New York Jets players set up to excel in the 2020 season

New York Jets, Sam Darnold (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
New York Jets, Sam Darnold (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images) /

After a chaotic but productive offseason, the New York Jets are fascinating. 

The New York Jets were a confident team heading into free agency. However, free agency has already proved to be a test for general manager Joe Douglas, even if he and the franchise rebounded with a solid showing in the NFL Draft.

Douglas has had a lot to do this offseason, from the Jamal Adams saga that led to the safety being traded to Seattle in addition to opt-outs due to COVID-19 that included linebacker C.J. Mosley. But with holes now left on both sides of the ball and with areas where the team needs to improve from last season, there are opportunities abound in New York.

So which players are going to step up for the New York Jets in the 2020 NFL season? Let’s take a look at both sides of the ball to see which players are in a position to excel this year.

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New York Jets players set up to excel in the 2020 season

Quarterback Sam Darnold is a serious contender to be a player who makes a massive leap in the 2020 season. The 23-year old is entering his third season with the Jets and has yet to fully reach his potential as a former first-round pick. Of course, No. 14 hasn’t had the easiest surrounds over two years in Gotham green.

Injury-ridden receivers and a weak offensive line, two positions that are vital for the development of a young quarterback, have failed him to this point. Make no mistake, Darnold’s performance has been poor at times. He’s thrown 28 interceptions over the last two seasons. Meanwhile, Darnold hasn’t had a 1,000-yard receiver at his disposal.

With a shaky offensive line — to put it kindly — his turnover numbers don’t necessarily reflect his ability. He’s been sacked an outrageous 63 times in 26 starts. In no way is that going to help an inexperienced quarterback with his accuracy.

These issues were apparent to Douglas in terms of Darnold’s projection. He used the first two rounds of the 2020 draft to address, them adding offensive tackle Mekhi Becton and wide receiver Denzel Mims. With these moves, in addition to overhauling the line in free agency, the quarterback could be a different player than we’ve seen in his first two NFL campaigns.

Last year’s prize free-agent addition, running back Le’Veon Bell, also did not produce the numbers he had in previous seasons, partly due to questionable fitness after a year out and also as a result of the weak offensive line. But the three-time Pro Bowler could see a return to form with the offensive line’s improvement.

After rushing for 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns in 2017, his last year on the field in Pittsburgh, Bell had only 789 yards and three scores in year one with the Jets. With that line and Darnold having gained some experience, he could again be a face in the backfield that strikes fear in opposing defenses.

Bell has also made a renewed effort in regard to his fitness, which was an issue. Moreover, head coach Adam Gase recently spoke about his own misguided use of Bell last season (h/t Jets Wire):

"“Last year, I did a bad job at the beginning of the season, I was really trying to get him going. At the same time, teams kind of knew what we were doing and they were loading up the box and he was taking some shots. I’m sure that wore on him as the season went on. I just have to do a good job of making sure he’s getting touches but at the same time, that we’re putting him in the best position possible to give us 16 plus games.”"

This rare but honest acknowledgment of mismanagement shows that Gase is hoping for Bell to excel his year. A fitter Bell and a fresh offensive line may improve the back’s yards per attempt as the Jets hope but also could help Darnold take a massive weight off his young shoulders. Bell could be the key to Darnold’s success in 2020 but a lot of that will depend on how improved this offensive line really is.

Switching gears to the defense, though, cornerback Brian Poole could be a player who continues his good form into the 2020 season. The slot corner was a great addition to the Jets defense and helped make the unit better than expected last season. While the Jets have arguably the worst secondary in the NFL, Poole remains a solid and consistent slot cornerback.

Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Poole had just a 72.1 quarterback rating when targeted and emerged as one of the better slot corners in the league. With Mosley opting out, Poole could assert a more important role on the defense. If that side of the ball is to remain a strength, the 27-year-old could excel further and become a bonafide league-wide star.

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Overall, the Jets face one of the toughest schedules in the league this season. To withstand that, New York needs to come together and have new leaders emerge. Darnold and Bell need to rise to the occasion behind a better O-line while Poole needs to be a leader for a depleted defense. These players are in a spot to excel in the 2020 season but must seize the opportunity at hand.