New York Jets: Four goals for the post-bye slate

rob saleh, jets

Though the playoffs are still a pipe dream, there is plenty for the New York Jets to accomplish over the next dozen weeks.

After a one-week reprieve for their beleaguered fanbase, the New York Jets are back in action.

The Gang Green faithful actually enjoyed the last week of NFL football: no other AFC East team picked up a win and Sam Darnold lost in overtime before Jamal Adams and Geno Smith fell in a prime time thriller. Those latter instances allowed the Jets to shoot up the draft board thanks to prior transactions. Entering Week 7 play, the Jets own two picks in the top ten and four within the first 46.

The fortuitous weekend for Jets fans was perhaps unironically assisted by the fact that their team didn’t play a single down, but that gravy train comes to an end on Sunday afternoon. New York (1-4) resumes their season on Sunday, commencing a dozen weeks of uninterrupted gridiron endeavors at Gillette Stadium against the New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Even though the Jets entered Week 7 play only a game-and-a-half out of the last AFC wild card spot, the playoffs remain a pipe dream. Having said that, there’s plenty for the team to accomplish and plenty of ways for them to feel good about the 2021 season as things get back underway in New England…

zach wilson, jets

Break 30 points

The modern NFL is one that worships offense under the supervision of a deity known as fantasy football. Teams reach point and yardage totals that would make Arena Football League (RIP) teams blush…and still lose.

The Jets have been left behind in this regard: over the past two-plus seasons, they have reached the 30-point plateau in only three games…all of which came in November 2019. That’s tied with Pittsburgh (which has been weighed down by aging and backup quarterbacks) for the second-worst such tally in football and besting only the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars.

Growing pains were to be well-expected with a rookie quarterback in tow. No broadcast of a 2021 Jets game is complete without showcasing the fact that Peyton Manning, for example, threw 28 interceptions during his rookie campaign near the turn of the century. But that doesn’t mean the Jets should wave the white flag on offensive development.

Through five games, it’s tough to make a case that the Jets have generated any form of offensive consistency. Week 4’s upset win over Tennessee, a game that saw the Jets earn their first touchdown in a first half, seemed like a great catalyst, but they followed that up with a brutal half-hour of game time in London before salvaging a respectable final score against the Atlanta Falcons. It’s great that a defense held together by the flimsy tape of draft weekend Saturday acquisitions and late summer camp cuts has held its own, but there’s no need to make a gargantuan task even harder.

Reaching the landmark of 30 points would be a strong step forward for the offense, a nice task to cross off the Zach Wilson NFL to-do list. The Jets need to finally get with the times; doing so sooner rather than later would have all kinds of benefits.

elijah moore, jets

Maximize Mims and Moore

It’s been a long, long time since the Jets have had a homegrown big-play receiver. Robby Anderson had a chance to be that weapon but the Adam Gase era scared him away from further metropolitan efforts. The last realistic option is probably a toss-up between Santana Moss (2001) and Jerricho Cotchery (2004).

Over the past two springs, the Jets have spent their primary picks on necessary upgrades to the offensive line (Mekhi Becton/Alijah Vera-Tucker) but found diamonds in the second-round rough through Denzel Mims (59th overall in 2019) and Elijah Moore (34th last April). Each entered this season with something to prove: Mims was forced into a de facto redshirt year after hamstring issues ate away at his rookie training camp while Moore wants to show the football world that he should’ve been a first-rounder.

When the winds of change swept through the Jets’ offense, both Mims and Moore were expected to become sizable parts of the offensive revolution. But each has found themselves awkwardly sidelined: Mims was a surprise healthy scratch for two of the first five games and has struggled to beat out reserves like Braxton Berrios and Jeff Smith for playing time. Moore missed the Tennessee win with a concussion sustained the week prior in Denver but struggled to work his way back into the London lineup, partaking in only 41 percent of offensive snaps (though one drew a length pass interference penalty that set up the Jets’ final touchdown of the day).

The Jets have invested a lot into Mims and Moore. In choosing the former, for example, the Jets passed on instant, consistent contributors like Jeremy Chinn, Logan Wilson, and Antonio Gibson. Time is on Moore’s side, but the Jets are nearing a point of no return with Mims. If offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur wants to leave a lasting positive impression on the long-suffering unit, the best way to do that would be to carve out roles for two undeniably talented playmakers. The Jets have lost enough ground in the big-play race; they have the resources to restabilize themselves and would be foolish not to take advantage.

marcus maye, jets

Turnaround the Turnover Game

Their 1-4 record may mask it to the broad, national scene, but the Jets’ defense has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the NFL’s early slate. The group’s efforts have been particularly impressive considering that the average drive starts less than 66 yards from the end zone (an NFL-worst). New York has established one of the scarier pass rushing units in the league, their success personified by a four-year extension bestowed to John Franklin-Myers worth a guaranteed $30 million.

But their efforts in forcing turnovers have left much to be desired: the Jets have earned only four takeaways over the first five games, half of which came through fumble recoveries in London. Through the first six weeks of play, they’re the only team in the league that has yet to record an interception.

It doesn’t take much research to show how important it is to force turnovers in today’s NFL. The resurgent Dallas Cowboys are allowing 295 aerial yards per game (30th in the league) yet their defense is the talk of the football town thanks to a league-best 11 interceptions, seven of which have landed in the arms of Trevon Diggs. The Jets have done a solid job of limiting damage from Wilson turnovers, but it’s time to take the next step. With Marcus Maye not only returning from an ankle injury but also reiterating his immediate dedication to the team, there’s a prime opportunity to generate positive momentum in New England.

zach wilson, jets

Beat Another Contender

Though the playoffs are probably out of the question, there are prime opportunities for the Jets to earn victories. A six-game stretch that stretches from Thanksgiving to Christmas looks particularly tasty, as that slate (Miami twice, Houston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Jacksonville) comes against teams that own a combined eight wins (three of which come from the Saints).

But if the Jets truly want to provide an “ahem” moment to the rest of the league, a warning that they’re going to be a problem in the near future, they need to beat one of the elite squads that reside on the immediate road ahead. They still have to face the Buffalo Bills twice, while New England, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati linger at the cusp of contention. The Jets also ring in the new year with a visit from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their MetLife Stadium finale on Jan. 2.

The Jets might’ve taken care of that with the aforementioned over the AFC South-leading Titans, but any good vibes were erased by a listless first-half against an Atlanta squad whose wins have come against the cursed New York football duology. A shutout loss in Denver also looks particularly ugly now that the Broncos have lost four in a row.

Playing out the slate after a slow start is a task the Jets have become far too comfortable with over recent seasons. The first year of the Gase era, for example, forced them to work through a 1-7 start. They would finish that year with a respectable 7-9 ledger, but almost all of those wins came against teams in equally dire straits. Another win over an established contender wouldn’t cancel out listless showings against mediocre squads. But it would help the Jets feel more comfortable with what they’ve built and the investments they’ve made so far.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Marcus Maye addresses trade rumors, commits to New York Jets

Set to return to the field on Sunday, New York Jets Marcus Maye addressed several happenings from an eventful time on the injury report.

This New York Jets rollercoaster drama involving a star safety appears destined for a happy ending, at least in the immediate future.

Thursday saw safety Marcus Maye speak publicly for the first time since the team announced that he injured his ankle during the Week 3 loss in Denver. The ailment has kept Maye out for the last two games but he’s set to return for the Jets’ return to action on Sunday afternoon in New England (1 p.m. ET, CBS). It’s New York’s first game since taking their mandated week off during Week 6 action.

Much has transpired while Maye recovered: when his initial diagnosis of a three-to-four week injury was announced, Maye’s agent Erik Burkhardt curiously noted that his client would be healthy by the trade deadline on Nov. 2. A February arrest for DUI was also made public, one that Maye failed to inform the Jets about in a violation of league rules.

Maye spent Thursday expressing remorse and setting the record straight. While he was unable and/or unwilling to divulge details of his conversations with the coaching staff stemming from his arrest, he apologized and said he addressed the issue with his teammates.

Time will tell what the future holds for Maye both on and off the field. His immediate prospects, however, won’t involve a change of address if he has anything to say about it.

In Thursday’s statements, Maye clarified that he never asked for a trade. As long as the NFL allows him to do so…discipline could arrive for his failure to report his arrest…he plans to do so in a New York Jets uniform.

“They know I want to be here. They know I’m 100 percent with my guys and teammates and things like that,” Maye said, per Rich Cimini of ESPN. “I feel like they know I’m 100 percent with those guys every time I step on the field.”

“Every time I’m in this building, I’m 100 percent. Every time I’m on the field, I’m 100 percent. I’m going to be with my guys no matter what.”

Maye brushed off the Burkhardt tweet by merely claiming he doesn’t “have control over (Burkhardt’s) phone”. The defender has been the subject of hypothetical deadline deals, as the holder of a $10.6 million franchise tag has been public about his desires to be one of the NFL’s highest-paid safeties. It’s eerily reminiscent of the Jamal Adams saga, one that ended with Adams burning every New York-based bridge he had before the Jets traded him to Seattle in the latter stages of the 2020 offseason. The primary yield was a pair of first-round draft picks, one of which was traded to Minnesota for the right to draft primary left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker.

Maye admits that he has no control over the rumors but vowed to hand what he can handle as the Jets return to the game field.

“My duty is to play football the best as I can,” Maye said, per notes from the Jets.

To that end, Maye expressed no ill will toward the team when they bestowed a four-year extension (accompanied by a guaranteed $30 million) to fellow defender John Franklin-Myers. He instead celebrated the pass rusher’s windfall and hopes to resume talks toward his own when this season ends.

“He deserves it, he earned it, he worked hard for it. That’s my guy. I’m happy for him,” Maye said. “We’re all in different situations…I can’t control what happens to him. But I’m definitely happy for him.”

With extracurriculars set to be sidelined upon Maye’s return, the Jets (1-4) are overjoyed to be welcoming him back as a matchup with a divisional rival’s rookie sensation, Mac Jones, looms large. Through six weeks, the Jets are the only team in the NFL that has yet to earn an interception. Turnovers as a whole have been hard to come by: the Jets earned four fumble recoveries in their five pre-bye contests but half of those came in their most recent showing, a loss in London to the Atlanta Falcons.

New York management is confident that Maye’s rearrival can help further bolster what has otherwise been a pleasantly surprising defensive effort in the early going.

“He heightens everybody just with his awareness and his communication skills,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said of Maye, per team notes. “Although it’s the first year in the system for him, for this particular system, there’s a lot of carry over stuff that he’s done. The veteran presence, it will be big for us back there.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: TE Kenny Yeboah to make NFL debut on Sunday

New York Jets

The New York Jets’ undrafted rookie, who will sub in for the injured Tyler Kroft, became a preseason folk hero last summer.

A New York Jets summer hero is about to make his autumn debut.

Tight end Kenny Yeboah will partake in his first NFL regular season game on Sunday as the Jets battle the Atlanta Falcons in London (9:30 a.m. ET, NFL Network). Yeboah, an undrafted free agent out of Temple and Mississippi, is perhaps best known as the recipient of a 50-yard Hail Mary at the end of the Jets’ preseason finale against Philadelphia in August. It capped off an evening that saw Yeboah earned 100 yards on four receptions, half of which went for touchdowns.

Yeboah’s debut comes in the absence of primary tight end Tyler Kroft, who is out for Sunday’s contest with a back injury. Safeties Marcus Maye and Adrian Colbert are out with concussions, as is receiver Jeff Smith.

The Jets (1-3) face off against an Atlanta team that will be missing several primary contributors. Top receiver Calvin Ridley is missing the game due to personal reasons as will fellow catcher Russell Gage and defensive lineman Marlon Davidson, each of whom are dealing with ankle issues.

While Ridley (1,374 receiving yards in 2020) is a major part of Atlanta’s attack, Jets head coach Robert Saleh said that his absence won’t make a difference in the metropolitan defensive game plan.

“We may see some different personnel groupings, (but it) doesn’t really affect our game plan, it came in so late,” Saleh said, per notes from the Jets. “Ridley is a heck of a football player. But at the same time, they’ve still got a lot of weapons with (running back/receiver) Cordarrelle Patterson, he’s rejuvenated, (quarterback) Matt Ryan can get the ball to anyone. Their draft pick, (tight end) Kyle Pitts, is pretty freaking good. It’s a challenge, they got a lot of weapons over there.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: Marcus Maye’s agent attaches curious tweet to injury news

Maye reportedly won’t don a New York Jets uniform for at least three weeks but his agent hinted it could be even longer.

A new year and new on-field management appear to have nonetheless begotten controversy in the New York Jets secondary.

A tweet from Erik Burkhardt, the agent of Gang Green safety Marcus Maye, seems to imply that one of the longest-tenured Jets could be on the movie by the time the NFL’s trade deadline rolls around. Burkhardt was referencing a report from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that Maye would miss the next three to four weeks with an ankle injury.

He was particularly interested in Maye’s estimated return. Under the reported estimation, Maye would be back by the end of October, days before the moratorium on Nov. 2.

“Should be back fully healthy just before the trade deadline…” Burkhardt says, accompanying his tweet with a handshake emoji.

This isn’t the first time a Burkhardt tweet has caused a green stir. In March, Burkhardt expressed displeasure that the Jets hadn’t signed his client to a long-term deal, doing so in a reply to ESPN correspondent Field Yates’ tweet about the Jets’ $80 million in cap space after the release of defensive end Henry Anderson.

“(The Jets) refuse to take care of their best player, Captain, & team-voted MVP in his prime who had several All-Pro votes,” Burkhardt said. He also referenced Maye’s switch to his natural free safety spot after the team traded  “(He) played out his entire rookie deal and even changed positions on his contract year (after they got rid of last yrs [sic] All-Pro safety).”

Adams eventually burned down his metropolitan bridges through a series of disparaging social media posts. He got his wish for an expensive long-term deal after he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks, who granted him a four-year, $70 million contract last offseason.

Maye is instead playing on a $10.6 million franchise tag in lieu of the long-term deal he sought. He has tallied 23 tackles and one sack through the Jets’ first three games. Maye, like Adams before him, has expressed a desire to become one of the highest-paid safeties in football but dedicated himself to a year on the tag shortly before the year opened.

“Winning games is first, that’s what you play the game for,” Maye said on Sept. 4, per team reporter Jack Bell. “Also, (you play it to) take care of your family and making sure you’re set up for the future. Control the controllable. If you have no control over something, there’s no point in getting all upset. If you’re not here to win games, then what are you doing this for?

“Once (contract talks) were over with, I just put it to the side and got back to the basics of playing football. Once I get on the grass I never worry about anything else.”

In lieu of Maye, the Jets welcomed back safeties Ashtyn Davis and Sharrod Neasman to practice on Wednesday after the two spent most of September on injured reserve. New York (0-3) returns to action on Sunday afternoon at home against the Tennessee Titans (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

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

ashtyn davis, new york giants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Three stars from Sunday’s loss vs. New England

michael carter, jets

Sunday will be defined by Zach Wilson’s mistakes, but several bastions of hope emerged from the New York Jets’ latest loss.

New quarterback, same painful result.

Damien Harris and James White each had a rushing touchdown while J.C. Jackson earned two interceptions of Zach Wilson. The second overall pick’s East Rutherford introduction was a painful one, as he threw four interceptions in a 25-6 defeat. New England (1-1) has now won 11 consecutive meetings over the Jets, who fall to 0-2 for the third consecutive season.

ESM has three silver linings who emerged from the first defeat in East Rutherford…

Honorable Mentions

  • WR Elijah Moore: 4 receptions, 47 yards
  • RB Ty Johnson: 12 carries, 50 yards
  • WR Jeff Smith: 1 reception, 35 yards
  • LB C.J. Mosley: 10 tackles, 1 pass defense
  • LB Shaq Lawson: 4 tackles, 2 TFL
  • DL John Franklin-Myers: 3 tackles, 1 sack
  • DL Sheldon Rankins: 2 tackles, 1 sack

3rd Star: WR Braxton Berrios

7 receptions, 73 yards

With Corey Davis enduring a tough afternoon (one of Wilson’s interceptions went through his hands and into the waiting arms of J.C. Jackson) and Jamison Crowder still working his way back from COVID-19, Berrios came through for the New York offense. His 73 yards were a new career-best and he leads the Jets with 12 receptions in the early going. Berrios also averaged over 23 yards per kick return, including a 38-yard tally that set up the Jets’ only points of the first half.

2nd Star: S Marcus Maye

6 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack

Considering the awkward circumstances Wilson’s mistakes forced them into, the Jets defense mostly prevailed. New York particularly raised the pressure in the first half, earning three sacks of Mac Jones, the first coming from the safety Maye. The Jets’ real problem was stopping the New England running backs. White caught all six of his targeted passes (tallying 45 yards) while Harris more or less put the game away with a scoring run that dragged several defenders in the end zone. Maye’s ability to break into the backfield is certainly inspiring to a Jets defense working with makeshift material.

1st Star: RB Michael Carter

11 carries, 59 yards, 2 receptions, 29 yards

The Jets running back committee put forth a solid effort, as metropolitan rushers had 152 yards on 31 attempts (4.9 average). Carter was particularly impressive, serving as one of the Jets’ most consistent offensive sources. Many expect Carter to break away from the committee set up and grab the lion’s share of attempts before the end of the year. The Jets enjoyed a taste of what the fourth-round pick could bring in an expanded role on Sunday. More importantly, Carter worked through a downtrodden offensive line that was missing its anchor (Mekhi Becton) fairly well. As Wilson continues to figure out the NFL game, it’s worth keeping an eye on what the Jets do with Carter, perhaps relying on him as a consistent momentum shifter in the immediate future.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

5 New York Jets who could make the leap into the NFL Top 100

new york jets, zach wilson

Corey Davis, an active New York Jet, appeared in NFL Network’s annual late-summer rankings. Who’s on pace to join him?

As a team struggling to gain traction and stability on the national football scene, the New York Jets will take any form of visible signs of improvement and stability. NFL Network’s annual countdown of the best 100 players from the prior season provided some welcome advancement.

In the annual rankings hosted by the network and determined by the league’s players, Jets receiver Corey Davis came home 91st. Last year’s postings, annually released in late August, featured no active Jets; their lone representative (safety Jamal Adams) had been traded to the Seattle Seahawks by the time the rankings were unveiled.

Who could potentially earn the respect of their peers next to Davis in 2022’s list? ESM investigates…

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

OT Mekhi Becton

One of Joe Douglas’ most fateful moves to date has been the choosing of Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall selection of his first draft. The selection was called controversial at the time…the Jets left several elite receiving prospects on the board…but Becton has provided a solid foundation and has become a reliable anchor for an offensive wall set to protect treasured skill players.

The lack of conventional, numerical statistics makes it hard for offensive linemen to leave their mark in the Top 100. This year’s list featured only a dozen blocking representatives, the highest being Indianapolis guard Quinton Nelson at No. 33. But the arrival of Becton could commence a green offensive resolution in New York, even if his contributions won’t appear in the box score. Such contributions cannot and should not go unnoticed.

(Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

S Marcus Maye

In the midst of metropolitan chaos, Maye emerged as a leader in the secondary and, at the very least made sure the Jets made regular appearances in SportsCenter‘s Top 10. His efforts were rewarded with the Team MVP award named after Curtis Martin.

Maye, however, is still left with something to prove enter the 2021 season: a long-term contract was not to be, a franchise tag bestowed in its place. At only 28, Maye is an elder statesman in New York circles as the longest-tenured Jet entering his fifth season). He looks downright ancient in the secondary after the Jets’ recent transactions bid farewell to third-year man Bless Austin in an effort to highlight rookie selections. If Maye can succeed in a larger role, he can earn not only the expensive, lengthy contract he desires but a spot amongst the Top 100 as well.

elijah moore, jets

WR Elijah Moore

Could Moore join his fellow New York newcomer Davis in the Top 100? It’s certainly possible if he lives up to the hype that followed him from Mississippi.

It’s been a long time since the Jets had a consistent, lasting, homegrown, big-play threat. In fact, there haven’t been many efforts in finding one: at 34th overall, Moore was the highest receiver who heard his name called by the Jets since Santana Moss went 16th in 2001’s opening round.

Moore is expected to become one of the biggest faces of the Jets’ offensive makeover. He already has an Offensive Rookie of the Year vote from former collegiate teammate A.J. Brown. The Tennessee Titans star appeared in the 62nd slot in the most recent list.

“I (saw) him working out, I know what he wanted to do. I know the dreams he has. He’s going to go crazy this year with the Jets,” Brown said in an appearance on the Raw Room podcast earlier this summer. “He’s a real sleeper. I would put my money on him for Offensive Rookie of the Year over anybody. I ain’t even discrediting the guys who went in front of him, but yeah, ain’t nobody messing with him … Nobody that came out (of the draft is) messing with him.”

New York Jets, Quinnen Williams

DT Quinnen Williams

Carl Lawson would’ve been a prime candidate to appear on 2022’s Top 100 list, but the football gods had other plans. The deities of the gridiron continued to toy with the Jets’ front seven after Lawson was lost for the season, likewise taking away Vinny Curry for the whole year and Jarrad Davis for the five-week slate prior to the Jets’ open date.

Thus, Williams has a prime opportunity to put the “V” in MVP, as he’ll take on a leadership role while the Jets’ defenders try to tread water. The third overall pick of the 2019 draft enjoyed a breakthrough season with a team-best seven sacks last season. If the Jets’ defense is able to hold opposing offenses in check while Lawson heals, it’ll no doubt come with a healthy dose of Williams’ antics.

Williams remembered a special source of inspiration toward his sense of leadership going into the 2021 season: late NBA star Kobe Bryant.

“The No. 1 thing he told me: Nobody’s going to follow someone who’s not doing their job,” Williams told team reporter Jack Bell in March. “And that was the main thing that stuck with me. You got to set in stone that you’re a dominant player first. You got to go in there and take over and make sure everybody knows like whenever Q says something or whenever this person says something, they’re going to automatically follow because they see you doing the right thing, they see you doing everything first.”

zach wilson, jets

QB Zach Wilson

If one were ranking a Top 100 players of the 2021 NFL preseason, one would undoubtedly have to consider two crucial factors: first, seek help, because you’re ranking 100 players from the NFL preseason. But if you were to continue such a fruitless endeavor, Wilson would undoubtedly appear in the top ten, maybe even the first three or five slots.

The indifference and irrelevance bestowed toward preseason statistics notwithstanding, it’s hard not to at least be excited over Wilson after his summer slate. New York scored on four of Wilson’s six preseason possessions (all but one of which ended in opposing territory) and his passer rating of 137.7 would’ve led all passers had he partaken in the final exhibition game against Philadelphia.

We’ve seen first-year quarterbacks immediately launch themselves into the players’ Top 100 through awe-inspiring freshman showings. Chargers selection Justin Herbert (No. 56) was the revered rookie this time around, following in the footsteps of recent entries Baker Mayfield (2019), Dak Prescott (2017), and Robert Griffin III (2013).

Perhaps unfairly, the Jets’ long-awaited turnaround is going to be judged by the performance of Wilson, the latest entry to the team’s everlasting audition to replace Joe Namath. Even with the undeniable improvements from the rock-bottom endeavors of 2020, making the playoffs is going to be a tall task for Gang Green. If Wilson starts his career on the right note, his peers must take notice.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets LB Jarrad Davis on scheme, values, and mental health

new york jets, jarrad davis

Davis considered “walking away” from football, but the New York Jets’ call has afforded him a chance to reclaim the narrative on his career.

No matter their genre, fictional characters have embarked on new quests by hiring an expert in the field in question to complete their goals. Peter LaFleur brought in dodgeball legend Patches O’Houlihan to save Average Joe’s Gym. Norman Dale enlisted the services of former Hickory Husker Wilbur “Shooter” Flatch to help capture Indiana high school basketball glory.

In the real world, linebacker Jarrad Davis is in a similar position as he arrives in Florham Park for his first New York Jets training camp. Entering his fifth season out of Florida, Davis is a noted practitioner of 4-3 defense, which is set to make its return to New York under new head coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.

The 4-3 has played host to Davis’ finest gridiron hours: his work under Geoff Collins and Randy Shannon’s system at the University of Florida made him a first-round pick of Detroit Lions (21st overall) in 2017. He was a strong fit for a similar system overseen by Teryl Austin, earning all-rookie team honors.

Davis returned to the 4-3 on Wednesday when he partook in the opening camp practice on One Jets Drive. He offered a positive review of what Saleh and Ulbrich had to offer in his first post-practice comments.

“The defense is so layered. On the front end, we have to cause havoc, stress quarterbacks out, get them off the spot,” the new front seven member said of the defense, per video from the Jets. “Linebackers, we need to help protect the middle of the field. We got to make sure our reads are sharp, our keys are where they need to be, eyes are where they need to be on our keys. We just got to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can do to take care of our jobs.”

“This defense, as with almost any other defense in the league, it’s about all 11 doing their job. If there’s somebody out of position, then it’s going to make somebody in the backend look bad, someone who may have done everything perfectly, because the timing isn’t there. It’s all about everybody just doing their job, just simply put.”

Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Though Austin was dismissed through the controversial firing of head coach Jim Caldwell, Davis enjoyed a productive sophomore season under Paul Pasqualoni (100 tackles, 10 for a loss, 6 sacks), even earning on-field playcalling duties. But Davis, like many, fell victim to the Matt Patricia cesspool in the Motor City. Injuries ate away at his 2019 season and he spent most of last season in a rotational role, playing a career-low 330 snaps over 14 games. Detroit declined to pick up his fifth-year option as they went back to the drawing board.

Faced with an uncertain football future, Davis entered a period of “soul searching”.  What made his Detroit demotion so painful, he said, was the fact that he was “making the game everything”.

“I was making myself the game. And when I was doing that, it just, it just didn’t feel right,” he said. “This is such a competitive sport at this level. You have to put your everything, you have to put your all into it. But there has to be balance. I had a personal life but it wasn’t as important, I didn’t really care. If my personal life got in the way of football, it couldn’t exist. Living like that, I burnt myself out.”

As a result, Davis admitted that he seriously contemplated “walking away” from football. Instead, he began a new offseason endeavor.

“Living like that, I would burn myself out,” Davis said of his relative all-or-nothing approach. “I had to go do some things to take care of myself personally, mentally, and emotionally and get back right.”

To that end, Davis met with a Super Bowl champion: Denver-based sports psychologist Dr. Rick Perea, Ph.D.

Described as “one of the nation’s most energetic and dynamic practitioners in Performance Psychology“, Dr. Perea was on the Denver Broncos’ staff during their run to Super Bowl 50 in the 2015-16 season. His services have also been employed by the Nuggets and Rockies, as well as several other NFL squads.

Davis previously worked with Dr. Perea during the 2017 draft process. This time around, the linebacker learned how to “revalue” things moving forward.

“Football was top of the top (of my values), nothing could knock it down. Nothing could knock down the foundation that football was standing on,” David recalled. “But we personally just cleared it. We just took it off the radar, like took it off my list. It’s just something I do now. It’s not who I am anymore.”

Don’t let the wording fool you: Davis believes that his revaluing process will make him a better player on the field. For example, a mistake that would haunt him for the rest of practice is forgotten by the next down.

“If I mess up in practice, I mess up in practice. I can bounce back from that and come back and make a better play the next play now,” he said. “Before, I messed up, now I think about that all practice. I can’t even focus on anything else. I can’t even see the fullback taking me to the gap I need to go to anymore because I’m thinking about this play that happened 20 minutes ago.”

The Jets’ call meant more for Davis under a new focus. New York inked him to a one-year deal worth $5.5 million in March, reuniting him with fellow former Gator Marcus Maye. The safety was chosen 18 picks after Davis in the 2017 draft, just three months after they capped off their Gainesville careers with a 30-3 over Iowa in the Outback Bowl.

An opportunity to return to a familiar scheme drew Davis to the metropolitan area.

“To get that phone call early in free agency from the Jets, it was a blessing to know that I had such an opportunity as this to come in and really get back to work,” Davis said. “I’m coming back to the scheme, the familiarity. We did stuff similar to this in college and being able to play fast and just be myself out there just excited me.”

Davis is one of many athletes who have shared their struggles with mental health in recent times. His discourse coincided with decorated American gymnast Simone Biles’ highly publicized withdrawal from several events at the 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo due to such concerns.

Though Davis admitted he was not up to speed to comment on Biles’ situation, he hopes that his own situation will remove stigmas and inspire his teammates to ask for help if they need it.

“Why do we have to think getting help and not being okay, and saying that you’re not okay is a cool thing to do before you can actually say it?” Davis rhetorically asked. “If you’re not okay, you’re not okay, and it’s okay to ask for help. I guess it’s a very simple question, but it’s a powerful one.”

“People do need to understand that. When we do, we’ll be able to build and grow in life.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets add defensive lineman Jeremiah Valoaga

New York Jets

Valoaga, a fifth-year veteran, joins the New York Jets after previously working with Robert Saleh during the 2019 season.

The New York Jets announced the signing of veteran defensive end Jeremiah Valoaga on Tuesday night.

Valoaga, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of UNLV in 2017, spent the last two seasons with the Raiders franchise in both their Oakland and Las Vegas incarnations, though he did not play last season after opting out in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. He previously worked with Jets head coach and former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh during a shared season (2019) in the Bay Area and enjoyed a lucrative preseason, leading the team in sacks during the summer exhibition quartet (4.5).

The Oxnard, CA native has become an NFL veteran despite some struggles with academics in college, but he recovered and eventually earned a rookie contract from the Detroit Lions. He also spent most of the 2018 season on the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad. Over 13 regular season games with Detroit and San Francisco, Valoaga has earned seven tackles, including one sack.

Valoaga was one of several roster moves the Jets made as they descended upon One Jets Drive for training camp on Tuesday. He takes over a roster spot from blocker George Fant, who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. His arrival should help the Jets bide time on the defensive line until Quinnen Williams, Kyle Phillips, and Vinny Curry are activated. Williams and Phillips landed on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list over the weekend, while Curry is in the Active/Non-Football Injury group.

Elsewhere, the Jets got three of their defenders back. Safety Marcus Maye and Valoaga’s new fellow lineman Foley Fatukasi were activated from the NFI list while another front seven attendee, final draft pick Jonathan Marshall, came off the PUP group.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Three reasons why the New York Jets can make the playoffs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Sorry, Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Pressure Treated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Meet the New Boss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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