New York Jets: Grading the pre-bye slate by unit

zach wilson, jets

It’s easy to complain about a 1-4 record, but did the New York Jets actually exceed expectations in the early going?

michael carter, jets

Leaders at the bye week

PassingZach Wilson1,117 yards, 4 TD, 9 INT
RushingMichael Carter165 yards, 2 TD
ReceivingCorey Davis20 receptions, 302 yards, 3 TD
TacklesC.J. Mosley45 tackles
SacksQuinnen Williams3.5 sacks
KickingMatt Ammendola6-of-7 FG (long: 49)
PuntingThomas Morestead47.5 average (17 attempts)
ReturningBraxton Berrios23.3 kick ret., 13.3 punt ret.

Offense: D

The Jets spent the offseason preparing for the arrival of a new quarterback by stocking up on weaponry, but they have yet to yield the desireable results.

The true disappointments have been the Jets’ veteran representatives. Joe Douglas’ acquisitions have yet to truly pan out and make the rookie quarterback and run game (second to last in the league at 74 yards a game despite Michael Carter and Ty Johnson’s relative consistency) feel comfortable in the early going. Interior affairs have been further hindered by the early injury to Mekhi Becton, who is still “a few weeks away” from returning from a dislocated kneecap suffered in Week 1, per head coach Robert Saleh. Despite the early struggles, the Jets seem to have found a keeper in 14th overall pick Alijah Vera-Tucker, the team’s highest-graded blocker according to Pro Football Focus.

Whether it’s fair or not (and it really isn’t), the Jets’ offensive progress…maybe the team as a whole…is going to be judged by the progress of Wilson. The trials and tribulations of working with a new franchise quarterback, especially a rookie, were well expected. Wilson’s nine interceptions are alarming to the naked eye, but several of them would be excused by a well-educated official scorer coming over from baseball. The second overall pick still hasn’t lived up to such billing but has shown occasional flashes of potential and brilliance, particularly in the come-from-behind victory over Tennessee. There’s obviously time to sort that out and the Jets need to make continuous Wilson progress the norm in the post-bye slate.

The Jets could potentially be shooting themselves in the foot and hindering Wilson through curious denials of young weaponry. Nothing more needs to be written about Denzel Mims’ 2021 season…or relative lack thereof…but now Elijah Moore has been sidelined in health. A concussion removed Moore from Week 3’s tilt in Denver and caused him to miss the following week’s aforementioned triumph over Tennessee. But Moore only took 41 percent of snaps in the British-based Week 5 game against Atlanta and was targeted only twice (drawing a sizable pass interference penalty on the latter).

Saleh said it was up to him and his coaching staff to find ways for Moore to contribute to the game plan, partly vowing to work on finding such an insertion during his first post-bye statements on Monday.

“He’s going to continue to get opportunities,” Saleh said, per notes from the Jets. “We just got to find creative ways to get him on the football field and get him in position to go make a play.”

It’s been a long, long time since the Jets have had a homegrown big-play threat, the last consistent such option likely being Santana Moss. They need to figure out their plans for Mims and Moore sooner rather than later, if only to avoid subjecting Wilson to further roster inconsistency.

John Franklin-Myers, jets

Defense: C+

By all accounts, the Jets’ defense was given a de facto redshirt season when prized offseason acquisition and touted pass rush energizer Carl Lawson was lost after a handful of summer snaps. Fellow veteran arrival and presumptive starter Jarrad Davis has also missed his metropolitan debut due to preseason medical woes. Others to miss significant time include Marcus Maye, Ashtyn Davis, and LaMarcus Joyner (who joined Lawson as a season-long departure after a triceps injury in Week 1).

Instead, the unit has buckled down and turned itself into one of the most pleasant, if not hidden, surprises in football.

The progress is prominently on display in the aforementioned pass rush, where John Franklin-Myers, Quinnen Williams, and Foley Fatukasi have built upon breakout campaigns from 2020. The efforts has been further bolstered by the unexpected contributions of Quincy Williams, Quinnen’s older brother and a post-cutdown day find off Jacksonville’s waiver wire. New York currently ranks fourth in pressure rate (28.4 percent) and fifth in quarterback takedown percentage (12.4).

Jets management wasted no time in rewarding Franklin-Myers’ efforts through a four-year contract extension armed with $30 million in guaranteed money. Saleh has described the attack, particularly the defensive line as the “heartbeat” of the Jets’ defense.

A makeshift secondary, which may soon have to prep for life after Maye, has done its part in not only assisting the pass rush (Saleh has described the group as doing “a phenomenal job giving them the time to get home”), but also in their traditional duties: thanks to strong openings from draft weekend Saturday acquisitions like Bryce Hall, Michael Carter II, and Brandin Echols, the Jets have managed to hold a pace and maintain a pulse of sorts in all five of their games so far. They’ve allowed scoring on only 45 percent of their possessions (seventh-best in football), a ledger that includes only four passing scores (lowest such tally in the NFL). Those percentages are particularly impressive when considering that defensive possessions start from just beyond the opponents’ 34-yard line, the worst average starting field position in football.

The Jets’ biggest defensive sin thus far has been their inability to force turnovers. They’ve earned four fumbled takeaways, including two against the Falcons in London, but are currently the only team in the NFL that has yet to record an interception this season.

Special Teams: C+

If anything, the Jets appear to have found peace in their kicking situation. Matt Ammendola’s kicks (6-of-7 to date) haven’t exactly come in clutch situations but at least the Jets have found long-sought reliability at kicker that’s been lacking since Jason Myers absconded to Seattle after the 2018 season. Ammendola also deserves credit for his ability to fill in as a punter during the Week 1 opener, one that saw him average nearly 50 yards a boot when drafted leg Braden Mann went down with an injury. Former New Orleans staple Thomas Morestead has filled in respectably, as his 47.5 average ranks 10th amongst punters with at least 15 attempts.

The Jets have also maintained strong marks in a return game headlined by Johnson, Braxton Berrios, and Tevin Coleman. Berrios has placed the Jets fourth in punt return average (13.3 on an admittedly low four attempts) while the group has united to be third in kickoffs (26.3). Coverage, alas, hasn’t been as consistent: the Jets have allowed an average of 21 yards on kickoffs (16th in the league) and 10.8 on punts (29th).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: A mock draft for the bye week

New York Jets

How has the New York Jets’ performance over the first five weeks affected a fateful draft? ESM investigates.

Football fans and analysts alike will find any excuse to make a mock draft, no matter how soon or how far away the legitimate selection meeting is. With the New York Jets having reach their league-mandated open date, now might be one of the few times an in-season mock draft will hit the spot for both casual and die-hard observers alike.

Using the draft board determined by Tankathon, as dictated by the standings entering Week 6 action, ESM unveils a fall mock draft with a special focus on the Jets’ hypothetical selections…

4th overall: RT Evan Neal, Alabama

Joe Douglas’ offensive line revolution has produced mixed results from an inconsistent veteran class (Connor McGovern, George Fant, Greg Van Roten) and rookie arrivals full of promise (Mekhi Becton, Alijah Vera-Tucker).

The pre-bye slate has made it clear that the wall in front of Zach Wilson (sacked 18 times so far) isn’t complete. A combination of a surprisingly stout defense and medical developments abroad allows the Jets to continue construction to continue. Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton has been a popular projection to the Jets’ first slot, especially with so much uncertainty surrounding Marcus Maye. But the uncertain future ahead of Jeff Okudah and his ruptured Achillies may have Detroit (current holders of the No. 2 pick that yielded Wilson last spring) looking into his services.

While the Jets seem to be set on Wilson’s blind side through the first-round selections Becton and Vera-Tucker, drafting the massive Neal (6 feet 7 inches, 360 lbs.) would help fortify the right side. Morgan Moses has held down the fort well but is signed to only a one-year deal. Adding a homegrown talent on the right side for the long-term would welcome in the next step of the offense’s maturity. Already ranking as one of the top blockers in the class of 2022 (a battle staged with fellow SEC rep Kenyon Green and Iowa interior man Tyler Linderbaum), Neal has united size with strong athetlicism in Tuscaloosa. Such nimbleness should help him quickly adjust to the NFL game.

12th overall (from Seattle): EDGE Drake Jackson, USC

The Seahawks’ surprisingly slow start has afforded the Jets two picks among the first dozen after the first five weeks. Time will tell if the final yield from the Jamal Adams trade remains this high, but such a posting in the early going affords the Jets an opportunity to address needs on both sides of the ball. They took care of the Great Wall of Wilson at No. 4, so which defensive area should be addressed eight picks later?

The early stages of this season has revealed the defensive identity the Jets are hoping to create: one that makes quarterbacks uncomfortable and invades backfields. Such a cause could’ve been delayed by the loss of Carl Lawson, but several names have stepped up in his absence. Nothing has driven the point home better than the shiny, new, expensive contract extension bestowed to John Franklin-Myers. With some pleasant surprises peppered in the secondary (i.e. Bryce Hall, Michael Carter II, Brandin Echols), they can continue bolstering the front seven.

Drafting a USC pass rusher could conjured some sour green memories: the last such Trojan to be drafted in the first round is 2015 arrival Leonard Williams. He’s still in New York, albeit in blue rather than green. Jackson is powerful enough to risk re-opening those wounds as one of the most versatile edge men in the class. His strength and speed (boasting a 4.5 40-time) make him an attractive option, as does his ability to cover receivers in the slot.

The Full First Round

TeamPick
1. JacksonvilleEDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
2. DetroitS Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
3. HoustonQB Malik Willis, Liberty
4. JETST Evan Neal, Alabama
5. Philadelphia (from MIA)CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
6. Philadelpha (from IND)G Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
7. NY GiantsIOL Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
8. PhiladelphiaLB Christian Harris, Alabama
9. AtlantaQB Matt Corral, Mississippi
10. New EnglandCB Kaiir Elam, Florida
11. Miami (from SF)T Sean Rhyan, UCLA
12. JETSEDGE Drake Jackson, USC
13. WashingtonQB Sam Howell, North Carolina
14. MinnesotaEDGE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
15. PittsburghCB Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson
16. Kansas CityEDGE Geroge Karlaftis, Purdue
17. CincinnatiT Nicholas Petit-Frere, Ohio State
18. New OrleansWR Chris Olave, Ohio State
19. TennesseeTE Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M
20. DenverEDGE Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati
21. CarolinaS Jordan Battle, Alabama
22. NY Giants (from CHI)EDGE Zach Harrison, Ohio State
23. ClevelandDT DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M
24. Detroit (from LAR)WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
25. Las VegasCB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
26. BuffaloRB Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M
27. Tampa BayEDGE Adam Anderson, Georgia
28. Green BayWR Treylon Burks, Arkansas
29. LA ChargersG Ikem Ekwonu, North Carolina State
30. DallasS Brandon Joseph, Northwestern
31. BaltimoreT Rasheed Walker, Penn State
32. ArizonaT Zion Nelson, Miami (FL)

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Three things the New York Jets did right in their pre-bye slate

John Franklin-Myers, jets

The 2021 New York Jets’ early victories go beyond the single tally they’ve earned on the scoreboard so far.

Fresh off a visit to London that was anything but a vacation, the 2021 New York Jets embark on a new holiday: their bye week.

The Jets (1-4) are one of four teams that will take Week 6 off, setting off the NFL’s bye week slates and countless roster adjustments in fantasy football. New York returns to action on Oct. 24 against the New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Traditional pessimism has surrounded the one-win Jets: rookie quarterback Zach Wilson has thrown a league-worst nine interceptions, the usage…or lack thereof…of young guns Denzel Mims and Elijah Moore has stirred debate, and the playoffs already seem to be a pipe dream. At one win, the Jets have little hope in catching the mighty Buffalo Bills at the top of the AFC East and are two games behind the wild card logjam currently headlined by Cincinnati, Las Vegas, and Denver.

ESM, however, has sifted through the gridiron malarkey to find three silver linings over the first five games…

Coupling the Q Train

It didn’t take long for Quincy Williams to erase the crude, mere moniker of “Quinnen’s brother”.

The third-year linebacker was one of the Jets’ final preseason additions, coming aboard after he was among Jacksonville’s last camp cuts. He was almost immediately thrust into a starting role after fellow newcomer Jarrad Davis was injured during a postseason contest.

Despite missing opening weekend, Quincy currently ranks second on the team in tackles (31) behind only the reawakened C.J. Mosley. He has gone semi-viral for some punishing hits, three of which have forced fumbles (tied for the league lead with Terrance Mitchell of Houston).

Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich believes that Quincy Williams needs a little bit of professional grooming and nurturing before he becomes an NFL mainstay. Having said that, Ulbrich is happy that he’s doing so in New York.

“I really look at him as a guy who could be one of the top ‘backers in the NFL, if he wants to be and he’s committed to it and he stays healthy,” Ulbrich said of the elder Williams after he tallied 12 tackles (two for a loss with one sack) against Tennessee, per notes from the Jets. “Is he perfect? Not close. He has so much more room to grow. But we’re just excited by what he can become.”

Ulbrich believes that reuniting Williams with his brother, recreating a pairing seen at Wenonah High Schoo in Birmingham, could lead to a sense of accountability that helps him reach unprecedented levels. The pair united for 3.5 takedowns of Ryan Tannehill in the aforementioned win over the Titans, becoming the first fraternal duo to record sacks in the same NFL game.

“He has speed, he has aggressiveness, he’s got explosiveness that’s different and unique and really uncommon in a lot of ways,” Ulbrich continued. “So now it’s just harnessing it within the scheme and fine-tuning it and cleaning up the details and tightening up his technique.”

Locking up JFT to the NYJ

A common criticism of the Joe Douglas era has been the general manager’s relative failure to lock up the Jets’ defensive assets long-term: further reminiscence on Jamal Adams’ final days in green is unnecessary but the Jets may have a Marcus Maye situation to deal with sooner rather than later.

But Douglas has appeared to have found another diamond in the camp-cut rough in John Franklin-Myers, who’s working through his third year in green after the Los Angeles Rams bid him farewell in the summer of 2019.

Franklin-Myers hinted at bigger contributions when he took on a larger role in 2020 after the Jets purged some of their defensive veterans after an in-season fire sale. He has since picked up the pass-rushing slack after touted acquisition Carl Lawson was lost for the season. Perhaps most famous for earning a sack of Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, Franklin-Myers has been a consistent backfield invader and currently ranks as the Jets’ best-graded player on Pro Football Focus. These efforts and more have earned the Stephen F. Austin alum a contract extension that will keep him in green through 2025 and comes with over $30 million guaranteed.

Franklin-Myers’ windfall further establishes a new defensive outline for the Jets’ defense, one that is now poised to win through the time-honored green tradition of pressuring the quarterback. Lawson’s season-long medical absence has now done nothing to derail that plan.

“JFM is a stud,” head coach Robert Saleh said shortly before the Jets’ British excursion, per notes from the team. “We felt he could be a really great fit for our system and what we ask out of our defensive line and he has done nothing but work, work, work. He’s been a tremendous leader and then you see his play on the football field. He’s absolutely dominant at times.”

Debate can be staged over the talent from abroad that Douglas has called upon. Veteran members of the renovated offensive line, for example, have yet to make a true difference. But Douglas has assembled a strong group of young leaders in perusing other team’s summer bargain bins: Quincy Williams and Franklin-Myers have united with Shaq Lawson to produce respectable results on defense while former Detroit draft pick Ty Johnson has been a consistent contributor on offense over the last two seasons.

Welcoming the Trojan Horse

It’s still not fair to fully assess the Adams trade; Call it a cop-out, but grading a deal whose pieces have still not been fully revealed is foolhardy.

Having said that, it’s certainly acceptable to say the needle of the trade is starting to inch toward the Jets: Adams has become the face of the 2-3 Seahawks’ defensive woes, troubles that are allowing an NFL-worst 451 yards per game. His coverage has weakened and he has yet to tally a sack after setting the NFL record for defensive backs last season. Such struggles currently position Seattle’s 2022 first-round pick (the last asset due to be sent to the Jets) in the 12th position, and that’s before they lost franchise quarterback Russell Wilson to a lengthy injury, which passes the offensive reins to former Jets savior Geno Smith.

The yields of the Adams trade could well become trivia answers amongst Jets fans for years to come. While one (cornerback Bradley McDougald) is already gone, New York has seemed to have made the most out of the first of two imported opening-round draft picks, having traded the original Seattle selection to Minnesota in a ride up the draft board. New York then used the 14th overall pick to take interior blocker Alijah Vera-Tucker out of USC.

Vera-Tucker missed most of the summer preparation with an injury but hasn’t lost a step in the early going. NFL Network/Fox Sports analyst Brian Baldinger offered a particularly glowing review of Vera-Tucker’s showing against Atlanta, claiming he “dances like Fred Astaire”. PFF graded Vera-Tucker’s British business trip as the best performance from a Sunday offensive lineman. This all becomes before Vera-Tucker has been able to spend extensive time alongside Mekhi Becton, who has been out since kickoff weekend.

The Jets’ offensive endeavors in the pre-bye slate have left much to be desired. But Douglas’ long-gestating plan to build the wall in front of the fledgling New York backfield is slowly paying off.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

ESM EXCLUSIVE: New York Jets OT Mekhi Becton previews 2021 season

mekhi becton, jets

New York Jets first-round pick Mekhi Becton spoke to ESM about the weeks to come and his new endorsement endeavors with Pepsi.

As the anchor of the New York Jets’ offensive line, left tackle Mekhi Becton already has some arduous tasks ahead of him on autumn weekends.

Thanks to a collaboration with Pepsi, however, Becton will not only be able to protect the stars of Gang Green’s revamped offense, but he’ll also have the time and ability to assist Jets fans in preparing their gameday snacks.

Days before the Jets open their 2021 season on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers (1 p.m. ET, CBS), Becton was revealed as the face of Pepsi’s new Jets-centered campaigns, entitled “Made for Jets Watching“. His participation is headlined by an augmented reality endeavor in which a mini version of the Jets’ first-round pick from the 2020 draft assists fans in conjuring up some Sunday recipes, including Pepsi BBQ Sauce, a dressing made with the official soft drink of the NFL.

“As fans across the country return to their favorite gameday watching and game day eating traditions this year, we’ve teamed up with the Jets to help fans unapologetically enjoy the experience all season long,” Kathy Kennedy, Sr. Director of Marketing, PepsiCo Beverages North America, North Division said in a company statement obtained by ESM. “Pepsi wants to give fans the magic of gearing up for game day no matter where or with whom they find themselves watching this season.”

Becton appears in Pepsi’s new league-wide campaign alongside other young talents like Jalen Hurts, Sterling Shepherd, Chase Claypool, and Sam Hubbard. Tenured veteran Devin McCourty and Hall of Famer rusher Barry Sanders likewise appear for their respective squads in New England and Detroit.

“Everything drew me to (this campaign),” Becton told ESM. “My parents they’re really big Pepsi fans and stuff like that. So I always grew up with it, with them drinking it and things like that. So it was just, it’s just a dream come true, honestly.”

With the season opener looming, Becton spoke with ESM about his new partnership and the upcoming trials and the Jets will face in the 2021 season…

mekhi becton, jets

Q: While this is an interesting and hopeful period on the Jets’ timeline, many choose to dismiss such hope as being a case of “Same Old Jets”. How is this team different from prior incarnations we’ve seen on this rebuild?

A: We’re really hungry, we’re a really hungry team. We go to work every day, we go hard every day. We have a lot of things ready to put on display and show the world. We’re ready to go out there and play, we’re ready to show the world what we can do. Our motto is “All Gas, No Brake”. I feel like that explains and defines us 100 percent.

(Robert Saleh) been really great. He brings the energy every day, he makes sure we’re bringing the energy every day. He’s just he’s a great guy, a great coach as well. He never sugarcoats things. He’ll always tell it how it is, so that’s already great to have.

Q: The team addressed its offensive needs in the first round through the selections of Zach Wilson and Alijah Vera-Tucker. What has it been like to work with them and almost guide them through the early stages of their NFL journeys? 

A: (Vera-Tucker) goes to work every day, just like I go to work every day. He likes, he loves to work hard, and I like to work hard. So it’s just great to have two hard-working dogs on the same side and I’m excited about that.

As for (Wilson), he has been great, he’s a great player. He’s going to do a lot of things that a lot of people aren’t expecting him to do and I can’t wait for him to prove the world room. The fact that he was named a captain speaks a whole lot of volume about how he just he’s just a leader already. So it has just been really great, and I can’t wait for fans to see it.

Q: In addition to the rookies, the team added several veteran talents that know to win and contribute. How they helped this team and what impact have the defensive additions left on you, namely DE Carl Lawson?

A: It’s was great to have them here. Guys like Corey (Davis), Sheldon Rankins, C.J. Mosley, they can take control of the team when things are getting out of whack. They are always people that everyone always listens to no matter what they’re saying. It’s been really great and it’s very helpful as well, too.

Carl helped improved me a lot, just helping with my hands, and my feet, just making sure I don’t give up on a play because he’s still going 100 percent. So that definitely personally helped me out a lot.

Q: What stood out to you most about the New York culture when the Jets chose you last season? Was there any additional pressure considering they passed on several elite receiving talents to bring you in?

A: It was love at first sight. The fans are the best, they’re always going hard no matter what’s going on in the season. They’re very loyal and the city has great. Everything in New York drew my attention. I can’t wait to have the fans back in the stands, that’s going to be really great. I’ve seen a little taste of it at the Green & White scrimmage. and when we played Philly, when we played the Giants (in the preseason), Once we get to the regular season, it’s going to be really great and they’re going to be really happy.

I don’t think I had any additional pressure at all (after the draft). I wasn’t even I honestly wasn’t thinking about those (receivers). I was just trying to go out there and perform, no matter who they passed up on. I was just trying to go out there and do what I got to do.

Q: What’s the message you want to send out as a leader and representative of the new-look Jets and how big would it be to make a statement in these early contests against noteworthy opponents (Carolina & New England)?

A: It’d be really great to make a statement early on. A lot of people aren’t expecting us to do good things on the field. But everybody in the locker room knows that we can go out there and perform and do those things that people aren’t expecting us to do. So it’s going to be really great.

To the critics, all I can say is be ready. Just be ready. That’s all I can say. Just be ready. That’s all I’m going to say. Just be ready.

(Special thanks to Katherine Hartley for making this interview possible)

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets starters will get “a quarter, couple of series” on Saturday

new york jets, zach wilson

New York Jets fans shouldn’t be late to MetLife Stadium on Saturday if they wish to see Zach Wilson’s unofficial debut.

While it appears that the New York Giants will hold their young franchise thrower out of this weekend’s metropolitan showdown, their MetLife Stadium roommates are taking a different approach.

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh announced on Thursday that Zach Wilson and the primary offensive unit will play at least the first two series during Saturday’s preseason opener (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC). It will mark the first unofficial action in a Jets game uniform for Zach Wilson and several others, including receivers Corey Davis and Keelan Cole.

“We’re thinking about a quarter, couple of series for all those guys,” Saleh said precisely when it came to Wilson’s time, per notes from the Jets. “(We) just kind of (want to) get him his first action.”

Speaking after a practice session on One Jets Drive, Saleh noted that between the incoming rookie class and last season’s young group, over 30 players will be partaking in their first NFL preseason game on Saturday. Last year’s exhibition slate was completely wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are a very, very young football team and they’ve got to be able to go through the process of pregame and prepping themselves mentally and getting in their own space and getting ready to play a football game and then going out there and playing a couple of drives,” Saleh said. “To me, this is a big deal. These moments are priceless, especially for this team.”

Though Jets fans will who venture out to MetLife Stadium for a sanctioned NFL contest for the first time since December 2019 will get to witness Wilson’s first game action, several other debuts could be delayed.

Saleh announced that receiver and second-round pick Elijah Moore would “probably” require an MRI after leaving practice with what he described as a quad issue. Fellow rookie Alijah Vera-Tucker will miss Saturday with a quad issue, but Saleh was optimistic that he would be ready to prepare for the following weekend’s tilt in Green Bay, labeling him “day-to-day”. Dan Feeney currently sits in the second slot behind last spring’s 14th overall pick in the left guard slot on the Jets’ opening depth chart.

Injured veterans like defensive lineman Quinnen Williams (foot) and receiver Braxton Berrios (groin) are set to join Vera-Tucker in the Packers prep, per Saleh.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

What are realistic expectations for the 2021 New York Jets?

The New York Jets undoubtedly became a better team over the past eight months. But are they a playoff team? ESM’s experts discuss.

The 2020 New York Jets left the franchise’s immediate and long-term future in a rare state of optimistically macabre: after the Jets sunk to the depths of the football underworld…plummeting to dubious valleys that even the cursed Rich Kotite era managed to avoid…any move the team made in the offseason could’ve been seen as an improvement.

With both the Stanley Cup and Larry O’Brien Trophy…not to mention every medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo…earned and bestowed, it’s officially socially acceptable to start forecasting the 2021 NFL season. The metropolitan arrivals of so many elite new faces, of both the rookie (Zach Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore) and veteran (Carl Lawson, Corey Davis) variety have gotten fans excited, as has the hiring of head coach Robert Saleh.

But the ultimate question lingers: after a two-win season and now ensnared in the NFL’s longest active playoff, just how much improvement will the Jets show in the one place it matters…the standings, namely the win column?

ESM’s Jets experts ponder this quandary as the preseason opener against the New York Giants looms on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC)…

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Magliocchetti

To take a page out of another New York sports decisionmaker Brian Cashman, let’s view Joe Douglas’ New York Jets from the perspective of the Death Star.

Ignoring the fact that the Star Wars-based superweapon is destroyed in each of its incarnations, Douglas does have a Death Star at his disposal. But it’s not the behemoth seen in A New Hope (and, by extension, Rogue One), nor is it the partially constructed but “fully armed and operational battle station” from Return of the Jedi. Rather, the Jets’ Death Star resembles the infantile version Vader and Palpatine look over at the end of Revenge of the Sith.

The Jets began this offseason with the hiring of head coach Saleh. In contrast to the Adam Gase hire, a transaction praised exclusively by modern hot take artists, the Saleh move was lauded by on-field participants both domestically and abroad. New York was and is by no means a football destination yet…one needs to establish a victorious on-field prescience before they become that…but the Jets were able to attract several names with championship experience, winners that were attracted to what Saleh was trying to build.

Douglas and Co. could’ve stood pat on the pass rush, a rare 2020 silver lining after the breakouts of Quinnen Williams, Foley Fatukasi, and John Franklin-Myers. They instead bolstered the unit by bringing in rising pressure artist Lawson and NFC postseason staples Sheldon Rankins and Vinny Curry. Elsewhere on defense, they prepared for Saleh’s reimplementation of the 4-3 with the arrival of linebacker Jarrad Davis, whose finest defensive days came in Florida and Detroit’s similar formations.

On offense, newly minted quarterback Zach Wilson’s arsenal appears to contain more firepower than anything Sam Darnold had to work with. Two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman is ready to work with potential day three draft gem Michael Carter in the backfield, while the upgraded aerial attack features Davis and Moore uniting with returnees Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims. Mekhi Becton returns on the line with Alijah Vera-Tucker on Wilson’s blindside.

Yet…the playoffs remain a pipe dream.

The AFC East already appears to be under the control of a new potential dynasty in Western New York, so capturing the quartet for the first time since 2002 appears to be out of the question. The North could well send three teams to the postseason, while the West’s mighty Kansas City Chiefs show no signs of slowing down, even with the Los Angeles Chargers rising fast with Justin Herbert. Even with an extra playoff spot, it’s asking a lot for the Jets to establish themselves in the crowded conference.

Even if the AFC wasn’t packed to the brim with contenders, the Jets aren’t fully completed just yet. There were so many holes so fill, so much damage to repair from the Gase era that it was a guarantee that some area of the roster was going to be neglected. One look at the current depth chart shows that the secondary got the raw deal, as inexperienced options like Bless Austin, Ashtyn Davis, and Bryce Hall are set to assume primary roles. On offense, there are plenty of players that can become major contributors (Carter, Moore, Davis), but they lack the experience in the primetime situations they’ve been called upon.

Until Saleh’s group proves otherwise on the field, their dire straits are more indicative of just how poorly the Gase era went. Gase might be gone, but the dark spirits of his tenure will linger over the Jets’ facilities until the fruits of Saleh’s process appear in the win column. A good season in 2021 would be to at least double the two-win tally from last season and perhaps earn an upset win over an elite opponent, a similar process to what the Chargers went through last year with Herbert.

Record Prediction: 6-11

new york jets, zach wilson
Mandatory Credit: New York Jets/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Brendan Carpenter

The New York Jets have a lot of hype leading into the season and for good reason: rookies Wilson and Moore highlight a revamped offense. Lawson adds a much-needed pass rush to a defense that needs it with unproven corners.

The Jets, however, are not a playoff team just yet. Aside from their own play, they find themselves in an increasingly brutal AFC East. Each team is improving, but, at the moment, Gang Green finds themselves behind Buffalo and, most likely, either New England or Miami…maybe even both.

Yes, the future is bright and fans should be excited. All of the excitement should be taken with a grain of salt, though. There need to be reasonable expectations for this season. So, realistically, look for this team to win about 6 games of the newly-implemented 17 game schedule.

Record Prediction: 6-11

carl lawson, new york jets
(Photo: Getty)

Dylan Price

As the Jets head into a season filled with promise, I want to make one thing clear before I begin: I do NOT expect the New York Jets to make the playoffs.

I expect the team to take a significant step up and approach the 7-9 win territory. With that said, I foresee hiccups along the way: Wilson will likely experience significant growing pains early as he leaves Brigham Young University and acclimates to the bright lights of Broadway. I firmly expect struggles from both sides of the ball early as they look to establish a new identity under a new coaching staff. Lastly, I have a bad feeling about the secondary, but guys like Hall and Michael Carter II will likely get better as the season progresses.

On a lighter note, I foresee a strong debut in green and white for Lawson, Rankins, and Davis. Lawson is a legitimate threat to finish in the top ten in sacks, while Rankins and Davis will likely be impact contributors if they can stay healthy. Finally, look for rookies, Michael Carter (the running back) and Alijah Vera-Tucker to make names for themselves early, although the story will be Moore, the budding star receiver.

Record Prediction: 7-10

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets revel in front of fans for the first time since 2019

New York Jets fans saw their team in person for the first time in nearly 20 months when 1 Jets Drive opened to the public over the weekend.

Granted access to their team for the first time since December 2019, New York Jets fans took full advantage, packing Florham Park for the first public training camp session over the weekend.

With both training camp and MetLife Stadium closed to the public during the health crisis last year, it had been nearly 20 months since the Jets held activities in front of a flesh-and-blood crowd, dating back to the 2019 season’s penultimate contest against Pittsburgh. Things looked a little different: ongoing precautions pushed back certain training camp traditions like photos and autographs another year. On the field, only 15 players that partook in that win over the Steelers remain on the Jets’ roster.

But that was of little concern to the fans, who giddily made their prescience felt with the Jets’ future on display. The loudest cheer of the day was likely reserved for a long scoring hook-up between rookies Zach Wilson and Elijah Moore.

Jets fans had made it clear that they were excited to see their team again…after all, free tickets to the public sessions in Florham Park disappeared in less than 24 hours…but physically seeing their supporters officially made the return of relative gridiron normalcy a reality.

Alijah Vera-Tucker kicked things off by leading the first spelling of Jets in a video shared by team owner Woody Johnson. One young fan proudly displayed his makeshift Wilson jersey, as strips of duct tape buried the Sam Darnold marks originally printed. According to NFL Network’s Judy Battista, the excitement was so palpable that one overzealous fan was ready to book tickets to Southern California for February’s Super Bowl.

The summer debut of Carl Lawson was one of the most anticipated events of camp, evidenced by a group of fans clad in shirts depicting Lawson adorning a Jets beanie shortly after his March signing. Lawson has lived up to the early hype and thanked fans for their support by declaring “Man I love being a jet” [sic] on Twitter shortly after Saturday’s festivities.

The Auburn and Cincinnati Bengals alum previously spoke to the team’s official site about the impact he’s hoping Jets fans will have on the revamped pass rush this season.

“Please come to a game, especially our home games, because it will help me a lot. It will help the D-line a lot,” Lawson implored in an interview with team reporter Eric Allen. “You are actually helping by being at the game…You don’t (have) to like me. You don’t have to do anything extra. Please, just come to the games and scream as loud as you can when the offense is on the field so they can hear nothing, and that would help me a lot.”

If the weekend was any indication, Jets fans are not only going to be big fans of Lawson, but will be more than happy to acquiesce to his request.

Head coach Robert Saleh likewise earned high approval ratings from fans. Florham Park engaged in hysterics when Saleh turned his famous “All gas, no brake” mantra into a chant for the fans, promising them “a lot of fun” once they get back to East Rutherford. The Jets open their preseason slate against the New York Giants on August 14 and their 2021 home debut comes on September 19 against the New England Patriots.

“It’s fun just to have human interaction again and fans, listening to them scream and boo and whatever else they were doing over there. It was awesome,” Saleh said, per notes from the Jets. “I appreciate them coming out. It’s not easy in this climate right now to be able to step out and break out of your comfort zone. For them to come out here and enjoy a practice, hopefully it was worth it for them.”

Fans will be welcomed back to Monday and Wednesday’s practice sessions at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center on 1 Jets Drive this week, with additional availability on August 9, 11, 24, and 25. Tickets to Florham Park are sold out but a limited number of entries are available to the Green & White practice at MetLife Stadium this Saturday. They can be obtained on the Jets’ official site.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

New York Jets sign Alijah Vera-Tucker to rookie deal

alijah vera-tucker, jets

The New York Jets have finally signed Alijah Vera-Tucker to his rookie deal, making him the first of their top-three picks to do so. It’s a four-year deal, with a fifth-year option, fully guaranteed for $15.8 million. He also has a signing bonus of $8.9 million.

Vera-Tucker is expected to be the starting guard alongside Mekhi Becton on the left side of the line from the get-go. The former USC guard has high expectations coming in as a rookie and now the contract talk can finally be pushed into the rearview mirror.

The Jets, who traded up to draft Vera-Tucker with the 14th overall pick, made acquiring him a priority in April.

“We felt we had a unique opportunity to get a top-10 player in our minds as our board was stacked,” General Manager Joe Douglas said after making the trade to move up in the draft. “To go up and get a guy like Alijah Vera-Tucker, a player that has started at tackle, has started at guard and has been highly productive at both, that versatility and that production is something we really value.”

The Jets will now move their focus to signing their other top-two picks: Zach Wilson and Elijah Moore.

New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Offensive line

alijah vera-tucker, jets

The continued renovations to the offensive line got off to a slow start, but the New York Jets recovered with a big gain on draft day.

Following the conclusion of minicamp activities, the NFL offseason is officially over. The next time the New York Jets convene in Florham Park, they’ll be getting ready for preseason and regular season action for the 2021 campaign. 

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. This next segment centers on the revamped blocking program…

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton
Credit: Joe McManus

How It Started

By this point, everyone knows that Jets general manager Joe Douglas is at least trying to make things right on the offensive line after the negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. That plan was rather obvious last offseason when the Jets spent a majority of their offseason capital on blocking help.

New York missed out on top names like Jack Conklin and Joe Thuney but dispensed over $34 million guaranteed to George Fant, Connor McGovern, and Greg Van Roten. With their first-round pick, the Jets passed on premier receiving talents to draft Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton instead. It marked the first time the Jets used their opening pick on a blocker since the iconic D’Brickashaw Ferguson/Nick Mangold pairing in 2006.

When the Jets took the field for Week 1 action in Buffalo, it was completely different from the five that opened the prior campaign at the Meadowlands in 2019. But despite Douglas’ financial enthusiasm, the splurge did not have the intended effect. The Jets’ line ranked 29th in Pro Football Focus’ final unit grades, marred by inconsistency. Advanced stats dictated the Jets averaged only 2.5 seconds before allowing pressure and quarterback Sam Darnold was dropped on 8.3 percent of his dropbacks, the third-worst rate in the league (behind Carson Wentz and Daniel Jones).

The Jets did enjoy a huge silver lining in the form of Becton, who lived up to his first-round billing and then some, offering the Jets serenity in passing on names big box score names like Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs, and Jerry Jeudy.

morgan moses, new york jets

How It’s Going

Gifted with a cap space surplus, many expected the Jets to hit the ground running. But New York got off to another slow start on the free agency front, watching their top targets and revered blocking names like Thuney and Corey Linsley sign elsewhere.

This time around, the Jets instead opted to spend the early portions upgrading their box score weaponry through receiving and rushing help. Depth-based consolation prizes awaited in Dan Feeney and Corey Levin from the Los Angeles Chargers and the New England practice squad respectively. Levin hasn’t appeared in a regular season game since 2019 while Feeney was an average blocker whose profile was amplified through a lively, larger-than-life personality that quickly won over Jets and Islanders fans alike.

Douglas and the Jets changed the narrative on draft night, boldly sending away draft picks (one of which was obtained in Jamal Adams’ Seattle deal) up north to Minnesota to draft USC blocker Alijah Vera-Tucker. Known primarily as a Trojan guard, Vera-Tucker spent the shortened 2020 season as a tackle, showcasing his versatility. It was a costly endeavor…the Jets had no Friday picks beyond Elijah Moore at 34th overall…but Douglas’ dedication to this renovation can’t be denied. Vera-Tucker is expected to take over the primary left guard role previously occupied by Alex Lewis, who struggled last season in starting duties but is nonetheless back as a depth option.

The Jets enjoyed an extra boost to the line in the late stages of the offseason, negotiating a one-year deal for Morgan Moses, formerly of the Washington Football Team, shortly after minicamp. Moses has been one of the most effective blockers in the league and is coming off a career-best campaign. He brings the championship feeling desired by the Jets in other acquisitions, having played a strong role in Washington’s run to the division title last season. His reliability, having started every game since 2015, made him an attractive late gem as well.

Along for the ride is newly minted offensive line coach John Benton, who will also serve as the run game coordinator. Benton reprises the former role he held for four seasons alongside Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur in San Francisco.

Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; The New England Patriots and the New York Jets at the line of scrimmage for the snap during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Are They Better Off?

Maybe Jets fans have been so desperate for any semblance of doing the right thing. But Douglas’ dedication to the unit from the minute he took office has been refreshing. The struggles of last year’s haul did nothing to deter his quest to build a wall in front of his new passing and rushing units.

Douglas faced a bit of an uphill battle in luring free agents to New York. Even though players both domestically and abroad were hyped by Robert Saleh’s hiring, asking marquee free agents to join up with a two-win squad was going to be a bit difficult. It was tough, though, for the Jets to watch Thuney sign a long-term deal in Kansas City without much of a fight.

Having said that, Douglas put his draft money where his mouth was in the latter stages of the offseason, trading some of his valuable draft capital to find a mid-first round gem. At the literal last minute, he was able to convince the serviceable Moses to sign up for the year.

The gestures are great. But no it’s about the success translating on the field.

Douglas’ appreciated offensive line makeover began when he traded a late pick to Baltimore for Lewis and convinced Carolina Pro Bowler Matt Kalil to come out of retirement. It was great to see him take initiative…but now it’s time for results. Getting that desired effect may have been a bit easier if Douglas was able to add an elite name.

Final Offseason Grade: B-

How important will a revamped offensive line be to the Jets’ success? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

2 players the New York Jets absolutely struck gold with in the 2021 NFL Draft

elijah moore, jets

There is no question the New York Jets had one of the best draft classes in the NFL this year on paper, and now it’s time for them to display their talents during training camp and hopefully come the regular season. Of course, the drafting of Zach Wilson will plaster the headlines, but they have two more players capable of achieving greatness at the next level.

Two players the New York Jets struck gold with in the 2021 NFL Draft:

WR: Elijah Moore

Elijah Moore is the ideal slot receiver, standing at 5’9″ and 178 pounds. As a shifty pass catcher, he posted 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns last year with Ole Miss, presenting a fantastic athlete in the open field and consistent hands.

Falling to the second round, the Jets couldn’t believe their luck, as Moore fits multiple offensive systems, whether it be a West Coast style or Air Raid. He has the versatility to align outside and in the interior, representing a dynamic athlete with sudden quickness and sky-high potential. While his route running is still a bit raw, the right coaching should do the trick regarding his development at the next level. As a tough and gritty player, more has the ability to create after the catch and offer home-run capabilities.

While the drafting of Moore created the narrative that Jamison Crowder’s time in green might be coming to an end, the two sides settled on an agreement, slashing Crowder‘s salary by about 50%.

So far this off-season, Elijah has been a massive stand-out, impressing Robert Saleh as he shifts alignments. He checks all the right boxes when it comes to progression and fundamentals coming out of college. He is already making stellar improvements with the team, and gaining chemistry with Wilson could curate one of the most exciting QB-WR duos the Jets have seen in years.

OL: Alijah Vera-Tucker

Aside from Moore, the Jets also landed USC stand-out offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker. A unit the  New York Jets desperately needed to upgrade, Tucker has the versatility to play offensive tackle and guard, contributing toward his value.

In fact, Hall of Fame OT Anthony Munoz has already become a big fan of Tucker, who not only impressed him on the field but also with his intellectual nature.

“The first thing I knew about Vera-Tucker was that he played guard, he opted out because of Covid, then when the Pac-12 decided to play, he played left tackle and he played extremely well. I knew he was versatile, to move from inside to outside and to be effective. … I knew he was a pretty good offensive lineman, but the thing I noticed right away was how genuine and down to earth he is. At the same time, he’s focused and eager to get to work. He wanted to learn. That’s the sign of a guy who’s going to be a great, great player. He wants to learn and he’s not satisfied with his performance at the college level.”

Munoz detailed one specific factor that should excite fans about Alijah, his transition from the inside at guard to starting at left tackle, where he played well. That type of transition is not simple or smooth, and he held his own with ease, elevating his draft stock considerably. Per PFF, AVT played 975 total snaps during his career at USC, allowing 5.0 sacks, 3 QB hits, and 8 quarterback hurries.

Consider this, Greg Van Rotan, who the Jets signed last year to help supplement weaknesses in the interior, allowed three sacks, two QB hits, and 19 hurries in 752 snaps last season. AVT should offer an instant upgrade at guard but also has the versatility to swing outside if injuries arise. His development will be exciting to watch, and adding potentially elite players on offense is exactly what the Jets needed to build around Wilson.