Over the next month, we're taking a brief and early look at some of the potential solutions that could provide offseason upgrades for the Jets in each position. Today, we continue with a look at potential special teams contributors:
The special teams unit as a whole was slightly better for the Jets last year, but went downhill over the second half of the season and was perpetually terrible in terms of the return game.
At least the kicking game was shored up, with Lachlan Edwards improving dramatically in his second season. Thomas Hennessy seemed to do well as the new long snapper and place kicker Chandler Catanzaro did a solid enough job after narrowly beating out Ross Martin in camp. Catanzaro is a pending free agent so it remains to be seen if they bring him back.
In the return game, the Jets tried a bunch of guys. Jojo Natson kept the job down the stretch but was hardly impressive. Before Natson, Brisly Estime had got hurt, Kalif Raymond fumbled away his opportunity and the likes of Jeremy Kerley, Elijah McGuire and ArDarius Stewart failed to impress. Lucky Whitehead and Jalin Marshall remained on the practice squad and never got a shot, despite having been better than what we saw all season in the past.
In kick coverage, Rontez Miles stood out once again, leading the NFL with 15 solo tackles despite missing three games with an eye injury. He may have done enough to warrant a second round tender in restricted free agency and arguably should have been a pro bowler.
Josh Martin is also a key contributor, but free agents Bruce Carter, Julian Stanford and Terrance Brooks may not warrant retaining based on their special teams contributions alone.
A good place to start might be New England, where their special teams could take a big hit this year with several key contributors out of contact. These include seven-time pro bowl gunner Matthew Slater and their primary punt and kick returners - Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis.
Other return options set to hit the open market include Vikings defensive back Marcus Sherels, Raiders cornerback TJ Carrie and Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who some media members have speculated should be someone the Jets ought to target.
Two other return options with connections to the Jets are Bruce Ellington and Kaelin Clay. Ellington signed for the Jets last year only to fail his physical, but then had a successful year with the Texans, albeit while not doing much returning. Clay - a restricted free agent - scored a crucial touchdown against the Jets on a punt return last year.
In kick coverage, another player with connections to the Jets is a free agent; former Jets linebacker Nick Bellore. What you might not know about Bellore is that he actually played fullback last year with the Lions.
Another top coverage option who also plies his trade at fullback is Derrick Coleman, who was tied for second in the NFL behind Miles last year in Atlanta. Coleman was tied with Chargers linebacker Nick Dzubnar, who himself is a restricted free agent.
In the kicking game, it seems unlikely the Jets would replace Edwards, but if they considered this, the best free agent is probably Houston's Shane Lechler. He's 41 years old though.
If they don't bring Catanzaro back, the Jets could look to add Graham Gano from Carolina. He kicks off well and only missed one field goal last year, although he didn't make any from beyond 50 yards and it seems like one of the reasons they liked Catanzaro was his big leg. If a big leg is the key then maybe they could try for Sebastian Janikowski, who might not be back in Oakland after Giorgio Tavecchio's effective play while Janikowski was hurt.
Finally, if the Jets felt they wanted to upgrade over Hennessy, then there are six former pro bowlers and two Super Bowl winners among this year's free agency class for long snappers.
It's rare that you'd spend a draft pick with special teams as your primary concern, but there are plenty of prospects who may also add value as special teamers if drafted.
In the return game, Washington receiver Dante Pettis - who had an NCAA record nine punt return touchdowns - will tempt someone to spend a high pick on him. Other good prospects with return skills include UCF cornerback Mike Hughes, Pitt wideout Quadree Henderson, Kansas State cornerback DJ Reed and Miami wide receiver Braxton Berrios.
Productive tacklers in coverage include Boston College cornerback Isaac Yiadom and West Virginia defensive back Kyzir White.
Players like Bradley Chubb and Lorenzo Carter could contribute blocking kicks. However, the prospect with the best knack for that might be Sam Houston State defensive lineman PJ Hall. Hall had 14 kick blocks in his career, including five this season.
How would you approach this position? Is there anyone out there you'd target who we didn't mention? Let's have your thoughts in the comments.