A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:
1. Number crunchers: After some initial reluctance, the Jets are embracing the increased role of analytics in the NFL. No, they're not becoming a "moneyball" team, but they recently expanded their analytics department.
Former West Coast scout Brian Shields, who was involved in the scouting of quarterback Sam Darnold, was hired as the senior manager of football research and analytics, a new position in the organization. He's a Princeton graduate with a business background, but he's not just a numbers guy, as he spent five years on the scouting trail with the Jets and Los Angeles Rams. Jason Mulholland, a graduate of The Wharton School at Penn, is the manager of football analytics.
General manager Mike Maccagnan can be described as old-school because of his deep roots in traditional scouting, but he can appreciate the power of information -- and analytics can provide a wealth of it. In particular, the Jets believe analytics can benefit their pro scouting. They may not help as much in college scouting because there's such a wide range in the level of competition, creating many variables.
In the winter, the NFL competition committee agreed to start sharing player-tracking data with every team as part of its Next Gen Stats package -- the start of a new frontier. Basically, a massive amount of data was unlocked, prompting the Jets to add manpower to their analytics department. If you're not familiar with tracking data, it's kind of like a GPS. Tracking chips are placed in shoulder pads, creating the ability to record every player's speed and movements on the field. If the Jets want to know if the Detroit Lions' cornerbacks will be fast enough to cover Robby Anderson in the season opener, they can check the data.
Maccagnan read "Moneyball" and can understand why it's such a big factor in baseball. Football is harder to quantify with numbers because it's such a different game, but he believes analytics can help create a checks-and-balances system with the tried-and-true methods of scouting. In the end, it's all about trying to gain a competitive advantage, and teams will do just about anything to achieve that. The Jets are trying to stay on the cutting edge.
2. One tough Sam: One of the things the Jets like about Darnold is his ability to bounce back after a bad play. That attribute is critical for a quarterback, especially a rookie. You're in the wrong line of work if you can't handle adversity.
Darnold had a lot of practice last season because he threw 13 interceptions for USC, but there was only one instance in which they came on back-to-back possessions -- and that deserves an asterisk because they were separated by halftime in the season opener against Western Michigan. All told, he compiled a 121.3 passer rating on possessions immediately following an interception -- 31-for-43, 470 yards, three touchdown passes and the one interception. Six of the 13 post-interception drives resulted in scores, including five touchdowns.
His best moments: After a pick-six late in the first half against Texas, Darnold needed only two plays and 10 seconds to drive the length of the field for a touchdown as time expired. He scrambled out of the pocket and threw downfield to Ronald Jones, who outran the defense for a 56-yard touchdown. After a horrendous interception against Arizona -- second-and-goal from the 1 -- he responded with an 11-play, 67-yard touchdown drive.
Darnold wasn't flawless, but he never fell into a prolonged funk after an interception. That mental toughness will serve him well on this level. We've already seen signs of it on the practice field.
"That is kind of our mentality here, but that has also been my mentality throughout playing football," he said. "That's how I was taught at a young age to play football. If I make a mistake early on, just bounce right back and get after it the next play."
3. Johnson & Johnson: Friday marked the one-year anniversary of Woody Johnson's confirmation as the ambassador to the United Kingdom, the official starting point for Christopher Johnson as the acting owner. From all indications, he's having a blast as the new boss, prompting some to wonder what will happen when older brother Woody's overseas gig is over. (It's a three-year appointment.)
"Chris is enjoying this, more so than many people would've thought," one league source said. "I don't see him walking away. I see both remaining with the team when Woody returns."
There would be many disappointed people at One Jets Drive if Christopher leaves, especially the players. While he may have turned off a segment of the fan base with his pro-player stance on the anthem issue, he certainly endeared himself to those in the locker room.
4. Head games: The new helmet rule is causing confusion across the league, but coach Todd Bowles doesn't seem worried. Why not? He believes his players have been properly educated on tackling technique, so the rule "shouldn't affect us."
For the record, the Jets accumulated $200,000 in penalty-related fines last season, including $48,618 on helmet-to-helmet hits, per Spotrac. The only team with a larger bill was the Pittsburgh Steelers ($237,000).
5. Sleepers emerge: Cornerback has emerged as one of the most competitive positions, thanks to a fast start by a couple of sixth-round picks -- Derrick Jones (2017) and Parry Nickerson (2018). If they can maintain it throughout the preseason, the Jets will have some tough decisions to make at the final roster cutdown. Nickerson has a three-day-old hamstring injury that bears watching; no rookie can afford to miss a chunk of camp time.
They have six experienced corners -- Trumaine Johnson, Morris Claiborne, Buster Skrine, Darryl Roberts, Juston Burris and Rashard Robinson, who is facing a four-game suspension. Some might speculate that Skrine could be in trouble -- his $6 million salary isn't guaranteed -- but I'd be surprised if he doesn't make the team, even with Nickerson developing in the slot. Except for a nightmarish game in Miami, Skrine did a solid job last season and he's a Bowles favorite. The player who should be worried is Robinson, acquired last season in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers. He might not have a job when he returns from his suspension, perhaps sooner.
6. For whom the Bell tolls: According to Bovada, the Jets are the favorite to sign Steelers star Le'Veon Bell, assuming he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2019. As I've said before, he'd be perfect in their offense, but I can't see them making that kind of splurge for a 27-year-old running back.
7. Rex bullish on Jets: A year ago, Rex Ryan was right about his former team, predicting in this space they'd exceed the dire predictions. Once again, Ryan believes the Jets will surprise people.
"I think they'll be much better than people think," he said. "I promise you, they will be."
Ryan likes the quarterback situation, namely Darnold and Teddy Bridgewater, and he thinks the defense can be formidable behind Leonard Williams and Jamal Adams. (He's not a Darron Lee fan.) The running game "scares me," he said, but he still believes there's enough on the roster to make some noise. To use a Rex-ism, the proof will be in the pudding.