Quinnen Williams, a unanimous All-American from Alabama, and third round draft pick Jachai Polite, a first team All-SEC selection from Florida. With an Outland Trophy (best interior lineman in college football) winner in Williams and Polite coming off an 11 sack season, the Jets could have one of the best defensive lines in the AFC this year.
But, while Williams will be mentoring the Jets first two draft picks, the Jets front office also used the off-season to strengthen their linebacker unit by signing former Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley to a five year contract. In his five years in Baltimore, Mosley was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and had the 2nd most tackles in the AFC in 2017 (96). With his Pro Bowl experience, Mosley could become the leader of the Jets veteran linebacker unit with Avery Williamson, Jordan Jenkins, and Brandon Copeland returning from last season.
With the additions of Williams, Polite, and Mosley, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has the groundwork to produce one of the best defenses in the AFC. Over his 29 years as a defensive coach, Williams has worked with some of the best defensive players in the NFL from Ray Childress in Houston, Jevon Kearse in Tennessee, Sean Taylor in Washington, Roman Harper in New Orleans, and Aaron Donald with the Rams. With three Pro Bowl players on the Jets roster this season (Leonard Williams, C.J. Mosley, and safety Jamal Adams), Gregg Williams could have a top 10 defense in his first season with the Jets.
With New York’s schedule consisting of teams in the AFC North and NFC East this season, the Jets will have one of the toughest schedules in the NFL and have a record of 8-8. Sam Darnold has a lot to prove this season with Le’Veon Bell coming in, but I think the Jets offense could be significantly better than it was in 2018. I also think the Jets defense will improve with their offseason acquisitions, but Jamal Adams, Leonard Williams, and C.J. Mosley have to develop a strong chemistry as the only Pro Bowl selections on the Jets defensive roster.