“Despair is a narcotic,” Charlie Chaplin once said. “It lulls the mind into indifference.”
If Chaplin was right, Jets fans must be stoned out of their gourds these days.
Cleveland has been referred to as the Factory of Sadness, so maybe the enclaves of the New York metropolitan area that support the Jets should collectively be known as the Sweat Shop of Melancholia. Things look bleak for this team. Really bleak. Maybe not bleak enough for 0-16 – even truly lousy teams usually stumble into a win or two over the course of a season. But it’s hard to see the Jets hitting the over on their Vegas over/under total of 4.5 wins. This just doesn’t appear to be a team capable of winning five games.
So is there any fantasy value to be wrung from this wretched team? Well … er … hmmm. Let’s wade into the miasma and find out.
The Jets’ running backs are at least mildly interesting as potential fantasy assets. It helps that the two principle contenders for snaps, Bilal Powell and Matt Forte, are accomplished pass catchers. Their receiving skills will keep them from being doomed by the bad game scripts that so often dog running backs on bad teams.
The hyper-efficient Powell has become a darling of the fantasy metrics crowd. According to Pro Football Focus, Powell graded out eighth overall among 62 qualifying running backs in 2016, and sixth overall purely as a runner. Powell rolled up a career-best 1,110 yards from scrimmage last season. He had a career high 58 catches and a catch rate of 78.4%. With an average of 5.5 yards per carry, Powell ranked second behind only Mike Gillislee among backs with at least 100 rushing attempts.
There are a number of drawbacks here, however. Powell’s five touchdowns last season were the most he’s had since entering the league in 2011, and he’s crossed the goal line only 14 times in 74 career games. Even if Powell gets a robust share of the Jets’ TDs, that might amount to no more than five or six, since the team’s touchdown pie is going to be small – more of a touchdown tart than a touchdown pie.
Forte was productive in spurts for the Jets last season, accumulating 264 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in Weeks 1-2, then rushing for at least 82 yards in every game over a four-game stretch from Week 7 to Week 10, with 465 yards and four TDs over that span. Aside from those six games, Forte was largely ineffective and averaged just 3.7 yards per carry for the season, though he dealt with knee problems all year and was eventually shut down in December with a torn meniscus.
There are those who think Powell has a chance to earn feature-back status, but that seems like wishful thinking. It’s hard to see the Powell-Forte backfield as anything but a timeshare. I do expect Powell to get slightly more touches, but I don’t think there’s going to be an enormous gap in their season-long workloads. I’m OK with Powell at his modest ADP, though I’m not especially eager to buy into the Jets’ hellscape. Forte might become a potential value if he slips much past his ADP of RB41. But again … Jets.
It’s possible that sixth-round draft pick Elijah McGuire of Louisiana-Lafayette could dent Powell and Forte’s value later in the season. Like the two veterans he’s playing behind, McGuire is a well-rounded back who’s good in the passing game. He had more than 1,200 yards from scrimmage in all four of his college seasons and scored 52 career TDs.
At this point we should probably talk about the Jets’ quarterbacks, even though it’s a conversation I dread more than the inevitable “birds and bees” conversation with my preteen children.
Probable Week 1 starter Josh McCown was actually pretty good with the Bears in 2013 and with the Browns in 2015, though he appeared in only eight games in each of those two seasons. He was far less effective in 11 games with the Buccaneers in 2014 and in five games with the Browns last year. McCown has broken his collarbone in each of the last two years and takes more punishment than a crash-test dummy. There might be a week or two in which he warrants streaming consideration against a subpar defense, but there’s a risk that this human heavy bag won’t make it through any given game with all of his bones intact.
Christian Hackenberg is probably going to make a few starts at some point this season, and Canadian Football League scouts will no doubt be watching with great interest. The Jets are holding out hope that their second-round draft pick from last year can become their long-term starter. But then, you and I are still holding out hope of becoming multibillionaires, and how’s that coming along?
Hackenberg was a bright prospect as an 18-year-old freshman at Penn State. I was on hand to watch him finely mince my beloved Badgers in November 2013, as he threw for 339 yards and four TDs, and figured that the kid would become a star. But Bill O’Brien left Happy Valley after that season, and Hackenberg has been wayward ever since. Based on Hack’s performance in his final two seasons at Penn State – not to mention his multiple plunkings of reporters with errant throws in practices – I see no hope that he can competently play quarterback at the NFL level. It’s going to be U-G-L-Y, and Jets GM Mike Maccagnan will have no alibi for having lit a second-round draft pick on fire.
Bryce Petty is also on the roster and will probably be forced to play at some point. A fourth-round pick out of Baylor in 2015, Petty made four starts last year, completed 56.4% of his passes and had a 3-7 TD-INT ratio. He simply might not be accurate enough to be an NFL quarterback.
A season-ending makes Robbie Anderson mildly intriguing as an end-of-the-bench fantasy option. Anderson made some big plays last year in compiling a 42-587-2 stat line as an undrafted rookie free agent from Temple, and he seemed to have especially good chemistry with Petty. But Anderson didn’t endear himself to the team with a May arrest at a music festival for resisting arrest and obstruction of justice, and chemistry with Bryce Petty is a pretty flimsy foundation on which to build an NFL future. Still, he’s the No. 1 option among the Jets’ wide receivers, which is … uh, something.
Rookie ArDarius Stewart and second-year man Charone Peake are at least worth monitoring from a distance. Stewart, a third-round pick, didn’t compile eye-popping college numbers during his three seasons with run-heavy Alabama, but he’s an aggressive, physical receiver who runs well after the catch. Unfortunately, he’s coming off thumb and groin injuries and might miss most of his first training camp. Peake has good size (6-2, 209) and speed (4.45) and comes out of Clemson’s wide receiver factory.
Austin-Seferian Jenkins has been an NFL tease thus far after being a highly-regarded second-round pick out of Washington in 2014, but he went through an alcohol rehab program in the offseason after a DUI arrest last September, and he reportedly looked terrific in June OTAs. The 6-5, 262-pound is a freakish athlete and could become a fantasy-viable contributor if he can keep his act together.
|Josh McCown||—||QB31||Streamable at best|
|Bilal Powell||RB28||RB28||Don’t pay retail|
|Austin Sefarian-Jenkins||—||TE22||Monitor for waivers|