Brian Bassett, TheJetsBlog.comAs the Jets set to kick off their 2014 season next Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, there are a number of young players that are expected to make a big impact for the team this season. Age has always been an important factor in the NFL; too young a team and the inexperience can cause mistakes while a team that’s too can lead to an inability to execute in need of a massive overhaul. Striking the right blend of youth and experience is critical to dialing in a contender in the NFL.
Last year, the Jets were the seventh-youngest team in the league and the inexperience showed, with five of their seven draft picks seeing significant starting time. That said, some of those players got better as the the season went on. Sheldon Richardson won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award and Dee Milliner played like one in December, after a very shaky start. Quarterback Geno Smith had the second highest QBR in the league to only Peyton Manning during the Jets final four games in December.
This year the Jets added 12 players through the draft. Through GM John Idzik’s first two drafts, 15 of 19 draftees are still on the roster. So, with that many young players, how young is this Jets team? According to Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com, the Jets are the thirteenth-youngest team in the league as they prepare for 2014. Youth is important, but in the young NFL players must be called upon to make significant contributions as the team determines whether they are cornerstones once their rookie contract comes up.
Today, we will be sharing the team’s top 10 players under 25 in two installments. First up, players 6-10.
#10. WR/PR Jalen Saunders
The Jets return teams didn’t do much in 2013 to help their rookie quarterback to win the field position game. In fact, the Jets return unit was the worst that they’ve fielded since 2011. With 12 draft picks this season, the Jets set out to address that the lack of playmaking in the return game by drafting their first receiver Jalen Saunders in the fourth round. Saunders, 21, is a small (5’9″, 164 lbs) quicker-than-fast, punt returner and potential slot receiver. Saunders has good hands, suddenness and could be an interesting chess piece for coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. A coach who could be able to find a way to free up the receiver from press-man corners able to re-route him at the line. Saunders might be diminutive, but in camp looked immune to taking big hits and effortlessly slid off would-be tacklers to create more yards on both punts and in the passing game.
Saunders did have a “medical event” during camp, in which he had a seizure at the wheel of his vehicle on the way to the team’s facility in New Jersey. The hope for Saunders is that the event was an isolated incident, but it is certainly worth considering due to the violence of the game compared to his size.
#9. OG Oday Aboushi
Oday Aboushi has come a long way in a short time. The 23-year-old was a tackle at Virginia (a school known for their OL pedigree) but has progressed quickly as a second- year player seeing most of his time as the team’s swing guard. Guard seems a more natural fit thanks to his physical style and only decent speed. Aboushi possesses a good punch and will take his man to the ground if he’s taken off-balance, but also has the base strength to drive his man downfield on a running play. The second-year player doesn’t have top-end speed, but it is still good enough as a positional blocker on pulling plays and can seal inside or outside to create lanes.
Aboushi is a backup for now, but in time seems like the obvious next man up should a guard get injured or next year if the Jets decide to move on from stopgap veteran Willie Colon.
#8. TE Jace Amaro
GM John Idzik has wanted to draft a pass catching tight end since 2013 and the team was able to grab one this year in his second draft. The 22-year-old rookie has excellent size with room for added muscle and was used almost exclusively during his time at Texas Tech as an oversized receiver. Amaro releases cleanly into his routes with athleticism and balance and is quick enough to stretch the seam against linebackers and safeties. While he might have smaller hands, he is still a good pass catcher and can extend to catch the football in traffic. Amaro can block as a move tight end, but will need to work on his in-line game if the Jets want to use him more on the hips of their tackles.
Amaro was “spinning” as coach Rex Ryan termed it during spring camps but seems to be coming around. Amaro scored a touchdown in the Jets dress rehearsal against the Giants during the third week of the preseason. Amaro had historic production in Texas Tech’s offense spread offense and we expect good things from Amaro in time with a good deal of the passing game going through him. In the meantime, his adjustment to playing the emerging move or “F” tight end role might be prove a steep learning curve in the player’s first year. Look for him to be most productive on third downs and in the red zone for this offense.
#7. OG Brian Winters
With the average age of the other four offensive linemen pegged at 30, Winters is the first piece of what might become a seriously re-worked line in two to three seasons time. Winters, 23, was the focus of a lot of negative attention during his rookie season, but the transitioning tackle from Kent State seemed to take it in stride and has returned as a better physical specimen. While many middle-round rookie linemen have the luxury of learning from the sidelines, Winters was pressed into service after just four games and struggled, needed a lot of attention from tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold.
Like many of the Jets 2013 rookies, Winters improvement was noticeable during the December and his linemates are eager to see his improvement on the field this fall.
#6. S Calvin Pryor
Between Dee Milliner and rookie Calvin Pryor, the Jets are overhauling their secondary and putting the group into good hands. The 22-year-old Pryor is known mostly as a hard-hitting safety nicknamed “The Louisville Slugger.” While true, Pryor will also bring both range and impact to a position that has been devoid of both during much of Rex Ryan’s tenure with the team. Pryor is known as instinctive and aggressive with excellent pre-snap recognition and zone recognitions to make any needed adjustments before or during the play. Paying him the highest compliment Ryan calls him a “football player” through and through. Typecast as a box safety, Pryor has more than enough range to play that one-high center field role that Ryan covets in his defense, or down around the line using his aggression.
Pryor saw limited time in the defense during camp and preseason due to a concussion suffered during the first practice in pads this summer but if his work in the Bengals game is any indication, the injury hasn’t caused him to hesitate even a little. Look for him to hit the ground running as an impact player for the Jets, starting this weekend.
Next up, the Jets top five players under 25 …