AFC East Player Analysis: Every Team, Every Unit, Every Player
QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Nathan Peterman. Backup -- Josh Allen.
The Bills conducted a comprehensive competition that began the moment OTAs got under way. All three players were given their opportunity with the first-string offense, and they each got a start in the first three preseason games. Ultimately, McCarron's shoulder injury derailed him, and when he played the entire fourth game, it was clear he was no longer in the running to start. He was then traded to Oakland on the day the team cut its roster to 53 players, so the Bills will go into the season with two quarterbacks who have one combined year of NFL service time, and two starts. Head coach Sean McDermott officially named Peterman the starter Monday morning, though Allen is expected to play at some point this year, and the only question is when.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- LeSean McCoy, FB Patrick DiMarco. Backups -- Chris Ivory, Marcus Murphy, Taiwan Jones.
McCoy is the Bills' most indispensable player; if he were to get hurt, their offense would very likely sink to the bottom of the NFL. He is the key to the running game, which we know the Bills will have to rely on, and he's also an important part of the passing game because the Bills do not have quality playmakers in their receiving corps. Ivory is a nice addition who can fill in if McCoy is out, and Murphy was one of the stars of the summer, though his role, at least early, will probably be limited to punt and/or kickoff returns.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Charles Clay. Backups -- Jason Croom, Logan Thomas, Khari Lee.
Clay has been an underwhelming player during the first three years of his bloated five-year, $38 million contract. No one has really challenged him during his time in Buffalo, but Croom was impressive in training camp and the preseason games, and he could warrant meaningful snaps. Lee is the best blocker of the group and will mostly likely see playing time in short-yardage and goal-line situations, though he did show that he can catch the ball. Ultimately, Thomas beat out fourth-year player Nick O'Leary, who entered training camp No. 2 on the depth chart.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones. Backups -- Jeremy Kerley, Andre Holmes, Ray-Ray McCloud, Robert Foster.
Benjamin is the only proven player in this group, and even at that, he would be a No. 2-type on the majority of NFL teams, but he's No. 1 in Buffalo by default. He is a big-bodied, physical receiver who can make catches in the intermediate range, but it's not too often that he's blowing past anyone on a deep route. Jones is looking to put behind him a rough rookie year and an even rougher offseason, but the questions about his viability at this level remain. Kerley will be a useful player in the slot, where he has often excelled. After that, the Bills have an abyss at the position.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Dion Dawkins, LG Vlad Ducasse, C Ryan Groy, RG John Miller, RT Jordan Mills. Backups -- C Russell Bodine, G Wyatt Teller, T Marshall Newhouse, T Conor McDermott.
It was a nightmarish preseason for this group as they too often failed to protect whichever quarterback was behind them, most notably in the third game against Cincinnati, when they played into the third quarter and offered no help to Allen in his lone start. Dawkins has already proven he's a solid replacement for departed Cordy Glenn, but the losses of Richie Incognito and Eric Wood have severely depleted the talent level. Ducasse and Miller could be the weakest guard tandem in the league, and neither Groy nor Bodine outright won the center job. In terms of depth, there's almost nothing as Newhouse seems past his prime, McDermott is a project, and Teller is a raw rookie whom the Bills hope can develop as fast as possible.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DE Jerry Hughes, DE Trent Murphy, DT Kyle Williams, DT Star Lotulelei. Backups -- DT Harrison Phillips, DT Adolphus Washington, DE Shaq Lawson, DE Eddie Yarbrough.
Murphy has to get healthy because the Bills' pass rush was one of the worst in the NFL last season. If he's not the threat he was signed to be, it might be a long season for Hughes, who will get doubled on every snap. Williams is currently injured, but the Bills are very happy with the progress of Phillips, their third-round pick, and he will start alongside Lotulelei until Williams is back. Lawson and Yarbrough provide adequate depth on the ends, but Washington, a former third-rounder, needs to do something in this, his third season.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- MLB Tremaine Edmunds, WLB Matt Milano, SLB Lorenzo Alexander. Backups -- Deon Lacey, Ramon Humber, Julian Stanford.
Edmunds, the Bills' second of two first-round picks in April, really came on at the end of the preseason and he looks like a future star in the NFL, but he is flanked by two big question marks. Alexander is now 35 and clearly slowing down, so he won't be an every-down player. And Milano is an undersized 223-pounder who flashed last season but needs to be stronger against the run. The depth is non-existent and the Bills have to pray they keep their starting three healthy.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Tre'Davious White, RCB Vontae Davis, FS Micah Hyde, SS Jordan Poyer. Backups -- CB Taron Johnson, CB Phillip Gaines, CB Lafayette Pitts, CB Ryan Lewis, S Rafael Bush, S Siran Neal.
Buffalo's secondary was one of the NFL's best last season, but there are two key changes this season. Davis takes over for E.J. Gaines on the outside, and rookie fourth-rounder Johnson is in line to replace Leonard Johnson as the nickel corner. At this point, the Bills do not appear better at either of those spots. White is a star in the making, while Hyde and Poyer joined the Bills as free agents last season and were an outstanding tandem in combining for 10 interceptions. Depth is an issue at cornerback, while Bush is a solid reserve at both safety spots.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Stephen Hauschka, P Corey Bojorquez, LS Reid Ferguson, PR/KR Marcus Murphy, KR Taiwan Jones, KR Ray-Ray McCloud.
Hauschka is superb, and in his first season playing in windy New Era Field, he had very few problems as he made 12 of 14 field goals and all 17 of his extra points in Buffalo's eight home games. The Bills parted ways with Colton Schmidt. After he held off a late challenge from former Seahawks veteran Jon Ryan to keep his roster spot, he was cut Sunday and the Bills claimed rookie Corey Bojorquez, who had been cut by the Patriots. Ferguson was unchallenged. The return game still needs to be fleshed out, but Murphy, Jones and McCloud (assuming his knee injury from Thursday's preseason finale isn't serious) are the leading candidates.
QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Ryan Tannehill. Backups -- Brock Osweiler, David Fales, Luke Falk.
It's been 17 years since the Dolphins won a playoff game, a drought Tannehill is hoping to end. Tannehill is just 37-40 in his career as a NFL starter, but he was 8-5 under head coach Adam Gase before getting injured. Gase said Tannehill remained engaged with the offense last year even though he was unable to play. "I think he got better last year," Gase said. "Positive things are going to come out of what he had to go through." Should Tannehill get hurt again, Osweiler will likely get the first shot, rather than Fales. Falk, Tennessee's sixth-round pick this year, may have been added merely for his knowledge of the Titans. Or, it could be that Falk sticks around and one of the veteran backups gets cut because four QBs is at least one too many to carry on the roster long-term. Falk, a former walk-on who became a star at Washington State, lacks mobility but has a quick release and is plenty tough. His decision-making, especially at the NFL level, will need to improve if he is to have a pro career of any length.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Kenyan Drake. Backups -- Frank Gore, Kalen Ballage, Senorise Perry, Brandon Bolden.
The Dolphins have an interesting mix of youth (Drake and Ballage), experience (Gore) and special teams (Perry). Drake ran for 644 yards last season, averaging an impressive 4.8 per carry. He started the season as a backup and then came on strong, especially in the final month of the season. Now, let's see if he can perform like that for an entire year. Gore, a former Miami Hurricanes star who is likely headed to the Hall of Fame, is a five-time Pro Bowl back who wants to finish his career in his hometown. He is 35-years-old, but he hasn't missed a start in six years, and he rushed for 961 yards last season. Ballage, a fourth-round pick out of Arizona State, has excellent speed and can help on third downs. He flashed some of his big-play ability in the preseason, although his up-right running style makes him an easier target for defenders. Bolden was signed Tuesday.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Kenny Stills, Danny Amendola, DeVante Parker. Backups -- Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant, Tanner McEvoy.
Jarvis Landry will be missed, especially if Parker, Miami's first-round pick in 2015, continues to be injury prone and largely unproductive. He missed three games last year, and he is questionable for the start of this season due to a broken finger. He scored just one touchdown last year, and his average per catch has decreased every season, from 19.0 to 13.3 to 11.8. With Landry gone, Stills is now the leader of this group. He started every game for Miami the past two years, catching 100 passes for 1,573 yards and 15 touchdowns. However, he is starting the season with a nagging ankle injury. He is in his prime at age 26, and the Dolphins need him healthy. Amendola, who never had great speed even in college (4.58), will be 33 in November, so there is a question of how much football he has left. But Amendola is a two-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots, and he has tons of knowledge of how to get open from the slot. He has 426 career catches but just 9.6 yards on average per reception. Miami gave him a two-year contract, and it will be interesting to see how productive he can be without Tom Brady throwing him passes.
Wilson, a free agency pickup from the Kansas City Chiefs, and Grant, a sixth-round pick last year, help on special teams and provide depth. McEvoy, a big target at 6-5, 230 pounds, was claimed on waivers on Sunday from the New Orleans Saints. As an undrafted rookie with the Seattle Seahawks in 2016, McEvoy blocked a punt, threw a 43-yard completion, caught passes at wide receiver and tight end and was also tried at safety. Look for him to play special teams with the Dolphins, who like his versatility.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Mike Gesicki. Backups: Durham Smythe, A.J. Derby, Gavin Escobar, MarQueis Gray (IR/ciould erturn later in season).
Smythe, a rookie fourth-round pick from Notre Dame, is a rugged in-line blocker who has a passion for the game. He isn't fast, but he could be a reliable receiver now that he has a NFL passer throwing to him. He has great size at 6-5 and 260 pounds, and he could develop into an elite blocker in the run game. Gesicki, a rookie second-round pick from Penn State, won't do the same dirty work as Smythe. But Gesicki -- if the Dolphins are right about him -- will grab the headlines with his ability to make catches in traffic and over defenders. For a big guy (6-5, 250), he runs and jumps well, and he will be a target on third downs and in the red zone.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Laremy Tunsil, LG Josh Sitton, C Daniel Kilgore, RG Jesse Davis, RT Ja'Wuan James. Backups -- G/C Ted Larsen, T Zach Sterup, T Sam Young, C Jake Brendel (IR/could return later in season).
O-line coach Jeremiah Washburn is new to the team as is his immediate boss, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. However, Gase calls the plays, and Miami's commitment to the run game -- something offensive linemen love -- will be tested. The Dolphins added free-agent center Kilgore, who started 16 games last year for the San Francisco 49ers. This is his third year as a starter. Sitton, 32, looks like a strong addition as a free agent from the Chicago Bears. He is a former Super Bowl champion and a four-time Pro Bowl player who is also a native Floridian. Davis, 26, is the other starter on the interior, and the right guard is not considered a top-tier talent. He was an undrafted free agent in 2015 and didn't make his NFL debut until last year with the Dolphins, who started him 10 times. The starting tackles are both former first-round picks who have yet to live up to lofty expectations. James missed eight games last year due to a hamstring injury, and this is the last year of his five-year rookie contract. Tunsil, the 13th overall draft pick in 2016, struggled last year, and depth on this line is thin.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DE Robert Quinn, DT Jordan Phillips, DT Akeem Spence, DE Cameron Wake. Backups -- DE Andre Branch, DE Charles Harris, DE William Hayes, DT Davon Godchaux, DT Vincent Taylor.
Miami's defense was just 29th in the NFL in points allowed last year, tied for 26th in sacks and 14 in rushing yards allowed, and now they have to replace Ndamukong Suh at tackle. Phillips, a second-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2015, is a two-year starter but has an inconsistent motor. Spence is a blue-collar player who had 39 tackles and three sacks last year with the Detroit Lions. Both tackles will be pushed by 2017 rookies Taylor and Godchaux. Defensive end is one of the deepest positions on the team with run-stuffer Hayes, 2017 first-round pick Harris and veteran Branch all available off the bench. Branch, though, is coming off knee surgery in the offseason, and much more is expected out of Harris, who had just two sacks last year. The starters at end are five-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher Wake, who had 10.5 sacks last year and shows no signs of slowing down at age 36, and Quinn, a former first-round pick who had 8.5 sacks last year for the Los Angeles Rams. Quinn should be better in Miami's 4-3 defense as opposed to the Rams' 3-4 scheme.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Kiko Alonso, MLB Raekwon McMillan, OLB Jerome Baker. Backups -- MLB Chase Allen, OLB Stephone Anthony, OLB Mike Hull (IR/could return later in season).
Miami played eight defensive rookies last year - one of three NFL teams to use that many first-year defenders in 2017 - and more young guys are on the horizon, especially at linebacker. McMillan, a second-round pick in 2017 who missed the entire season due to a knee injury, is ready for his NFL debut. Baker, a rookie third-round pick out of Ohio State, arrives with a reputation as a sure tackler. Baker (6-1, 225) is not big for the position. He is not considered a technician. But he has great speed for a linebacker (4.53), and he explodes to the ball when he sees an opening. The one veteran in Miami's linebacker room is Alonso, who made 115 tackles last year. But Alonso needs to make more big plays on a unit with almost no depth or other experience. Last year, Alonso forced two fumbles, deflected one pass, posted one sack and had zero interceptions.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Xavien Howard, CB Bobby McCain, S Reshad Jones, S T.J. McDonald. Backups -- CB Cordrea Tankersley, CB Torry McTyer, CB Cornell Armstrong, S Minkah Fitzpatrick, S Walt Aikens, S Maurice Smith.
