First Half Grades

At times they have not looked it, but halfway through 2008, the Jets are a first-place team. As poorly as the Jets played in their Oct. 19 loss to the Raiders, they trumped any doubts that they could compete for the division with last week’s 26-17 win at the first-place Bills.

Quarterback: B-

Through eight games, Brett Favre’s performance may epitomize the 2008 Jets. Favre has looked dominant at times, as in his six-touchdown pass performance in a 56-35 win over the Cardinals, but he has also been wildly inconsistent. Favre’s 15 touchdown passes rank second in the AFC behind Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (19), but his 12 interceptions leads the NFL. Even though head coach Eric Mangini may attempt to rein in the future Hall of Famer, Favre is always going to be the fearless gunslinger who is going to take chances. All statistics aside, the Jets sit in a three-way tie for first place and you can be assured that the winter weather in New York will not faze the former Green Bay quarterback

Running Back: B+

Thomas Jones does not carry a flashy running style like the Redskins’ Clinton Portis or the Chargers’ LaDainian Tomlinson, but he does produce. Jones has totaled 601 yards rushing on 134 carries (4.5), trailing only the Titan’s rookie sensation Chris Johnson in yardage. After only scoring one touchdown last season, Jones has already reached the endzone six times (five rushing, one receiving) in 2008. His finest afternoon of the season thus far came during the Jets’ lowest point, when he carried the ball 24 times for 159 yards in a 16-13 overtime loss to the Raiders. Behind Jones, Leon Washington continues to be one of the league’s most explosive runners. Washington has carried the ball 34 times for 168 yards (4.9 avg.) and has also caught 24 passes for 195 yards. He deserves to touch the ball more as the season wears on. With both backs producing, Tony Richardson continues to prove why he’s an all-time best at fullback.

Wide Receiver: B

Wide receivers Laveranues Coles (40 receptions, 473 yards, five touchdowns) and Jerricho Cotchery (42 receptions, 492 yards, three touchdowns) continue to serve as one of the league’s top wide-receiver duos. Through the season’s first half, the only concern with both Coles and Cotchery has to be their health. In the Oct. 19 loss to Oakland, Coles suffered his third concussion in 22 months and Cotchery has been bothered by a shoulder injury. Aside from the Jets’ top duo, the production has been minimal. Brad Smith has been non-existent at times, recording only four catches for 29 yards thus far. Preseason star David Clowney is still waiting to get on the field after injuring his shoulder in an Aug. 16 preseason loss to the Redskins.

Tight End: C-

The Jets entered the season with tight end as possibly their deepest position, but through eight games, the production has been minimal. Rookie Dustin Keller leads the team’s tight ends with 13 catches for 147 yards and two touchdowns. Chris Baker (12 receptions, 117 yards, zero touchdowns) has been slowed by a hip injury of late. Bubba Franks (six catches, 47 yards, zero touchdowns) has not earned his one-year contract.

Offensive Line: B

The unit was widely criticized after Favre was battered in the loss to the Raiders. The line has not been among the league’s elite as was advertised heading into the season, but credit is still due. The run offense has improved from last season and the pass blocking has quietly been better than average. Favre has been sacked 16 times this season.

Defensive Line: A-

The Jets knew they were getting a former Pro Bowler when they traded for Kris Jenkins, but they could not possibly have expected Jenkins to play at this level. Jenkins has easily been the team’s defensive MVP in the season’s first half as he has been the centerpiece of a run defensive which ranks 4th in the NFL yards allowed per game (76 yards/game). With his massive 6-foot-4, 349 pound frame, Jenkins has also helped the Jets’ pass rush by adding three sacks and opening holes for linebackers such as Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas to blitz. Shaun Ellis is having a career year, as he leads the team with seven sacks. Kenyon Coleman (28 tackles, 0.5 sack) is serviceable against the run but rarely provides pressure against the pass.

Linebacker: A-

Back during OTA’s Bryan Thomas admitted he needed to improve after a disappointing 2007 season and so far he has. Thomas is second on the team with 4.5 sacks and is one reason why the Jets have already matched last season’s sack total (29). Calvin Pace (3.5 sacks) is proving the Jets smart for bringing him aboard during the offseason. Eric Barton may be the most unheralded player on the Jets’ linebacking core, but he’s put together another productive season. The ten-year veteran leads the team with 46 tackles. David Harris (45 tackles, 0.5 sack) has had a rough sophomore season after bursting onto the scene last year. Harris has been sidelined with a groin injury and will likely miss the next few weeks. David Bowens has quietly put together a productive season with 3.5 sacks. First-round pick (sixth overall) Vernon Gholston, who has recorded only seven tackles, has been as disappointing as any player drafted back in April.

Safety: C+

Kerry Rhodes (42 tackles, one sack) has not posted the numbers he has in past years, but that is more a factor of opposing quarterbacks throwing in other directions than Rhodes actually struggling. He continues to be one of the league’s top safeties and he is better than recognized as a run defender. Abram Elam had one of the defense’s plays of the first half with his 92-yard interception return for a touchdown last week. Other than that, he seems better suited as a backup than a starter. Eric Smith has had concussion issues in an invisible season.

Cornerback: B-

If Darrelle Revis (four interceptions, one sack) is not a member of the AFC Pro Bowl team then something is wrong. Only in his second season, Revis is rapidly developing into one of the league’s lone shutdown cornerbacks. After a fast start, rookie Dwight Lowery is coming back to earth. Lowery was demoted during the second half of last week’s win at Buffalo. Justin Miller was beaming with confidence during training camp, but he has been rapidly slowed due to a foot injury. Hank Poteat is a serviceable nickel corner. Drew Coleman is still allowing wide receivers to run all over the field.

Special Teams: B+

Mike Nugent’s injury in the season opener has summarized the kicking game thus far. Jay Feely’s 52-yard field goal in the loss to the Raiders was as clutch as a kick can be, but he has also been erratic at times. Feely is 12-for-16 in field goals, but may be kicking in his last game as a Jet today as Nugent seems to be on track for a return Thursday in New England. Ben Graham (43.3 avg., 36.1 net) was shown the door after the Jets’ Week Three loss to the Chargers but Reggie Hodges’ numbers are almost exact (41.6 avg., 36.2 net). The star of the unit has been Washington, who is averaging 27 yards per kick return (6th in NFL). Wide receiver Wallace Wright (13 tackles) is one of the league’s top special teamers.

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