New York Jets: Emergence of rookies provides incentive for hope and fight

Geoff Magliocchetti
Denzel Mims of the Jets runs after making a catch as the Buffalo Bills met the New York Jets at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on October 25, 2020. The Buffalo Bills Vs The New York Jets At Metlife Stadium In East Rutherford New Jersey On October 25 2020

The New York Jets’ draft class is making its way to the field. Their prescience should fuel the team and fans over a trying ten weeks.

Even when adhering to social distancing, autumn in New York…and New Jersey, for that matter…is blessed with enough open space that one has the luxury of choosing Sunday activities beyond football. Sure, it’s a time-honored tradition for many households in the metropolitan area, but with one of their teams seemingly destined for NFL infamy (and the other really isn’t much better), a healthier fall activity is strongly encouraged in these trying times.

After all, why raise your blood pressure? The New York Jets are 0-7, the lone winless team left in the NFL. They probably won’t be favored in any of their final nine games, and a 19.5 line against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) somehow seems like if too low. Even if the Jets somehow earn a win, they’ll lose, fall in the endeavor for Trevor (Lawrence) standings. Sure, tuning into the Kansas City showdown might go along with the theme of watching horror movies on Halloween weekend (with Le’Veon Bell perhaps playing the role of the threat back from the dead to wreak havoc), but there have to be better ways to spend one’s time in this area.

Perhaps the most brutal aspect…or merciful, depending on your point of view…of this most recent chapter of the Jets’ perpetual rebuild is the fact that none of these games appear to be truly close, their average margin of defeat coming by three possessions. No one said this was going to be the Jets’ season…even one of the extra wild card berths seemed like far too much to ask for…but they could at least provide hope for the future by giving opponents all they could handle and at least make the quest for the win difficult. Last week’s 18-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills’ might’ve fit the criteria of such a constructive defeat, but the Jets offset any good that might’ve emerged by earning a mere four yards in the second half…a figure made all the more depressing by the fact they earned a 13-yard rush on their first drive of the segment.

But, those who are dedicated to this team, those opt for, need the three-hour escape that is Jets football…salvation may be on the horizon.

The Jets’ final weeks may become football’s ultimate example of “trick or treat”. With this brutal 0-7 ledger, one that has the Jets further from the AFC playoff picture than driving from East Rutherford to Kansas City, a macabre gift arrives in the form of nine free weeks of research and development. Risks can be taken, assessments can be made…all in the name of playing relatively consequence-free football from a team standpoint.

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

Credit: Joe McManus

It’s time for the Jets to unleash the rookies.

The modern New York draft class is a bit of an uncanny situation for general manager Joe Douglas. Overseeing his second full season with the team, Douglas is still working with his inaugural draft group obtained in April. Adding to the discomfort of the situation was the fact that the general manager was in an awkward position at 11th overall, one that gave the Jets a perfect opportunity to fill one of their most crucial needs: protection for Sam Darnold or get him a receiver. The fact the Jets had that many needs to fill with that single pick just goes to show where they were as a franchise. If Douglas satisfied one need, he would anger supporters of the other. It came to pass that when he opted to use the selection on Louisville’s Mekhi Becton, he passed on several talented receivers, such as Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, and CeeDee Lamb. For all intents and purposes, it seems like Douglas let the right one in with Becton (the same could probably be said about sixth-round punter Braden Mann) and he was able to whet the appetite of the pro-receiver crowd by opening the day two proceedings with the selection of Denzel Mims out of Baylor.

In typical Jets fashion, their 2020 draft class appears to be a star-crossed group, done in by factors both in and beyond their control. Injuries have plagued the class, Becton was controversially inserted into the Jets’ primetime game against Denver despite dealing with a shoulder issue suffered against Indianapolis a week prior. Mims injured both of his hamstrings and missed most of training camp, as did Jabari Zuniga. Even the Jets’ handling of their healthy rookies left something to be desired. With Bell injured and later released, the time seemed perfect to hand over the rushing reigns to touted fourth-round project La’Mical Perine, but the Florida alum has been forced to share carries, and even sit behind, a 37-year-old Frank Gore.

But rookie reinforcements are coming in. It’s time for the youth to revolt. These youngsters, even if it comes merely through the fact they’ve been dealt few snaps than their veteran compatriots, are the least guilty parties in the Jets’ early demise. It’s players like these that will shape the future and will be counted on to lead the potential glory days. Even if these players aren’t the answer, they deserve to at least get a chance to prove otherwise rather than sticking with veterans who clearly aren’t working. T

Such a strategy played in the Jets’ favor last Sunday. With offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains calling plays, Perine and Mims (making his NFL debut) earned extended opportunities. The receiver wound up being the Jets’ top aerial threat (42 yards on four receptions) while Perine (11 carries for 39 yards) wound up scoring the team’s only touchdown. They would unite on that play, as Mims’ crucial block afforded Perine the necessary yardage to give the Jets a short-lived 10-0 lead.

Speaking with Randy Lange of NewYorkJets.com after the game, Perine expressed his excitement in taking the field with fellow premier picks Becton and Mims and seems quite keen for such endeavors to become more regular.

“It was great to see Mims out there just because he hasn’t been out there the whole season, he didn’t have a training camp. For him to be as confident as he was, I wasn’t surprised but it was just good to see. And Mekhi, he’s a great dude, a great player who’s always going to work hard and be the guy he is. They drafted him in the first round for a reason and he’s putting everybody on notice.”

Out of these darkest hours, a golden opportunity has emerged in the form of a silver lining. The Jets must wisely seize it while it’s still on the table.

Hand it off to Perine. Target plays for Mims as much as possible. Run to Becton’s side. Allow Zuniga an opportunity to rush the passer.

Some of these opportunities could well become necessities, as the Jets are dealing with several injuries leading into their dire deposition against Kansas City. For example, Ashtyn Davis could see a bigger role with Bradley McDougald down. It’s an opportunity that head coach Adam Gase has noticed. Developing talent in the rookie class could well be the last chance Gase has to truly save his position, if he’s not too far gone as is.

“I know (Douglas) is excited to see these guys play,” Gase said this week, per Greg Joyce of the New York Post. “We’ve been waiting. I think we were one week where it was like Perine might have been the only guy that was available, and that’s frustrating because we really like this draft class and we feel like these guys can help us a lot. For us to have injuries or whatever it’s been at the beginning of the year, to get all these guys out there that’s a step in the right direction.”

The Jets season, or what’s left of it, is going to be a draft no matter what lies ahead. One of the few ways to prevent this endeavor from truly becoming a waste is to prepare for the future…in the dreary present.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags