2018 New York Jets starters, 53-man roster, schedule prediction

Teams haven't formulated game plans to confuse Sam Darnold yet, but he's shown an ability to improvise and adjust. Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets roster heading into the 2018 season (starters in bold):

QUARTERBACK (2): Sam Darnold, Josh McCown

There’s no watch-and-learn period for Darnold, who is poised to become the youngest opening-day starter in modern history. He has a chance to be special, but there will be growing pains. McCown will pull down a cool $10 million as the backup/mentor/assistant coach/resident mensch.

RUNNING BACK (3): Bilal Powell, Isaiah Crowell, Trenton Cannon

The Jets have two backs of comparable ability. Over the last two seasons, Powell has 2,052 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns; Crowell has 2,306 and nine touchdowns. Powell is better in the passing game, Crowell brings a little more thump in the running game. Look for them to split the workload.

FULLBACK (1): Lawrence Thomas

Frankly, it’s a surprise he made the team after a so-so camp. He shouldn’t get too comfy because things can change quickly.

TIGHT END (4): Eric Tomlinson, Jordan Leggett, Chris Herndon, Neal Sterling

This may be the most unproven tight-end corps in the league – only 26 combined career receptions. That’s the bad news; the good news is Herndon and Leggett have intriguing upside. Herndon is the better all-around prospect because he can block; don’t be surprised if he’s starting by midseason.

WIDE RECEIVER (6): Jermaine Kearse, Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, Terrelle Pryor, Andre Roberts, Charone Peake

The Jets’ wide receivers catch a lot of flak for not having a true No. 1, but it’s the only group in the NFL with four players that have produced at least one 800-yard receiving season in their careers. The crafty Kearse will become Darnold’s security blanket once he recovers from an abdominal injury, which may take a few weeks. Roberts sticks as the return specialist.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Kelvin Beachum, James Carpenter, Spencer Long, Brian Winters, Brandon Shell, Brent Qvale, Dakota Dozier, Jonotthan Harrison, Ben Braden

The analytics say this is a pedestrian line, especially in the running game. Beachum and Winters missed significant camp time, meaning the starting five has yet to play a single snap together in a game. The Jets need Beachum to stay upright because their tackle depth is highly suspect. It’s a new scheme (outside zone), so there will be an adjustment period.

DEFENSIVE LINE (6): Leonard Williams, Nathan Shepherd, Steve McLendon, Mike Pennel, Henry Anderson, Folorunso Fatukasi

This group should be stout against the run. The question is, can it generate a pass rush? Williams, playing for a long-term contract, looked terrific in the preseason, but he will see a steady diet of double teams. There’s a lot of pressure on Shepherd, who will be asked to replace Muhammad Wilkerson.

INSIDE LINEBACKER (3): Avery Williamson, Darron Lee, Neville Hewitt

It’s time for Lee to live up to his draft status. Miscast in a 3-4 front, the former first-round pick never will be a force as a “box” linebacker, but he should be good in space because of his athleticism – and he’s not. Yet. Williamson is a tackling machine, but will struggle in coverage. Both he and Lee will be every-down players.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (4): Jordan Jenkins, Josh Martin, Brandon Copeland, Jeremiah Attaochu

This is the weakest position on the team. Jenkins is a solid run defender on the strong side, but where’s the pass-rushing threat? After failing in their bid to acquire Khalil Mack, the Jets probably will use a committee approach at the “rush” linebacker position.

SAFETY (5): Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, Doug Middleton, Terrence Brooks, J.J. Wilcox

The Jets expect big years out of Adams and Maye, the backbones to what should be a good secondary. Adams will be a force in the box, but he must be more active in pass coverage. Maye could start slowly after missing time with a surgically repaired ankle. Wilcox will be a hybrid safety/linebacker, a la Deone Bucannon.

CORNERBACK (7): Trumaine Johnson, Morris Claiborne, Buster Skrine, Darryl Roberts, Parry Nickerson, Juston Burris, Derrick Jones

The Jets are counting on Johnson, the $73 million man, to be a lockdown corner. If he can neutralize the opponents’ No. 1 receiver, it’ll allow the coaches to be more creative with their pressure schemes. Claiborne and Skrine should be fine in the No. 2 and No. 3 roles, respectively. Can they survive without a consistent pass rush?

SPECIALISTS (3): K Jason Myers, P Lachlan Edwards, LS Thomas Hennessy

Myers arrived late, but he impressed in the final two preseason games. How ‘bout that 58-yard field goal? Special teams could be shaky this season.