Opinion: Wilkerson a potential MVP candidate

Muhammad Wilkerson may not be the most widely recognizable player in the NFL, but the fourth-year defensive end is going to be the difference maker for the New York Jets as they battle for the AFC East title in 2014.

Muhammad Wilkerson will be the MVP this season – for the New York Jets, that is. No one will mistake Wilkerson as the best player in the NFL, but in 2014 he could be the key to the Jets’ success. Entering his fourth year, Wilkerson isn’t just the best player on defense. He’s the best player on the whole team.

Wilkerson was named team MVP at the end of the 2013 season in a vote by his teammates. And while he wasn’t rewarded with a Pro Bowl selection this past season, NFL.com recognized Wilkerson for his exceptional play.

The NFL Network recently rated the defensive end as the No. 42 rankrf player in the NFL and the 7th best defensive lineman. And he was the highest rated Jet by a lot – the only other was Sheldon Richardson at No. 94.

The rankings say Wilkerson is one of the best players in the NFL and the stats tell the same story.

Wilkerson led the Jets to being ranked 11th in total defense and 4th in rushing defense while finishing with a team-high 10.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. Linebacker Calvin Pace added 10 sacks, but the next highest total on the team was 4.5 from linebacker Quinton Coples.

Despite being the only true pass rusher on the defensive line, Wilkerson thrived and caused chaos for opposing offensive lineman. With Richardson coming off of a fantastic season that ended with the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award, expect more of the same from Wilkerson as offenses focus more attention to Richardson.

Wilkerson has steadily improved his sack total in each of his three seasons – 3.0 as a rookie, 5.0 in his second season and 10.5 in 2013 – and the Jets desperately need him to do the same this year.

There’s been talk of a much-improved Geno Smith. But even if the sophomore quarterback is able to improve on his rookie season, the Jets season will live and die with the defense. A poor offense last season made improvements with the signings of Eric Decker and Chris Johnson, but the team could struggle to score points again without a big improvement from Smith.

Enter Wilkerson.

If the Jets don’t allow many points, the offense doesn’t need to score many. The defensive line is the best single unit on the Jets and Wilkerson is the best player in that unit.

Smith, Johnson and Decker may make the flashy plays and they may catch many of the headlines, too. But if the Jets are going to be a playoff team in 2014 it starts and ends with Muhammad Wilkerson.

And judging off of his first three seasons, that’s probably not a bad position to be in.

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