The Dolphins could have an excellent secondary, led by two-time Pro Bowl safety Jones, who is the latter stages of his prime at age 30. His 122 tackles last year led all NFL defensive backs. McDonald, a 6-2, 225-pounder, could be used as a hybrid safety/linebacker. That role may allow the Dolphins to get him, Jones and rookie first-round pick Fitzpatrick in the lineup at the same time. Fitzpatrick was a collegiate star at Alabama, and he is versatile enough to be used at deep safety, slot corner or in the box. Howard had a three-game run last December in which he had two interceptions and a touchdown against the Denver Broncos, two interceptions against the New England Patriots and a sack against the Buffalo Bills. A second-round pick in 2016, Howard, 25, could be on the brink of earning Pro Bowl status. In two years in the league, he has already intercepted Ben Roethlisberger (once) and Tom Brady (twice). At the other cornerback spot, Tankersley and McCain could rotate, with the latter having more comfort perhaps in the slot. The other four DBs on the roster will be needed primarily on special teams.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jason Sanders, P Matt Haack, LS John Denney.
Sanders, Miami's rookie seventh-round pick out of New Mexico, won a tough fight against Greg Joseph to earn the kicking job. He is Miami's third opening-day kicker in as many years. He has a strong leg, but accuracy could be an issue, and the Dolphins may end up missing Cody Parkey, who bolted in free agency to the Chicago Bears. Parkey tied Jay Feely's franchise record last year with 91.3-percent accuracy. Haack returns as the punter, and special-teams captain Denney is back for his 14th consecutive season as Miami's reliable snapper. Haack averaged 44.3 yards last year during a solid rookie season. He also had 30 kicks downed inside the 20, which led all rookie punters. The coverage teams were weakened in the offseason when Michael Thomas (New York Giants) and Damien Williams (Kansas City Chiefs) left in free agency. However, special-teams coach Darren Rizzi has a knack for finding the right guys for his unit. Since he arrived in Miami in 2011, the Dolphins lead the NFL with 10 blocked punts. Miami also led the league in kickoff coverage last year. Jakeem Grant flashed potential last year as a rookie kickoff/punt returner, but he is currently overcoming a concussion.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Tom Brady. Backups - Brian Hoyer
Brady enters his 19th season with five Super Bowl rings and eight Super Bowl appearances. It is anybody's guess what motivates Brady at this point. Brady has been to the AFC Championship Game every year since 2011 (seven straight years) and has been to 12 AFC championship games in his career. Given that he passed for 505 yards in the Super Bowl, there is no sign that Brady is slowing down. Brady's wife, international supermodel Gisele Bundchen, has wanted her husband to retire years ago, but Brady states he wants to play for a long time. Hoyer, a journeyman who started his career with the Patriots before he bounced around the league with six different teams and has now returned to the Patriots, has issues with mobility and arm strength. The Patriots like him because he knows their system well.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters - James White, Rex Burkhead. Backups - Jeremy Hill, FB James Develin, Sony Michel.
White has emerged as one of the better backs in the league with his versatility to run and catch. Don't forget it was White who had the game-winning run in the Patriots last Super Bowl victory against Atlanta. White came into training camp in great shape. Burkhead and Hill will provide power out of the backfield. Rookie first-round pick Michel missed most of training camp so he might start slow, but he offers something to get excited about given his strong college career at Georgia.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Rob Gronkowski. Backups - Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister, Ryan Izzo (IR/could return later in season).
Gronkowski is the best tight end in football. He contemplated retirement in the offseason given the amount of hits his body has taken in eight seasons in the NFL. The Patriots gave him an extra $4.3 million in incentives to keep him happy. Given the Patriots lack of talent at wide receiver, Gronkowski will need to have a big year. Allen is a blocker who contributes little in the passing game and Hollister should give the Patriots an extra option to catch passes.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Julian Edelman (SUS), Chris Hogan. Backups -- Cordarrelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett, Chad Hansen, Riley McCarron.
The starters and backups are interchangeable given the lack of stability at receiver. When the Patriots go three wide receivers in the first four games, Hogan, Patterson and Dorsett will be out there. The Patriots just added Hansen, who is in his second year and had limited production last season. The odds are likely low at this point that the Patriots will sign Dez Bryant - even though he remains the best free-agent wide receiver on the open market.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Trent Brown, LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason, RT Marcus Cannon. Backups - G Ted Karras, T LaAdrian Waddle, C Brian Schwenke.
The big question is whether Brown can adequately protect Brady's blind side. The Patriots let Nate Solder depart in free agency, and he had protected Tom Brady's blind side for seven years and before that it was Matt Light for 11 years. The Patriots gave Mason a big contract in training camp and the interior of the line is strong. At right tackle, if Cannon is hurt Waddle should be an adequate replacement.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DE Trey Flowers, DT Danny Shelton, DT Lawrence Guy, DE Adrian Clayborn. Backups - DT Malcom Brown, DT Adam Butler, DE Deatrich Wise, DE Keionta Davis, DE Geneo Grissom, DE Derek Rivers.
The best player in this group is clearly Flowers who should be ready for Week 1. Flowers has a strong burst and should have a good year putting pressure on the quarterback. Shelton has been a strong addition and has clearly surpassed Brown to be a starter. It will be tough to run against the Patriots with Shelton and Guy inside. Clayborn should provide some additional pressure on the outside. Rivers, who is coming off an ACL tear causing him to miss his rookie year, should be a good pass rusher.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Kyle Van Noy, Backups -- LB Ja'Whaun Bentley, LB Elandon Roberts, LB Nicholas Grigsby.
No need to distinguish between inside and outside linebackers because the Patriots only have two linebackers on the field most of the time - given that their base defense has become nickel defense (five defensive backs). If Hightower stays healthy, this group could be respectable. Hightower played only five games last year and has had nagging injuries throughout his career. Bentley, a rookie, has shown promise and could be a good inside linebacker. Roberts must improve his coverage skills.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Stephon Gilmore, CB Eric Rowe, CB Jonathan Jones, S Devin McCourty, S Patrick Chung. Backups - CB Jason McCourty, CB Keion Crossen, CB J.C. Jackson, S Duron Harmon, S Brandon King, S Nate Ebner, CB Duke Dawson (IR/could return later in season).
This group might be the best on the team and it should be motivated after a bad Super Bowl performance against the Eagles. Gilmore is a top corner who should be able to cover the other team's best wide receiver. Rowe is reliable and Jones has improved. Devin McCourty, who had one interception a year ago, is a strong leader/reliable at tackling but must be more of playmaker. No indication yet on how Dawson, a rookie second-round pick, will play, but it won't be for a while after being placed on injured reserve Thursday. Chung's strength is his ability to cover the tight end and he can play down in the box at the line of scrimmage. Harmon, who had four interceptions last year, had a strong training camp and should maintain his consistency as a smart player who generally avoids mistakes.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Stephen Gostkowski, P Ryan Allen, KR/PR Cordarrelle Patterson, LS Joe Cardona.
Nothing to worry about in the kicking game with Gostkowski who has one of the strongest legs in the game and Ryan Allen is a very good punter. With Edelman unable to return kick or punts for the first four games, this unit will need to adjust. Patterson, though, has returned five kickoffs for touchdowns in his career.
NEW YORK JETS
QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Sam Darnold. Backup -- Josh McCown.
The Golden Boy and the guy who's old enough to be his father. The 21-year-old rookie will be the youngest quarterback to start his team's season opener, and while much is expected of him, expect the Jets to have him crawl before he learns to walk. McCown, 39, is an excellent mentor, having seen pretty much everything since coming into the league in 2002.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Isaiah Crowell; FB Lawrence Thomas. Backups -- Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire (IR/could return later in season), Trenton Cannon.
The carries should be divvied up fairly evenly between the veterans Crowell and Powell, who were each in the top-20 in yards per carry last season (Powell, 15th, 4.3; Crowell, 19th, 4.1). Both players still have good burst and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Crowell suffered a concussion in the first preseason game, but has come back and performed at his usual level. With McGuire out with a broken foot, the sixth-round rookie speedster Cannon can be a good change-of-pace back. Thomas didn't distinguish himself in camp but got the nod at fullback over Dmitri Flowers because he transitioned nicely from the defensive line last season and is a big body that can move surprising well.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Eric Tomlinson. Backups -- Jordan Leggett, Neal Sterling, Chris Herndon.
This position will be fluid. Tomlinson is a strong blocker, on or off the line or scrimmage, while the other three will be the pass-catchers, albeit unproven ones. Leggett missed all of his rookie season last year with a knee injury, Sterling is a career backup and Herndon is a rookie. The unit has some potential, but only 26 NFL receptions between the four (18 for Sterling, eight for Tomlinson).
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse. Backups -- Terrelle Pryor, Quincy Enunwa, ArDarius Stewart (SUS), Andre Roberts, Charone Peake.
There's plenty of depth at the position, but also plenty of question marks. Anderson had a breakout year last season (941 yards, seven touchdowns), and a suspension for offseason arrests seems unlikelier by the day. Kearse has an abdominal issue that could keep him out for the opener, with would open the door for Pryor (ankle) and Enunwa (neck), who are each coming off season-ending injuries last year. Stewart is out the first two games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. When he returns, the Jets will decide who they want to keep, him or Peake. The veteran Roberts will almost exclusively be a punt returner.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Kelvin Beachum, LG James Carpenter, C Spencer Long, RG Brian Winters, RT Brandon Shell. Backups -- T Brent Qvale, C Jonotthan Harrison, RG Dakota Dozier, RT Ben Braden.
Arguably the weakest unit on the team (outside linebacker being the other in contention), Beachum was out a large portion of the preseason with a foot injury and Qvale didn't look good filling in for him. So there could be an issue protecting Darnold's blind side if Beachum isn't fully healthy. Carpenter and Shell struggled last season, Long was a free-agent pickup from the Redskins (four years, $28 million), Winters should be improved after offseason abdominal surgery and Harrison, Dozier and Braden are all competent backups.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DE Leonard Williams, NT Steve McLendon, DE Nathan Shepherd. Backups -- DE Foley Fatukasi, NT Mike Pennel, DE Henry Anderson.
Williams is the stud of this group, though his sack production fell off last season (two) as he began facing double-teams, which he should expect again this season. The veteran McLendon missed some time in the preseason with a leg injury, but should be ready Week 1, and Shepherd is a small-school rookie who'll be tossed into the fire right away. Should be a good run-stopping group, but not sure how much pressure they'll generate on the quarterback. Fatukasi (sixth-round rookie), Pennel and Anderson will all be useful, if unspectacular, backups.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Josh Martin, ILB Avery Williamson, ILB Darron Lee, OLB Jordan Jenkins. Backups -- OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, ILB Neville Hewitt, ILB Kevin Pierre-Louis (SUS), OLB Brandon Copeland.
The strength is on the inside, with Williamson, the free-agent pickup from the Titans (three years, $22.5 million) coming off an excellent camp, and Lee entering his third season after marked improvement in his second year. Martin and Jenkins are OK, but don't expect much of a pass rush from either. The Jets signed Attaochu on Monday after he was released by the 49ers, and he could provide some pass-rushing help since he had six sacks in 2015 for the Chargers. Pierre-Louis will miss the opener for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Trumaine Johnson, SS Jamal Adams, FS Marcus Maye, CB Morris Claiborne. Backups -- CB Buster Skrine, SS Terrence Brooks, FS Doug Middleton, CB Darryl Roberts, CB Parry Nickerson, CB Juston Burris, CB Derrick Jones, FS J.J. Wilcox, CB Rashard Robinson (SUS).
Should be the strength of the team, but will need to improve on last season, when it allowed 30 touchdown passes and made only 11 interceptions. Johnson, the free-agent pickup from the Rams (five years, $72.5 million) should help with that, as should the maturation of Adams and Maye in their second years. Claiborne is a solid No. 2 corner, coming off a nice first season with the Jets and Skrine will be on the field in nickel situations. Good depth at each position.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jason Myers, P Lachlan Edwards, LS Thomas Hennessy, KR Roberts/Cannon, PR Roberts.
Myers came in late in camp after the Jets released the injured Cairo Santos, and the veteran beat out the unproven Taylor Bertolet, mainly due to his strong kickoffs. No reason to think he won't have a solid season. Edwards was one of the most improved punters in the league last year, and Roberts is a veteran who won't make many mistakes in the return game. Cannon has speed on kick returns, but ball security was an issue in the preseason.