New York Jets: Four silver linings from a brutal first quarter

At 0-4 and both the head coach and franchise quarterback on the hot seat, the New York Jets have little to celebrate, but not all is dreary.

Autumn in New York, as Billie Holiday originally sang, is “often mingled with pain”. That appears to be the case in New Jersey as well, at least on the gridiron.

We’re a quarter of the way through the 2020 NFL season, and the New York Jets sit at 0-4 at the quarter mark. As lifeless as the Jets have looked…the fact that their average margin of defeat is “only” 14 points might count as a proverbial win…things might get progressively worse. In addition to a Sunday matchup against the Arizona Cardinals (1 p.m. ET, Fox), the next few weeks feature get-togethers against upstart teams (LA Chargers), playoff contenders (Buffalo, New England), and even the defending, red-hot Super Bowl champions (Kansas City).

Yet, if one looks closely at the 2020 Jets…and you could hardly be blamed for keeping your (social) distance…they can glean some specific positives that should have fans excited for the rest of this season…and potentially beyond.

Mekhi Becton

It feels like ten different networks broadcast the NFL Draft these days…Disney XD simulcasted the most recent Pro Bowl, so maybe they’re next into the fold…but all of them seem to unite around the common theme of lampooning the Jets’ first-round choices. Even the ones they hit are subject to satire, as producers gleefully share footage of Matt Leinart-adoring fans booing the Jets’ selection of Mekhi Becton.

Lately, the Jets have provided fodder for those segments. Darnold and Quinnen Williams could well be on their way to first-round infamy. Their day one brothers Leonard Williams and Jamal Adams have already been sent elsewhere via trades. But, so far, Mekhi Becton is blocking those detractors, literally and figuratively.

Becton is turning into a cornerstone on the much-maligned, perpetually rebuilding offensive line. Because the Jets aren’t allowed to have nice things, injuries and controversy have already snuck into his career…namely over whether Becton should’ve been used in Thursday’s loss to Denver after suffering a shoulder ailment four days prior in Indianapolis…but the early on-field returns are promising. Through the first two weeks, Pro Football Focus had Becton as the best-graded offensive rookie amongst all positions. Even at half-strength against the Broncos, Becton managed to look strong, vindicating the Jets’ decision to pass on several high-profile receivers to take him 11th overall last spring. A lot of questions pepper the Jets’ future. If things hold up, Becton’s spot on the blind side of the quarterback, be it Darnold or otherwise, won’t be one of them.

Jamison Crowder

Crowder had established him as a serviceable slot option over four seasons in Washington. In New York, he’s been a consistent bright spot over the past two difficult seasons. Last season, Crowder led the Jets in all major receiving categories. He’s only appeared in two games this season, but he seems well on his way to repeating the feat. The century mark in yardage has been broken in each of his two games thus far, and he’s also responsible for the longest play of the Jets’ season, a 69-yard scoring hookup with Darnold in the Week 1 visit to Buffalo.

A good portion of this modern Jets rebuild is focusing on young players etching a role for themselves in the future. But the 27-year-old Crowder is transforming himself into the reliable veteran role player prescience that championship teams crave. It’s a role comparable to, say, Sammy Watkins in Kansas City. In his second year on the team, Crowder might as well be an established New York veteran at this point. A potential free agent after this season (he signed for three years, but has a potential out at $1 million in dead cap), Crowder has turned himself into one of the players allowed to stick around for the potential glory days ahead.

Sam Darnold’s Mobility

Enough has been written about whether Darnold is still the Jets’ franchise man under center. There are 13 weeks, including a bye, left in this dreary season, so we certainly can’t promise that you won’t see any more articles about the concept.

But one thing that has changed for the better when it comes to Darnold is his mobility. We saw brief flashes of it toward the end of last season…that rollout touchdown to Crowder against Baltimore comes to mind…but Darnold has earned satirical comparisons to Lamar Jackson in the way he’s improved this year.

Thursday night brought this concept to the forefront when Darnold earned a career-best 63 rushing yards, 46 of which came on a long touchdown run on New York’s opening drive. We’ve seen Darnold extend plays by escaping onslaughts f the pocket and finding Braxton Berrios for scores.

Time will tell if Darnold remains under center for 2021 and beyond…heck, an injury sustained in the Denver game has his status for Arizona in question. But his developed mobile talents certainly make a case for his sticking around.

Special Teams

Coaches have come and gone since his arrival in 2016, but special teams coordinator Brant Boyer has made himself eternal. One look at his modern unit shows why.

The Jets’ special teams had to be on their game even before 2020 unleashed their scary surprises. With an offense struggling to find itself and a defense missing two of its top representatives, it would crucial for returns to set up good field position and punts to make things difficult for the offense. Field goals could help a meandering offense end drives on a positive note.

So far, the components have thrived in their respective roles. Sixth-round pick Braden Mann’s punting numbers aren’t lighting up the rest of the league, but he’s become a reliable name on the Jets’ roster while slowly getting things together on the NFL level. He earned a season-best 48.7 yards per boot on Thursday and even made a touchdown-saving tackle in the second half. Josh Malone is averaging 20 yards a return, seventh-best in the AFC. Most importantly, Sam Ficken, 30th in three-point conversion rate last season, has been literally flawless in the early going. He’s one of eight kickers to hit all of his attempts (8-for-8). Of that tally, only Jason Sanders in Miami has hit more (9). If the Jets do what most fans expect and fire Gase, Boyer would make for an intriguing and well-deserved interim boss.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Jamison Crowder, Mekhi Becton expected to play Thursday

The New York Jets will be facing off against the Denver Broncos tomorrow night at home. The team’s injury report is lengthy, but they are expecting to get wide receiver Jamison Crowder and rookie offensive tackle Mekhi Becton back for the game. Getting both players back would be huge for the last-ranked offense in the NFL.

Crowder has missed the last two games after suffering a hamstring injury. During the Week 1 game against Buffalo, he posted 7 receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown, being by far the most productive weapon Sam Darnold had. Crowder addressed his chances of playing tomorrow and how his progression has been.

“I feel real good about them,” he said. “I’ve been working out, doing some running… I feel like I did some really good cutting and ran a few routes [Tuesday] and it felt good.”

Head coach Adam Gase reiterated his excitement about getting Crowder back, calling him the team’s “best receiver.” Crowder certainly has been the most consistent option on the field, and it should give them a boost against a banged-up Denver secondary.

Rookie offensive tackle Mekhi Becton is expected to play tomorrow as well, after leaving early last game with a shoulder injury. Becton had an MRI done on Monday to determine the severity of his injury and it turned out much better than initially expected, according to Adam Gase.

“The MRI and everything turned out better than really we were thinking [Sunday] night.”

That’s great news for the rookie and the team as a whole.

The starting left tackle has been very good through his first three games, even being named the highest-graded offensive rookie through two weeks, according to Pro Football Focus.

That’s great to see from a top draft pick and from a position that the Jets have desperately needed consistency from. If Becton does indeed play tomorrow, his job will not be all that easy. He would be lining up against defensive end Shelby Harris, who has 2 sacks so far this season, and potentially against linebacker Bradley Chubb.

Becton has held his own, though, so far during his transition to the NFL. He has had just one penalty called against him and he has allowed only one sack. That is, once again, great to see from the player responsible for guarding Darnold’s blind side.

Getting these two key players back would be much needed for a struggling offense. Based on the track they’ve been on so far this week, tomorrow’s game looks like the return for both of them.

 

Four plays that decided the New York Jets’ Sunday fate vs. Indianapolis

A scoring drive in the first quarter provided hope, but the New York Jets endured yet another one-sided defeat in Indianapolis.

In a city best known for auto racing, the New York Jets fell off the pace in a hurry.

Sam Darnold threw three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns en route to a 36-7 defeat at Lucas Oil Stadium at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts. The Jets (0-3) have been outscored by 57 points over their first three games and are the only team in the league that has yet to hold a lead over this young season.

Which plays best personified the Jets’ latest defeat? ESM investigates so you don’t have to, taking one play from each quarter…

1st Quarter: Sam-I-Ran

Whether it’s scripted or (more-often-than-not) improvised, Sam Darnold seems to do his finest work on the rollout. They saw one such play last week against San Francisco, one that could’ve been a rare touchdown had Chris Herndon held onto the ball. The early stages of the game saw Darnold channel some suppressed rushing powers that allowed the Jets to extend some drives…and, by association, rare Sunday hope.

Making a rare visit to the red zone, Darnold sent a clear message to those chanting the name of Trevor Lawrence by escaping a furious rush from the Colts to fire a 16-yard touchdown pass to Braxton Berrios. It’s a small moment that will get lost in the carnage of yet another one-sided defeat, but it was yet another flash of brilliance from Darnold in the murky mess that is New York football. It was perhaps a sign that Darnold knows that the final stretches of the season could be the make-or-break portion of his NFL career.

2nd Quarter: Same ‘Goal Jets

Alas for Darnold, the rest of the game was filled by a dangerously contagious 2020 trope: making throws that a third-year franchise man should never be making.

The Jets trailed 17-7 in the middle stages of the second quarter, but embarked on a red zone trek kickstarted by Josh Malone’s return to the New York 40. This drive seemed to further establish the slot replacement Berrios as a potential silver lining in a stagnant offense, as he and Darnold hooked up for a 28-yard gain that situated the Jets 12 yards away from another touchdown.

Alas, Darnold launched a potential touchdown pass to Lawrence Cager in triple coverage that was instead taken by Colts defender Xavier Rhodes. No points immediately emerged from the disastrous throw, but the Jets never truly threatened the game from there on out. Darnold’s first interception, also taken by Rhodes (albeit that former turnover for a score), was another bad decision tossed into a crowded era, a mistake that the Jets never truly recovered from.

3rd Quarter: Taylor’s Swift

Despite a pedestrian lead at “only” 10 points, the Colts were allowed to more or less run a cooldown lap in the second half. The Jets’ defense wasn’t doing much to inspire fear and the lack of consequences was best on display when the Colts opted to go for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from New York’s one-yard-line.

The Jets got off to a good start on the tightly packed play, as Bradley McDougald invaded the backfield after the handoff to rookie rusher Jonathan Taylor. But Taylor eluded the diving safety to punch in what was more or less the final blow to the Jets’ dying hopes. McDougald, who has so far been a rare beacon of consistency since coming over from Seattle, left the game in the fourth quarter with an injury, dealing yet another medical blow to a woebegone unit.

4th Quarter: Safety Last

Someone must’ve uttered “how can this get any worse???” during the fourth quarter, because the Colts checked off one of the final boxes in the latter stages.

Another crucial injury loss, that of Mekhi Becton, was on brutal display during one of the Jets’ final drives. Backed up to their own four-yard-line after a Rigoberto Sanchez punt, the Jets advanced two yards before Darnold dropped back to pass on third down. Alas, Becton’s replacement, Connor McDermott, failed to account for the blitzing Justin Houston, taking Darnold down in the end zone for a Pacers/Fever-style two-pointer.

With Becton out for most of the second half, the rushing lanes shut down and Darnold was forced to run for his life. If the Jets miss Becton this much…and they truly have to hope that this won’t be a long-term issue…the first-round rookie might warrant a few MVP votes.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets Game Preview Week 2: San Francisco 49ers

New York Jets, Jimmy G

The September road gets no easier for the New York Jets, who welcome in the defending NFC champions on Sunday afternoon.

What: San Francisco 49ers at New York Jets
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox

Whoever formed the 2020 NFL schedule was probably not a New York Jets fan.

A week after opening their season with a tilt against an up-and-coming divisional foe, the Jets open their 2020 MetLife Stadium slate against the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon (1 p.m. ET, Fox). Each is looking to avenge opening week losses against familiar competition.

The Jets (0-1) experienced the worst kind of deja vu last weekend, opening their season with a loss to the Buffalo Bills for the second straight year. In their 27-17 defeat, the Jets allowed 404 yards of offense, 369 coming from the arms and legs of Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen. It allowed the Bills to build a 21-0 lead before the Jets earned second half touchdowns from Jamison Crowder and Josh Adams. Defensively, safety Marcus Maye impressed on the statsheet with a game-best 10 tackles and two sacks while also forcing an Allen fumble.

“It was about as bad of a start offensively as we could have had,” head coach Adam Gase said of the loss, per transcripts from the Jets. “We didn’t do anything when the defense did a good job getting a turnover. Complimentary football was non-existent throughout most of the game. We just really did not play well. The disappointing aspect is just watching the guys work all week and the excitement level coming into this game. We have a lot to work on and a lot of things to get fixed.”

San Francisco’s follow-up to their Super Bowl LIV appearance didn’t go as intended, as they fell 24-20 to the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium. Raheem Mostert tallied 151 total yards of offense and a receiving touchdown in defeat.

The Series

This will be the 14th all-time meeting between the Jets and 49ers, with the latter leading the all-time series 10-3. With the scheduling formula, the teams meet only once every four years. The Jets took home the last meeting in overtime by a 23-17 final in 2016. It was a career day for Bilal Powell, who had a career-best 145 yards and the game-winning score in the extra period. San Francisco dominated the most recent meeting at MetLife Stadium, a 34-0 shellacking in 2012.

History Happens: 1983

Historically, the Jets and 49ers have been at the opposite end of the football success spectrum. The Jets had their share of success in the 1980s, but it was nothing compared to San Francisco’s quartet of Super Bowls. New York, however, was on the right side of things in a 1983 matchup at Candlestick Park. In a victorious 27-13 final, Jerry Holmes stifled the potential tying drive by taking a Joe Montana interception back 43 yards for the sealing score. Richard Todd threw for 201 yards and a score, while Scott Dierking added a rushing touchdown.

They Said It

“He has a short memory no matter what goes on good or bad. He’s always positive no matter what the situation is. On both sides of the ball, we look up to him. We look for him to get everybody going on that side. He’s the leader on that side of the ball and on this team. We will all rally behind him and I’m sure the offense will too. He always finds a way to bounce back,” Maye said. “I don’t expect him to come out with any doubt at all. He’s a great competitor and he knows how to get those guys going. I’m excited to see them come out fast, come out hot this week and he’ll be alright.”Jets safety Marcus Maye on Sam Darnold, per Eric Allen

“Obviously, hindsight is 20-20 but Nick at number two is a no-brainer. And Quinnen was a no brainer. At that point, it was just kind of what you prefer as a team, as a coaching staff, and as an organization. Obviously, I don’t think you could have gone wrong with either player. I do feel Nick has turned into one of the best at his position. Quinnen has that same ability. So we expect him to be disruptive on Sunday and we expect to try to contain him. Both of those guys are saturated with talent and I don’t think you could have went wrong either way.”-49ers tackle Trent Williams comparing Quinnen Williams and Nick Bosa, per Chris Biderman

Matchup To Watch

T Mekhi Becton vs. DE Nick Bosa

Becton has been thrown into the NFL fire in his professional debut. He dealt with the likes of Jerry Hughes last week that powered San Francisco into the most recent Big Game. Bosa exploded onto the NFL scene in his rookie year and, as evidenced by Williams’ comments, he might have a little extra something to prove as the 49ers battle Quinnen Williams, who went one pick later in the 2019 draft at third overall.

