Short on superstars, the Jets have gotten production this season from a host of players who aren't quite household names. Contributions from an array of unlikely sources are largely responsible for the team getting off to a surprising 4-3 start.
The defense has been the driving force for the Jets through the first seven games and no player epitomizes their gritty mentality better than nose tackle Damon Harrison. An undrafted free agent out of tiny William Penn University, the 350-pound defensive lineman nicknamed "Big Snacks," eats up a ton of space up front and was rewarded for his hard work with his first career sack this past Sunday. Playing alongside the outstanding Muhammad Wilkerson and gifted rookie Sheldon Richardson, Harrison and company have combined to allow the fewest rushing yards per carry in the league.
In just his second season, linebacker Demario Davis has proven to be very versatile. Davis' speed and ability to drop back into coverage make for an extremely valuable weapon. He currently ranks second on the team in tackles and has taken big strides in year two. Davis and his linebacker cohorts have teamed up with the defensive line to form one of the more imposing front sevens in all of football.
For an offense that has had their struggles, running back Bilal Powell has been a rare constant. For the first time in Powell's career, he's getting the bulk of the carries. The third-year back has also proved helpful in the passing game. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith ran an offense in college reliant on short passes and screens and Powell's ability to catch the ball has netted him 15 receptions for 137 yards.
Veterans Santonio Holmes and Kellen Winslow were expected to be a big part of the passing attack but both have missed time due to injuries and suspension, respectively. Fortunately, Jeremy Kerley and Jeff Cumberland have stepped up in their absence. Kerley leads the team in receptions and receiving yards while Cumberland ranks sixth in the league in yards per reception.
Kickers usually don't get much credit and sometimes get taken for granted but the argument could be made that no player on the team has been more undervalued than Nick Folk. He's accounted for 60 of Gang Green's 134 points scored and is a perfect 16-for-16 on field goal attempts, setting the franchise record for most consecutive kicks made to start a season. Of the four games the Jets have won this year, Folk has nailed the game-winning field goal in three of them.
Folk's fellow special teams member Ellis Lankster doesn't do much that's going to show up on the stat sheet playing the role of gunner on kick and punt returns. It's a thankless job that requires him to run full-speed into oncoming traffic trying to make a tackle, but his efforts have earned him a spot as Gang Green's special teams representative on the Pro Bowl ballot.
If Ryan Quigley can learn to become more consistent and start to get a bit more leg under his punts, he could go a long way in helping the team down the stretch. His ability to pin opposing teams back deep in their own territory would put the defense in even better position to pounce and make things happen.
As much credit as the coaching staff deserves for the team exceeding expectations, the Jets would not be where they are without the play of their unsung heroes. It seems like every game, someone new is coming through in the clutch with a big play.
Most exciting about what Gang Green has done thus far is how young their roster is. While many of the players might not have been familiar to the average fan entering the season, their impact up to now is helping to make a name for themselves.