Training camp around the National Football League is coming to a close. The thirty-two teams around the league are set to announce their official 53-player rosters to the start of the regular season between now and the August 31st deadline. With one preseason matchup and numerous roster battles seeking outcomes, there is still lots of work left for most staffs in the NFL. The New York Jets are no different entering the 2021 NFL campaign.
The 2021 offseason was one of drastic change within the Jets organization. Firstly, the team found its new head coach in former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. Furthermore, NY hired new coordinators and introduced multiple new faces to its coaching group.
However, even more significant were the arrivals registered within New York’s roster. A new quarterback asset with expectations of carrying the franchise was brought in April. With the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Jets selected Zach Wilson, one of the most highly thought of prospects in this year’s event. This was at the expense of young playmaker Sam Darnold, who was dealt to Carolina.
Choosing to replace Darnold with their first pick in the draft meant passing on the opportunity to add reinforcements around the QB. Yet, Wilson is heading into his rookie year with a noticeably better crew. The likes of Corey Davis and Elijah Moore have improved the receiving corps. Meanwhile, his offensive line will use the services of yet another first-round pick.
The situation on the defensive side of the ball is not nearly as positive, though. Nonetheless, the Jets promise to turn in a hefty upward tick result-wise in 2021. Moreover, they have been and will continue to be, amongst the most eventful ballclubs this preseason. That process is nearing its conclusion and some decisions are in store for Saleh and company. Here is what the New York Jets roster could look like come Week 1 of the regular season.
(Note: Part 1 will concern the offensive while the second part will focus on the defensive unit)
Zach Wilson, Mike White
This past August, some teams around the NFL experienced dramatic dilemmas regarding their quarterback starters. Sometimes, these battles involved even more than one contender (looking at you, Chicago). However, the New York Jets were certainly not a member of this community. The name of the starting playmaker on 1 Jets Drive has been known since at least April 5th.
On that day, NY traded Sam Darnold to the Panthers for three draft picks. That move left Wilson and the second overall pick as the only solution.
Much can be said about the efficiency of that swap. Sam Darnold had spent three years with the organization. Overall, with numbers were, at first sight, subpar. However, a more in-depth breakdown shows the problems have always lain elsewhere.
Across three campaigns in East Rutherford, Sam Darnold averaged around 60% completion percentage and a passer rating of 78.0. The only exception to these underwhelming trends was his second season, in 2019, when he completed almost 62 percent of his attempted throws and put on a rating of 84.3.
What was different in that standout year? It was the only campaign when he had the services of a decent receiving core. In fact, it was the only of his three seasons in New York when he had both Jamison Crowder and Robby Anderson available. As a rookie, Sam Darnold had no versatility within his weaponry beyond Anderson. Then, the Jets added Crowder. However, the trifecta lasted just twelve months as the Panthers signed Anderson on a two-year deal.
Therefore, it is apparent that Darnold was drastically better when provided support, either through the air or in pass protection. Also, the Jets’ ground-game unit during that span was not much more promising either. But, more importantly, NY missed out on adding even more reinforcements around a solid QB like Sam Darnold by going for a playmaker under center on Day One.
As already stated, Wilson has far better weaponry than Darnold ever had as a Jet. However, the air raid would have been in a better situation in the alternative scenario in terms of efficiency and productivity.
However, that is not to say Zach Wilson should not be expected to have a tremendous career. Wilson turned in a phenomenal 2020 season with BYU, ranking second after Alabama’s Mac Jones with a 73% accuracy rate. That was despite attempting the 14th-most throws in Division I. Moreover, he produced 3,692 yards, the third-most in NCAA DI.
Zach Wilson has been widely regarded as one of the best prospects at the position in the past few years, and rightfully so. He has proven to be beyond consistent in the most important components for a successful transition to the professional game.
The concerns are not directed at him as much as they are at the WR and OL, and especially RB, units. Yet, the former two groups were also noticeably upgraded. This has provoked much hope for a positive turnout for the offense in the short term.
Mike White is most likely bound to receive the backup job. The Western Kentucky alum has been the most used asset at the post through the first two preseason showdowns. White has made 28 throws, completing 20 of them, or 71.4%. Starting this Saturday against the Eagles would solidify Mike White’s spot as QB2 should Saleh elect to rest Wilson.
James Morgan and Josh Johnson are the players likely to get cut. Morgan has seen significantly less playing time during the last three weeks than White. At the same time, Johnson was signed in early August but did not see the field against the Giants and the Packers.
Running Back (4)
The 2020 campaign turned out to be an abysmal one for the Jets offense, one of the least productive in pro football. The seasons began with serious expectations amid Le’Veon Bell‘s second year in New York. However, the former Pittsburgh Steeler turned in a hugely disappointing putout while playing just three games before an injury would sideline him.
Bell would end up getting released mid-season and going to the Super Bowl as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. Meanwhile, the Jets’ ground-game unit would only generate 4.1 yards per run. This was tied for the sixth-worst in the NFL. It might look like dark times are behind the team now. However, the club’s group entering the 2021 NFL campaign seems to be no more promising.
Throughout the offseason, NY general manager Joe Douglas elected not to address the group’s woes. Instead, the Jets front office focused on deciding whether to bring in a new QB or not and fixing the receiving corps and the O-Line. New York had two pieces from last year’s struggling unit returning – Ty Johnson and 2020 fourth-round pick La’Mical Perine.
Johnson was amongst the pleasant surprises on the group, posting a satisfying 4.7 Y/C figure on 54 carries. Yet, the 2019 Detroit draftee has not proven himself over a larger sample, being relied on for 63 rushing attempts across his rookie campaign with the Lions. At the same time, Perine averaged an awful 3.6 on 64 carries in his inaugural year in the league.
Seeking an asset capable of providing even the slightest of sparks, Douglas and his staff took to the market. Their response was former Niner Tevin Coleman, who was warranted on a one-year, $2 million deal. Moreover, the unit was completed by 2021 fourth-rounder Michael Carter.
The former’s career has thus far been underwhelming. Coleman has averaged a figure north of 4.5 just once out of four seasons with over 100 carries. In the meantime, Carter turned in at least 5.0 yards per rush in each of his last two years in North Carolina. However, he split the workload in both campaigns.
Heading into the regular season, there is no clear frontrunner for a starting job. Carter and Johnson have been much more active this preseason than Coleman, who has had just four rushes. Yet, he was undoubtedly brought in to be featured in a significant role. Out of the four backs on the potential regular-season roster, only the youngest member of that group seems to remain in the background in terms of competing for a share of the pie.
Wide Receiver (7)
Just like its ground-game counterpart, the Jets’ air raid was amongst the worst in the National Football League. The unit ended up as the third-worst in collective passer rating and completion percentage, and second-worst in total yardage.
However, Zach Wilson is set to have a much more adequate crew surrounding him than Darnold. During the March free agency period, former Titan Corey Davis came in after a strong campaign in Tennessee. Keelan Cole was also added as a depth piece. Alongside them, top pass-catcher Jamison Crowder, as well as Braxton Berrios, who had a regular spot in the receiving core amid dire injury problems last winter, are bound to return.
In addition to that, Joe Douglas drafted Ole Miss wide receiver Elijah Moore in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Over the last college football season, Moore racked up 86 receptions, the second-most in Division I after DeVonta Smith.
Furthermore, Vyncint Smith is likely to round up the receiving corps. Smith did not have a tremendous 2020 campaign. However, he had been a more active asset the previous year with 31 targets across 13 appearances, four of which were starts. Also, Vyncint Smith has caught four of five throws intended at him throughout his team’s two preseason games.
Tight End (3)
The expectations have been quite high for Chris Herndon for the past three seasons as the Jets’ primary option at the post. The Miami (FL) alum has managed to (at least partly) live up to them during two of those three campaigns. This includes 2020 when he bounced back off a year that saw him mostly absent from the field.
Across his third year on the pro level, Herndon caught 68.9 percent of his 45 targets. The workload was the second-heaviest of his career and the fourth-heaviest within the team last winter. In 2021, he will have to be even more consistent and efficient because the roster lacks useful alternatives to accompany his presence.
Ryan Griffin follows Herndon on New York’s depth chart. Griffin only registered 12 targets across fifteen appearances. Moreover, he posted a catch percentage under 60% in two of his previous three campaigns.
Tyler Kroft, one of Wilson’s favorite weapons across training camp, is also guaranteed a spot, given the unit’s shortcomings. Kroft was targeted five times and had three catches, combined against the Giants and the Packers.
Offensive Line (9)
Four-fifths of the Jets offensive line is known, and this portion is noticeably upgraded with the services of another first-round selection. A big Day-One trade brought in Alijah Vera-Tucker out of USC, in exchange for the 23rd overall pick and two third-rounders. The team’s top selection from 2020, left tackle Mekhi Becton, is also back, alongside former Broncos center Connor McGovern and former Panther Greg Van Roten.
The starting berth at right tackle, however, could be more tightly contested. George Fant put on a very mixed bag of a performance last year, his first as a regular starter in four campaigns. That’s why Joe Douglas acquired Morgan Moses, who spent the last seven seasons with the Washington Football Team, on a cheap one-year deal. Moses was cut by Washington in May due to the heavy obstacle he represented on the team’s cap space. That was despite having missed out on starting zero regular-season games since the start of the 2015 NFL campaign.
No official starter has been named at the post yet. Nevertheless, it is clear that Moses’s resume of stability and consistency gives him the edge over Fant.
The unit is rounded up by three players who are guaranteed to be backups as of now. The most notable perhaps is former Chargers guard Dan Feeney, who started every game for SD/LA in the last three years. McDermott and Edoga, the latter a former Jets draftee, have made a living mainly as tackles. Therefore, one of them will either have to adapt or lose their job should more than one interior lineman miss time for New York.
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