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Flying Low: The Jets Continue to Frustrate Fantasy Owners


If you talk to a New York Jets fan, they will likely share numerous stories of disappointment and tales of woe. A heavy portion of their fans were not old enough to see them win the franchise’s only Super Bowl title. Since the 1970 merger, the Jets have never even played in a Super Bowl, have lost three times in the AFC Championship Game, appeared in the playoffs only a dozen times and won the AFC East just twice. They have not been to the postseason since 2010.

You could make a strong case that nothing has been more painful as a sports fan in the New York area over the past 50 years than being a Jets fan. Only the Knicks seem to have been more hopeless over the past two decades. But they did make the NBA Finals twice in the 1990s. Being a Jets fan is a commitment to misery that seems unmatched for those in the New York and surrounding regions.

The Jets’ consistent lack of success has been reflected in fantasy football as well. The 2019 season began with high expectations for several offensive players but none of them panned out as hoped. As another long offseason begins, it is an apt time to reflect on what went wrong (again) for the flightless Jets.

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Flying Low in Fantasy

Quick, how many truly outstanding Jets players can you name since you started playing fantasy football? How many can you cite that were significant early-round fantasy draft picks that delivered as hoped? Curtis Martin, who was highly productive from 1998 to 2004, comes to mind first. Brandon Marshall had a 109-1,502-14 receiving line in 2015, the best receiving season in team history. But he followed up with a 59-788-3 line the following year and the next two seasons after that were marred by injuries. Ryan Fitzpatrick has the most TD passes in a single season in franchise history (31 in 2015). The defense was a top unit in 2009 and 2010, but we are talking about real impact fantasy types here, not double-digit round selections. Martin is truly the only notable Jets player in fantasy history dating back to the days when the game became a mainstream passion in the mid-1990s.

The outlook was supposed to improve this season and get the team on the path back to respectability in real life and fantasy football. Most importantly, the Jets acquired Le’Veon Bell, one of the most outstanding RBs in the game over the past decade and an elite fantasy selection. For the first time in a decade-and-a-half, a Jets player would be worthy of an early-round pick. When was the last time before this season that you recall anyone from the Jets being taken in the first round of a fantasy draft? Probably if you were playing in the Martin era.

There was also some optimism that the passing game could improve, with the front office giving second-year QB Sam Darnold the help of Bell as a receiver out of the backfield and adding Jamison Crowder as well. With deep threat Robby Anderson expected to improve, and Quincy Enunwa coming to training camp healthy, plus optimism surrounding TE Chris Herndon IV, the Jets offense had realistic hopes of improving and also serving fantasy players well in 2019. Bell was obviously the key to it all.

 

Another Shaky Landing

Bell had an Average Draft Position of No. 7 at RB in the Fantasy Football Players Championship (FFPC) and was picked as early as fifth at the position on other platforms. Anderson was picked 31st at WR in the FFPC and as a third starting option on most platforms. Crowder went 51st on average in the FFPC and there was not much fantasy optimism surrounding Darnold, who was not picked earlier than 23rd at QB on any platform.

Savvy fantasy types considered the hiring of Adam Gase as the new head coach and “offensive mastermind” a baffling one. He had been brought in to help Miami revive their offense in 2016, but the team finished 17th, 28th, and 26th in points per game and never better than 24th in yards per game in his three seasons there.

Now here we are at the end of the regular season, and the Jets have failed to meet any expectations in real life and fantasy football, again. The team finished 7-9 and Bell performed to the level of an adequate RB2, coming nowhere near the value of his preseason draft slot. Crowder was a pleasant surprise, but Anderson was totally unreliable and Herndon was a non-factor because of a suspension and injuries.

 

Back In the Losing Groove

Bell was not a key to Fantasy championship seasons, finishing 16th at RB, behind Miles Sanders and ahead of Kenyan Drake. He rushed for just 789 yards and three TD, and caught 66 passes for 461 yards and one TD in the most underwhelming season of his career. He rushed for a career-low 3.2 yards per game and established new career lows in rushing yards per game (52.6) and scrimmage yards per game (83.3). He never rushed for 90 yards in a single game all year.

Playing behind the 28th-ranked offensive line according to Pro Football Focus did not help Bell at all, as PFF noted the Jets averaged 0.7 rushing yards before contact per attempt, the lowest mark in the NFL. Defenses did not have to respect the passing game, either, and could key on Bell in defensive game plans. Bell also seemed to lack his best form after missing the 2018 season because of a holdout.

The lack of a true No. 1 WR and erratic play overall by Darnold, plus an early-season stretch where he missed three games, helped drag the Jets down again. New York finished with the 22nd ranked passing offense and 31st in the league in points per game and last in yards per game. The Jets also placed 31st in rushing yards and TDs.

Crowder proved to be a missing piece in the passing game as a high percentage pass-catcher, and he finished 26th at WR with 78 catches for 866 yards and six TDs. He performed well enough to be drafted as a fantasy WR3 next season. Anderson was not dependable at all and drove his fantasy owners crazy. He finished as fantasy WR40 with a 52-779-5 line and was completely boom-or-bust all year.

Darnold, for completist’s sake, finished as QB27. Herndon was suspended for the first four games of the season and played in only one game because of hamstring and rib issues. Ryan Griffin broke out in his place from Week 8 through 13 but now faces a long road to recovery after ankle surgery. Enunwa suffered a season-ending neck injury in the opener and stopgap signee Demaryius Thomas was never much of a factor.

 

Taking Flight in the Future?

The Jets’ latest offensive failures from both the real and fantasy perspectives can be attributed to a host of factors. On over-reliance on Bell to carry the team, the lack of a major receiving threat, poor offensive line play (also fueled by injuries), and a very questionable hire for a head coach all were major negative factors. Gase will be retained for 2020, but there has already been open public buzz that he may push to have Bell traded.

Darnold did show some signs of progress at times this year and the front office must make it a priority to acquire a difference-making pass-catcher for him in the offseason. Crowder and Anderson would be better suited to operate as second and third WRs in the New York offense.

But there is much uncertainty heading into next season and there are no Jets that fantasy players would want to consider as top keepers or regard as keys to success in dynasty leagues. With an underachieving head coach/offensive boss, and question marks at RB and WR, we will have to wait and see how the offseason plays out before wondering if we can only look back on Curtis Martin as a true Jet of fantasy significance with little hope to come.

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