Three reasons why the New York Jets can make the playoffs

new york jets, zach wilson

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.

Should the New York Jets look into WR N’Keal Harry?

n'keal harry, jets, patriots

Would the embattled first-round pick from New England fit into the New York Jets’ receiver evolution? ESM investigates.

Could an enemy of the New York Jets’ greatest enemy become their friend?

Wide receiver N’Keal Harry entered the NFL with a fair amount of hype as a 2019 first-round pick (32nd overall) of the New England Patriots. Fresh off three dominant seasons at Arizona State, the 6-foot-4 Harry was set to pick up where the (temporarily) retired Rob Gronkowski left off, serving as a big downfield target for Tom Brady. Alas, injuries ate away at his rookie season and he struggled to find a role in the post-Brady era.

Through two seasons, Harry has tallied 414 yards on 45 receptions, the latter tally being worst amongst first-round skill players. Those are tough numbers for the final pick of the 2019 first round, chosen before second-round standouts like A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf.

It appears that Harry is looking to hit the reset button before his third season gets underway. His agent Jamal Tooson released a statement detailing their desires for a trade.

“Through two seasons, he has 86 targets, which obviously hasn’t met the expectations the Patriots and N’Keal had when they drafted a dominant downfield threat who was virtually unstoppable at the point of attack in college,” Tooson’s statement, released on Tuesday, reads in part, per ESPN. “Following numerous conversations with the Patriots, I believe it’s time for a fresh start and best for both parties if N’Keal moves on before the start of training camp. That is why I have informed the Patriots today I am formally requesting a trade on behalf of my client.”

With Harry on the block, should the New York Jets inquire? ESM investigates…

The Case For Harry

What Harry could use right now is a stable situation where there’s relatively little to lose.

A change of scenery to such a locale helped fellow first-round receiver Sammy Watkins (Buffalo, 2014) reclaim the narrative on his NFL career. Watkins was in a bit of a different situation, as injuries derailed his career in Orchard Park. After a tough third season marred by injury, Watkins was shipped to the Los Angeles Rams and later caught on with the Kansas City Chiefs. Through those destinations, Watkins rediscovered his spark as a supporting piece on a contender. By the 2019-20 postseason, he was a vital contributor to a Super Bowl run. He recently earned himself a new contract in Baltimore (one-year, $6 million)

Alas for fans of green New York football, their “nothing to lose” situation stems from no one expecting anything out of them as they prepare to write the next chapter of their rebuild anthology. But they provide what Harry appears to be looking for: opportunities and relative peace.

The Jets’ offensive revolution this offseason yielded receiving building blocks of both the rookie (Elijah Moore) and veteran (Corey Davis, Keelan Cole) variety. While, on paper, Zach Wilson has a better arsenal to work with than anything granted to Sam Darnold, there is no clear-cut No. 1 receiver in this group yet. Adding Harry, a receiver with something to prove, could intensify an already-firey and potentially high-octane receiver situation in New York.

Additionally, the Jets have some day three draft pieces to work around if they were to inquire about Harry. A deal for the receiver likely wouldn’t cost, say, the 2022 second-rounder gleaned from the Darnold deal with Carolina. The Jets currently own three picks in the next spring’s sixth round, the extra pair stemming from trades of Steve McLendon (from Tampa Bay) and Jordan Willis (San Francisco).

The Case Against Harry

An arsenal of receivers with something to prove sounds delightful in a relative gap year. No one expects the Jets to do much in 2021, but the year can serve as an explosive coming attraction for what’s on the horizon for the Wilson/Robert Saleh era. Davis, Moore, Cole, as well as returnees Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims, have a chance to prove their mettle as top targets.

At what point, however, does one have too much of a good, yet uncertain, thing?

The Jets did a solid job of avoiding co-authorship on redemption stories this offseason. Attempting to ghostwrite such a tome was one (of many) reasons the Le’Veon Bell gambit didn’t work out. Sure, they brought in some potential comeback stories…such as former San Francisco rusher Tevin Coleman…but those are ones they can not only afford (Coleman’s deal is a $2 million single season) but can stage with relatively little fanfare.

The Jets have enough things to worry about as they get to work in trying to snap a playoff drought that’s by far the longest in pro football. Adding a rare Bill Belichick washout just adds unwanted attention to what they’re trying to build.

The Verdict

Trades between the Jets and Patriots are rare, but there is precedent…the recently retired Demaryius Thomas began the final stages of his NFL journey through a 2019 deal and the teams swapped picks during the 2020 proceedings. Those picks have thus far netted James Morgan, Cameron Clark, and current rookie Hamsah Nasirildeen.

That alone should probably scare the Jets off in terms of bartering with New England. But even if you’re not superstitious, the Jets’ receiver room is fine as it is. Sure, if Harry emerged as a superstar in New York…succeeding where the almighty Belichick failed…it’d be fun to leave that lingering over the heads of Patriots fans. But, unlike Jerry Seinfeld, the Jets aren’t in any position to make moves out of spite.

If the Jets were in a further position of need when it came to receiver…i.e. the early stage of last season when Braxton Berrios and Jeff Smith were their top targets…it would’ve been understandable for them to rise to the occasion and send a pick or two over before Harry potentially hit the free agent market after final training camp cuts. But, frankly, Harry isn’t the Patriot they should have their eyes on. If anything, the team would be better served to try and land one of the New England backups (preferably Brian Hoyer) to serve as Wilson’s understudy and/or mentor.

Harry should find some takers, but it doesn’t make sense for the Jets to expedite the process right now.

Verdict: Pass

Should the Jets keep an eye on Harry? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets receivers will surprise everyone in 2021

The New York Jets completely revamped their offense for the upcoming season. Rookie Michael Carter and veteran Tevin Coleman joined a running back group that will surely be by-committee. As for the passing game, that’s where it gets really, really fun.

Obviously, the team drafted BYU product Zach Wilson to be their quarterback of the future. However, he can’t throw the ball to himself. The receiving group the Jets built around Wilson is truly one to be excited about.

Well, for some people it is.

Pro Football Focus seems to feel differently. They ranked receiving groups for the upcoming season, keeping every addition and subtraction in mind for each group. The Jets landed at number 28. I may be biased, but that just doesn’t seem right.

Mark my words: the New York Jets receivers will surprise everyone in 2021.

The upgraded group starts with new addition Corey Davis, the former fifth overall pick and four-year vet from Tenessee. After an underwhelming first three seasons, Davis had an underrated 2020 season. Although missing two games, he posted career-highs in yards (984) and touchdowns (5) and tied his career-high in receptions (65).

According to PFF, he also posted a career-high grade of 86.9, along with his career-highs in recorded stats. Davis is a guy who does most of his damage in the intermediate level of the passing game, but can cause serious problems for defenses after the catch as well. The clear-cut number-one receiver is a big addition to this exciting, young offense and may very well make the Titans regret letting him leave.

Second-year wideout Denzel Mims has the ability to be a future number-one target, but he should be the number-two if things go as hoped. Personally, I have very high hopes for Mims. At 6-foot-3, 207 pounds, he is the big, outside target that pretty much every quarterback loves to have.

His ability to go up and win 50/50 balls, along with making guys miss after the catch, is a beautiful combination to see. However, having the ability isn’t enough. He needs to put it together over the course of the season.

Mims did earn a PFF grade of 70.4 last season and averaged 15.5 yards per reception, but only played nine games. If he stays on the field, he should take a big jump forward for the Jets this season.

Next comes Elijah Moore. The rookie has a lot of hype around him already, reportedly “turning heads” within the team. The ever-explosive slot receiver had a great junior season at Ole Miss, totaling 86 receptions for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns in eight games.

Moore earned 2020 All-American and All-SEC First Team selections and the Jets were able to get him in round two of the draft. Being the best slot receiver in the draft, he may end up being a major steal compared to the other receivers drafted. Moore will be more than a regular rookie option. He’ll have a major impact going forward.

Rounding out the top-six receivers on the team are Jamison Crowder, Keelan Cole and Braxton Berrios. Crowder should be competing for slot time with Elijah Moore, and should still be a productive option on offense. If nothing else, he could mentor Moore as well. Berrios, who would probably be most productive as a slot guy as well, will have his work cut out for him to earn meaningful time on the field.

Keelan Cole is a bit of a mystery. Across his first four seasons in the league, he had over 500 yards twice and five touchdowns once. He won’t be one of the top-target options, but he’ll easily provide capable depth for the group.

For a New York Jets team that ranks 29th in receiving grades since 2018, the only place to go is up (for the most part). Even though the group is drastically improved as a whole, the question remains if the young players can improve on the field. They should be expected to and the group should be expected to be good.

The problem is, they aren’t expected to do that, clearly. As a result, the receivers will end up surprising people this upcoming season.

 

How do you think the receiving group will be this season? Let me know and keep the conversation going by tweeting me @brendancarpESM!

Four New York Jets poised to make fantasy football fireworks

jets, michael carter

As fireworks go off across the country, ESM has four New York Jets to keep an eye on for your fantasy drafts next month.

Fantasy football fans know what Independence Day weekend means: they’re one step closer to draft day.

As America celebrates its birthday with, as President John Adams himself predicted, with games and explosives, ESM looks ahead to determined which New York Jets could provide a similar effect and have the biggest impact on your 2021 fantasy prospects…

jets, michael carter

RB Michael Carter

Drafting rookie is always a bit of a gamble, but Carter’s offseason surge makes him an interesting late pick.

Conventional wisdom perhaps suggests that users could take Tevin Coleman if they plan on partaking in the Jets’ rushing antics. After all, Coleman will probably start off as the Jets’ top rusher, if only due to his familiarity with Mike LaFleur’s offense.

But uncertainty lingers around Coleman after an injury-plagued 2021. Some believe that the rookie Carter could earn the primary duties sooner rather than later. His speedy abilities fit in well with what LaFleur is trying to build and he should be especially valuable in PPR leagues (82 receptions over four seasons at North Carolina). Owners may have to be patient, but Carter could emerge as a late-round diamond in the rough. 

New York Giants, Corey Davis
Sep 14, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Tennessee Titans wide receiver Corey Davis (84) in the third quarter against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

WR Corey Davis

The Jets’ offseason splurging on the receivers’ spot produced several developing receivers that could well earn the top duties. Davis was overshadowed by the rise of A.J. Brown in Tennessee, but the stage is set for Davis to emerge as Zach Wilson’s top target. It’s easy to forget that a brief bout with COVID-19 probably kept Davis from emerging with his first four-digit yardage season.

Those who are reluctant of trusting big play receiving duties duties to rookie Elijah Moore would be wise to take a waiver on Davis. But the latter your draft, the better. One may want to see how Davis fares in the preseason after missing some of minicamp with a shoulder ailment.

carl lawson, new york jets

Defense

Per NFL.com’s scoring, Robert Saleh’s 2019 defense in San Francisco ranked third before making their run to the Super Bowl. They were tied for third in defensive scores (5) and fifth in sacks (48). Injuries prevented them from building on that momentum, but there’s plenty to be excited about in the current green group.

Questions can be raised about the Jets’ experience in the secondary, so interceptions may be hard to come by. But the upgrades made to the pass rush could make the Jets’ defense the perfect unit to use as a second option in the early going.

The biggest difference for this group from a fantasy perspective will be Carl Lawson. Some have complained that his Cincinnati sack numbers leave much to be desired, but advanced statistics hint at his impact. According to ESPN’s “sacks created” category, Lawson (10.5) was one of only 11 defender to finish with double figures. In more conventional stats, he finished fourth among EDGE rushers with 64 pressures and set a career-best in quarterback hits (32).

While the advanced stats mean nothing for your fantasy games, the increased pressure could become a windfall for a front-seven that not only welcomes back homegrown breakouts (Quinnen Williams, Foley Fatukasi, John Franklin-Myers) but also welcomed in some talented veteran outsiders (Sheldon Rankins, Jarrad Davis). One should also keep an eye on C.J. Mosley, who is due to return to the field in 2021 after medical absences.

Oct 1, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets kicker Sam Ficken (9) celebrates his field goal with teammates during the first half against the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

K Sam Ficken

We’ve spoken ad nauseam about the Jets’ kicking woes. It seems so small in the long run, but a reliable kicker would prove so beneficial to the development they seek in 2021. Nothing boosts the confidence of a newly minted franchise quarterback like ending possessions with points. A good kicker can obviously help provide such security.

Though the Jets added rookie free agent Chris Naggar to start a camp competition, the tenured Ficken appeared to having things trending in the right direction. He successfully converted each of his first nine field goal attempts, headlined by a perfect performance (5-for-5) in a nationally televised tilt against Denver in October. A groin injury marred the rest of his 2020 season, leading to struggles over three more games after a perfect start in the first five (6-of-9 on extra points, 4-of-6 on triples).

Provided Ficken beats out Naggar and shows no long-term effects from last year’s ailment, he could be an interesting choice for those who opt to wait until the final rounds, or even the initial stages of free agency, to grab a boot. Those who took Miami’s Jason Sanders (36-of-39 FG, including 8-of-9 from at least 50) reaped the benefits of getting opportunities while working with a rookie quarterback.

Which New York Jets will you target next month? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Wide receivers

Not only are the New York Jets’ receivers the most upgraded green groups, but they may also be one of the most improved units in the NFL.

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 season. 

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. Part three centers on the revamped receiving corps…

Dec 27, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Breshad Perriman (19) attempts to catch the ball as Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward (21) defends during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

How It Started

The Jets’ situation at receiver wasn’t exactly the corps’ fault. Rather, the relative state of neglect more or less served as a condemnation of the Mike Maccagnan era, as the reluctance to add blocking put them in such a dire hole in the catching front.

After letting Robby Anderson walk to Carolina with relatively little resistance, the Jets were in dire straights at receiver. In terms of veterans, they elected to use most of their offseason budget on blocking help. While the veteran blocking assistance (George Fant, Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten) was mostly unproven, it filled a hole that desperately needed to be addressed.

But the proposed solutions on the offensive line handicapped the Jets’ options in terms of help at receiver in the post-Anderson era. Granted, the free agent offerings at receiver weren’t exactly lighting up scoreboards…Anderson, frankly, was arguably the best option…but the Jets were forced to rely on consolation prizes in the form of first-round washouts (Breshad Perriman) and antiques from New England (Chris Hogan). They would join 2019 returnees Jamison Crowder and Braxton Berrios on the top of the depth chart.

The receiving negligence was again made apparent on draft day, when the Jets chose to draft a lineman with the 11th overall pick instead of one of the elite first-round catching talents. Sure, Mekhi Becton’s debut soothed the blow of missing out on Justin Jefferson, Henry Ruggs, CeeDee Lamb, and Jerry Jeudy, but that was of little consolation to the Sam Darnold era. Day two of the virtual draft offered another consolation prize, as Baylor-based big-play threat Denzel Mims fell to the 58th overall selection. However, Mims spent most of his first Florham Park summer on the injured list, though he was able to flash some late potential. Despite partaking in only nine games, Mims was 15th amongst rookies in receiving yards (357) and the seventh-ranked freshman catcher (min. 20 receptions) in average gain (15.5).

New York Giants, Corey Davis
Sep 14, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Tennessee Titans wide receiver Corey Davis (84) in the third quarter against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

How It’s Going

No matter if Darnold came back or if the Jets opted to start a new franchise quarterback era, the Jets were going to make sure their primary passer had a strong posse.

Blessed with a cap space surplus, the Jets wasted no time in upgrading their receiving corps. It was understandable that they’d miss out on the big-name targets. Opting out of the Julio Jones sweepstakes was for the best and it was going to be hard to lure top guys like JuJu Smith-Schuster to an ongoing rebuild. While the Jets emerged from the offseason without a true No. 1 target, they have several players who have established potential to fill that role.

The additions were headlined by the arrival of Corey Davis, a key contributor in the Tennessee Titans’ recent playoff runs. While he lost top receiver duties to A.J. Brown, Davis is coming off a career-best season (984 yards on 65 receptions, five of which went for touchdowns), one that could’ve ended in quadruple digits in yardage had he not dealt with placement on the COVID-19 list. Davis also knows how to perform in the postseason, or at least on a winning team, an uncannily common theme in the Jets’ free agents signings (Tevin Coleman, Sheldon Rankins, the recently reportedly signed Morgan Moses). The same goes for Keelan Cole, a slot option that earned over 2,000 yards over the last four seasons despite constant quarterback turnover in Jacksonville.

In the draft, the Jets were once again blessed with a big-play receiving talent landing in their grasp. The team had a first-round grade on Ole Miss catcher Elijah Moore and was overjoyed when he fell to the 34th overall choice. He’s now on pace to top the depth chart after the strong minicamp showing.

“His work ethic is off the charts,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh said in a report from Dennis Waszak Jr. of the Associated Press. “His mindset is off the charts. We’re excited to continue working with him so we can see him get better…He’s a dynamic young man.”

While Perriman opted to follow his father’s footsteps in Detroit and Hogan traded in his receiving gloves for a lacrosse stick, the Jets do welcome back both Crowder and Mims to their proceedings. Medical misfortune has befallen Mims once again…a non-COVID illness kept him out of minicamp…but the Jets maintain high hopes for him.

“He’s eager, he’s a really cool dude to work with,” offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said of Mims in a report from Max Goodman of SI.com. “But he’s just gonna have to get out there. And again, it’s just going to be reps and just going and understanding the speed of the game.”

The Crowder situation was even more interesting. A reliable slot prescience, Crowder was, by far, the most potent and consistent weapon of the two-year Adam Gase era. That, however, probably says more about the futility of the Gase era than it does about Crowder. With the Jets due about $10 million in cap space upon Crowder’s removal, dishing him off to a contender would’ve made sense, but the team instead opted to rework the last year of a three-year deal inked in 2019. Crowder’s now getting about $5 million guaranteed as opposed to $10 million with no assurances.

Jamison Crowder, New York Jets

Are They Better Off?

Not only is the receiving group the most improved unit on the Jets, but it may also be one of the most improved units in the whole NFL.

Time and time again, especially in this era of prioritized offense, we’re told that a receiver is only as good as his quarterback. It’s hard to argue that when you wonder what Larry Fitzgerald’s numbers could’ve been if not for the Arizona quarterback carousel from the football underworld after Kurt Warner’s retirement.

But the right offensive arsenal can do wonders for an incoming quarterback, especially a rookie quarterback preparing to take his first NFL snaps. What the Jets have assembled for Zach Wilson is, on paper, better than anything Darnold ever had to work with. There’s no clear-cut No. 1 man on the current depth chart. Even the touted Moore shouldn’t be crowned before putting on his game jersey. The way this season appears to be shaping out, however, the receiving situation couldn’t be better.

Even though the Jets got a lot better as a team this offseason…if only because there wasn’t much further to plummet after last year…making the playoffs is still going to be a lot to ask for. This receiving corps is perfect in a season of development. It’s more or less a 17-game audition to hold a major role in the potential good days ahead. This time around, those auditioning actually have sizable resumes to display.

Final Offseason Grade: A

How important was it for the Jets to upgrade their receiving corps? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Returning New York Jets receivers in an interesting spot

The makeover on the New York Jets’ receiving depth chart has left some of their incumbents in a slightly compromising position.

 

The New York Jets’ offseason renovations to their wide receiver depth chart were so transformative and aesthetically pleasing, the powers that be at HGTV probably took notice.

This time last year, the Jets’ more optimistic hopes at receiver included a first-round washout seeking to extend his career (Breshad Perriman) and an artifact from the New England antique shop that’s now playing lacrosse (Chris Hogan). That island of misfit toys didn’t even have the benefit of a minicamp or preseason to build chemistry and the absence was quite apparent once the season began.

Jets management spent the ensuing offseason restocking the arsenal in preparation for a new franchise quarterback’s arrival. Through their offensive splurging, New York has created a group that has the aura of a happy medium: not quite reminiscent of the Don Maynard/George Sauer days but certainly an upgrade over last season. Former Tennessee Titan Corey Davis is projected to be the top catcher while first-round talent Elijah Moore fell into the Jets’ lap in the early stages of round two last April. Davis’ fellow AFC South transfer Keelan Cole is likewise hopping on board.

While there’s no “established” No. 1 receiver in this group…though one could argue Davis is fairly close…the group is stacked with potential and is part of by far the most potent offensive attack they’ve had in recent memory.

The hype of the newcomers has cast a slight pall on the rest of the depth chart: what happens to the leftovers of the Adam Gase era?

As the Jets carry on with minicamp practices in Florham Park, six receivers linger from the 2020 season. The status of two may be well accounted for: Crowder has one more year on his (renegotiated) contract and the Jets have some decent hopes for 2020 second-round choice Denzel Mims, who gets another de facto rookie year after working through injuries in the last.

The outliers are all Joe Douglas signings that are now facing an uphill battle to make the roster of a team that might have some expectations attached to it. Last season’s calamities didn’t exactly give them a chance to showcase their talents. Mismanagement from a beleaguered coaching staff in over its head and injuries/medical protocols didn’t exactly give them a chance to make a case to stay for the potential glory days ahead. This week’s minicamp and the rest of the summer schedule will provide fateful opportunities to extend their NFL careers.

At the forefront of the list are Braxton Berrios and Vyncint Smith, the most experienced catchers amongst the retained. Berrios was the only listed receiver who partook in all 16 games last season, setting career-bests with 394 yards on 37 receptions. The former Patriot also served as the Jets’ primary return man, sharing kickoff duties with in-season acquisition Corey Ballentine.

While the Florham Park focus during minicamp and organized team activities have centered on newcomers like Moore and Zach Wilson, Berrios managed to stand out during the proceedings, developing an early rapport with Wilson. The Miami alum even managed to go somewhat viral when raced off to a touchdown to the tune of a farewell head nod to cornerback Jason Pinnock.

“Brax is smart guy, I think that’s one of his best attributes,” Wilson said of Berrios, per DJ Bien-Aime of the New York Daily News. “He’s a slippery player he gets in there he runs some great routes.”

Berrios has become a bit of the prototypical journeyman receiver, one that shined a team that had nothing to lose. In the midst of the Jets’ woebegone 2020, Berrios established himself as a reliable option on the screen and on the jet sweep (29 yards on a trio of rushing attempts, building on a dual-threat potential originally showcased with the Hurricanes). He also handled the primary slot duties when the top weapon, Crowder, was medically sidelined.

Back in January, before the Jets loaded up on receiving help, Berrios explained to team reporter Ethan Greenberg his ambitious desire to become a “Swiss Army Knife” in the ongoing attempt to keep his New York career rolling.

“At the end of the day, my role is to flourish wherever I’m playing,” Berrios said. “I took over in that slot position and tried to do what I could to put our team in the best position to win. When he came back, obviously that was diminished because he’s the starting slot receiver. That took reps off my count, but I tried to get in where I fit in. I would do anything. I started coming out of the backfield a lot more.”

Berrios has also held down the special teams fort as the Jets try to get over the loss of Pro Bowler Andre Roberts. In 2019, he was one of two returners to average over 10 yards on punts (the other being Diontae Johnson in Pittsburgh).

Elsewhere on the Jets’ depth chart is the case of Smith, another relatively long-tenured Jet as he enters his third year with the team. The former Houston Texan was one of the earliest signings of the offseason, rejoining on a new contract back in March. Injury issues limited to seven games and prevented him from building on career-best numbers from 2019 (225 yards on 17 receptions and a 19-yard rushing touchdown).

Smith’s misfortune opened up the opportunity for Berrios but the quick reunion (one year, $1 million contract) shows that the Jets were at least impressed enough to give him a chance to earn his roster spot back. He got off to a tough start in minicamp (a dropped ball led to a Wilson interception, per Connor Hughes of The Athletic) but later recovered with a deep diving grab from James Morgan.

The rest of the returnees are a group of speedy, unique talents who will be interesting to view through a new regime and aided with the benefit of three summer exhibitions this time around. Former college quarterback Jeff Smith earned a solid look last season with 167 receptions on 17 receptions. The prior coaching staff had high hopes for undrafted free agent Lawrence Cager, a touchdown specialist and Berrios’ fellow former Hurricane who was denied a true opportunity due to injuries, a trend that unfortunately continued during OTAs. Other comebackers include Josh Malone and DJ Montgomery.

Temptation is there to eliminate any past reminder of the past two seasons, campaigns that yielded a combined nine wins and untold amounts of offensive horror. But diamonds in the roughest of football roughs could help the Jets navigate this new terrain and help get the tenure of a new guard rife with offensive hope off to a good start.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Three lessons the New York Jets can learn from their Islander friends

The New York Jets have been staples of the Islanders’ postseason tour on Long Island. Perhaps they can learn a thing or two along the way.

In following the New York Islanders’ run to the Stanley Cup Final, the New York Jets have traded in green and white for blue and orange. They’ve engaged in (Bud) light debauchery and have gone viral in the process as the Islanders are halfway through their quest for a fifth Stanley Cup hoist.

The next step of the journey begins on Sunday afternoon when the Islanders battle the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena (3 p.m. ET, NBC). Nassau Coliseum will host the third, fourth, and (if necessary) sixth games of the series, and it’s very likely that members of the Jets will attempt to take their usual seats for those contests. 

Is it possible that, in their fun, they might actually learn a thing or two along the way?

Class is in session, courtesy of ESM…

Have Depth Stars

On Long Island: Save for Mathew Barzal (appearances in the last two exhibitions), the Islanders are not a team of perennial All-Stars. John Tavares’ absconding for Toronto was supposed to be their downfall, but they’ve responded with playoff series victories in three consecutive seasons while the Maple Leafs have been relegated to opening round exits.

The Islanders are a team that has gotten by with a group of gritty, skilled players whose union has worked wonders. Nothing showcases their depth and consistency better than the grouping of Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin, a trio of bottom-six forward staples since 2014. Nicknamed the “Identity Line”, NYI head coach Barry Trotz says that the group sets the tone for what they’re trying to accomplish on the ice.

“They give you impact. When they are playing the right way, they give you a little of that bite that you want,” Trotz said after a dominant January 2019 over Tampa, per Cory Wright of NewYorkIslanders.com. “They give you sort of that determination and speed on the puck and sort of an Islander identity. If there’s a line that’s sort of an identity line, well that’s the best way to describe them better than a fourth line because they give us an identity.”

In Florham Park: The Jets tried to go the big-spending route over the last few seasons, but marquee signings have not panned out. Right now, they’re actively paying Le’Veon Bell and Trumaine Johnson to keep their distance, for example.

Blessed with one of the highest offseason budgets in the NFL, it would’ve been easy for the Jets to fall to temptation and spend big money on a blockbuster talent (i.e. J.J. Watt). But once it became clear that the big names wanted to move on to contenders, the Jets bolstered their depth so more parts of the depth chart provide production and security.

This offseason has still seen some big contracts bestowed…Carl Lawson and Corey Davis are a combined $26 million cap hit…but many others signings have been about providing depth. They’re not the flashiest arrivals by any stretch, not the type of names that one can put on a parking lot light pole’s banner, but they’re the type of depth options the Jets needed at this point in time.

Jarrad Davis is a redemption-seeking first-round pick whose success in the 4-3 sets of the Florida Gators could come up big. At receiver, Davis is one of several names with the potential to become a No. 1 target. Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder return from last year’s team, while Elijah Moore was drafted in the second round. Uncertainty lingers at tight end and in the secondary, but the Jets’ thriftiness could pay big dividends, as undrafted free agents Kenny Yeboah and Isaiah Dunn could come up big.

Make Sure Special Teams are Special

On Long Island: Since Trotz took over in 2018, the Islanders have improved by leaps and bounds in almost every major statistical category with the exception of their power play. New York ranked 20th in the final regulars season rankings with a man advantage, though they were the only team in the NHL that did not allow any shorthanded goals.

The Islanders, however, rose to the occasion on the penalty kill, coming home sixth in the category over the regular season. Doing it in the postseason has been a work in progress…they’ve killed off only 61.5 percent of their infractions…but the power play came to life in spectacular fashion in Monday’s Game 5 showdown in Boston. Facing a Bruins squad that led the league with an 86 percent kill rate during the regular season, the Islanders scored three power play goals that forever changed the course of the series. Barzal scored on a chance in the first period, while Kyle Palmieri and Jordan Eberle earned extra-man tallies in the second.

The power play success not only provided the difference in the goal category but more or less shifted the entire course of the game. Taking advantage of the opportunities allowed the Islanders to not only withstand a late Boston rush, but they were able to earn a momentum-shifting victory on a night where they were outshot 44-19.

In Florham Park: There’s major hope for the Jets entering the 2021 season, even if reaching the playoff is still a tall task for the time being. But there’s no doubt that they’re still developing, still a work in progress, particularly on an offensive end that’s debuting a new quarterback and receiving corps. Thus, special teams must be addressed.

Confidence for a developing offense can be built by getting points on as many drives that end in opposing territory as possible. That comes through reliable field goal kicking, an area where the Jets have fallen woefully short since Jason Myers left for Seattle. Chris Naggar has been brought in to compete with incumbent Sam Ficken for that role. General manager Joe Douglas has shown that he’s not afraid to use valuable assets to address special teams. He used the last pick of his first draft to pick up punter Braden Mann and has tried to fill in the Jets’ Andre Roberts-sized void at returned through additions in the 2021 draft (i.e. Michael Carter).

Perhaps the most telling sign of Jets management’s willingness to bolster the special unit came through the retaining of coordinator Brant Boyer, who has now survived the purges of both Todd Bowles and Adam Gase’s doomed staffs.

It All Starts at the Head

On Long Island: Again, no one expected the Islanders to be in his position three years ago. This, after all, was a team that just lost the face of its franchise, perhaps the one thing it had going for it since the immortal early 1980s.

The hire of Trotz in 2018, however, may go down as one of the most fateful moves in franchise history.

Trotz had already developed a reputation as a strong nurterer of young talent and helping woebegone franchises find their path. He put the Nashville Predators on the NHL map as the franchise’s original head coach (serving 16 seasons at the helm after their 1998 inception). He then moved on to Washington, where he helped the Capitals removed the playoff monkey from their backs. Only under Trotz has Alex Ovechkin been able to reach hockey Nirvana in the Stanley Cup Final.

Once Trotz was voted out of Capitol Hill due to a contract dispute, the Islanders pounced and have been reaping in the benefits ever since. Under Trotz, the Islanders have won playoff rounds in three consecutive seasons for the first time since their quartet of Cup hoists (1980-83). Trotz’s status as a players’ coach that is nonetheless willing to hold his guys accountable has been a delightful contrast to the recent slew of also-rans. Doug Weight’s animated style, for example, was refreshing when he first took the reins but it quickly ran its course.

Trotz credits his success to looking at his status as a head coach as not a position of superiority, but one that leads to a partnership with his players.

“I look at coaching, my time, as I’m in a partnership with the players,” Trotz told Mollie Walker of the New York Post in March. “We’re in a partnership to win hockey games. The other partnership is to make you the best version of yourself, whatever that version is.”

In Florham Park: There’s no doubt that, despite the nine-win ledger, that the Jets had some talent on their roster over the last two seasons, better known as the Adam Gase era. Look no further than the names the Jets gave up on before him: Robby Anderson, Avery Williamson, Le’Veon Bell, and Steve McLendon accounted for only part of the list. But help has arrived in the form of Robert Saleh,  whose hiring has been universally praised.

The difference between the arrivals of Saleh and Gase are best contrasted by player reaction to the news. While Gase’s landing was met with mostly indifference…and whatever honeymoon there was quickly ended when he won a power struggle against Mike Maccagnan…Saleh’s arrival has been praised by players both domestically and abroad. It’s created an energy field in Florham Park not seen since, arguably, the Rex Ryan days.

“You have to give him an unusual amount of credit, and I don’t think he’s getting enough credit not only here but in the league, in general,” former Saleh pupil Richard Sherman said of his potential as a head coach in December, per the Associated Press. “He’s able to rally men. He’s a leader of men and that goes a long way.”

As the Gase era showcased all too well, talent means nothing when the right man isn’t in charge. Though vital downs have yet to be played, it’s safe to say the Jets feel that they have found the perfect curator and developer in Saleh.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Three reasons why the New York Jets will be fine without Julio Jones

New York Giants, Julio Jones

Some were disappointed that the New York Jets removed themselves from the Jones sweepstakes, but adding the former Falcon wasn’t their fight.

Julio Jones will sing a new tune in the Music City. The accoladed receiver has shed his Atlanta Falcon wings and has moved on to Tennessee, where he joins a Titans squad already blessed with the offensive talents of Derrick Henry and AJ Brown. Thus ends a saga that ignited with a fateful phone call on live television by Fox Sports’ Shannon Sharpe.

In the aftermath, the eventual price for Jones has been hotly debated. Tennessee sent over two mid-round picks, one each over the next two drafts, the highest being a second-round choice in next year’s selections. It seems like a relatively low charge for one of the most accomplished receivers in recent NFL memory, one that gains some context when a hamstring injury suffered last season is taken into account.

Still, as Jones prepared to don Titans blue, fans of the 31 outliers are left with the lingering inquiry of “what if?” and “why not”?

At first glance, many New York Jets fans have every right to ask those questions. After all, if that was all it took for Jones to leave his Atlanta-based nest, the Jets could’ve spared the necessary parts to bring him in. They have an extra pick in both the first and second rounds of next year’s draft stemming from the Jamal Adams and Sam Darnold departures. One could even argue that adding Jamison Crowder (and getting back over $10 million in cap space with Jones) to the mix might’ve sweetened the deal.

But the Jets are more than capable of surviving the lack of Jones in their lives, as consolation lies all around them…

The Jones Privilege

Adding Jones has given the Titans the dreaded title of “offseason champions”, as amateurs and experts alike will probably list them as their Super Bowl champions. They likely inherit the title from the Arizona Cardinals, who were burdened with expectations after acquiring DeAndre Hopkins in a one-sided trade with Houston. Arizona began the year 6-3 but dropped five of their final seven in missing out on the playoff entirely.

Time will tell exactly how Tennessee handles the pressure, but it’s hard to be too cynical about their chances, at least on paper. The Titans are, after all, only two years removed from an appearance in the AFC title game and are coming off their first division title since 2008. They’re tied for the seventh-best record in the NFL over the last two seasons. During his unscheduled on-air conversation with Sharpe, Jones insisted he wanted to be dealt to a contender, ruling out Undisputed co-host Skip Bayless’ Dallas Cowboys…and, by process of elimination, the Jets.

Acquiring Jones is a first-world problem of sorts, a privilege bestowed to those who are the proverbial “one move away” from the Super Bowl. The Jets are a few moves away from merely fighting for a wild-card berth, never mind The Big Game. Even if they undoubtedly got better this offseason…if only because there was nowhere to go but up after the Adam Gase era…emerging from a crowded AFC pool packed to the brim with established contenders seems like a tall ask. There’s thus no use in taking the uncertainties of post-injury Jones, who turned 32 in February, not to mention the financial obligations that come with it (over a $63 million cap hit over the next three seasons).

No Co-Authorship

One of the primary focuses of this New York offseason has been establishing a new identity, leaving a signature on a new exhibit. Through the hiring of new head coach Robert Saleh, the Jets have managed to do that. The former San Francisco defensive coordinator’s mantra of “all gas, no brake” has already been quoted ad nauseam by Jets fans and Saleh’s entry has been complemented by the arrival of several touted entries who are looking to take the next steps in their respective careers (i.e. Zach Wilson, Corey Davis, and Sheldon Rankins, all of who were chosen in the first round of their respective drafts).

But if one brings Jones into the conversation, suddenly a new identity emerges. Through no fault of Jones, this latest, most hopeful iteration of the Jets’ rebuild gets boiled down to the “Julio Jones Era” and would’ve rendered a great deal of offseason work meaningless.

There’s no doubt that Jones is fully capable of responding to this challenge and will seek to silence any doubters, particularly his former employers that thought he was “only” worth a second-round choice at best. But the Jets are seeking to scribe their own NFL story and identity, as well as write a comeback story that’s a decade in the making. They don’t have the time or resources to worry about ghostwriting someone else’s.

Good Reception

Obviously, in a perfect world, the Jets snag Jones, and he, at the very least, provides some entertainment during another year of rebuilding where progress won’t always show up on the scoreboard.

But if this year is truly the latest stanza of a seemingly eternal rebuild, the Jets must do what they failed to work during last year’s nightmare: take advantage of a bittersweet and gift and turn things into a year of development.

Simply put, anyone who’s watched a minute of NFL football over the last decade knows what Jones is capable of. If this hamstring issue is the first step of the twilight of his career, it’s better for that discovery to be made on a contender rather than a team in desperate need of answers. Once it became clear that the Jets weren’t going to do anything in 2020, Gase and Co. had a prime opportunity to audition a rushing triumvirate of La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, and Josh Adams. They instead decided to give Frank Gore a retirement tour, creating questions about the run game that lingered into the offseason.

The Jets have a group of receivers that, while talented, have yet to show they can handle the duties and burdens that comes with the status of a top target. Corey Davis worked behind Brown in Tennessee. Crowder has been a reliable slot option. There are high hopes for second-round brothers Elijah Moore and Denzel Mims. The receiving depth chart is packed to the brim with potential, but the Jets need more proven certainty to truly contend in the modern league. Rather than going with an option like Jones, who isn’t going to immediately shift the team’s fortunes in a lucrative direction, the Jets should instead focus on developing the attractive alternatives that are already in tow.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets announce new batch of jersey numbers

The New York Jets’ draft and free agency classes all received their metropolitan numerals for the 2021 season.

The New York Jets’ free agency and draft classes received their official numbers for their first seasons in green on Monday. ESM looks at what the newcomers will be rocking once the season gets underway…

No. 23 Tevin Coleman

Coleman wore 26 in prior stops in Atlanta and San Francisco, but it’s probably best for the Jets to avoid rushers wearing No. 26 for a while after the Le’Veon Bell debacle.

Notable No. 23’s in Jets History: RB Shonn Greene, DB Shafer Suggs

No. 25 Brandin Echols

Echols, a sixth-round pick appears to be sharing No. 25 with rusher Ty Johnson, as the 26 he wore at Kentucky is taken by fellow defensive back Elijah Campbell.

Notable No. 25’s in Jets History: S Kerry Rhodes, RB Scott Dierking, S Calvin Pryor

No. 29 Lamarcus Joyner

Joyner will be wearing a number previously borne by fan-favorite rusher and returner Leon Washington, who’s now on the Jets’ coaching staff.

Notable No. 29’s in Jets History: WR Bake Turner, RB Bilal Powell, RB Adrian Murrell, RB Leon Washington, DB Donnie Abraham

No. 30 Michael Carter II

Another former bearer of 26, Carter takes over the 30 worn by Bradley McDougald last season. He’ll also have the Roman numeral “II” on the back of his jersey to separate himself from the offensive Michael Carter.

Notable No. 30’s in Jets History: RB Brad Baxter, DB LaRon Landry

No. 32 Michael Carter 

Running backs are allowed to wear single digits under the NFL’s new uniform mandates, but Carter opted to multiply it four. He follows in the footsteps of Super Bowl champion and green rusher Emerson Boozer.

Notable No. 32’s in Jets History: RB Emerson Boozer, RB Blair Thomas, RB Leon Johnson

No. 34 Justin Hardee

It’s a tough break for anyone who hoped the Jets would bring back Brian Poole, but the special teams standout Hardee will keep the number he had during his prior endeavors in New Orleans.

Notable No. 34’s in Jets History: RB Johnny Hector, RB LaMont Jordan

No. 41 Jason Pinnock

Pinnock’s No. 15 from Pittsburgh has been taken over by someone he’ll presumably cover come training camp, receiver Lawrence Cager. His new digits were worn by Matthias Farley last season and best known from a Jets standpoint as the numbers Matt Snell wore in the Super Bowl III triumph.

Notable No. 41’s in Jets History: RB Matt Snell, S Buster Skrine

No. 43 Del’Shawn Phillips 

Phillips wore No. 46 in his first season in Buffalo but moved on to 43 last season. He’ll apparently stick with those numerals as he moves on to another New York football journey.

Notable No. 43’s in Jets History: DB Michael Brim

No. 44 Jamien Sherwood 

With 44 last worn by the New England-bound Harvey Lagni, the defensive back-turned-linebacker Sherwood takes a traditional number as opposed to the single digits now available.

Notable No. 44’s in Jets History: RB John Riggins

No. 45 Hamsah Nasirildeen

Another converted secondary member who made the move to linebacker, Nasirildeen also makes the move to 45, as the 23 he wore at Florida State was taken by Coleman.

Notable No. 45’s in Jets History: DB Earlie Thomas, CB Otis Smith

No. 52 Jarrad Davis

The new Jets’ linebacker’s number from Detroit and his college days in Florida (40) is now worn by Javelin Guidry, but there’s a strong group of both linebackers and lineman that have previously repped his new digits.

Notable No. 52’s in Jets History: LB David Harris, C John Schmitt, C Mike Hudock, LB Pepper Johson 

No. 58 Carl Lawson

Lawson may be changing from tiger stripes to green and black, but he’ll be wearing a familiar number leftover from his Cincinnati days. 

Notable No. 58’s in Jets History: LB James Farrior

No. 65 Corey Levin

Levin is one of the newcomers on the Jets. If/when he takes the field in an NFL regular-season game for the first time since 2018, it’ll be in a different number, as he wore 62 during his time in Tennessee.

Notable No. 65’s in Jets History: OL Joe Fields, G Brandon Moore

No. 67 Dan Feeney

Undrafted rookie Teton Saltes has Feeny’s No. 66 from his days as a Charger, so he moved one up, perhaps indirectly emulating some other notable veteran blockers in Jets history.

Notable No. 67’s in Jets History: OL Dave Herman, T Kareem McKenzie, OL Damien Woody

No. 81 Tyler Kroft

In his return to New Jersey football, Kroft won’t have the No. 86 he wore at Rutgers (his Piscataway number now on fellow tight end Ryan Griffin) but he retains the number he’s worn in his first two NFL stops (Cincinnati and Buffalo) and it’s a number that has made a New York impact on both sides of the ball.

Notable No. 81’s in Jets History: DE Gerry Philbin, TE Dustin Keller

No. 84 Corey Davis

Davis will keep the number he wore at both Western Michigan and Tennessee. That’s rather appropriate, as the most famous wearer of 84 in his new team’s history is in fact a New York Titan.

Notable No. 84’s in Jets History: WR Art Powell

No. 88 Keelan Cole

With Davis taking over the No. 84, Cole’s moves four digits up to 88, emulating some of the more productive receivers in New York history.

Notable No. 88’s in Jets History: WR Al Toon, TE Rich Caster, TE Anthony Becht

No. 96 Jonathan Marshall

Henry Anderson’s old number wasn’t gone for long, as it’s been taken over by the former Arkansas captain who became the final pick of the Jets’ 2021 draft proceedings.

Notable No. 96’s in Jets History: DT Muhammad Wilkerson

No. 98 Sheldon Rankins

Undrafted standout Kyle Phillips wore No. 98 but he’s moving onto 93 to allow Rankins to keep the number he had during his six years in New Orleans.

Notable No. 98’s in Jets History: LB Anthony Pleasant, DL Kyle Phillips

No. 99 Vinny Curry

Curry has had a pretty accomplished NFL career, and he’s going to take over the numerals of some of the most storied defenders on the team.

Notable No. 99’s in Jets History: DE Mark Gastineau, DE Bryan Thomas, DT Steve McLendon, DE Hugh Douglas

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Why the New York Jets must draft offensively at No. 23

New York Jets

It’s a foregone conclusion that the New York Jets will draft a quarterback at No. 2. But what will they do with their latter Thursday choice?

If this is the most pressing of problems the New York Jets have for the remainder of 2021, they’ll be one of the most, if not the most, blessed teams in all of professional sports.

The Jets have a welcome dilemma when the first round of the NFL Draft is held in Cleveland on April 29 (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/NFL Network). They’re one of a handful of teams with multiple first round picks, first choosing in the second slot before reaping the fruits of the Jamal Adams trade at 23rd overall. Though the second pick is more than likely spoken for…barring a jaw-dropping pre-draft surprise, the Jets will undoubtedly be taking a quarterback…there’s a major decision to be made in the latter station, a place where this draft’s predictability should be long gone.

When you’re a team like the Jets…coming off a two-win season, one even more brutal than this star-crossed franchise’s usual standards…

 Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Make the quarterback as comfortable as possible

When it comes to the second overall pick, the Jets have answered the question of what. Unless they plan on starting James Morgan, their 2020 fourth-round choice who has yet to wear an NFL game jersey, they’re drafting a non-Trevor Lawrence quarterback, be it Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, or an unknown third party.

Whoever it is, he’s going to need help, whether it’s through protection or weaponry (more on each of those in a minute). One of the things that doomed Sam Darnold’s New York career was the lack of stability on his end of the ball. By the time his third season began, no receivers from his rookie season (with the exception of tight end Chris Herndon) remained on the New York roster and his starting offensive line was completely different from even the year prior. The Jets need homegrown talent to help their new, young franchise man get used to the NFL game in a hurry.

The draft is also a more attractive option for the Jets to find offensive help because their last few big-ticket offensive arrivals from elsewhere (i.e. Le’Veon Bell) haven’t worked out. If they can build through the draft…and there’s a prime opportunity with 21 picks over the next two years…they can lay a foundation and rebuild a winning culture.

 Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Big plays are here again

So the Jets need offense, but that decision begets a decision: should they take a box score contributor or build the wall in front of Wilson/Fields/Other?

In the case of the former, it’s been a while since the Jets have had a truly explosive offense. It’s only been five seasons since Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker put up dueling 1,000-yard tallies during the bittersweet 2015 campaign, but that might as well be an eternity in football years. Making matters worse is that the Jets made little effort to keep Robby Anderson, the closest thing they had to a consistent playmaker. He posted career-best number in Carolina last season and now reunites with Darnold.

The Jets have assembled a decent core of veterans with Corey Davis and Keelan Cole joining the fray alongside incumbent slot man Jamison Crowder and sophomore Denzel Mims. But while drafting Mekhi Becton was a move no one could truly quarrel with, the Jets passed on name-brand receiving talent like Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and future All-Pro Justin Jefferson. This supposed sin can be rectified at No. 23, where names like Rashod Batman, Kadarius Toney, Terrace Marshall, and Tutu Atwell should all be available. Sure, the receiving class is deep enough that the Jets could find a receiver at No. 34…the second pick in Friday’s drawings…but the lack of offensive firepower has reached crisis levels in New York. Over the past five seasons, have the Jets have reached the four-touchdown/extra point plateau in 16 games, a mark besting only four teams (Chicago, Washington, Denver, and the Jets’ blue roommates in East Rutherford). That lack of production is ridiculously unsustainable in today’s NFL, and it shows: that group, including the Jets, has failed to win a playoff game over the last half-decade.

Many have theorized that the Jets could take a running back in the slot, but the Jets have resolved that issue, if only temporarily, through an affordable one-year deal with Tevin Coleman and a trio of young projects (La’mical Perine, Ty Johnson, Josh Adams). Besides, the recent first-round running back crop…especially when it gets to the later stages has shown it’s not worth it, at least not for their needs. It’d be great to bring in a, say, Rashaad Penny (drafted 27th by Seattle in 2018), but they can’t afford to use a first-round pick on a reliable spell option with a first-round pick. If they do address rushing, a power option like Rhamondre Stevenson could be a valuable latter-day steal.

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton
Credit: Joe McManus

Continue Construction

General manager Joe Douglas has had a small habit of having his football cake and eating it too, even if the dessert isn’t fully baked yet. When he took Becton with his first draft pick last season, he filled the big-play receiving potential slot with Mims, a Big 12 star from Matt Rhule’s Baylor Bears.

This offseason, Douglas has noticeably improved the team’s offensive chances through skilled talents that should at least keep fantasy football players’ eyes on Jets games (Davis, Coleman, Cole). He addressed the defense as well through 4-3 talents that will fit the preferred scheme of Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich. But the Jets remain understaffed on their blocking despite Douglas opening his checkbook for Connor McGovern, George Fant, and Greg Van Roten. Their quarterbacks were still on the run and little has been done to rectify that this offseason. Dan Feeney is high in personality but low on analytical rankings. Corey Levin hasn’t partaken in a regular season game since 2018.

Thus, it might help to continue building their fortress around the new thrower and improved rushing attack. Blocking draftees rarely send the draft parties into a frenzy…legendary blocker D’Brickashaw Ferguson was booed by a fanbase lusting after Matt Leinart…but no one’s complaining when the quarterback has time and the rushers have room to move.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags