The start of the regular season still is five months away, but we like to live dangerously here at ESPN New York, so we're going to project the 53-man roster for opening day. This is hard enough to forecast in training camp, when Jets writers traditionally cough up a few bucks for the annual roster pool, so imagine the degree of difficulty in May.
No matter. We'll give it a shot, but there are two notes at the top: Technically, WR Santonio Holmes won't be on the opening-day roster because he will be serving a four-game suspension, but we're going to include him on our roster. We're also going to include WR Braylon Edwards, who also could get slapped with a one-game ban.
Before we get started, I'd like to throw out a well-worn line from Bill Parcells: "I reserve the right to change my mind." Here goes ...
Quarterbacks (4): Mark Sanchez, Mark Brunell, Erik Ainge, Kevin O'Connell.
I'm gambling here that Brunell (UFA) will sign at some point before camp opens. It may not happen until July 22, when the "Final Four" rules are dropped, but I think he's coming to be Sanchez' backup/mentor. That would seal Kellen Clemens' fate.
Running Backs (3): Shonn Greene, LaDainian Tomlinson, Joe McKnight.
No Thomas Jones, no Leon Washington. Wow, what a different look. It's going to be tough for anyone to crack this group, although Chauncey Washington will be in the hunt if he can excel on special teams. McKnight (fourth-round pick) should bring a barf bag to camp -- you know, just in case.
Fullbacks (2): Tony Richardson, John Conner.
This is a great situation. Conner (fifth-round pick) can learn from the classy Richardson, 39, who returns for one last season with the hope of winning a Super Bowl ring. Jason Davis, a 242-pound thumper on last year's practice squad, will be banging on the door.
Wide Receivers (6): Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Brad Smith, Laveranues Coles, David Clowney.
This might be the toughest position to forecast, considering the Holmes and Edwards situations. I know the front office is keeping tabs on Coles (FA), so I'm going to give him a roster spot. If Holmes and Edwards are down for opening night, they're going to need a veteran wideout to complement Cotchery and Smith. Problem is, what about Coles' long-term role? He doesn't play special teams, so that would create an issue. Tough call between Clowney and Danny Woodhead; it could go either way.
Tight Ends (3): Dustin Keller, Ben Hartsock, Matt Mulligan.
Mulligan isn't a lock, but he could help himself by nailing down the long-snapping job. Re-signing Hartsock, a terrific run blocker, was one of the most under-rated moves of the offseason.
Offensive Line (8): D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Matt Slauson, Nick Mangold, Brandon Moore, Damien Woody, Vlad Ducasse, Rob Turner, Wayne Hunter.
Obviously, the big story is the left-guard battle between Slauson and Ducasse (second-round pick), fighting for Alan Faneca's old spot. Ordinarily, I'd hand the job to Ducasse, based purely on draft pedigree, but his small-school background is a concern. But make no mistake, it's his job to lose.
Defensive Line (6): Shaun Ellis, Kris Jenkins, Mike DeVito, Sione Pouha, Vernon Gholston, Ropati Pitoitua.
One of these days, I'm going to type "Pitoitua" without having to refer to the roster. But, seriously, the new face here is Gholston, who busted at outside linebacker. Frankly, I don't think this defensive-end thing is going to work out. This is an older group, and depth is a concern, but remember: They have a couple of outside 'backers (Bryan Thomas and Jason Taylor) that can get into a three-point stance. Marques Douglas (UFA) still is out there.
Linebackers (9): David Harris, Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, Jason Taylor, Lance Laury, Jamaal Westerman, Kenwin Cummings, Cory Reamer.
You may have noticed that I didn't include Adalius Thomas (FA). I can definitely see the Jets signing Thomas if he drops his asking price, but it's a numbers game at linebacker and I'm going to lean toward youth over the experienced, but declining Thomas. I'm drinking the Kool-Aid on Reamer.
Secondary (9): Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Jim Leonhard, Brodney Pool, Kyle Wilson, Eric Smith, Dwight Lowery, James Ihedigbo, Drew Coleman.
This is a deep group with a lot of versatility. Wilson (first-round pick) will ease in as the nickel back, covering slot receivers. Pool and Smith will battle for the safety job opposite Leonhard. If they keep a 10th DB, it could be Marquice Cole, a young player with some promise.
Specialists (3): PK Nick Folk, P Steve Weatherford, LS James Dearth.
Yes, Dearth. The Jets are hoping Tanner Purdum wins the job -- I guess they're trying to save a few bucks -- but in the end, I can see the reliable Dearth (UFA) back in the fold. Good long snappers are like a pair of comfortable, old shoes: They might be worn and fading, but you'd rather have them than a new pair for the tough walking. Folk, coming off his Dallas debacle, needs a strong camp -- or else there will be Feely withdrawal.