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

A little help might be on the way for the New York Jets

ashtyn davis, new york giants

A pair of secondary defenders returned to New York Jets practice on Wednesday and a top receiver may finally be ready for Sunday.

The 2021 New York Jets might finally be catching a break…and even that doesn’t come without an asterisk.

The team announced on Wednesday that injured safeties Ashtyn Davis and Sharrod Neasman returned to practice after spending most of September on injured reserve. Head coach Robert Saleh also announced that the team is “expecting” receiver Jamison Crowder to be ready for Week 4’s home contest against the Tennessee Titans (1 p.m. ET, CBS). The return of these secondary defenders comes as NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport has reported that Marcus Maye is set to miss multiple games with an ankle injury.

Davis was projected to be one of the starting safeties next to Maye but was placed on IR after dealing with lingering issues from a foot injury that cut his rookie season short. Head coach Robert Saleh sang the sophomore’s praises during his availability on Wednesday, referring to him as an “interchangeable” secondary piece as both a post safety and working with Maye closer to the line of scrimmage, per notes from the Jets.

“I know one has asked to do more than the other but (Davis and Maye) are both the same in our book,” Saleh said. “Marcus can play the middle just as well as he can play down and (Adrian) Colbert can go down just as well as he can play back. (Davis) be right there in the thick of things to be able to do both.”

Saleh said that his former employers in San Francisco thought highly of Davis during the virtual draft in 2020, where he was eventually chosen by the Jets in the third round. The Cal-Berkeley alum earned 36 tackles and a fumble recovery over ten games in his freshman campaign.

“We thought he had great red line-to-red line speed, he’s very smart, his speed shows up on tape,” Saleh said. “He’s a grinder, he’s a hard hitter…Watching him in all of his individual work throughout working with the strength crew and rehab since he’s been on IR, his movement looks fantastic so we’re just excited to see what he does here over the next week.”

Neasman joined the Jets in June, staging a reunion with current Jets defensive coordinator and former Falcons defensive coach Jeff Ulbrich. With five years in Atlanta under his belt, he’ll give the Jets some veteran support as they’ve mostly worked with Colbert, a well-traveled defender plucked off New England’s final cuts earlier this month.

In terms of seeing Davis and Neasman against the Titans, Saleh merely replied that the team will “see how the week goes”. He provided a more concrete answer about the status of Jamison Crowder, as Saleh says the team is “expecting” the top receiver over the last two seasons to return to game action after a bout with COVID-19.

The Jets’ receiving depth chart took a bit of a hit as both Elijah Moore and Jeff Smith are dealing with concussions. Moore was injured during the latter stages of the Jets’ 26-0 loss to Denver on Sunday while Smith did not appear in Wednesday’s proceedings after he was involved in a car accident on his way to the facility. Smith was examined and diagnosed upon his arrival.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Attainable goals for Friday’s game vs. Philadelphia

zach wilson, jets

ESM’s New York Jets experts believe Gang Green should spend the preseason finale accounting for their defensive absences.

Never mind Labor Day. For New York Jets fans, the unofficial end of summer arrives when the Philadelphia Eagles show up on the preseason ledger.

The Jets’ late-summer showcase with the Eagles resumes on Friday night at MetLife Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET, WCBS). New York (2-0) has faced Philadelphia (0-2) in every preseason finale since 2001. The streak was interrupted only by the cancellation of last year’s preseason proceedings but resumes on Friday night in what goes down as the Jets’ only official home game of their 2021 exhibition showings (they were the designated road team in the opener against the Giants).

ESM’s Jets experts conjure up an attainable goal for Gang Green to fulfill as the preseason comes to a close…

new york jets, zach wilson

Geoff Magliocchetti: Keep the Offensive Momentum Rolling

Losing Carl Lawson for the year (and Jarrad Davis for at least the first five weeks) shouldn’t awaken the Jets from their dreams of development this season, but the first showing sans the former Bengal wasn’t pretty. Missing Lawson wasn’t the biggest issue against Green Bay last weekend…missing tackles and lost coverage battles were far more troubling…but the top unit still looked out of sorts against a Packers offense resting most of its starters (including top throwers Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love).

The ultimate insult came when the Packer reserves ate up ten minutes of second quarter game time and embarked on a 19-play, 81-yard drive. Six of those plays were conversions on third or fourth down, including the touchdown that capped things off. Since that drive came with a good portion of the Jets starters on the field, the team faces some major questions.

The best defense could be…a good offense.

Even if their conquests have come against defensive reserves, it’s hard not to be enthused about the progress of the Jets offense, especially with Zach Wilson leading the charge. The team has drifted so far behind the times in this NFL dominated by offense: this is a unit that failed to reach a mere 300 yards in all but five of their games last season. Wilson has embarked on six drives this season: the Jets have scored on four of them and all but one has ended in opposing territory. The outlier produced a conservative punt on a one-yard fourth down at the Jets’ 49-yard-line.

Wilson has made the most of his summer opportunities. He has built chemistry with his receivers, namely Corey Davis (6 receptions, 88 yards) and Tyler Kroft (49 yards on a trio of receptions, including two touchdowns in Green Bay). He has responded well to adversity, erasing two deficits at Lambeau through responsive scoring drives.

Time will tell how the Jets, and their 31 NFL compatriots, approach the third preseason game under the adjusted, shortened summer format. Under the previous quartet, the third game was often treated like a dress rehearsal, with starters playing most, if not all, of the first half. Head coach Robert Saleh was vague on his starters’ playing time during joint practices with the Eagles this week but stressed his desire to see a lot of Wilson. It won’t be “more than a half”, per team reporter Ethan Greenberg, but Saleh believes that there’s a prime opportunity for the newcomers on offense to make of the most of the final tune-up of what’s been a successful preseason.

“I want to play (Wilson),” Saleh said in Greenberg’s report. “I do, so we’re talking about it. But right now, I’m leaning towards playing at least the starting offensive line, quarterback, and a majority of the defensive payers…We got a ridiculously young team and they are growing and learning and all of these experiences are so important to them. I feel like they’ve gotten so much better from the first day of camp until now and to pull off now, I think we’d be doing them an injustice.”

If the Jets emerge from this preseason feeling good about themselves, the offense is providing a majority of those good vibes. Keeping up the offensive is more important than ever with so many question marks filling up slots on the defensive depth chart.

Friday also presents a big opportunity for some players to secure premier roles on the team. Who will be the top rusher? Veteran and two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman is currently slotted in the top rushing role on the official depth chart but Michael Carter, Ty Johnson, and La’Mical Perine have each looked strong at different points of the summer. The backup quarterback debate has yet to be resolved as well. Mike White has been quiet if not consistent but sustained a rib injury in Green Bay last weekend. James Morgan has struggled and veteran Josh Johnson has yet to see the field.

Brendan Carpenter: Fill the Hole Jarrad Davis Leaves Behind

Well, it’s here. The final 2021 preseason game and, believe it or not, there is still one important question that needs answering: what’s going to happen at linebacker behind C.J. Mosley?

The linebacking situation seemed set. It was going to be Mosley and Jarrad Davis manning the main two inside spots. However, with Davis going down for about two months, there’s a hole. The news wasn’t wanted by anyone, but with the injury comes new opportunities for other players. These opportunities could be exciting too, as rookies Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen will have prime chances to impress.

Sherwood, Nasirildeen, and the veteran depth at linebacker (i.e. Blake Cashman, Noah Dawkins) need to help create some post-Davis clarity on Friday night. If the Jets linebackers can show some ability to make impactful plays and stand tall with the added adversity, it’ll end the preseason on a relatively high note. Well, as high as it could be now.

Expect the linebackers to rotate in and out frequently and to get a glimpse of everything they have to offer. Hopefully, they will be able to achieve the goal of clarity somewhat quickly.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

ESM’s New York Jets experts name a top breakout candidate for 2021

carl lawson, new york jets

As the preseason opener looms, ESM’s New York Jets experts name a veteran breakout candidate for the 2021 campaign.

The story of the 2021 New York Jets is one that could well be defined by the term “breakout”.

As ESM’s Gang Green experts discussed last week, asking the Jets to end their decade-long playoff drought is a little too much to ask for in an AFC packed with established contenders. However, with little to lose and minimal national expectations thrust upon them, several veteran players have big opportunities to enjoy breakout campaigns, ones that can prove they belong to stay for the potential good times ahead.

ESM’s Jets experts return to name their biggest emerging star from the Jets’ roster in 2021…

New York Giants, Corey Davis
 Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Magliocchetti: WR Corey Davis

The curious case of Corey Davis describes the Jets’ current landscape in a nutshell: he’s shown fleeting flashes of brilliance, but the football gods have loved to toy with the fifth overall pick of the 2017 draft.

A hamstring injury weighed down his rookie season. Despite relative consistency, Tennessee declined to pick up his fifth-year option. Even in the midst of a career-best season, divine intervention played a cruel trick: Davis spent two games on the COVID-19 list, denying him a chance to obtain his first 1,000-yard season (stopped at 984).

Davis comes in with the perfect ingredient for a breakout candidate: he has something to prove. Despite playing a sizable role in the Titans’ ongoing mini-football renaissance (only Kansas City, New England, and New Orleans have played more playoff games than the six Tennessee has seen since Davis’ entry in 2017), Davis’ work was buried under the electrifying on-field antics of Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown.

Brought into New York as one of the Jets’ more expensive arrivals ($37.5 million over three years, including $27 million guaranteed), Davis is a rare metropolitan rep who has had a taste of the NFL promised land. The Jets are also desperate for a big-play receiver to rise up. That becomes even more of a necessity with a new franchise thrower in tow. No one’s reached four digits in yardage since the Brandon Marshall/Eric Decker tandem in 2015.

Davis made his goals and endeavors clear when he signed with the Jets in March: he wants to prove to the league that he has lasting power as a primary target.

I do consider myself a No. 1 wide receiver,” Davis said upon signing in March, per D.J. Bien-Aime of the New York Daily News. “My ability to get open, my speed, separation, releases, I feel like I could do it all. I’m a thousand-yard receiver. It’s just up to me to put in the work. Make sure that I’m healthy and can play a full season.”

ashtyn davis, new york giants

Brendan Carpenter: S Ashtyn Davis

The Jets have an abundance of players who could be poised for a breakout season. One player, though, stands out above the rest in my eyes: his name is Ashtyn Davis.

First, before we get into the specifics, it’s important to point out that this selection is dependent on his health, obviously. Davis was placed on the PUP list due to a foot injury and is not expected to play Week 1. However, once he’s cleared, he should command the starting strong safety role.

The former third-round pick is a do-it-all safety who can tackle, trace some receivers, and move into the box when needed. He can also make an impact on special teams, as he was named the unit’s MVP twice at Cal-Berkeley. As a rookie last year, he played in just ten games, starting six. In those contests, he totaled 36 tackles (one for loss), one pass breakup, and one fumble recovery. If he stays healthy, he should surpass those numbers easily.

Davis can impact the game in so many areas. It’s hard to not be excited for what he’ll bring to the field this year. Barring any extensive time missed, Davis should be a major part of the Jets’ defense this season and is a prime candidate for a major breakout.

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Dylan Price: DE Carl Lawson

The Jets added an impact player in Carl Lawson this past offseason. Although he’s the natural pick to be breakout player of the year, it’s truly the easiest pick to make.

Lawson consistently ranked in the top of the league in pressures and win rate. Now, he goes to a defense that will give him the opportunity to thrive and produce big numbers.

I’m not kidding when I say eight or nine sacks feels like the floor for Lawson right now.

Nobody can stop him in camp, and this weekend (as well as the trip to Green Bay) will be the best indicator of the level of dominance Lawson could assert on the league in this upcoming season. Expectations are high in Florham Park and East Rutherford but look for Lawson to break out as one of the most efficient pass rushers in the league.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: Ashtyn Davis, Vinny Curry set to miss Week 1

Head coach Robert Saleh announced on Wednesday that the New York Jets will be without two key defenders come opening day in Carolina.

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh broke some tough news as training camp practices commenced on Wednesday.

By a “conservative” estimate, safety Ashtyn Davis won’t come off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list until the Jets’ home opener in Week 2 against New England. Saleh likewise predicted that Vinny Curry would also miss the Jets’ kickoff weekend showdown with the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte on September 12.

According to Saleh, Davis’ problem is the same foot injury that kept him out of the final four games of last season. Davis, a third-round pick out of Cal-Berkeley in last year’s virtual draft, is expected to take on a larger role in the strong safety spot. Veteran newcomer Lamarcus Joyner will likely take on an expanded role, backed by fellow acquisition Sharrod Neasman and former XFL representative Elijah Campbell.

As for Curry, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles, Saleh mentioned that an offseason procedure “is going to hold him up”. The Super Bowl champion spent parts of last season on injured reserve with a hamstring issue that cost him four games.

Saleh’s injury updates weren’t fully dire. The head coach mentioned that both Quinnen Williams and Kyle Phillips are anticipated to be ready for the Jets’ visit to Green Bay during the second week of the preseason. New York will partake in joint practice sessions with the Packers before an exhibition battle on August 21.

The head coach went into a little more detail on Williams, whose return is one of the most anticipated of the season after his breakthrough sophomore season. Williams has been sidelined with a foot injury suffered while working out at the team’s training facility over the spring. Saleh said that the third pick of the 2019 draft hasn’t partaken in team activities yet for precautionary reasons, per notes provided by the Jets.

“(We’re taking a) slower approach in terms of making sure that this doesn’t happen to the other foot and all that stuff,” Saleh said. “I’m still not concerned at all about Quinnen, he does look good out there. He started running, he’s in good shape. He’s going through all of it, he’s been here. We’re confident when he hits the field, he’ll hit the ground running.”

Asked if Williams would be ready for Week 1 in Carolina, Saleh merely replied “I don’t want to jinx it”.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

Three reasons why the New York Jets can make the playoffs

It won’t be easy…but it can happen. ESM has three ways the New York Jets can pull off the unthinkable in 2021.

The world was a different place the last time the New York Jets partook in an NFL playoff game. It was a freezing January evening in Pittsburgh, as the Jets fell one step short of their Super Bowl dream for the second consecutive season in the AFC championship contest.

At that time, MetLife Stadium didn’t exist…well, the building itself was there, but it was free of corporate sponsorship under the identity of New Meadowlands Stadium. A basketball team called the Nets was no longer stationed at the arena next door…then known as Izod Center…but they still played under a Garden State branding. At the cinema, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a mere three movies old and the idea of expanding the Star Wars galaxy was merely fanfiction.

In short…it’s been a while. The Jets’ playoff drought now stands at a decade, a record inherited when the Cleveland Browns clinched a spot last season. What’s scarier is that the second-most dire active drought has made to only five years, a dubious distinction shared by Arizona, Cincinnati, and Denver.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the trend isn’t ending any time soon. The Jets are trapped in a division where one reign of terror in New England gave way to another in Buffalo. Their conference’s wild card landscape isn’t any more forgiving, as established contenders pepper the other divisions. Even their own rivals in the East, Miami and New England, will be back with a vengeance. Combine that with a first-year head coach and franchise quarterback working with a mostly new cast and it’s difficult to see the Jets make major headway in the win/loss columns. Many observers agree that the Jets got better this offseason…but it comes with the caveat that the 2020 season was so brutal that there was nowhere to go but up.

But…ESM is going to look at things a little more optimistically. We have three ways the Jets’ improvements can lead to a long-awaited postseason revisit:

New York Giants, Corey Davis
Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Not Sorry, Wilson

This time last year, the Jets were going into the 2020 season with an offensive cabinet that left much to be desired. Year three of the Sam Darnold era was expected to rely upon a first-round washout (Breshad Perriman), a Le’Veon Bell who was constantly denying that he was arguing with Adam Gase, and an assortment of veteran reserves in the skill positions. A rare silver lining of hope, Denzel Mims, missed almost all of the summer preparation with hamstring issues. Darnold was also working with his third different center in three NFL seasons. Needless to say, the Jets’ offense played a major role in their two-win downfall and Darnold posted the worst numbers of his career.

Granted the second overall pick in April for their troubles over the fall, the Jets opted to start from scratch (again). Before they used that premier pick on one of the touted quarterbacks of the draft…later revealed to be BYU’s Zach Wilson…management did all they could to retroactively atone for the mistakes of the Darnold era. What they’ve assembled for Wilson is, at least on paper, is better than anything Darnold had to work with.

Corey Davis, coming off a career-best year in Tennessee, is the projected top target. Free agency endeavors also brought in Keelan Cole, who tallied 2,242 yards over the last four seasons despite endless quarterback turnover in Jacksonville. They’ll welcome back Mims and reliable slot target Jamison Crowder and when Elijah Moore fell to their grasp with the second pick in the second round at the draft, they immediately pounced. At running back, they found a potential day three draft gem in Michael Carter and signed Tevin Coleman a two-time Super Bowl participant with something to prove, to a one-year deal. Though questions linger at tight end, vis a vis Chris Herndon, they did add red zone option Tyler Kroft to the fold as well.

Wilson will also be able to take in the benefits of a revamped offensive line. Mekhi Becton was well worth the risk of passing on several elite receiving talents last season. He’s now joined by USC protector Alijah Vera-Tucker, who indirectly comes from a pick used in the infamous Jamal Adams trade (a pick acquired from Seattle was traded to Minnesota to move up the board). New York enjoyed a late-offseason surprise in the form of the consistent tackle Morgan Moses, who is expected to take over on the right side.

The depths to which the Jets sank on offense last season (only six games over 300 yards, nine games with 14 points or less) should be impossible to reach at the NFL level. But those called upon are reliable names with championship panache. If the newcomers rise to their potential, the Jets could reopen the scoring floodgates and repopulate East Rutherford’s end zones.

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Pressure Treated

Perhaps no intermission interview during a hockey broadcast is complete without the phrase “pucks on net” being uttered, to the point it’s become a bit of a meme. The football equivalent could be “pressure the quarterback”.

The NFL is undoubtedly a league ruled by offense, evidenced by its inflated scoreboards. But, every so often, we’re reminded that defense wins championships. MetLife Stadium’s turf knows about the concept better than anyone, playing host to the Seattle Seahawks’ 43-8 dismantling of the historically explosive Denver Broncos offense in Super Bowl XLVIII. Even the might Patrick Mahomes isn’t immune to the dangers of a strong pass rush. The Kansas City Chiefs are 44-10 (including postseason) with Mahomes as their starter; half of those losses (a 7-5 mark overall) have come when he’s sacked at least three times. One of those losses came against Todd Bowles’ relentless rush in last year’s Big Game.

The Jets’ downfall has only been exacerbated by a lack of pressure. They’ve applied pressure on only 21.4 percent of opposing dropbacks over the past two seasons, ranking 25th in the league in the category last season…a bit perplexing for a unit overseen by Gregg Williams. When you’re trapped in a division that bestows you two guaranteed matchups with Josh Allen for the foreseeable future, having a fearsome pass rush will be vital.

New York plans to start from scratch again with head coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich in tow. The team is set to run a 4-3 base for the first time since the Herm Edwards/Donnie Henderson days. They spent the offseason bolstering the front seven in an effort to prepare for the transition.

For better or worse, the Jets’ most impactful free agency signing for not only the coming season but for the next few years could likely become Carl Lawson. The narrative behind Lawson is that his on-field influence goes far beyond the number in his sack column (no more than 5.5 after 8.0 in his debut campaign out of Auburn in 2017) and he has the less conventional numbers to prove it.

Though the Jets recently announced some their defensive breakouts won’t be available for the start of training camp, it’ll be interesting to see what Quinnen Williams, Foley Fatukasi, and John Franklin-Myers can do for an encore with a little extra help. The transformation in the front seven further continued with the arrival of Jarrad Davis, whose finest gridiron hours have come in 4-3 sets with the Florida Gators and Detroit Lions. While Davis has struggled to live up to his first round billing since Teryl Austin and Jim Caldwell were dismissed from Detroit, he has kept his pressure numbers consistent. A return to a familiar 4-3 setting could help him up the ante not only as a backfield invader but as a a leader as well. Championship contenders Sheldon Rankins and Vinny Curry have likewise joined the fold.

Questions, of course, still linger in the secondary. For example, Marcus Maye and Ashtyn Davis (the latter recovering from surgery) are respectively on the Non-Football Injury and Physically Unable to Perform lists, further depleting a safeties group desperate for answers. But the Jets are going to make life a heck of a lot easier for themselves if they can make quarterbacks feel uncomfortable again.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Meet the New Boss

Say what you will about the Todd Bowles era: its final chapters were penned in poignancy, as players were disappointed not for themselves, but that they let a strong football mind and a man of great character down. They sang of Bowles’ praises to the very end and many were upset to see him let go after the 2018 season.

Those warm feelings didn’t seem to translate to the ousting of Bowles’ successor. When the woebegone Gase was let go after two disastrous seasons, there was an aura of “good riddance”. The players’ relative silence on the matter spoke volumes, though fans were more than happy to chime in.

The hiring of Saleh, most recently the overseer of the lauded San Francisco 49ers’ defense, comes at an interesting time on the pro football timeline. It’s a move made as the league values offense, posting scoreboards that flirt with those from the defunct Arena Football League. One would also foresee an offensive mind coming in with a new franchise quarterback to mold and develop.

Yet, the players’ response to what Saleh is advertising could slowly signal the return of good vibes to Gang Green football.

Saleh had a tall task to deal with upon his arrival: convince outsiders and prospects that a two-win team that the internet turned into a football meme bank had something to work with, something that hinted at a championship climb. What he did was immediately get to work, adopt a catchy yet inspirational mantra that quickly caught on to players and fans alike, and slowly got momentum back on the green side of the New York football bridge.

What Saleh (along with general manager Joe Douglas) did this offseason was from a free agent unit of not exactly what the Jets were looking for, but finding parts that they needed. Lawson brings pressure, Davis brings knowledge of the 4-3. Saleh mostly avoided stocking up on former Bay Area pupils but the major holdover (running back Tevin Coleman) brings knowledge of offensive boss Mike LaFleur’s system and what it takes to compete for a championship. Wilson’s offensive cabinet is stocked with no true No. 1 receiver, but a series of skill players eager to proves themselves…which could well describe the state of the Jets as a whole in this point in time. Financials likely played a large role, but Saleh’s plan was apparently able to convince Jamison Crowder (by far the most consistent offensive weapon over the last two seasons) to stick around for at least one more season.

Saleh himself has admitted on several occasions that his New York restructure and tenets  are going to take some time to fully install. Votes for Coach of the Year might be more realistic at this point…after all, it won’t take much to improve upon the horrors of 2020. But faith in the right coach is capable of doing some incredible things.

Do you think the New York Jets can overcome the odds and end their postseason drought? If so, how can they do it? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and continue the conversation.

New York Jets offseason recap 2021: Safeties

Marcus Maye’s lack of a long-term deal leaves the New York Jets in a prickly situation as year two of the post-Jamal Adams era looms.

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. We come to the penultimate portion of our reviews, with a look back on safeties in part nine…

(Photo: Getty)

How It Started

The Jets timeline is closing in on the one-year anniversary of the Jamal Adams trade with the Seattle Seahawks. It’s a deal that requires more time to fully grade and assess, as not all of the components have revealed themselves yet.

So far, it looks to be a push. Adams was an All-Pro with Seattle but was dealt mixed reviews otherwise and has yet to obtain the pricy long-term deal that led to his napalming of every bridge he head in New York. On the other side of the country, the one original piece with a name (Bradley McDougald) is already gone. The Jets later dealt the 2021 pieces (the 23rd and 86th selections) over to Minnesota in the opening round of the draft in April. Seattle’s last shipment is a first-rounder to be used next spring in Las Vegas.

The hullaballoo almost blinded the Jets and their fans to the fact that a 16-game season laid ahead. Adams’ attitude perhaps wasn’t missed, but his on-field intensity certainly was. The newly vacated strong side was originally occupied by McDougald before injuries forced third-round project Ashtyn Davis into the role prematurely. Undrafted free agents and spare parts from foreign practice squads had to take over when Davis, who struggled in coverage, was likewise lost for medical reasons.

Adams’ departure opened an opportunity for free safety Marcus Maye, the lone survivor from the Jets’ 2017 draft class. The second-round choice would embark on a career-best season that ended with a hoist of the Jets’ team MVP award named after Curtis Martin.

Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

How It’s Going

Maye’s 2021 offseason saga recently reached its climax and it suggests a bit of a macabre future for the Jets’ ongoing renovations.

The two sides failed to close on a long-term contract leading Maye to play the 2021 in a bit of lame duck scenario: a franchise tag of over $10 million. While things won’t sink to the depths of the Adams saga…it’s probably too late in the offseason to make a trade anyway…watching homegrown, talented silver linings slip away is becoming a dangerous trend of Joe Douglas’ tenure.

As we previously discussed in the cornerbacks conversation, the Jets’ depth charts was in such dire straits that it was almost guaranteed some area would be neglected. The secondary was the unlucky department as there are no proven contributors locked up beyond 2021. LaMarcus Joyner, a versatile former Raider, is coming in on a one-year, $4.5 million deal. He can probably help stem the immediate bleeding, but, considering he’ll turn 31 in November, it’d be silly to fully rely on him as a long-term solution.

The safety spotlight now turns back to Davis, who has a lot to prove in his sophomore season. His will and fight can’t be denied: the former track star became one of college football’s most talked-about walk-ons after starring at Cal-Berkeley. He has earned positive reviews for his athleticism and physicality but often struggled to adapt to NFL coverages (ranking 85th amongst his safety peers, per Pro Football Focus). If Davis falters in an expanded role, the Jets may have to start from scratch.

Fifth-round choice Michael Carter II emerged from Duke as a safety, but the Jets will likely use him more often at cornerback. Behind Davis and Maye, several of the misfits who filled in are making their way back (i.e. Elijah Campbell and J.T. Hassell). The Jets also added Sharrod Neasman on a late, affordable deal (one year, $990,000) in June. Neasman’s shared Atlanta tenure with defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich could prove beneficial.

ashtyn davis, new york giants

Are They Better Off?

The conclusion of the Adams era deserves praise. Douglas was able to essentially turn a disgruntled safety that could never resist airing his grievances publicly into two premier draft choices. One was used to fortify the Jets’ anemic blocking, as the trade with the Vikings was made to select USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker.

But while the distraction of Adams is gone, it’s time to replace the production he took with him. The Jets are laden with questions about the future at safety and a majority must be answered by the end of the 2021 season.

This season might well be the perfect time to do it. It’s a bit much to ask these Jets to make the postseason leap. At the same time, last year’s two-win nightmare was so garish that there’s little to no chance of diggings a deeper hole.

Thus, the Jets are, as a team, blessed with a season of having nothing, if anything to lose. Individuals, however, must make their case to stick around for the potential good times ahead. That applies for the secondary, particularly in a safety spot where there is no proven, consistent NFL talent locked up beyond Week 18. Essentially, this is a “prove it” season for the whole unit.

Davis bears perhaps the heaviest burden from a New York standpoint. Maye will be mostly playing for himself, showing not only the Jets but also their 31 brothers exactly why he should be paid like an elite safety. Davis, on the other hand, will likely get an opportunity to make an immediate and vital New York impact.

Adams is gone and the Jets earned an immediate cash out upon his departure. But the hard part still looms: finding the next Adams, the next hopeful to push this defense into the future.

Final Offseason Grade: C

Who will step up in the post-Adams era? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and continue the conversation.

New York Jets: Three aftershocks from the Marcus Maye franchise tag

Maye will officially play the 2021 season on a franchise tag. How will that affect the New York Jets’ ongoing rebuild?

Tag, Marcus Maye is it.

Thursday marked the deadline for Maye and the New York Jets to come to a long-term deal. With the 4 p.m. cutoff long breached, Maye will play the 2021 season on a franchise tag worth over $10 million.

While the tag has Maye listed as the sixth-richest safety in football, there seems to a lingering sense of iciness between the safety and the team. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport has claimed that tensions rose long before Thursday’s final horn, saying that the Jets’ offer went drastically lower than what Maye would be offered with the tag. Thus, 2021 has the makings of a lame duck season for Maye, who is coming a career-best campaign.

How does this affect the Jets this season and beyond? ESM investigates…

ashtyn davis, new york giants

Ashtyn Can’t Butcher An Opportunity

After the Jamal Adams saga ended in a fruitful trade, Maye stepped up and perhaps created this whole controversy in the first place. A similar opportunity awaits Ashtyn Davis, a second year strong safety who is projected to line up next to Maye this season.

Davis, a third-round pick out of Cal during the virtual draft of 2020, went from walk-on to projected day two choice, perhaps falling out of the second round due to surgery following his senior campaign. His rookie season was a bit of a wash, as he struggled when thrust into action after Adams was traded and Seattle arrival Bradley McDougald was lost to an injury. Davis likewise fell victim to a foot injury that ended his year after six games (one start).

Praised for his athleticism and physicality, the Jets hope that Davis can enjoy a breakout campaign similar to what Maye experienced last season. Beyond him, the secondary depth chart is disturbingly thin: Las Vegas import LaMarcus Joyner, 30, brings experience but will need a truly impressive season to factor in the Jets’ long-term plans. At cornerback, the Jets stockpiled project defenders like Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, and Brandin Echols. Starters Bless Austin and Bryce Hall have a lot of upside, but are no guarantee.

Needless to say, a Davis breakthrough would definitely give their defense a clearer path toward the future.

New York Giants, Jabrill Peppers
Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Safety First

There’s plenty of time for Maye and the Jets to change each other’s minds and it’s probably far too late in the offseason to consider a trade. But all signs currently point to a separation come next spring, so the Jets have to start planning now.

Both the 2022 free agency and draft classes have some strong names to keep an eye on. Marcus Williams, with whom Maye is tied in 2021 salary, should be one the marquee names, followed by Jabrill Peppers. The incoming rookie class is headlined by Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton (who could very well be a top ten pick) while redshirt sophomore Brandon Joseph could be an intriguing pick with the latter first round pick from the Seahawks. New York is currently projected to work with over $71 million in cap space in 2022, third-best in the league behind Indianapolis and Pittsburgh.

Frankly, the potential Maye exit always applies a certain amount of pressure of the offense. The past offseason saw the Jets in such dire straits that it was a near guarantee that at least one area was going to be neglected. A majority of the Jets’ offseason resources were shifted toward the offense and front seven, including free agency dollars (Corey Davis, Keelan Cole, Carl Lawson, Jarrad Davis). Their primary draft picks were dedicated to the offense, as each of their first four choices (Zach Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore, and Michael Carter) have been hired to put points on the board. If the anemic offense shows no signs of improving the season, the  secondary could wind up woefully neglected again.

New York Jets, Joe Douglas
Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

Off-Broadway Joe

It doesn’t do anyone much good to write Maye’s New York farewell song just yet. But, if these next 17 games make up his final hours in green, it continues two disturbing trends in recent Jets history.

With Maye’s New York future in doubt, the 2017 draft class is officially an endangered species. Nothing more needs to be written about top pick Adams, but the class has been a scourge on not only the Jets, but the league as well. Three of the nine picks (including third-round receiver ArDarius Stewart) are already out of football and only one beyond the safeties (Texan-turned-Lion Chad Hansen) appeared in 2020 regular season action.

The Jets have not only had trouble drafting, they’ve had troubling keeping the homegrown talent that appears to have a future. Maye appeared to be on pace to break that trend, but the past few weeks have only commenced a countdown to his departure.

Could this serve as a commentary on the Joe Douglas era?

It’s easy to view this situations from both sides: Douglas and company want to see how Maye performs in year two of the post-Adams era and they save some money in the short and long-run (maybe the immediate savings could go toward secondary help and a backup quarterback…?). Maye believes he’s a top ten safety and wants to be paid as such.

No one can deny that Douglas knows the team’s needs and can work with an offseason budget, at least on paper. But there could be a lingering side effect of free agents being scared away by Douglas’ unwillingness to deal pricy long-term deals?

Simply put, there’s a little more pressure on the 2021 Jets to perform now, to showcase visible signs of improvement. Again, asking them to make the postseason leap seems like a little much: they’re trapped in a division with America’s powerful football sweethearts in Buffalo and there are too many established contenders to leapfrog for the wild card. But there has to be at least some semblance of hope out there, a “throat-clearing” year of sorts, something similar to what the Los Angeles Chargers did with Justin Herbert in tow.

Entering Herbert’s rookie year, there wasn’t much to be excited about from an LA perspective. They seemed destined for a rebuild period and were struggling to attract fans even when they were allowed to play in front of a crowd. But the Chargers went on to surprise a lot of people. Herbert had an exemplary rookie season and the team won seven games. Even their losses were impressive: they took Kansas City and New Orleans to overtime and sheer bad luck probably kept them away from a winning record.

Seven of the Chargers’ nine losses came by single digits and they won each of their final four games following a December shellacking from New England. Los Angeles is now everyone’s NFL preview dark horse and the good vibes attracted new starters like Corey Linsley, Oday Aboushi, Matt Feiler, and Jared Cook to the cause.

Patience has paid off in the early stages of this New York rebuilding stage. But in certain regards, the time is now.

How do you think the Jets’ plans will be affected by Maye’s franchise tag? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and keep the conversation going.

What’s next? A post-NFL Draft checklist for the New York Jets

New York Jets, Brian Poole

Draft weekend is over, but the New York Jets still have several needs to fill before they take to the practice field.

The New York Jets’ work in Cleveland is done. Nine names were added during last weekend’s NFL Draft proceedings and several others have been penciled in through rookie free agency.

But the Jets’ work is nowhere near complete.

That, unfortunately, is the macabre cloud that hangs over anything the Jets do until they start winning games again. The team has earned positive reviews for their draft weekend proceedings, one headlined by the offensive additions of Zach Wilson and Alijah Vera-Tucker. But it means nothing until they at least get back into the “in the hunt” column in those NFL postseason charts that emerge on game broadcasts circa the holiday season. General manager Joe Douglas has made it clear that he has a vision, but the on-field execution awaits.

The time is ripe for making further additions, as Monday marks the end of any compensatory pick matters when it comes to free agents. What else do the Jets need in the post-Mr. Irrelevant era of the offseason? ESM investigates…

Backup Quarterback

The Jets’ current quarterback group (Zach Wilson/James Morgan/Mike White) has a grand total of zero NFL regular season passes among them. It’s great that Wilson is there as the anchor, the latest name to fill the star-crossed role of franchise quarterback. But the Jets needs to bring someone in as both a veteran mentor and someone to have in case of an emergency. They had the right idea in the final year of the Sam Darnold era through signing Joe Flacco, but he’s in Philadelphia now. Darnold attributed the success of his rookie season to working with Josh McCown and it would behoove the Jets to find a similar solution.

Alex Smith might’ve been the most attractive option in both of those regards, but he opted for retirement. Nick Mullens, he of 16 starts over three seasons under offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur in San Francisco, is also available, but, at 26, he might not be able to provide the veteran mentorship Wilson needs in his debut season. The best current option might be Brian Hoyer, who was brought in for a visit in April. Hoyer, set to enter his 13th NFL season, spent last season in New England, his third stint with the Patriots, and credits his mentorship skills from working with Tom Brady.

“I learned so much and whenever I had a question for him, he was there to give me an answer,” Hoyer said in 2017 prior to a pre-LaFleur stint in San Francisco, per Chris Biderman of Niners Wire. “For me, the best way to be a mentor…was just watch somebody do it and do it the right way. And then when they ask you questions, you give them straight-up honest answers.”

Experienced Defensive Help

Anyone complaining about the lack of defensive additions over the first two days of the draft was roundly silenced when the Jets spent all but one of their Saturday selections on defenders. But the Jets are already packed to the brim with young projects at the top of their defensive depth chart, particularly in their secondary. Rookies Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, and Brandin Echols are set to join Bless Austin, Bryce Hall, and Javelin Guidry. The franchise-tagged Marcus Maye is set to work next to sophomore Ashtyn Davis. New York even found some solid pass rushing additions through the undrafted front, including Hamilcar Rashed Jr. out of Oregon State. There’s certainly plenty to be inspired when it comes to the defensive haul, but there’s no guarantee any of them can be day one starters.

The team could use some veteran help and the current free agent bank has plenty of options. Steven Nelson, one of the stronger man-to-man coverage guys, is still around after two seasons in Pittsburgh. Inviting in Richard Sherman, who endlessly praised the hire of Robert Saleh, for at least an interview would almost be a no-brainer. The Jets could also bring back Brian Poole as a reliable nickel prescience, one that remains on the open market after injury issues last season.

The Jets emerged from the weekend with several building blocks to groom and develop. But if they’re looking to contend in the immediate future…the playoffs still seem like a pipe dream but a decent opportunity to reenter NFL relevancy…they’ll have to add some veteran defenders that can come in and contribute immediately.

Blocking Depth

The Jets must be careful with their blocking moving forward. It’s great to see they’re anchoring Wilson’s blind side with back-to-back first rounders, as Vera-Tucker will presumably be working alongside Mekhi Becton. But they took only one lineman in the weekend’s proceedings, going with box score contributors after moving up to take Vera-Tucker. Undrafted yields like New Mexico’s Teton Saltes could make some headway but some veteran finds would turn the pressure up on an offensive line that’s set to retain three starting members from a unit that ranked 29th in Pro Football Focus’ annual offensive line standings.

It’s a hole the Jets have slightly dug themselves into, curiously opting to add veteran depth options (like Dan Feeney and Corey Levin) before the draft rather than after it as other elite talents came and went. Many of the names left on the free agent front are up there in age but can serve as stopgaps or provide some extra training camp heat. Former Green Bay Packer Rick Wagner could work on the right side while the Jets solve their center woes by putting Connor McGovern up against another veteran like Joe Looney this summer until they can find a more permanent solution for Wilson. Center was among the biggest problems during the Sam Darnold era, so any form of consistency they can with the newcomer, even if it’s only temporary, can start steering this ship in the right direction.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Adam Gase “looking for volunteers” on defense

New York Jets, Adam Gase

As the season nears its merciful end, Adam Gase and the New York Jets are running out of defenders due to injury.

In an ironically cruel sense of timing, Adam Gase and the New York Jets are in desperate need of help in the secondary as a matchup with Jamal Adams looms.

Gase had a dire outlook on his secondary’s injury situation, as he began his Friday statements by declaring that safeties Ashtyn Davis (foot) and Bennett Jackson (hamstring) will miss Sunday’s visit to Seattle (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS). Further ailments on the offensive line, including Greg Van Roten (toe) and injured-reserve listee Alex Lewis (non-football), had Gase joking that he was “looking for volunteers” to finish out the season.

“We have a plan as far as if we had anybody go down, we cross-trained multiple guys,” Gase said, per notes from the Jets. When it comes to the defense, Gase said “We do have two guys that have had some experience playing back there that are ready to go if we have any kind of injury.”

Marcus Maye and Matthias Farley are the only current safeties on the roster with NFL experience. Former Giants draft pick Corey Ballentine has mostly worked on special teams, while practice squad reps Saquan Hampton (a Rutgers alum) and Zane Davis could also be considered. First-year defender Elijah Campbell has also been called up to the active roster. Offensively, rookie draft pick Cameron Clark could take over for Van Roten, who has partaken in 93 percent of New York’s offensive snaps this season.

It sets up quite a conundrum for the Jets (0-12), who will be playing the first of four games under interim defensive coordinator Frank Bush on Sunday. Bush, formerly the team’s inside linebackers coach, is taking over for the ousted Gregg Williams, who was let go after a questionable defensive play call at the end of their latest loss, a 31-28 decision at the hands of the Las Vegas Raiders last weekend.

“These kids have always been resilient,” Bush said of his unit this week, per Jets notes. “One of the most unique things about our players is that, when they hit the field, they hit the field running. They come out with the right intent. The attitudes have always been good. I’m yet to see one day when they come out with a bad attitude and we have to push them to go. We just have to make sure they’re going in the right direction.”

Bush and his group did receive a bit of good news as they go into a dangerous matchup with a Seattle offense boasting the talents of Russell Wilson and DK Metcalf: Gase announced on Friday that he expects Bless Austin to return to the lineup alongside rookie Bryce Hall. Austin, another former Scarlet Knight from Piscataway, has struggled to gain momentum after a strong rookie season after spending time on injured reserve with a neck injury. He was activated this week alongside tight end and fellow sophomore Trevon Wesco. Lamar Jackson will serve as a reserve, should Austin make his start as anticipated.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags