Zach Wilson’s debut was exactly what he and the New York Jets needed

zach wilson, jets

The quiet yet effective preseason debut of Zach Wilson brought a much-needed aura of peace to the New York Jets.

Welcome back to the NFL preseason: where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.

After a year off, the NFL restored nirvana for the hot take artists of social media last week through the resumption of the summer exhibition slate. Last Saturday was particularly blissful for the premature prognosticators, as the four of the five quarterbacks chosen in the first round of last spring’s draft donned their game jerseys for the first time. The outlier, New England’s Mac Jones, was perhaps too busy penning his Hall of Fame speech after social media put him in Canton after his own debut on Thursday against Washington.

Burdened with a history that has made them the butt of many a gridiron joke, the 2021 New York Jets have been dealing with preseason fortune tellers even before the annual MetLife Stadium civil war against the Giants. Any other locale would be bestowed enthusiasm about Wilson being thrust into a situation that brought in offensive reinforcement, bolstered its pass rush on defense, and hired one of the most coveted assistant coaches in football, Robert Saleh, to oversee the whole operation.

Instead, Wilson (among others) has paid the “Jets tax”, where everyday football struggles are instead hysterical comedy fuel. A brief rookie contract holdout felt like a hostage situation before a tough public intrasquad scrimmage (Wilson completed less than half of his attempts and lost two interceptions) at MetLife Stadium was straight-up apocalyptic.

zach wilson, jets

Wilson continues to navigate a situation where not only the simplest mistake, even factors beyond his control, can become the next viral sensation, but also one where he’s playing in a market that doesn’t take the concept of a rebuild too well. Even the gargantuan task of merely appearing in a Super Bowl isn’t enough…how often have you heard Giants fans speak fondly about the 2000-01 season after the Eli Manning pair? With the Jets holding the NFL’s longest active playoff drought (10 years), their long-suffering fans aren’t interested in witnessing another chapter in the endless saga of rebuilding.

Fans know that the phrase “trust the process” has become such a tired trope. The Philadelphia 76ers’ coining of such a phrase (which has yet to yield a result better than seven games in the conference semifinals) was a gift to front offices everywhere: losing streaks and supposed attempts at tanking could be excused as being part of a greater plan to make things right. But when it came to the state of the modern Jets, it’d be hard to deny that some kind of process…and a massive amount of patience…will be necessary moving forward. The Jets are coming off one of the most, if not the most, cursed seasons in franchise history, sinking to depths that even Rich Kotite’s doomed bunch managed to avoid.

Wilson knew what he was dealing with upon entering camp in late July.

“I’m just trying to learn every single day, how I can improve and just knowing my plays better, and just the different looks our defense is throwing at us. It’s going to be a process,” Wilson said, per notes from the Jets. “I would say there’s no pressure behind it, it’s just that the game is fast and you just have to be able to get used to it and catch up to it, and how quickly can I process through things.”

Wilson made his professional debut on Saturday in the Garden State’s late summer tradition informally referred to as the Snoopy Bowl. For some, it’s a mock Super Bowl, an excuse for metropolitan football fans to get together for one last summer hurrah. Others…remember Victor Cruz?…take the opportunity to leave not-so-subtle warnings to the rest of the league. Other times, the game leaves fans feeling wary about the future, presumably leading to the cancellation of some Super Bowl travel packages.

Somehow, someway, Wilson took on the best of both worlds: he left a calming aura amongst Jets while acknowledging that the battle back toward relevancy isn’t going to be an overnight conquest.

Wilson ended the day with a 6-of-9 mark for 63 yards, good for an 86.8 rating. He wasn’t sacked despite decent pressure from the Giants’ reserves. The Jets got into Giants territory on each of his two possessions, including one that began inside their own 10. They might’ve gotten further if not for an offensive pass interference penalty that wiped out a third-down conversion strike to Jamison Crowder. Wilson did convert two other third downs, including a 16-yard strike to Keelan Cole on third-and-nine while the Jets were still trapped at their own 20.

Despite a decent box score, there was room for improvement. He tried to force a third connection with Corey Davis on a third-down in the red zone. The first toss to Davis picked up eight yards on a mini-rollout, but Wilson looked somewhat stagnant in the pocket, often keeping to the safety of inside the hashes.

But no major mistakes, nothing that will appear on SportsCenter‘s Not Top 10, no fodder for the cackling hyenas of Twitter to pounce on, all on a major metropolitan stage against a notorious opponent and moving the ball effectively…what more could the Jets ask for?

Instead of debating Wilson’s Canton case or dooming him to the unholy brotherhood of busts, the Jets can further cherish some of the positive storylines that emerged from Saturday’s proceedings, like an improved pass rush that took down Giants quarterbacks five times and Denzel Mims reclaiming the narrative on his summer.

Obviously, anyone wearing even the slightest shade of green would’ve loved to see Wilson create multiple touchdowns as Justin Fields did in Chicago. They would’ve love to see him thread the needle on a deep ball, Trevor Lawrence-style. But even a perfect performance wouldn’t have solved anything for the Jets. Now, they know what they need to work on moving toward the next Saturday preseason contest in Green Bay (4:25 p.m. ET, WLNY/NFL Network).

“I thought it was good, still things to clean up, but it was a great experience,” Wilson said in a report from D.J. Bien-Aime of the New York Daily News. In that same report, head coach Robert Saleh was more cautious but equally excited.

“There’s still a lot of things that he’s going to learn from. There’s a lot of opportunities for him to grow,” Saleh said. “Even here in this game, despite the fact that he looked comfortable, there’s still going to be things he can learn from.”

Things have rarely panned out for the Jets since a certain Sunday in South Beach in January 1969. Perhaps it’s a cruel reality that the best-case summer scenario, at least in the opening week of exhibitions, is a sub-100-yard performance and only three points. But part one of the Wilson era produces clarity and groundedness…something that’s ironically been missing from a franchise named the Jets, one that’s so desperate to stick the landing…the Jets will happily get on board.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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

new york jets, zach wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

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 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

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

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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

Ranking the New York Jets’ March Madness by 2021 impact

New York Giants, Corey Davis

With the free agency frenzy relatively pacified, ESM looks back on the New York Jets’ March signings and ranks them by their 2021 impact.

The third month on the calendar has been filled with realized dreams, jaw-dropping surprises, and, quite simply, madness.

We are, of course, referring to the NFL’s free agency proceedings…what were you thinking?

Even in its dormant stages, the gridiron has matched the hardwood in drama and intensity through its annual transactional period. We’ve seen the metropolitan football landscape shift as both the New York Jets and Giants seek to claw their ways back to respectability.

From the former’s green standpoint, perhaps anything short of a perfect offseason renovation was going to be able to loosen the current stranglehold the Buffalo Bills have on the AFC East. But the Jets have had a solid, methodic offseason that has at least laid down the groundwork for the team’s potential redemption.

But which newly-minted Jets can have the biggest impact in 2021, in the short term future? ESM looks back on the Jets’ March signings and investigates…

1. RB Tevin Coleman

After the Le’Veon Bell debacle, it’s going to be a long, long time before the Jets break open the bank for a running back. Even so, a strong rushing attack can help remove some of the offensive burden from the quarterback, whether it’s a Sam Darnold desperate for stability or a rookie looking to get off to a good start. There’s potential in the La’Mical Perine-Ty Johnson-Josh Adams triumvirate, but veteran assistance was definitely needed.

Coleman was a rare carry-over from San Francisco for Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur. He struggled last season, dealing with a sprained knee for a majority of the year, but earned some vital carries during the 49ers’ run to the Super Bowl the year before. Coleman’s offensive firepower, capable of earning yards and scores through both rushing and receiving antics, is something the Jets have sorely lacked, as a shortage of big-play talent has stifled any progress they’ve been trying to make in the modern NFL.

2. WR Corey Davis

The Jets were without a big-play receiver after letting Robby Anderson walk to Carolina without much resistance and Denzel Mims’ NFL debut was delayed. Time will tell if Davis is capable of becoming a No. 1 receiver, a billing he never truly lived up to in Tennessee. But, for now, he grants further offensive stability and is a proven talent that knows how to play in big games, having partaken in three playoff treks in Nashville.

Despite falling just short of four digits in yardage, forced to the reserve/COVID-19 list, Davis is nonetheless coming off a career-best season (65 receptions, 984 yards, 5 touchdowns). Getting a young talent on the upswing was vital for this offense, and Davis was perhaps one of the better options available in that realm.

3. LB Jarrad Davis 

While Saleh and the Jets avoided splurging on former 49ers, they were nonetheless able to acquire personnel that can seamlessly fit in what the new head coach is trying to do.

Davis never lived up to first-round billing in Detroit but was very successful in a 4-3 set under co-coordinators Randy Shannon and (current Georgia Tech boss) Geoff Collins. Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich have had success in the set before and will bring it over to New York. Having a relative expert in the field like Davis will help the transition.

4. DE Carl Lawson

Perhaps overshadowed by Geno Atkins in Cincinnati, Lawson has a prime opportunity to shine in New York. He couldn’t have arrived at a better time, as the Jets are faced with the prospect of two yearly meetings with both Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa, necessitating a strong pass rush. His versatility should allow him to contribute on the edge as both an end and a Linebacker. Lawson is particularly excited about working with what Saleh has to offer.

“I looked up some stuff on YouTube about Coach Saleh and I heard some stuff around the league,” Lawson said in his introductory statements, per team reporter Randy Lange. “Listening to some interviews, I came away with how impressive he was. Even in a video, he felt like he was talking to me. And then there was availability at the spot [on the D-line], so those were the first two things that really attracted me here.”

5. WR Keelan Cole

One can debate whether the Jets have a true “No. 1” receiver right now. But with Cole, Davis, and the returning Mims and Jamison Crowder, there’s some strong potential and a sizable arsenal for the quarterback to worth with. The arrival of Cole is just another weapon to work with and helps the Jets start the season with a far more experienced receiving corps. Making Cole even more valuable is the fact that he has carved a strong NFL path for himself despite a carousel of quarterbacks working their way through Jacksonville.

6. DT Sheldon Rankins

Rankins should be an instant starter on the Jets’ defense and is another versatile option that has lined up as an end, tackle, and nose. The revamped front seven can benefit from that flexibility and experience. Ranking, the 12th overall choice of New Orleans in 2016 should also serve as a great mentor to Quinnen Williams, who appears ready to follow in the Louisville alum’s footsteps.

“I watched the true impact defender that (Williams) really is, watching him flourish last year, but he’s really only scratching the surface,” Rankins said of his potential mentorship role, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “He’s still doing a lot of things of just being better than a lot of people. I think once you fine-tune some things…I’ve been around this game going on for six years now. I’ve seen a lot, been through a lot. I can give him some nuggets here and there.”

7. S LaMarcus Joyner

The Joe Douglas era has been relatively bereft of long-term deals, and Joyner’s one-year offer ($3 million) was no exception. He should probably take over the primary strong safety spot alongside Marcus Maye as the 30-year-old searches for some long-term roots after spending the last two seasons with the migrating Raiders.

If anything, Joyner can be a strong mentor to previous third-round choice Ashtyn Davis, who enters a de facto second rookie season after his original was marred by injuries.

8. TE Tyler Kroft

When’s the last time the Jets have had a reliable red zone target? Scoring has been a major concern in the first place, but they could use someone able to create the necessary red zone separation. There was hope Chris Herndon could be that scorer, but he hasn’t matched the firepower of a strong rookie season.

Kroft probably isn’t going to challenge Herndon for the top spot just yet, but he can be that option for a quarterback in desperate need of stability. Each of the Rutgers alum’s dozen career touchdown receptions has come from 20 yards or fewer, including three from Josh Allen last season, including the game-winner in a September win over the Rams. Kroft has also earned positive reviews for his blocking, indirectly addressing an area of need that has unfortunately been otherwise neglected.

9. G Dan Feeney 

Going into the offseason, the Jets’ most pressing need was not the quarterback, but the protection in front of him. Thus far, the Jets have done little to remedy the situation as Feeney, high in personality but low on the analytical ranking lists, is the only offensive line acquisition they’ve made thus far, thrusting a brighter spotlight upon him.

It’s unknown exactly where Feeney will fit in on the Jets’ official depth chart. The best estimation right now probably has him backing up Greg Van Roten at right guard. But, at least until the Jets add some protection through the draft, he’s the only difference from last season and he might get called upon to make some changes, especially in the interior.

10. CB Justin Hardee

Hardee is officially listed as a cornerback, but it’s far more likely he’ll bolster the Jets’ coverage units. When you’re a team like the Jets, one that struggles to score, pinning the opponent deep on kickoffs and punts remains vital. Hardee, a mainstay amongst the top special teams tackle leaders, should help the Jets improve on their punts, as they allowed 11.7 yards per return last season (27th in the NFL), a number that could’ve been higher if not for some crucial stops by Braden Mann.

11. DE Vinny Curry

Curry has had his moments of NFL glory, but no one’s expecting the nine-sacks, four-forced fumble season he earned in 2014. Last season in Philadelphia showed that the 33-year-old still has some power left in the tank, so he can serve as a reliable depth option, which could’ve come in handy last season when Jabari Zuniga and Kyle Phillips went down. It’s more likely, though, he’ll be used in more of a mentorship role for Williams and Foley Fatukasi.

12. LB Del’Shawn Phillips

The former JUCO star has an inspiring story, working his way into a Big Ten school (Illinois) after academic ineligibility ended his original Division I dreams at Western Michigan. Even with the Jets’ issues at linebacker, Phillips likely faces an uphill battle to reach the Week 1 lineup.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets set to add WR Keelan Cole on one-year deal (Report)

New York Jets

Cole, having created a respectable NFL career since emerging from Division II Kentucky Wesleyan, is set to join the New York Jets.

Per Adam Schefter of ESPN, the New York Jets are set to add receiver Keelan Cole on a one-year, $5.5 million deal, Cole, an alum of Division II Kentucky Wesleyan, scored a career-best five touchdowns last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, also earning 642 yards on 55 receptions.

Cole, 27, has developed into a strong threat in the slot despite a seemingly endless stream of quarterback changes in Jacksonville. He memorably burst onto the scene with a 97-yard touchdown in his preseason debut against the New England Patriots. Since his 2017 arrival, he leads all Jaguars receivers with 2,242 receiving yards and was second in receptions (159, one behind Dede Westbrook).

Like fellow new receiver Corey Davis, Cole is a rare Jets representative with postseason experience, partaking in the Jaguars’ surprise run to the AFC title game during the 2017-18 playoffs. Notably, Cole earned a 45-yard reception in the fourth quarter, one that set up a Jacksonville touchdown to give them a two-possession lead. Cole is also well-known for a jaw-dropping, one-handed grab earned in the conference championship rematch with New England the following season. It was part of a 116-yard day as the Jaguars earned a quantum of revenge through a 31-20 triumph.

Cole’s arrival comes on the same day Breshad Perriman left for Detroit, the latter signing a one-year deal with the Lions. The Jets previously welcomed in his former AFC South foe Davis on a three-year, $37.5 million deal and have high hopes for second-round choice Denzel Mims, who showed some promise after dealing with early injuries. Cole could work in the slot with Jamison Crowder, who has been by far the Jets’ most consistent offensive weapon in the last two seasons.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags