New York Jets Top 10 Tuesday: Veteran breakout candidates for 2021

As the New York Jets bide time before training camp, ESM looks at some veteran faces that could be poised for a breakout.

As we’ve officially reached a rare dead period on the NFL calendar, ESM presents Top 10 Tuesday, a weekly list series that will center on the past, present, and future of the Jets in a sortable format.

We’ll begin this series by looking at ten veteran players that could rise to the occasion come up big for the Jets as they embark on a new gridiron journey…

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

10. K Sam Ficken

Since Pro Bowler Jason Myers absconded for Seattle, the Jets have been through six different kickers. That’d be unacceptable in pretty much every football realm, but such instability is unacceptable for a team with a developing offense. Confidence can be built if points can be scored in as many drives that invade opponents’ territory as possible.

Ficken, set to enter his third season in green, seemed like he was on his way toward ending the constant turnover. He converted each of his first nine field goal attempts (five alone during a Thursday night tilt against Denver) but he lost the spark after missing several games with a groin injury. This time around, Ficken will compete with undrafted free agent Chris Naggar to get his job back. He can become a vital silver lining in the Jets’ expected growing pains if he’s able to capitalize on a career-best 86 percent success rate from three.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – OCTOBER 13: Defensive Lineman Kyle Phillips #98 of the New York Jets makes a stop call against the Dallas Cowboys in the second half at MetLife Stadium on October 13, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

9. DL Kyle Phillips

The versatile Phillips, entering the league as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee, was one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2019 season. Veteran injuries forced him into starting duties, but he made the most of his opportunity with 39 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Phillips was a consistent backfield invader in his rookie season, as his seven tackles for a loss were tied for fourth-best on the team and his quarterback pressures (6) were good for third amongst his fellow linemen.

Alas, an ankle injury prevented Phillips from building on the momentum from his rookie season. To make matters worse from a personal standpoint, the Jets spent the offseason bolstering their front seven with established veteran names that could leave Phillips in an awkward spot. He’ll certainly return with a vengeance in 2021 and will keep things interesting in the second halves of preseason games.

8. OL Dan Feeney

Perhaps no one in the NFL has increased their profile better than Feeney this offseason. The former Los Angeles Charger has gone viral for his goal celebrations at New York Islander playoff games, becoming the literal face of the Jets’ support for their blue and orange comrades on Long Island.

The surge in popularity has had many asking exactly what the Jets get in Feeney, who was mostly used as a depth option in Los Angeles. His experience at center could prove vital: Sam Darnold went through three different primary centers in three years and the Jets would love to establish some starting lineup stability for incoming franchise man Zach Wilson right from the start.

trevon wesco, new york jets

7. TE/FB Trevon Wesco

With Tyler Kroft arriving as an established goal-line option and strong potential behind undrafted free agent Kenny Yeboah (not to mention the return of starter Chris Herndon), the third-year, fourth-round pick faces an uphill battle to make an impact as a tight end. But he can make an offensive difference through the resurrection of the archaic fullback spot.

As we discussed last week, the days of Richie Anderson and Tony Richardson may be gone, but the Jets appear set to resume the Wesco experiment at fullback after injuries prematurely shut down the project last season. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur previously reaped the benefits of Kyle Juszczyk’s prescience in San Francisco and believes that Wesco’s bulkier size could allow him to do things that even the All-Pro fullback wasn’t capable of.

“(Wesco) is a bigger body, he’s longer,” LaFleur explained last week, per notes from the Jets. “He’s going to be able to play a little bit more inline, so we can use him in multiple ways, whether it be 21 or your typical 12 personnel formations.”

6. LB Blake Cashman 

One has to wonder if it’s now or never for Cashman, who enters his third NFL season in an unusual spot. The fifth-round pick from 2019 filled in serviceable when C.J. Mosley got hurt two years back, but injuries of his own have limited him to only 11 games in his career so far.

It’s always tough to condemn a player for getting hurt in the NFL. After all, football is a violent game and injuries happen. When they do, players should take all the time they need to heal up properly. But the NFL has proven time and time again that it’s willing to make business decisions that aren’t anything personal. Cashman appears to be a good fit in Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s defensive landscape, so it would be a shame to see his NFL career end before it truly begins.

Dec 20, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; New York Jets running back Ty Johnson (25) scores a touchdown as Los Angeles Rams strong safety Jordan Fuller (32) defends the play during the first half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

5. RB Ty Johnson

It’s a bit of a shame that Johnson’s mini-breakout was masked by the malarkey of Adam Gase’s final days at the helm. For example, Johnson made Jets history in a December tilt against the Raiders by earning the first triple-digit yardage game for the Jets in over two full calendar years. Not only did the Jets waste the historic tally through Gregg Williams’ ill-advised final blitz, but Johnson earned only 13 carries over the next three games (as opposed to 22 in the Las Vegas debacle).

Johnson has a decent chance to shine in the Jets’ new-look, minimalist approach at running back. The present focus has turned to newcomers Michael Carter and Tevin Coleman, but don’t let Johnson’s status as a holdover from the Gase era fool you: he’s capable of making an impact at moment’s notice. His speed and experience in lining up in the slot could also pay big dividends in LaFleur’s system, giving him a bit of an edge over the more north/south-inclined La’Mical Perine.

4. WR Braxton Berrios

With so many new receivers on their way in, it’s somewhat easy to forget about Berrios, one of the leading receivers from last year’s woebegone two-win squad. He faces a bit of a battle to make the roster, but the former Patriot got his season off to a great start in minicamp, emerging as one of the most pleasant surprises. It was enough to earn special props from Wilson.

“Braxton is a smart guy, that’s one of his best attributes,” Wilson said at the end of minicamp, per notes from the Jets. “He’s a slippery player, he gets in there and runs some great routes. He’s quick, but I think the best attribute is just knowing what’s going on. He’s got a great feel for the defense, he’s got great hands. He’s just been in those spots to make plays. We’ve got a lot of good playmakers and Braxton is doing a great job.”

Berrios might also be able to make an impact on special teams. During the 2019 season, he was one of two returners (min. 20 attempts) to average over 10 yards on punts.

Nov 17, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions middle linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) runs off the field after recovering a fumble during the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

3. LB Jarrad Davis

Coming off a brutal two-win season, it was going to be hard for the Jets to convince the truly elite free agents to join their cause. Their consolation prizes include Davis, a former first-round pick that previously repped Detroit.

Davis’ career got off to a decent start, as he earned All-Rookie team honors while working in defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s 4-3 system. However, Austin was let go with the rest of Jim Caldwell’s staff at the end of the 2017 season despite guiding the Lions to three winning seasons in their four campaigns. Detroit football hasn’t been the same since and Davis was an unfortunate part of the decline. He failed to adapt to Matt Patricia and Paul Pasqualoni’s set-ups and the Lions declined his fifth-year option prior to the 2020 season. Davis thus joined the Jets on a one-year, $5.5 million deal this offseason.

Davis’ finest performances have come in the 4-3 set that Saleh and Ulbrich are set to implement. He earned his first-round status through working with Geoff Collins at the University of Florida and worked well with Austin early on in Detroit. That knowledge can not only help him break out on a personal level but can also help him take on the role of a teacher of the 4-3 set.

Nov 29, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Denzel Mims (11) runs the ball ahead of Miami Dolphins defensive back Nik Needham (40) during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

2. WR Denzel Mims

One thing that’s really unfortunate about Mims’ situation is that he will forever be connected to a fellow member of the green draft class of 2020. When the Jets drafted Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall pick…Joe Douglas’ first at the helm of general manager…it came at the price of passing on considerable receiving talents (i.e. Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, eventual Rookie of the Year Jerry Jeudy). But those concerns were supposedly alleviated when the Jets when Douglas and Co. were able to snag Mims out of Baylor in the early stages of the second round.

Becton’s early promise has somewhat masked the fact that Mims hasn’t been on the field much in the early going. It has mostly been a case of bad luck, as he dealt with injuries at the earliest stages of 2020 prep and was never really able to get into the swing of things. This time around, Mims missed voluntary workouts due to a (non-COVID-19) illness, causing him to lose valuable reps with Wilson. The spotlight has thus turned to another second-round pick, that of Elijah Moore.

But Jets brass and outside observers still appear to believe in Mims, who serves as a valuable big-play target. Former NFL receiver and current NFL Network analyst Nate Burleson listed Mims as one of his five receivers poised for a breakout, while LaFleur compared Mims to Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant.

“It looks like he has a wingspan like Kevin Durant. He’s got tons of range as long as that ball is anywhere around him. If the ball is anywhere in the vicinity, you expect them to get it,” LaFleur said in May, per Max Goodman of SI.com. “He’s eager, he’s a really cool dude to work with. But he’s just gonna have to get out there…it’s just going to be reps and just going and understanding the speed of the game.”

1. LB Carl Lawson

As the Jets seek to re-energize their pass rush…which becomes vital with a presumed pair of matchups against Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa in the foreseeable future…one of their biggest acquisitions was Lawson out of Cincinnati. Yet, hard-to-please fans and analysts expressed disappointment with his relatively low sack numbers. Lawson tallied 11.5 over the last two seasons, a drastic declined from the 8.5 he put up in his rookie year.

However, don’t let the relatively pedestrian numbers fool you: Lawson has been an agent of chaos in opposing backfields. According to ESPN’s Seth Walder, advanced stats indicated that Lawson was one of eleven defenders that “created” at least 10 sacks last season, even if he himself didn’t obtain it. In more conventional stats, Lawson also put up 32 overall quarterback pressures, good for second in the league behind only TJ Watt.

Ulbrich noted Lawson’s dedication to the game in some of his first statements as the Jets’ defensive boss.

“(He’s) obsessed with the game,” Ulbrich said of Lawson, per Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. “He wants to become the most technical pass-rusher in the league.”

Lawson admitted in Dunleavy’s report that he does want his sack numbers to return to the levels he knows he’s capable of. He believes the Jets’ bolstered interior defense, led by 2020 breakout man Quinnen Williams, can help him get there.

“I have the mindset that no matter who is around me I should win my 1-on-1,” the signer of a three-year, $45 million told Dunleavy. “That’s a great thing to have, great interior players, but the way I think of it is to produce no matter what the situation because what if everybody got hurt? Could I use that as my excuse for (fewer) sacks? No.”

What other Top 10’s do you want to see? Let Geoff know 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

New York Jets: Analyzing the fateful moves of Joe Douglas’ tenure (so far)

Today in 2019, the New York Jets named Joe Douglas their general manager. ESM looks back on his most impactful moves, for better or worse.

Two years ago, a man named Joe opened a campaign that ran on change and reform. Today, he’s at the helm of one of the most renowned, yet volatile, systems in the world and trying to get his constituents back on track in the face of an ongoing crisis.

On this day two years ago, Joe Douglas became general manager of the New York Jets.

Douglas inherited a ghastly gridiron crunch from Mike Maccagnan after the latter’s shocking post-draft firing in 2019. The Jets were in the midst of an eight-year playoff drought and hadn’t had a winning record since 2015, the first year of Maccagnan’s star-crossed term.

Two years later, however, much hasn’t changed in terms of on-field numbers. Douglas has overseen a mere nine wins over two seasons (besting only Detroit, Jacksonville, and Cincinnati) and saw the franchise plunge to new single-season lows last season through a 2-14 ledger. Even though they bested the single win of Rich Kotite’s doomed group in 1996, the Jets endured a franchise-worst 13-game losing streak to open the year, leading Douglas to start almost entirely from scratch in 2021. The playoff drought has been extended to a decade, the longest active streak in the NFL after Cleveland and Tampa Bay each earned postseason invites last winter.

In his brief time, Douglas has made several transactions that will affect the Jets’ future fortunes and perhaps his own metropolitan future. ESM looks back at the most impactful moves to date, for better and worse…

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

Better: The Drafting of Mekhi Becton

For his first draft pick at the helm of the Jets, Douglas opted to select Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall choice in the 2020 proceedings. There was no shortage of talent in the middle stages of the virtual draft’s opening night, as Henry Ruggs, Tristan Wirfs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Justin Jefferson all heard their names called with the next eleven selections after Becton.

Analysis: For the time being, the draft of Becton is Douglas’ magnum opus. He made the selection in a thankless position: for every one fan/analyst/scout who wanted a blocker, there was another likely upset that Douglas passed on the plethora of receiving talent available in the slot. But after Becton served as a rare silver lining in Adam Gase’s dirge, Douglas publicly declared that he would base future decisions around Becton.

“I think he’s a player that is going to help us long-term,” Douglas said in November, per Max Goodman of Sports Illustrated. “We’re excited about working with him every day because you talk about a young man that loves football. He’s very smart. He’s tough as nails and has rare size and athleticism. There’s a lot of desire from him to want to be the best player that he can be so we’ve made it our mission to bend over backward to try to help him reach his goals.”

The selection of Becton also snapped a dangerous streak in Jets history: he was the first opening-round offensive lineman chosen by the Jets since the legendary pairing of D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold in 2006, ending a period of blocking negligence exacerbated not only by Maccagnan but by Mike Tannenbaum and John Idzik before him. Additionally, shrewd maneuvering by Douglas allowed the Jets to pick up a big-play receiver anyway, using a second-round choice on Baylor’s Denzel Mims.

LANDOVER, MD – NOVEMBER 17: Alex Lewis #71 of the New York Jets looks on prior to the game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on November 17, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)

Worse: The Veteran Building Block(er)s 

Douglas’ blocking renovations didn’t begin with Becton. In the month before he scribbled Becton’s name onto a draft card, Douglas bestowed over $17 million in 2020 cap space to George Fant, Connor McGovern, and Greg Van Roten. When he took office during the summer of 2019, among his first moves were trading a late pick to Baltimore for Alex Lewis and convincing All-Pro Ryan Kalil to postpone his retirement.

Analysis: Douglas had the right idea: he wanted to stock up on blockers to help his pre-packaged franchise quarterback Sam Darnold out. Alas, the moves he made only hastened the end of the Darnold era.

Part of the issues stems from Douglas signing the wrong names. Jack Conklin was reportedly interested in coming aboard (and Le’Veon Bell pleaded for the Jets to sign his fellow Michigan State alum on Twitter), but he instead embarked on an All-Pro season in Cleveland. Worse yet, the consolation prizes caused the Jets to neglect other areas of need, namely the weaponry necessary for Darnold to succeed. Luring Amari Cooper over from Dallas was probably always a pipe dream, but they missed out on serviceable parts like Emmanuel Sanders. They also made little effort to retain Robby Anderson, who went on to post career-best numbers in Carolina.

In the absence of marquee blocking signing, the Jets were forced to make do with washouts from first rounds past (Breshad Perriman) as well as former Patriots without the Belichick touch (Chris Hogan). The tough luck created a football situation where no good Douglas deed went unpunished.

New York Jets, Jamal Adams
Dec 29, 2019; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New York Jets strong safety Jamal Adams (33) warms up prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Too Soon: The Jamal Adams Trade

Once it became clear that Adams, the face of the franchise during the Maccagnan era, wanted out of New York it was on Douglas to somehow salvage the situation. Adams didn’t make things easier by telling metropolitan horror stories any chance he could. Despite Adams’ tales, Douglas eventually worked out a deal with Seattle in August 2020. The deal netted two first-round picks, a third-round pick, and veteran cornerback Bradley McDougald.

Analysis: It’s hard to fully analyze the Adams trade as there are still lingering aftershocks in the 2022 draft; the Jets own Seattle’s first-round choice while the Seahawks own a metropolitan fourth-round pick.

As of this moment, a lot of the Adams fallout has shifted toward the Jets’ favor. While McDougald partook in only seven games and doesn’t appear to be heading back (continuing a disturbingly common trend of Douglas’ veteran acquisitions not panning out), the Jets used the Seattle capital to bolster their offensive line, trading the 2021 first-rounder to Minnesota that led to a move up the draft board for Alijah Vera-Tucker. The fact that Adams’ cantankerousness followed him to the Pacific Northwest…he has yet to sign a long-term deal…only further shifts the current lead in the Jets’ direction.

There’s no use in grading the trade when several major names from it haven’t played a single regular season down yet. But the fact that Douglas turned a disgruntled superstar into a landmark blocker and a first-round pick to be named later is an inspiring sign. The same philosophy could apply to the trade that sent Darnold to Carolina, a deal that saw Douglas land a second-round choice (in 2022) for a quarterback that has yet to post a passer rating above 85 or throw more than 20 touchdown passes.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – OCTOBER 13: Safety Marcus Maye #20 of the New York Jets celebrates a stop against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half at MetLife Stadium on October 13, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

Better: Franchise Tagging Marcus Maye

Both the SEC and the earlier days of the 2017 draft are still represented in the Jets’ secondary through the prescience of Marcus Maye. The Florida alum was bestowed the franchise tag in the early stages of the 2021 offseason, a move that makes him the 10th-highest-paid safety in the league in 2021 (over $10.6 million guaranteed).

Analysis: After the Adams debacle, Douglas had to carefully navigate the situation with Maye. The Florida alum was close with Adams and was one of the few name-brand talents leftover once Adams and Anderson donned new helmets. For all intents and purposes, things have gone well in the early going. Maye, who at the very least made sure the Jets appeared in the SportsCenter Top 10, earned a sizable new contract while Douglas and Co. bought some time for Maye to further consider New York and set the table for an affordable long-term deal.