The Jets’ blocking was one of the rare consistent silver linings of Sunday’s opener. Becton’s performance was particularly inspiring, turning in a performance good enough for Pro Football Focus’ top-rated offensive rookie in Week 1 games. The second presents on opportunity or reckoning for the offensive line. If they truly want to show the NFL that their offensive line has taken a step in the right direction…and perhaps provide a stronger sense of security for Sam Darnold…pacifying the 49ers’ relentless rush would be an inspiring step in the right direction on both a local and national level.

The Jets Will Win If…

Sam Darnold responds to perhaps the biggest challenge his NFL career has faced yet.

A good portion of the Jets’ fanbase has to realize that criticism can be levied toward Adam Gase while also holding Darnold accountable. Opening weekend was not a strong showing for Darnold, who put himself in situations and issues that third-year franchise quarterbacks frankly shouldn’t be facing in their third year at the helm. In today’s world of instant gratification and response through hot football takes, that can be deadly for a quarterback’s social status in this league. Some mock drafts have gone as far as to pencil Trevor Lawrence into the Jets’ 2021 draft slot. A good game would do a lot to stifle those concerns.

The window of opportunity opens even wider upon the injury-induced absence of starting cornerback Jason Verrett. Darnold has risen to the occasion before when the odds are stacked against him…remember his return from illness against the Cowboys last season? He might need another one to create some peace of mind.

The 49ers Will Win If…

They take care of business. Until further notice, the Jets are prime trap game fodder, that possibility only increasing with each opponent’s prestige.

San Francisco is going to a popular pick in knockout pools over the next two weeks, as they return to the metropolitan area next Sunday to take on the Giants. The trap game case is only increased with their constant travel to the other side of the country. But the 49ers can not get caught looking ahead. The Week 1 scores, ones that left San Francisco as the only fruitless squad in their group, proved that the NFC West is going to be one of the most, if not the most, division in football season. Arizona’s road win in Santa Clara shows they may be ahead of schedule. The already dangerous Seahawks looked to be on another level with Jamal Adams in tow. In Los Angeles, the Rams christened both SoFi Stadium and their redemption tour with a nationally televised win over Dallas. Simply put, the 49ers can’t afford to go 0-2. Desperation only rises with both Verrett and star tight end George Kittle out due to injury.

The Super Bowl runner-up has missed the ensuing postseason in three of the past six seasons. San Francisco must take care of business to avoid that same fate.

Prediction

Even with the time zones on their side, it was already enough of a tall task to ask the Jets to take down the defending Super Bowl finalists. The fact they’ll be missing several major contributors (Jamison Crowder, Le’Veon Bell, Denzel Mims) and the idea that San Francisco will still be stewing from the misstep against Arizona only makes the task even more daunting. Thus, it’s probably not wise to expect any miracles on the New York end.

Moral victories will be the name of the game for the Jets in the foreseeable future. If they play well against an elite team, they can hang their heads high. Victories on the scoreboard, simply put, may still be at a premium.

49ers 27, Jets 14

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets Position Group Grades: Offensive Line

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

As the season looms, I decided to take a deep dive into each position group within the organization and grade each group. This offseason, New York Jets GM Joe Douglas devoted both financial resources and draft capital towards improving one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Now, the Jets enter 2020 with a diverse group of both young talent, productive starters, and vets looking to establish themselves. With a lot of high potential guys, stable vets, and some key talent, let’s take a closer look at how this line grades out.

LT: Mekhi Becton

The mountain of a man joined the Jets as the 11th pick in this year’s draft. As part of the core group of top linemen, Becton is already considered to be a potential star. His unique combination of size and athleticism makes him a weapon in the run game. Not only that, but he’s a solid pass blocker. His lack of advancement in terms of detecting pass rush moves is worrisome, but it remains to be seen how ready he is to handle the top pass rushers in the game.

LG: Alex Lewis

Lewis was an aggressive and vocal leader in that offensive line room last year. Now he’s carved out a role on the roster and as a starter. Right now, his health for Sunday is questionable. In the short term, Lewis is classified as an average starter, but a strong season could earn him a long term role in the green and white.

C: Connor McGovern

The prized signing of the offensive line and my favorite new addition is the key man up front. McGovern is one of the most underrated centers in the game. McGovern is one of the least penalized linemen in football and one of the highest quality centers. His veteran presence and skill will add stability at the center of the line and contribute to the cohesiveness of the entire unit.

RG: Greg VanRoten

A lifelong Jet fan will be a starter from day one. VanRoten is just like Lewis. Both want to be here. Are fighting for a job next year and are quality linemen, but not superb. VanRoten is a poor pass blocker and a solid run blocker. If he can just hold his own as a pass blocker and provide stability, that will be a big asset. In the end, my hopes are mid-level for VanRoten this season.

RT: George Fant

Fant is not a crazy talented right tackle. He’s not going to be the reason this unit takes a big step up. However, Fant is built more like a tight end than a lineman. His athleticism is the best of any lineman on this team. His ability to fit into Adam Gase’s scheme and be a lead blocker is something that is a plus for the team. Still, Fant is unproven and the most worrisome of all the starting linemen, and I’m intrigued to see if he develops throughout the season or if the Jets turn elsewhere.

Bench: Josh Andrews, Cam Clark, Connor McDermott, Chuma Edoga & Leo Koloamatangi

This bench is not one that is loaded with talent. Instead, it’s loaded with guys who have the potential to come in and be an average filler if need be. They’re cheap and young linemen who provide a lot of versatility. Two guys to watch in this bunch are Clark and Edoga. Edoga was a starter in the past and could slot in for Fant if he struggles. The rookie, Clark has the potential to be a long term fixture on this line if given a shot.

Grade: B-

This line is still not proven or where it needs to be yet. The lack of in-game reps together is worrisome. Still, the talent is there and the competitive fire. This is a group that could outperform this grade. If they can be improved, they could be the reason this offense takes a massive jump. If they don’t, they could once again be the detriment of the team.

New York Jets optimistic as training camp ends, training camp looms

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

Cautious optimism emerged from the final day of New York Jets training camp, as a tense weekend of cuts awaits.

Stage one of a most unusual NFL season has come and gone. One of its most painful mainstays, however, is already underway.

The New York Jets’ training camp proceedings ended on Friday afternoon, just a little more than 24 hours before the mandated downsizing of NFL active rosters to 53 players. New York’s personal purging has already bid farewell to veterans James Burgess (who led the Jets with 80 tackles last season) and Jonotthan Harrison (19 starts over the last three seasons). The process will only continue as Saturday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline approaches, though several departees could find new opportunities with practice squads extended from 10 to 16 players.

Head coach Adam Gase anticipates Saturday’s organized chaos, especially in such a tenuous season that could require substitutions rising to the occasion on short notice.

“It’ll be interesting when we kind of get to those because I’m sure that it’s going to end up being we’ll have about five really tough decisions to make,” Gase said of the roster trim, per transcripts provided by the Jets. “Those active roster (decisions), but on the practice squad and then kind of holding your breath to see if anybody gets claimed it’ll be interesting heading towards the end of this week.”

The calm before Saturday’s storm of transactions allowed the Jets’ a brief opportunity to focus on a roller-coaster training camp session. Set in the backdrop of the ongoing health crisis, some would say it’s enough of a win that the team emerged without major catastrophe.

Still, Gase was pleased with what the team was able to accomplish in their college campus-like settings. He hopes the awareness and precautions taken during the process carries over into the regular season.

“I think the players did a great job staying focused. I know it was an unusual training camp, a lot of walkthroughs, rep wise,” he said. “No preseason games, but I thought the guys did a good job of using the time he had his effectively as possible. It was nice that, you know, we were able to kind of have the setup we had with having the hotels as close as we had them, kind of almost making that like a dormitory, buying out the whole hotel, which that was big for us, just kind of had smooth transition on all that stuff.”

“We’ll kind of see as we get into the season, where now guys can live on their own and we’ll maneuver that and now we’ll be able to just kind of start doing meetings live in person, which is that’s going to be something that we’re, we’re going to be excited about.”

Walkthroughs weren’t able to fully simulate the type of action the Jets lost through the cancellation of the annual preseason quartet. But Gase was pleased with what the effort put forth and the work accomplished.

“The walkthroughs were awesome,” the head coach remarked. “It’s like having a meeting on the field and I do think the way that our guys engaged in the virtual meetings was, I felt like we got a ton of guys asking more questions than sometimes when you’re live, where it’s easier to nod your head and say you got it and you might not have it, where on the virtual stuff, I just felt like there was a better back and forth for whatever reason.”

With training camp in the books and no exhibitions looming, the first opportunity to battle a football player clad in a color other than gree and white comes in the Week 1 opener against the Buffalo Bills (1 p.m. ET, CBS). The Jets will likely enter that game packed with youth and inexperience and without some crucial would-be contributors stepping out due to medical concerns and training camp injuries. There’s no telling just how much progress was made before the Jets battle a good number of experts have pegged to swipe New England’s AFC East throne.

But from what the players and coaching staff have gathered, they believe they’re ready to face a season laden with questions.

The spring selection of Louisville offensive lineman Mekhi Becton will loom large for both the Jets’ immediate and long-term future. If he fails to rise to expectations, it could set the Jets back years and have them wondering about the wide receiver prospects left behind. But his success could change the narrative about the Jets’ offense and perhaps become the spark the Sam Darnold/Le’Veon Bell era truly needs to ignite.

It would’ve been Becton’s showings that garnered the most observers if summer showcases were allowed to proceed. The Jets sound pleased with what they were able to get in the meantime.

“He looks comfortable to me. And he’s not making mistakes,” Gase said of Becton, per Olivia Landis of the official team site. “I’ve been extremely impressed by how he’s operating as far as his knowledge of football, how he’s retaining things, acquiring the information, recalling it, and then at the same time executing, playing fast. He’s doing a really good job.”

Becton’s first NFL training camp has certainly been one for the books. He was denied a handshake from the commissioner and hearing his name called in Las Vegas with the league opting for virtual draft settings last April. Presumably starting, he’ll be thrown into an immediate fire against Buffalo, owners of one of the NFL’s scariest pass rushes. He’s one of many Jets that could’ve used four consequence-free opportunities in August to adjust to the professional game.

But the experiences at One Jets Drive in Florham Park may have given Becton the best preseason/tune-up opponents of all: Gregg Williams’ defense.

Becton admitted that virtual meetings at the onset of camp that virtual meetings took a bit of adjusting to, but that he found his first NFL training camp to be a fulfilling experience, one that helped him learn where his true NFL strengths lie and where he might need to improve moving forward.

“I would definitely say I got better as a player, person and teammate,” Becton said in Landis’ postcamp report. “I definitely learned how to take care of my body, technique, plays, everything. I’ve gotten better over this time period.;”

“I fixed my hand placement and made sure that I keep my feet moving and don’t just stop once I make contact. Those are the things I worked on the most and needed to harp on the most. I also needed to work on my backside cutoff as well.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Mekhi Becton already earning rave reviews as practice opens

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

New York Jets training camp has only just begun, but first-round pick Mekhi Becton is already making a strong impression.

As the New York Jets opened training camp this week, Connor Hughes, who covers the team for The Athletic, humorously suggested that one could play a drinking game for every time someone mentions that Mekhi Becton is big.

With all due respect to Hughes, don’t do that…it won’t end well.

The Louisville alum, the Jets’ first-round selection in April’s draft (11th overall) has joined new Jets teammates in training camp activities in Florham Park this week. Standing at 6 feet 7 inches and weighing 364 pounds, Becton barely needs pads to suggest an imposing prescience. But once he donned his new green gear, he backed up his fierce reputation in style as early reports from NYJets.com indicate that Becton has made a strong first impression in his days in a new helmet.

“He made himself known out there and what he’s capable of doing,” linebacker Blake Cashman said in a report from Ethan Greenberg. “He’s a great player. He’s going to be somebody that’s going to play a long time in this league and has more potential to grow.”

“Every day I just have to watch him and watch film of not just him but everybody,” running back Frank Gore added. “The first day, he was talking to me out there and saying, ‘I’m going to get you four yards’ and I like that. He can move.”

Another report from Hughes, this one more serious in nature, mentioned that Becton perhaps earned the play of the day by knocking down blitzing backfield invader Neville Hewitt during team drills. Becton’s ability to use his renowned size

“He applies it to the field,” Gase noted in Greenberg’s report. “It’s difficult for guys to figure out how to rush him in the pass game and then in the run game it’s hard to hard to move them back, you don’t see much penetration, that line flattens out pretty fast.”

Becton may not be showing up in the Jets’ box score except under unusual circumstances, but he has the potential to be the 2020 offense’s most valuable member. The first blocker the Jets have chosen in the opening round since D’Brickashaw Ferguson in 2006, Becton is expected to take the jobs of Sam Darnold and Le’Veon Bell easier as they seek to change the fortunes of a stagnant offense. On average, Jets quarterbacks were sacked 3.2 times per game last season, tied for 28th in the league.

In a league dominated by offensive heroics, a stagnant offense is a big problem and leaves a massive hole in the Jets’ future. But if anyone’s going to fill it, there’s likely no better place to turn than the 6 foot, 7 inch, 364-pound blocker from Highland Spring, Virginia.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Five New York Jets who could make the leap into the Top 100 Players of 2021

New York Jets

NFL Network’s annual summer countdown featured no New York Jets representation, but there’s potential for some to make the leap.

Sports are slowly returning to the American consciousness. The asphalt and the links have respectively played host to NASCAR and Golf, while bubbles have been inflated to stage the NHL, NBA, and WNBA season. MLB continues to play in empty stadiums for the time being, though to say that situation is in flux would be the understatement of this chaotic year.

Yet, despite not having played a single down since Patrick Mahomes’ victorious throwaway at the end of Super Bowl LIV (which, by the way, did indeed occur in 2020) and training camp still going through medical testing, we’re still talking about NFL football.

The catalyst this time around is the full release of the Top 100 Players of 2020, the annual countdown of names determined by the votes of the players themselves. Results have annually been posted on NFL Network, with the full list unveiled in the span of a week this time by. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson went from unranked to taking the top spot. Fellow thrower Russell Wilson was the runner-up while Mahomes came in fourth behind previous winner Aaron Donald. New Orleans receiver Michael Thomas rounded out the top five.

Alas, the metropolitan area possesses more teams than it does players in the current Top 100.

While the Giants were blessed with Saquon Barkley’s inclusion (No. 31, down 15 spots from the prior edition), the New York Jets have no current members on the prestigious list. Jamal Adams came in a No. 27 for his exploits from last season, but he, of course, has been dealt to Seattle, one of seven Seahawk representatives (tied for the most with Baltimore and New Orleans). The Jets were one of six teams without a current nominee, joining Cincinnati, Detroit, Jacksonville, Miami, and Washington in infamy.

Who are the Jets’ best hopes to ensure we’re not talking about another blank slate this time next year? ESM has five nominees…

T Mekhi Becton

Reaching the 100 after one’s rookie season isn’t impossible, evidenced by the appearances of Kyler Murray, DK Metcalf, Josh Jacobs, and Nick Bosa on this year’s edition. But doing so as an offensive lineman is particularly difficult. Candidates are unaided by flashy “fantasy football” stats, making inclusion a tough hill to climb.

If Becton is able to deliver the kick that the Jets’ offensive line needs, spark the protection revolution that a hopeful backfield requires to fulfill its potential, then he should definitely be among the top 100 this time next year.

The offensive lineman is one of the most underrated positions in football, and perhaps in all of sports entirely, with no opportunity to reach the box score except in the case of the tackle-eligible play or fumble recovery in the end zone. But they’re perhaps the most valuable member on the team, especially in this day and age of fantasy football heroics. Big plays are exciting, but they’re rendered meaningless when the thrower has no time or the runner can’t make it to the hole. It’s very telling that no Jets blocker has appeared on the list since Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson showed up in the inaugural edition in 2011. If Becton’s prescience finally starts to change the Jets’ offensive narrative, he should earn this special recognition.

RB Le’veon Bell

Bell went from the top five to unranked after his lost final season in Pittsburgh. Last season wasn’t enough to put him back on the list, rushing for a full-season career-low 789 yards. Since his year-long opt-out, Bell has gone on to serve as a soothing voice of reason during his time with the Jets. He reiterated his dedication to the franchise during an uncertain trade deadline last season and has since vowed to right the wrongs of his first year in green. The Jets’ offensive line renovation was an endeavor to help Bell return to form. Further fuel was added to his 2020 fire when Bell gave Jamal Adams one last parting gift in the form of a Twitter get-together that leaves the Jets potential December visit to Seattle looming larger than ever on the 2020 ledger.

The combination of new, and potentially more powerful, blockers and a quest for vengeance could make for fireworks in the Jets’ backfield. Bell has been a mainstay on the Top 100 list throughout his career. If he’s able to capture even a portion of his Pittsburgh firepower, he can definitely work his way back.

QB Sam Darnold

Darnold has become one of the most polarizing figures in both New York sports and the NFL entirely. While it’s completely fair to say that Darnold hasn’t fully reached his NFL potential, one has to analyze the hand he’s been dealt. With so much turnover in his blocking and receiving corps…Chris Herndon, Brian Winters, and Jonotthan Harrison are the rare leftovers from his rookie season…Darnold has still managed to post respectable numbers. Each of his first two seasons has ended with a hot streak, and now he might finally consistent blocking help and a long-term deep play target (Denzel Mims).

If and when we get a 2020 season, it will serve as the proverbial crucial third year of Darnold’s term as franchise quarterback, one that either extends the thrower’s stay in his locale (Jared Goff, Derek Carr, Matthew Stafford) or ends it entirely (Trent Edwards, Christian Ponder, Daunte Culpepper). Darnold probably has a little more time on his hands, considering he’s working with an all-new offense. But if he can make a leap in the third year, inclusion on the Top 100 should be no problem. It more than likely won’t be like Jackson’s dramatic ascension (going from unranked to No. 1 in the span of a year), but if he’s able to move past No. 87 Josh Allen, that’d likely be satisfying enough for a good portion of the Jets’ fanbase.

S Marcus Maye

It’ll be a big year for a 2017 Jets draftee, a member of the secondary, an SEC alum, and someone who will likely be looking for a long-term contract.

But Jamal Adams is gone. The New York secondary now belongs to Marcus Maye.

Maye is now one of the leaders of the Jets’ defense, especially a safety group that will be relying more on former Seattle reserve Bradley McDougald and third-round pick Ashtyn Davis. Maye had a solid season coming back from injury, and now has a big opportunity in a contract year to make something happen in New York. Entering his fourth season, Maye is surprisingly one of the Jets with East Rutherford/Florham Park tenure now.  If he can impress in an expanded role…well, let’s just say an appearance in the Top 100 would come in very handy when it comes to contract talks in New York or elsewhere. Maye’s rise could similar to Top 100 newcomer Budda Baker (No. 97) who has taken on a larger role in Arizona over the past two seasons since the departure of Tyrann Mathieu.

LB C.J. Mosley

If the program was called the “Top 100 Players of Last Week 1’s First Three Quarters”, Mosley might’ve topped the list. Through 45 minutes of action against the Buffalo Bills, Mosley had tallied six tackles, two pass breakups, a fumble recovery, and an interception returned for a touchdown. He served as the main catalyst behind the Jets’ 16-3 lead. Alas, Mosley’s injury the first domino to fall in the chain of events that was the Jets’ disastrous fall. With the exception of a one-game cameo in October, Mosley missed the remainder of the 2019 season, thus unable to move up the rankings after exploits in Baltimore placed him at No. 71.

As a leader in the defense, Mosley has high hopes for the upcoming campaign, which should be scary for AFC East newcomers like Cam Newton and Tua Tagovailoa. He expressed a desire to “(put) the pedal on the gas as quick as possible” during an offseason episode of the Locked on Jets Podcast.

“Last year was kind of building the foundation while we was moving,” Mosley said. “Now the foundation’s been set. We ended the season on a great note, so we’ve got to start the season fast like we ended the season, and I think if we can start early this year, through our offseason going into camp, and hit the ground running those first four games, that first month of football, we can set the pace for ourselves.”

A full season from Mosley should not only help the Jets’ defense, but resume his personal quest to climb up the Topp 100’s rankings.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Brian Winters could be an integral piece to a successful offense

New York Jets, Brian Winters

Brian Winters has been a veteran piece for the New York Jets for the longest time. This offseason has fogged up the future of Winters. With new additions across the board, the offensive line has undergone an extensive overhaul. As the offseason programs and now the preseason get hindered by COVID-19, continuity has become all the more imperative to success. With that said, all of a sudden, Brian Winters has just received a significant bump in his stock.

The Long Tenured Jet Is Efficient

Winters hasn’t been the most successful guard, but he’s been efficient at times. Despite battling injuries last season, he finished with a PFF rating of 62.4. That’s pretty underwhelming on the surface, but if you take a look back at his production from 2018, he was near the top half of offensive lineman in a few categories.

He allowed five sacks, which wasn’t great but could’ve been much worse over a 16 game span. He only had six penalties, which isn’t very bad. The very important stat, 1,001 snaps played, which was 17th best in all of football for linemen. Winters wasn’t spectacular. Nor has he ever been, but he’s efficient.

Why His Role Could Expand

With the lack of a preseason, Winters could make the roster and earn meaningful reps after all. Initially, it seemed as though Winters could be a cut candidate in the preseason. Now, with the lack of preseason, that eliminates the opportunity for the new pieces to gel in-game on the offensive line. With the lack of time to build chemistry, this could give Winters a leg up over his competitions, Greg Van Roten and Cameron Clark. Ultimately, Winters can provide a veteran leadership role for the rookies and new additions. As well as bring continuity on the overhauled line with the changing circumstances of the season. 

New York Jets: Mekhi Becton set to ink guaranteed deal (Report)

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

The New York Jets signed the 11th overall draft pick on Monday, as both he and the team were happy to reveal.

The New York Jets have announced the signing of first-round pick and offensive lineman Mekhi Becton. This signing comes hours after the team confirmed they were set with fellow selections Jabari Zuniga and James Morgan.

Becton himself confirmed his signing on social media in capitalized fashion.

Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the deal is worth a fully-guaranteed $18.45 million over four years. Rapoport has also stated that Becton is in the New York area, hinting that he will be ready to report to training camp on Tuesday with other first-timers.

The Jets chose Becton with the 11th overall pick out of Louisville in April’s NFL Draft. It marked the first time the Jets had taken an offensive with their top pick since 2006, when they chose D’Brickshaw Ferguson sixth overall. He was the third lineman chosen in 2020, following fellow tackles Andrew Thomas (4th, NY Giants) and Jedrick Wills (10th, Cleveland). The Highland Springs, Virginia native is set to play a major role in the Jets’ offense, namely as a left tackle protecting the blindside of quarterback Sam Darnold.

Becton established himself as one of the most dominant linemen in the nation during his time as a Cardinal. He started 23 games at Louisville and later earned first-team All-ACC honors. The Cardinals surprised many with an 8-5 record last season, though Becton skipped the team’s Music City Bowl victory over Mississippi State.

“I want to start as a rookie and I want to make the playoffs. I would say those would be my rookie goals,” Becton said in a write-up by Eric Allen of NYJets.com. “I like to finish and I like to dominate in the run and in the pass. That’s what I’m going to bring him to the table.”

With the signing of Becton, third-round choice Ashtyn Davis remains the only draft pick that hasn’t inked his first green contract.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags