A round of applause for football season officially being back. The New York Jets kick off their preseason this Friday against the Atlanta Falcons. And while training camp has been all fun and games, this first preseason match-up will officially pave the way for positional competition.
The storylines surrounding the Jets extend far and wide, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Who will be the Week 1 starter? Which receiver will be primed for a potential breakout year? Can the rookies prove their worth to coaches and management? The preseason is when all the answers begin to make sense.
And, like always, there will be a few surprises. As the rookies, second and third stringers attempt to make a name for themselves against the competition, we take a look at who you should keep an eye on in Gang Green’s opener and first head-to-head battle:
1.) Sam Darnold, QB
Pretty obvious choice here. All eyes will be on the third overall pick this Friday night. Darnold has made quite the impression in camp despite missing the team’s first three practices, and he’ll look to continue on his hot streak against Atlanta. With Josh McCown unlikely to see any playing time on Friday, I would expect a fairly hefty workload for the rookie. An important note, however, is to keep an eye on who he is running the offense with. Reports from camp showed that Darnold performed better with the first and second team, while his production slipped a bit with the third team. In other words, don’t play the blame game too quickly if something goes wrong.
Sam Darnold is drawing most of the attention at #Jets camp, but let's not forget about Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater. After eight practices, neither one has thrown an INT in an 11-on-11 period.
— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) August 7, 2018
2.) Chad Hansen, WR
Hansen has had a great camp, according to reports. While the first official depth chart lists him as a third-stringer, that’s expected for a second year wide-out with little experience. Hansen has been making strides and has proven in camp that he is able to run routes effectively and evade DBs in coverage. If injury amongst the receiving corps prevails, Hansen will want to be as ready as possible to step up. His opportunity remains with lingering injuries to both Quincy Enunwa and Terrelle Pryor. Hansen will be looking to add a bit more to his resume this Friday in order to work his way up the depth chart, so keep a close eye on him.
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3.) Eric Tomlinson, TE
Another developing storyline hiding in Gang Green’s shadows is that of the battle of the tight end position. Don’t get me wrong – the Jets may not have the best tight end group in the NFL, but competition sure has been heating up. I recommend keeping an eye on Tomlinson though, assuming he gets some playing time. The first official depth chart lists him as the team’s No.1 tight end, but to retain that spot he’ll have to out-play an emerging group of others. In that regard I expect Tomlinson to showcase both his blocking and receiving abilities to his best on Friday.
4.) Nathan Shepherd, DL
Shepherd’s emergence in camp is something the Jets are extremely pleased with. So pleased, in fact, that they have listed the rookie as a starting DL on the depth chart, alongside Steve McLendon. Shepherd has beat out newly acquired Henry Anderson for the spot, and will look to further cement his place in the starting lineup on Friday. Assuming he gets a fair amount of playing time, keep an eye on his ability to shed blockers, pressure the quarterback and stop the run. If he gets double teamed, the Jets need to see how he handles that pressure.
From Division II to the third-round of the NFL draft, to now practicing with the #Jets' first-team defense, Nathan Shepherd has had a knack for defying expectations https://t.co/wMJjE91lZ8 pic.twitter.com/aLI7h0XP0u
— Newsday Sports (@NewsdaySports) August 2, 2018
5.) Teddy Bridgewater, QB
Can’t forget about Teddy! As mentioned earlier, McCown is unlikely to see the field this week, so time at the helm will be divided amongst the rookie and Bridgewater. He has impressed to a higher degree than expected in camp, so it will be interesting to see how he handles true competition. The hope is that his previous injury won’t keep him shy or reserved in the pocket, so keep an eye on that. If it does, Bridgewater can quickly slip below both McCown and Darnold on the depth chart. However, the Jets want to give him every opportunity they can incase a potential trade partner decides to give them a call.