While Maye appears to be holding out of offseason activities, possibly until he gets that longer contract, the conversations surround him inspire hope and optimism, unlike last year’s melancholy Adams situation.

“Marcus Maye fits every system and he’ll be just fine,” new head coach Robert Saleh said in a report from Brian Costello of the New York Post. “I think these kids have earned the right to ask for whatever they can, especially when they do things the right way like he has. Joe and his staff are working relentlessly to get something done. We go with it and we support him all around the organization.”

New York Jets, Adam Gase
Oct 18, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; New York Jets head coach Adam Gase looks at a play card during the first half against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Worse: Putting Up with Adam Gase

Douglas took over the Jets at an interesting, if not contemptuous, point on the Jets timeline. His immediate predecessor was not Maccagnan, but rather Adam Gase, who more or less won a battle of wills to remain in New York. Gase was granted interim general managing duties after Maccagnan was let go and was maintained as the head coach upon Douglas’ arrival. He would last two seasons at the helm before Douglas dismissed him, paving the way for Saleh’s hire.

Analysis: The Jets were able to mask a 1-7 start in Gase’s first year at the helm by winning six of their final eight games (mostly against competition equally, if not more, doomed). But an even more brutal start in year two…one that saw the Jets lose their first six games by multiple possessions…should’ve been all the evidence that Gase wasn’t going to be the one to lead New York to the promised land.

Sure, it had been a while since the Jets executed an in-season firing (with Charley Winner getting ousted for Ken Shipp in 1975), but early firings have become more common in today’s NFL. A playoff berth in year one couldn’t save Ben McAdoo with New York’s blue squad. Steve Wilks was granted only one year in Arizona once it became clear they could get Kliff Kingsbury. It’s not like Douglas wasn’t afraid to pull the plug on others; the Jets instituted an early-season fire sale that bid farewell to Bell, Steve McLendon, and Avery Williamson. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was likewise given the boot after his infamous blitz against Las Vegas cost the Jets their first win of 2020.

To make matters worse, once Gase couldn’t even take advantage of the macabre gift of consequence-free football that could’ve been used as research and development for the future. For example, he chose to give Frank Gore a retirement tour instead of giving young projects like La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, and Josh Adams a chance. Letting Gase finish out the season helped offseason questions linger and kept the Jets on a path of uncertainty.

Jan 3, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh against the Seattle Seahawks at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Too Soon: The San Francisco Treats

With the eventual purge of Gase and his coaching staff (save for the apparently immortal Brant Boyer) and the drafting of Zach Wilson, Douglas now officially has his signature on this team. The process will now be overseen on a day-to-day basis by a staff headed by Saleh and fellow former 49er Mike LaFleur, who is tasked with awakening an anemic New York offense.

Analysis: It’s foolhardy to grade any transaction without a single down of evidence, so the jury is obviously still out on Saleh. It’s an interesting approach for the Jets to take, for the Jets to go with a defensive-minded boss in an NFL landscape that increasingly favorites the offense (whether it’s inadvertent or not). It’s also somewhat surprising to see them hire a first-time head coach for a team full of unproven misfit toys. Time will tell how the gambit, similar to the Todd Bowles hire in 2015, plays out.

Having said that, the ultimate difference between the Gase and Saleh hires is who is praising the hire. When Gase arrived, it was praised mostly by the hot take artists like Colin “2020 AFC championship tickets at MetLife Stadium” Cowherd. This time, however, the Jets’ hire has been praised by on-field talent both domestically and abroad.

Much like the hire on this day two days ago…a hire where Douglas was plucked from a Philadelphia squad still celebrating its Super Bowl…Jets fans are filled with hope. But hope can only take you so far…it’s time to perform and find results, through, and in spite of, these moves.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: The case for (and against) Julio Jones

New York Giants, Julio Jones

Accoladed receiver Julio Jones wants out of Atlanta; should the New York Jets inquire for his services? ESM investigates…

Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones is ready to recolor his wings. A shade of green could well be in the cards.

Jones declared he was “out of” Atlanta during a candid, impromptu phone call shared by Fox Sports host Shannon Sharpe during Monday’s edition of Undisputed on FS1. There’s been no confirmation over whether Jones knew he was on air but, in perhaps an attempt to interrupt the rare lull on the NFL calendar, hypothetical trades involving the fantasy football godsend have resurfaced. Jones

The accoladed receiver’s de facto trade request serves to end his decade-long tenure in Atlanta. Several teams will undoubtedly embark on a full assault for his services and the crowded resume that comes with it.

Should the New York Jets be among them? ESM investigates…

For: Fantasy Football

Jones has been a staple of the early portions of fantasy football drafts for years. When’s the last time Jets fans were able to choose their favorite players with legitimate dreams of a fantasy title in mind. The last realistic options were probably Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker prior to the star-crossed 2015 campaign.

Now, the Jets shouldn’t base their entire lineup around who wins fantasy football championships; if that were the case, they might as well made a move for Derek Carr. But the fact they haven’t had any fantasy stars in recent years is rather telling about where they are as a franchise. Where are the reliable big play targets? Who does the rookie quarterback turn to in the clutch? Who will teams double cover on the last drive of the game?

This offseason, the Jets used the free agency process to stock up on weaponry for the new franchise quarterback, who turned out to be Zach Wilson. The current depth chart-toppers (Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims, Keelan Cole, and rookie Elijah Moore) are undoubtedly upgrades from last season, but they have yet to prove themselves as consistent, reliable top options. Bringing in Jones would make him one of the Jets’ top playmakers of the past decade, and he might not even have to play a single down to prove that. Plus, the confidence Wilson would have with Jones there to greet him could prove invaluable not only in 2021 but for years to come.

