Jets’ injury curse leading to surprise contributors

Wide receiver Jeff Smith became the 70th player the Jets have used this season when he saw time against the Ravens on Thursday night.

It was only fitting in this injury-filled season that Smith could not finish the game due to an ankle injury and has been ruled out for the rest of the year.

That is the way things have gone for the Jets this year, with 16 players on injured reserve — including key starters C.J. Mosley, Avery Williamson, Chris Herndon and Quincy Enunwa.

All of the injuries have led to one silver lining: The Jets have found some players among the replacements they have been playing, and those players could have secured spots on the team in 2020 with the way they have played.

“I think the fact that we’ve played a lot of guys is really great, especially for our personnel department,” coach Adam Gase said. “They have a really good idea of who are guys that are going to have a possibility of having a future, if there are certain guys that have eliminated themselves, what guys to re-sign. I think there is a lot of guys that have probably helped themselves.”

Here is a look at six players not expected to be contributors this season who have emerged as potential keepers:

CB Bless Austin

The sixth-round pick from Rutgers was coming off of two knee surgeries and spent the first half of the season on the non-football injury list. He played his first game against the Giants in Week 10 and was in the starting lineup a week later. Austin has fared well in coverage and shown he is a physical tackler.

LB James Burgess

Burgess was cut eight times by six different teams but has been a nice find for the Jets this season at inside linebacker, a position particularly decimated by injuries. The Jets picked him up during that brief period in the spring when Gase was serving as GM after defensive coordinator Gregg Williams pushed for him. Burgess is second on the team in tackles, trailing only Jamal Adams. He also has a forced fumble and a fumble recovery and nearly had a pick-six two weeks ago that was wiped out by a penalty.

LB Neville Hewitt

Hewitt started four games at the end of last season for the Jets, but he was not expected to be needed this year with Mosley and Williamson as the starters. When Williamson went down, Hewitt stepped in for him. When Mosley went down, he shifted to the “Mike” linebacker spot. He has handled the checks and adjustments from that spot. He is fourth on the team in tackles, has two sacks and leads the team with two interceptions.

Neville Hewitt; James Burgess; Bless Austin
Neville Hewitt; James Burgess; Bless AustinBill Kostroun (3)

LG Alex Lewis

Jets GM Joe Douglas acquired Lewis from the Ravens for a conditional seventh-round pick in August. Lewis became a starter in the fourth game of the season and has played pretty well. He needs to cut down on penalties, but the coaches love his toughness and intelligence. He could be the one starting lineman Douglas keeps for next season.

OLB/DE Kyle Phillips

An undrafted player from Tennessee, Phillips has been a steady player up front on the defense. He has six tackles for a loss and four quarterback hits. Phillips clearly is a favorite of Williams and should stick for a while.

WR Vyncint Smith

Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas gave Smith a strong recommendation after he saw him last season with the Texans. The Jets signed Smith off Houston’s practice squad. He has shown his blazing speed as a receiver and a kick returner. His only touchdown this season came on an end-around. He is averaging 14.3 yards per reception and has earned consideration for a roster spot next year.

For more on the Jets, listen to the latest episode of the “Gang’s All Here” podcast:

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