How quickly Sam Darnold develops could determine Jets' playoff fate

Sam Darnold can take the Jets to heights the other QBs on the roster cannot. Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports

For the New York Jets to contend for the playoffs this season, here are the five players who can help make that happen:

Sam Darnold, quarterback: He has the highest ceiling of any quarterback on the roster, which is what you'd expect from the third overall pick in the draft. The question is, how quickly can he approach that ceiling? If it happens this season, the Jets will be a playoff contender. Coach Todd Bowles typically prefers experience over potential, which bodes well for incumbent Josh McCown. But Bowles also recognizes that Darnold has special traits that could help the team more than those of McCown and Teddy Bridgewater. To snap their seven-year playoff drought, the Jets must get above-average production out of the quarterback position. They've averaged a league-high 18 interceptions per year since 2011, the main reason for their also-ran status.

Robby Anderson, wide receiver: Let's face it, the Jets aren't overflowing with dynamic playmakers on offense. Anderson can be that kind of player if he builds on last season (team highs with 941 receiving yards and seven touchdowns) and develops into a true No. 1 receiver. To make it happen, he must become a bigger factor in the short and intermediate passing attack. Another question: Can he be counted on? Anderson has maturity issues (two arrests and a litany of traffic-related violations in recent years) and could be subject to a league suspension. When focused and productive, he brings a unique dimension to the offense.

Spencer Long, center: This isn't to suggest he's one of the best players on the team, but he's one of the most important. The Jets, who haven't received good production from the position since 2015 (Nick Mangold's last full season), made a modest free-agent investment in Long, hoping he could elevate the entire offensive line. Specifically, they expect him to add more punch to the inside running game. The Jets averaged only 3.3 yards on rushes up the middle last season (30th), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Long might inherit additional pre-snap responsibilities if Darnold cracks the lineup.

Trumaine Johnson, cornerback: He's the most important player on defense because he's a legitimate No. 1 corner, which gives Bowles the flexibility to change up his defenses and be ultra-aggressive. The Jets paid dearly for Johnson -- he's the second-highest-paid corner in the league at $14.5 million per year -- but he'll be worth it if he can neutralize the opponent's No. 1 receiver. They haven't had a player like this since Darrelle Revis 1.0. It'll be a long season for the defense if Johnson falls short of expectations because everybody knows they don't have the horses up front to disrupt the quarterback. It has to be done on the back end.

Leonard Williams, defensive end: He's the sole survivor from a defensive line that once included Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson, meaning it's on Williams to raise the unit out of its 2017 funk. It won't be easy. Without a proven edge rusher, he will face plenty of double-teams, which will be frustrating. If he is who the Jets think he is, Williams, entering his prime at 24, will find a way to raise his level of play. He's a good player who needs to be great in order for the defense to return to the top 10. He's playing for a contract, so there's no shortage of motivation.