Against: Julio’s Woes

The sophomoric nature of the internet and social media have perhaps made the Jets unwilling to take risks or make high-profile moves. Any move they make is going to be accompanied by satirical scrutiny that’s threatens everything they’re trying to work with in the latest stage of their perpetual rebuild.

Jones, through almost entirely no fault of his own, is going to bring some baggage with him. He’s no doubt keen to stick it to a Falcons that has apparently given up on him, and the Jets do have a high-profile matchup with the Dirty Birds that apparently did him dirty (Atlanta will “host” the Jets in London in October). Jones is also trying to emerge from one of the NFL’s most unfair stigmas: returning from an injury. Hamstring issues limited him to nine games in 2020, but he still managed to tally a respectable 771 yards.

These factors make Jones a perfect candidate, perhaps even the favorite, for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award. Alas, that’s a quest the Jets truly can’t concern themselves with at this point. They have their own comeback/redemption story to write. It’s part of the reason Sam Darnold was let go. Sure, it was entirely possible that a green-clad Darnold could’ve benefitted from the coaching staff shake-up, but the Jets were at a point where they couldn’t base their immediate future on that “if”. The same could apply to Jones and his current endeavors.

For: They Can Help

Coming off three straight losing seasons (including a brutal 4-12 campaign that cost long-tenured Dan Quinn his job), the Falcons need a de facto bailout. As it stands, they’re currently of three teams with under $1 million in cap space (joining Chicago and New Orleans). Even so, they’re obviously going to want a decent return if they’re sending away one of the most prolific names in team history. Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports projects that any potential suitor would have to send at least a second-round pick.

The Jets have expendable assets to help the Falcons out. They own five picks in the first three rounds of next spring’s draft and could even include someone like Crowder (who becomes over $10 million in cap savings upon his departure). If the Falcons are going to trade Jones, something has to capture their fancy, make the deal truly worth their while. The Jets are one of the rare teams with both present and future assets Atlanta potentially covets.

Against: Anything But One Move Away

The Jets have improved by leaps and bounds this offseason, if only because there was little room to plummet further after 2020. Even so, making the playoffs is still going to be a tough ask. They’re trapped in a division with the defending AFC finalists and the other sections are packed with established contenders.

There’s no doubt that Jones can carry the load of a top receiver on a contender. He’s been part of a fairly consistent Atlanta team, but his prescience alone isn’t enough to secure a playoff berth. If he’s serious about moving, he’s likely going to choose a more established destination, not one where a majority of the starting lineup is undergoing a makeover.

Additionally, whoever trades for Jones is going to literally pay a hefty price. His 2021 cap hit exceeds $23 million, with $15 million guaranteed (per Over The Cap). The Jets are one of 11 teams that can handle Jones’ guaranteed salary with their current cap space, but there are other needs that need to be fulfilled before Week 1 kicks off. They’re in desperate need of a backup quarterback (preferably one that can double as a mentor for Wilson) and could certainly use another upgrade in their blocking and secondary areas. Jones, a 32-year-old due over $37 million over the next three seasons, is a luxurious acquisition that doesn’t fit the Jets’ current landscape.

The Verdict: Stay the Course 

If this was a year or two into the Robert Saleh era, adding Jones would be a lot more feasible. There would be time to showcase what Saleh and his staff are building, a few contests to develop momentum in what the Jets hope is their last extensive renovation for a long time.

Recent history suggests that maybe the Jets would be a bit better off in bypassing redemption-seeking superstars, at least for the time being. New York is still picking at the wounds left behind in the wake of the Le’Veon Bell era. The ghost of Bell shouldn’t haunt the Jets forever, but things are still a bit too fresh to justify and work through the growing pains of a superstar seeking to prove to himself and the football world that he’s still capable of an NFL workload.

If the Jets were on the cusp of the contention red zone, they would be right to go all out. But, right now, they’ve picked up a few first downs, but probably haven’t even reached midfield in the stadium of NFL fortune. If they were closer to the Super Bowl, investing a substantial sum into a 32-year-old receiver…one who has taken quite the pen to the NFL record books…would be a relative risk worth taking. But when progress would be possibly defined as an appearance in the “In the Hunt” column seen on the networks’ playoff charts come the holidays, adding Jones is not something you can do and would be an endeavor that would merely leave everyone bitter.

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

BREAKING: Jets Sign WR Corey Davis to 3-year deal

New York Giants, Corey Davis

The Jets have made their first big move! The team has reached a deal with WR Corey Davis for 3 years and 37.5 million, with 27 million guaranteed. The Jets lacked a true number one wideout, and with Davis, they have one. Davis, at 26 years old, is coming off a career year with the Tennessee Titans. Now, the Jets will hope the former fifth overall pick can repeat that success in the green and white.

What This Means

Corey Davis had a quiet start in his first year in the league with only 34 receptions for 375 yards. However, in his sophomore year, he put up 891 yards and four scores. Then, the receiver had a down third year eclipsing 600 yards with two scores. This past season though, Davis lit it up. Davis finished the season with 65 receptions for 984 yards and 5 TDs. He also hit career highs in yards per reception and receptions per game. Davis is a big-bodied receiver at 6 foot 3, 209 pounds, and his big frame should compliment Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder very nicely.

The Jets finally have a legitimate target for whoever their quarterback is at the start of next season. This opens things up for the entire offense and gives the Jets a sense of comfort heading into next season. The work should not stop here, though. With more money to spend, the team will likely look to make an upgrade at the edge position. Look for Trey Hendrickson as a potential target at the spot.

New York Jets: Ranking the offseason needs by position

The New York Jets have plenty of positional problems to solve on both sides of the ball. But which issues should take priority?

If 2020 proved anything, it’s that the New York Jets have plenty of problems to solve.

But, even with the second-highest cap space in football, the Jets probably won’t be able to solve all these issues thie offseason. So, with March’s free agency festivities approaching, which position groups should they prioritize with the cap space surplus?

ESM investigates…

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

1. Offensive Line

One could argue that the Jets must resolve their quarterback situation before embarking on new offseason endeavors. But think of it this way…if the Jets were to gain, say, Deshaun Watson, while failing to address their blocking corps, the Clemson alum would more or less be stuck in the same situation he faces in Houston: running for his life in an attempt to pull off miracles in what likely amounts to a lost cause.

It’s impossible to fully grade Joe Douglas’ tenure as the Jets’ general manager, but his willingness to address the offensive line is admirable and cannot be denied. Douglas’ first moves at the helm were to convince Matt Kalil out of retirement and to bring Alex Lewis in through a trade with Baltimore. In his first draft, Douglas passed on name-brand receiving talents to take Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall pick. The Louisville product became the first blocker chosen with the Jets’ top pick(s) since the legendary combo of D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold in 2006. Douglas also went splurging on blocking help through free agency, namely in the form of Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, and George Fant, among others. The veteran haul proved mixed results, but most of them have single-season outs (with only McGovern in a secure state for 2021). It’ll be interesting to see who stays and goes as the Jets prepare for what will likely be an offensive overhaul.

Becton was a great start as we clearly saw last season, but more is needed to truly fortify the wall in front of the quarterback, be it Watson, Sam Darnold, Russell Wilson, or a draftee.

Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) throws on the run against the New England Patriots during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

2. Quarterback

Even if it means sticking with Darnold. the Jets need to resolve their quarterback situation as soon as possible. Expanding on why that’s important would be regurgitating almost every football cliche in the book, but the Jets need to gain clarity one way or the other.

As of now, the only guarantee is that the situation is guaranteed to be settled by April 29…the first day of the 2021 NFL Draft, where the Jets own the second overall pick in the NFL Draft in Cleveland. Many assume such a pick will be used on one of the quarterback prospects the Jacksonville Jaguars don’t take, and yet, the Jets have seemingly been connected to every disgruntled elite quarterback that wants a change of setting. The Jets are nowhere near a mindset where they can improvise on draft day. Having a concrete plan is so crucial moving forward for a team so embedded in a perpetual rebuild. Whatever the Jets do, be it Darnold, a new franchise man through free agency/the draft, or even a stopgap thrower like the Colts did with Phillip Rivers, they have to have a plan.

Nov 29, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Denzel Mims (11) runs the ball ahead of Miami Dolphins defensive back Nik Needham (40) during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

3. Wide Receiver

Obviously, the Jets should not aim for a roster setup that serves to please the fantasy football owner. But, the fact of the matter is, the modern NFL is one that does embrace high-scoring games, as stat ledgers occasionally rival Arena Football League contests. Since Brandon Marshall left after the 2016 season, the Jets have mustered only 15 occasions where a receiver has hit triple digits in receiving yards. Eight of those tallies were earned by Robby Anderson, who was allowed to leave the metropolitan area without much of a fight. Draft Becton was obviously the right move to make, but it came at the cost of passing on elite receiving talent. Shortly after the Becton choice, Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Justin Jefferson found their respective homes.

Even though his rookie season was plagued by injuries, the Jets have high hopes for second round choice Denzel Mims, but he can’t do it alone, and the Jets could use some veteran assistance to help oversee his first NFL seasons and his presumed ascension to the top of the receiver depth chart. There’s plenty of elite veteran help available this offseason, and the Jets should not only focus on getting some big play assistance but on gaining some catching continuity as well. To put things in painful perspective…no wide receiver from Darnold’s rookie season was on the roster last season.

Cole Beasley of Buffalo and Marcus Maye of the Jets make contact after Beasley made a catchin the second halfÊas the Buffalo Bills met the New York Jets at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on October 25, 2020.
The Buffalo Bills Vs The New York Jets At Metlife Stadium In East Rutherford New Jersey On October 25 2020

4. Secondary

The secondary is by far by the Jets’ most desperate defensive area, one that may be glad that the Jamal Adams saga is over, but has a long way to go in terms of filling the talent void left behind in his wake. All signs seem to point toward the team franchise tagging Marcus Maye, but it’ll take far more than an expensive tryout season under Robert Saleh to fully fix the unit. There is a lot of young potential to work with, like that of Bryce Hall, Ashtyn Davis, and Bless Austin, but medical absences prevented them from making a true impact last year.

New York Jets, C.J. Mosley
Sep 8, 2019; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (57) celebrates after a fumble recovery during the first half against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

5. Linebacker

Right from the get-go, it was clear that last season was going to a problem for the Jets, as C.J. Mosley (understandably) opted out and hopeful sophomore Blake Cashman endured another injury-riddled season. Several depth options came up big (Neville Hewitt, Tarell Basham), but they’re up to hit the open market. Mosley’s (presumed) return should help soothe the blow a little bit, but the Jets still need to do their due diligence, particularly on their edge rush that’s likely dealing with Josh Allen (and possibly Tua Tagovailoa) twice a year for the foreseeable future.

New York Jets, Chris Herndon

6. Tight End

The Jets are certainly inspired by the re-emergence of Chris Herndon and hope he’ll be able to emerge as a top target for whoever the quarterback may be next season. They could certainly use some refreshing in the area, especially with blocking option Daniel Brown hitting the market, but unless they find some themselves in a comfortable spot to take Kyle Pitts early (potentially through a draft day trade?), they’ll probably hope that Herndon’s rebirth was not a fluke, but rather a return to form.

Oct 25, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets running back La’Mical Perine (22) celebrates his touchdown with tight end Ryan Griffin (84) during the first half against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

7. Running Back

If there’s one guarantee about the aftermath of the Le’Veon Bell saga, it’s that it’s going to be a long, long time before the Jets shell out a big contract to a running back. They likely view La’Michael Perine as a bit of a long-term project, but upcoming free agents Ty Johnson and Josh Adams proved their NFL mettle in the latter stages of last season…provided when their carries weren’t being taken by Frank Gore. Had the Jets given Johnson and Adams a brighter shot, the running back slot could’ve ranked lower on this list. Now, they have to scour both the free agent wire and the latter days of the draft to bolder the current package.

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

8. Special Teams

With an offense trapped in renovations, special teams are crucial for the Jets moving forward, whether it’s to provide good starting field position, to end a drive with points via reliable field goal kickers, or to pin the opponent deep when the drive fizzles out. The Jets might have two of those three areas settled through Braden Mann punting and a combination of Braxton Berrios and Corey Ballentine returning, but they need to resolve their kicking situation after Sam Ficken struggled after an injury last year.

Sep 13, 2020; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New York Jets linebacker Jordan Jenkins (48) and defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (95) combine to sack Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) during the second quarter at Bills Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

9. Defensive Line

Even with the release of Henry Anderson, the Jets are relatively set on their front group, energized by the redemption season of Quinnen Williams, though this area could quickly shoot up the last if the former No. 3 pick’s biggest nightmare comes true and the Jets opt to ship him off in an aforementioned quarterback hypothetical. The departure of Anderson is soothed by the potential return of Kyle Phillips, who impressed as an undrafted rookie but missed all of last season with an injury.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets positional preview 2021: Wide receivers

The New York Jets may have found a big-play man in Denzel Mims, but the receiving picture behind him is far murkier.

The Position: Wide Receiver
On the Roster: Braxton Berrios, Lawrence Cager, Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims,
Free Agents: Breshad Perriman, Jeff Smith, Vyncint Smith
Reserve/Future: Josh Malone, D.J. Montgomery, Jaleel Scott

With the offense at a crossroads of sorts, the New York Jets are looking for playmakers. When it comes to their receivers, they may have uncovered a diamond in the second-round rough in Denzel Mims, but things behind him a lot murkier.

Part of the reason why it’s been so hard for Sam Darnold to develop a true rhythm as the Jets’ franchise quarterback is that his targets have undergone a ridiculous amount of turnover. Upon the departures of Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa, no receivers from Darnold’s rookies season of 2018 remained on the roster. In the of the 2020 season, Mims eventually found his NFL footing after missing the early stages due to injury, vindicating general manager Joe Douglas’ decision to pass on first-day talents like Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Justin Jefferson.

But Douglas’ free agent options didn’t fare as well. Breshad Perriman, for example, failed to recapture the glory of his final Tampa Bay days, earning only 30 receptions over 12 games. New England castaway Chris Hogan failed to make a difference and the injury bug refused to leave the Jets alone. The most consistent part of the unit, slot man Jamison Crowder, led the team in all major receiving categories for the second straight season. Crowder is under contract for one more year, but the Jets would save just over $9 million in cap space if they moved on from him through a release or trade.

Even if Darnold doesn’t return under center, the Jets needs to freshen the receiving situation for the newcomer. The unit’s last 1,000-yard endeavors came through the Brandon Marshall/Eric Decker pairing during the doomed 2015 campaign.

Free Agents-to-be 

Breshad Perriman

Signed to a one-year deal worth $8 million ($6 million guaranteed), Perriman was brought in as the potential top target after ending his single season in Tampa in style (506 yards, five touchdowns in his final five games in 2019). But he never lived up to that billing in New York. He sustained an injury in the early going and never gained any momentum, save for strong performances in the New England games (8 receptions, 185 yards, 2 touchdowns).

With a new regime coming in and Perriman struggling in his lone green season, he is likely destined to hit the market.

Jeff Smith

Undrafted out of Boston College, the former quarterback has turned into a fun project in New York. Injuries have stunted his true potential, but Smith earned 167 yards on 17 receptions last season. That included a strong 81-yard showing when he was called upon to take extended duties when ailments ate up the top of the depth chart. He could potentially return as a depth option under new receivers coach Miles Austin.

Vyncint Smith

After getting some extended playing time when injuries struck in 2019 (joining in-season from the Houston practice squad), Smith himself landed on injured reserve in the early going and was limited to seven games, during which he only earned a single reception and lost his return duties to Braxton Berrios and Corey Ballentine. It’s possible he could get another go at it if the Jets want to create a special teams competition.

Will They Draft?

While there are plenty of names available to the Jets through free agency…and there are plenty of resources to bring in an elite name…the Jets’ receiving corps needs a complete makeover. With an extra pick in two of the first three rounds, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them use one on a receiver. In the event they get Watson…a happening made increasingly remote but the Texans’ apparent stubbornness to hold on to the disgruntled thrower…they likely wouldn’t have the second pick to use on Heisman winner Devonta Smith, but Jaylen Waddle, his Tuscaloosa partner-in-playmaking, might be around if they hold onto the 23rd pick send from Seattle. The speedy Waddle has seen his projections fall after enduring an ankle injury in Alabama’s October tilt against Tennessee.

Day two options open to the Jets could include Kadarius Toney, Rondale Moore, Sage Surratt, and Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Veteran Possibilities

Allen Robinson, Chicago

Unlike Watson, Robinson is set to be a free agent and isn’t held back by stubborn management if he wants to find new opportunities. Fresh off a career-best 102 receptions despite the Bears’ unstable quarterback situation, Robinson could be a game-changer for the Jets no matter who’s throwing to him. Additionally, Robinson hasn’t exactly been subtle about his approval of the Jets’ offseason thus far. Twitter sleuths uncovered that some of Robinson’s recent “likes” involve calling for Watson to go to New York and approval of the Robert Saleh hire.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh 

If there’s one thing Darnold needs right now, it’s consistency. Bridges are burned with, say, Anderson (who has become a selling point in Carolina’s ongoing rebuild), but Smith-Schuster’s Sothern California collaborations with Darnold earned rave reviews. Smith-Schuster caught some of Darnold’s earliest passes as the two guided USC to a 10-win season in 2016, capped off by the epic 52-49 thriller against Saquon Barkley and Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Smith-Schuster and Darnold united for 133 yards on seven hook-ups in that game, which afforded the Trojans the third slot in the final AP poll from that season. Some will point to Smith-Schuster’s propensity for pregame TikToks as an excuse to stay away, but that’s a small price to pay compared to the comfort and stability Smith-Schuster could provide to a quarterback in desperate need of those feelings…be it Darnold or otherwise.

Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay

For all intents and purposes, Godwin should be one of the biggest household names in football. Through no fault of his own, Godwin often gets lost in the headlines, but that might happen when your catching cohorts are Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski. Godwin also missed four games with a hip/quad injury but still managed to post 840 yards after a breakout year in 2019. Godwin has played a major role in the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl endeavors as well; he scored a touchdown that put them ahead for good in the Wild Card round against Washington and led the team with 110 yards in the NFC title clinch against the Packers. If Godwin is looking for a place to prove he can be a No. 1 receiver, New York would be a strong place to do it.

Outlook

A makeover is definitely coming to the Jets’ receiving corps. Free agency would certainly be the better way to go, as it would provide Mims a good mentor and give the team so much-needed, experienced stability. Whoever comes into the Jets’ quarterback spot is going to be thrown into a roaring green fire. They need to do whatever they can to make Darnold or the incoming new party to feel as comfortable as possible. Providing him with a strong, elite receiving talent would be the best way to do that.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: S Marcus Maye named Team MVP

The fourth-year safety topped the list of honorees as the New York Jets released their list of team award winners.

As it turns out, a fourth-year safety from the SEC wound up making a big difference for the New York Jets after all.

The team announced on Thursday that safety Marcus Maye was the winner of their Team MVP Award for the 2020 season. Named after legendary rusher Curtis Martin, the award is voted upon by Jets players. Maye’s name will be added to a large wall at One Jets Drive’s training facility in Florham Park, joining fellow secondary defenders Jamal Adams (2018-19), Darrelle Revis (2009, 2011-12), Brian Washington (1992), and Dainard Paulson (1964).

Forced to take on a larger, stronger role on the Jets defense with Adams dealt to Seattle during the offseason, Maye has earned positive reviews for his 2020 performance and has served as a rare silver lining in a brutal season. He currently ranks second on the team in tackles (71, including a pair of sacks) and leads with 11 pass breakups. Maye has also earned his share of highlight-reel plays, including jaw-dropping interceptions against Miami and Seattle. He also had a critical pass defense in the final stages of the Jets’ Sunday visit to Los Angeles, where they earned their first win of the season over the Rams.

Speaking with Randy Lange of NewYorkJets.com, Maye credited his teammates with helping him win the prestigious green honor.

“I’m out there showing the ability that I have, but it’s not just me out there, it’s 10 other guys,” Maye said. “We all have a common goal and that’s to make plays and win games, and when we step out on the field, that’s what we try to do. So hats off to them.”

“Showing up to work each day and seeing that wall right in front of the door, you have no choice but to look at it and see all the names on it, see all the greats that have been through here. So just being part of that, something that’s going to be there forever, that’s definitely an honor.”

Maye, a second-round pick out of Florida in 2017, is set to become a free agent this coming offseason.

“He’s one of those guys that works hard and doesn’t talk much, but he will speak up if he feels like he has to,’’ former Jets teammate and modern New York Giant Leonard Williams told Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post. “I think it’s even more powerful sometimes when you hear something from a guy that doesn’t talk much. You know he means it.’’

Other honorees released by the Jets on Thursday included…

S Matthias Farley: Maye wasn’t the only safety honored on Thursday, as Farley won the Community Service Award named after Marty Lyons, the Jets’ former defensive star and current radio analyst. This season, Farley has made virtual visits to Atlantic Health Goryeb Children’s Hospital in Morristown, NJ. He joins Kevin Mawae and Kyle Wilson as the only two-time winners of the title.

DL Folorunso Fatukasi: In the midst of a breakout season on the defensive line, Fatukasi has also won the Kyle Clifton Good Guy Award. The title is voted upon by the Jets’ staff and is named after the longtime defensive presence.

RB Frank Gore: The 38-year-old rusher was bestowed Most Inspirational Player Award named after the late Dennis Byrd. Gore joins his fellow running back Martin (2001-03) on the list of winners of the honor, which pays tribute to Byrd’s recovery from a devastating neck injury during a 1992 game.

TE Ryan Griffin: Griffin was nominated by his teammates to be the Jets’ representative in the Ed Block Courage Award The title is earned by players who “exemplify commitments to the principles of sportsmanship and courage”. Griffin has been praised for rehabbing through an ankle injury suffered last season in unusual times. He has played a majority of offensive snaps this season.

WR Denzel Mims: Injuries have prevented Mims from making a true impact on the field, but the second-round choice earned the Bill Hampton Award, sent to the “Rookie Who Acts Like a Pro”. It is named after a former Jets equipment manager.

The Jets (1-13) return to action on Sunday afternoon for their final home game of the season against the Cleveland Browns (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Denzel Mims out Sunday against Seahawks

The New York Jets will be traveling to Seattle Sunday to play the Seahawks. However, they will be without rookie wideout Denzel Mims.

Mims is currently dealing with a “family emergency” that has kept him out of practice the past few days, after flying home to Texas. He won’t be eligible to play due to COVID-19 protocol, but the situation has nothing to do with the virus, as Adam Gase spoke about it yesterday.

Mims has been a consistent target during his first six games, totaling at least 40 receiving yards in each one:

  • 4 receptions, 42 yards
  • 2 receptions, 42 yards
  • 4 receptions, 62 yards
  • 3 receptions, 71 yards
  • 4 receptions, 67 yards
  • 2 receptions, 40 yards

Expect Braxton Berrios to be next in line for more targets from Sam Darnold when they face Jamal Adams and the Seahawks.