Youth Movement Has Future Looking Bright for Jets

Half the starters for the Jets this season are 25 or younger

Former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum made his fair share of questionable decisions during his seven years on the job. Tannenbaum whiffed on a few draft picks and other transactions, but he didn't exactly leave the cupboard bare upon getting fired after the 2012 season.

As much as hearing Vernon Gholston's name mentioned still makes most Jets fans cringe, Tannenbaum did a lot of good in stocking Gang Green's roster with young talent.

Drafting Muhammad Wilkerson was one of the better moves Tannenbaum made during his tenure with the Jets. Wilkerson is one of many players currently on the team age 25 or younger who has a bright future ahead. While he's blossomed into one of the best defensive ends in the league, Wilkerson's potential wasn't as obvious heading into the 2011 NFL draft; he was taken at No. 30.

Nose tackle Damon Harrison was an undrafted free agent when the team signed him in 2012. The signing of Harrison, a raw project who previously worked at Walmart and attended a little-known NAIA college, has been an absolute home run for the Jets. Most players signed after the draft struggle to even make the team let alone start all nine games in their second season.

The third member of the formidable defensive line, Sheldon Richardson, is having a season very worthy of Rookie of the Year consideration. Richardson was drafted 13th overall this year by the Jets with a pick acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Darrelle Revis trade. Credit Tannenbaum for trading up to draft Revis in 2007. Revis went on to become arguably the best cornerback in football, and even though the Jets were forced to deal him, he netted the team a very nice return in Richardson.

The homegrown trio of Wilkerson, Harrison, and Richardson aren't the only members of the youth movement on defense. Linebacker Demario Davis has started all nine games this season after being selected in the third round of the draft a year ago, while safety Antonio Allen, selected in the fifth round in 2012, has started seven games. Davis and Allen rank second and third on the team this season, respectively, in tackles.

Quinton Coples, who has been somewhat of a disappointment in his second year after being drafted 16th overall, has started six of the seven games he's been healthy for this season. Coming off one of his best games as a pro against the New Orleans Saints last Sunday, the team hopes their linebacker is in the midst of turning things around.

As the youngest member of the team, cornerback Dee Milliner has had his growing pains on full display during his rookie campaign. Milliner, the first player current general manager John Idzik selected in a draft, just turned 22 in September and has appeared in too few games to start labeling him as a bust or a disappointment.

The Jets aren't as set on offense with budding ability but there are pieces in place to help the team going forward.

The jury is still out on what may become of rookie quarterback Geno Smith. He's shown flashes of being a long-term solution, but at times makes those watching him want to bang their head against the wall. It would be unwise to judge Smith after nine games, but it's certainly possible the team could bring in competition next season if he doesn't correct some of his mistakes before the year is over.

Stephen Hill won't turn 23 until next April and has the size and speed to become a solid receiver. He hasn't quite put it all together though in his second season with the Jets. Given his age, Hill still has time to develop and figure things out.

Fellow wide receiver Jeremy Kerley was a fifth round pick under the Tannenbaum regime and currently leads the team in receptions. Unfortunately, just as Kerley was playing some of the best football of his career, he dislocated his elbow and will miss at least the next few weeks.

Last but certainly not least, the running back tandem of Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory round out the collection of young contributors. They've been essential in the team's success as the Jets are a much better team when they predominantly run the ball. The duo has done their part in grinding out yards and not turning the ball over.

Thanks to some of the moves Tannenbaum and Idzik have made, the road ahead looks quite promising for the Jets. The team will have some older players to replace in the near future, but the core is still positively young. Out of a possible 22 starters on both offense and defense, 11 players 25-years old or younger have started a majority of their games this season. That number jumps to 12 if you include tight end Jeff Cumberland, who just missed the cut-off at the ripe old age of 26.

Idzik earned a reputation for being a salary cap expert during his time with the Seattle Seahawks, and that will be come in handy when it comes time to retain the youngsters after their rookie contracts expire. Potential paydays aside, it's exciting to think what may become of this developing nucleus.

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