The New York Jets run game has a huge opportunity ahead

michael carter, jets

As Zach Wilson struggles to find his NFL footing, the New York Jets’ run game could become a vital source of offensive stability.

Offensive salvation may have made its way to the New York Jets through the 2021 NFL Draft. But the Cleveland-based gift might’ve arrived not on Thursday of the proceedings…but Saturday.

To the surprise of no rational Jets fan, Zach Wilson’s arrival wasn’t a one-size-fits-all instant fix for New York’s green team. Calling for Wilson’s dismissal and closing the book on his Jets career after two games is asinine but there’s no denying that Gang Green needs to develop some sort of offensive momentum, even if the results don’t translate on the scoreboard.

As one rookie has faltered, it might be prudent to turn over further trust to another: It may be time to give the Michael Carter project a jumpstart…the running back, that is (though the similarly-named safety has likewise done his part on defense).

Yes, turning the offensive reigns over to a rushing attack seems archaic by 2021’s professional football standards. But, as we know by now, the Jets aren’t really in any position to turn any form of offensive assistance. The unit has pulled itself out of the cesspool that Adam Gase dragged them into, as their 336-yard output on Sunday against New England bested their tallies in all but two games from last season. But if the Jets want to look at a 2021 season that likely won’t end in the postseason with proud eyes, they need to push the offense in the right direction.

Nothing more needs to be written about the Jets’ perpetual search for a franchise quarterback but a leading rusher has proven equally elusive. No Jets rusher has reached four digits in yardage since Chris Ivory in 2015, three years after Shonn Greene became the most recent homegrown back to do so.

It’s incredibly easy to understand why the Jets would be reluctant to turn over major offensive responsibilities to the run game. The last time they tried that, they got burdened with Le’Veon Bell drama and $4 million in dead cap space. It’s going to be a long time before the Jets ever break the bank open for a rusher and they’re not exactly hiding their minimalist approach: whereas Bell’s four-year deal was worth $52 million, the contracts of the six rushers currently stationed on the Jets’ roster are worth just about a quarter of that.

But the bargain bin, as anyone who has spent ten minutes in their local Target can testify, can yield delightful prizes. The early returns on Carter, and some of his rushing compatriots, suggest he could become a buried cult classic, like a copy of Idiocracy with a $3.99 price sticker. The Meadowlands complex is well-known for hosting the game-changing antics of one North Carolina alum with the surname of Carter. A path is set for another to do the same.

Carter has the makings of a popular fantasy football waiver wire option as the season goes on. The former Tar Heel, subtly slid under the radar in the fourth round as April became May. He currently stands as the fourth-leading rusher in Chapel Hill history, ahead of tenured NFL veterans like Natrone Means and Gio Bernard.

michael carter, jets

The Jets’ rushing situation in the post-Bell era was in a state of flux upon his arrival: Ty Johnson, Josh Adams, and La’Mical Perine (the latter being a fourth-round choice in 2020’s virtual proceedings) were denied extended opportunities in a lost season thanks to the Frank Gore retirement tour while the team also added two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman to the fold on a cheap one-year deal. There was an unspoken understanding that a committee-like approach awaited once the season got underway.

Yet, there was something about Carter’s skillset, praised for his physicality, size, and off-tackle abilities, that convinced observers that he would break away from the pack sooner rather than later. Offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur might’ve seen it coming through training camp comments from team reporter Randy Lange.

“He’s got such a good feel for holes and space,” LaFleur said in August. “When you think he’s about to hit something, he’s so tight to the ground and under control that you never really know where he’s going, but it always seems like he makes the right decision.”

That takeover might’ve come earlier than even his most optimistic believers anticipated.

The Jets’ finest offensive outputs came when they turned to Carter on Sunday. He was responsible for a third of the Jets’ 18 first downs (earning the necessary yardage on six of his 13 touches), totaling 88 yards from scrimmage, the most by a Jets rookie running back since Elijah McGuire had 131 in an October 2017 tilt against Jacksonville. Making things all the more impressive was the fact that Carter broke loose on an afternoon where the Jets were without offensive line anchor Mekhi Becton.

It was a performance that head coach Robert Saleh defined as “electric” in the aftermath of the team’s 11th consecutive loss to the Patriots. Saleh praised the way that the run game performed in general, as Johnson put up 50 yards through a dozen carries while Coleman had 24 on five. But he hinted that Carter may be developing the anticipated separation amongst the speedy trio.

“He was running his tail off (on Monday),” Saleh said, per notes from the Jets. “All three backs I thought showed up to play, but hats off to Michael.”

In addition to Carter’s progress, the Jets also continued to be enthused by veteran Ty Johnson. The former Detroit Lion has become a valuable find on the in-season free agency market, averaging 4.6 yards an attempt since donning a green uniform for the first time in October 2020.

As Wilson continues to deal with the dangerous obstacles traditionally thrown toward a rookie NFL quarterback’s way, the Jets need to find some sort of offensive stability. Both Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur know what it means to lean on a potent rushing attack in lieu of an established quarterback. LaFleur recalled just how important a ground attack led by Coleman, Raheem Mostert, and Matt Breida was in a Super Bowl bowl trek. Last year’s group, with Mostert joining Jeff Wilson, Jerick McKinnon, and Jamycal Hasty, helped partially alleviate an injury report that resembled a Pro Bowl roster.

“The run game, in general, is just critical, that’s what we all firmly believe,” LaFleur said in Lange’s aforementioned camp report. “If you can’t run the ball in this league, it gets really hard to throw the ball. There (are) only a few quarterbacks in the history of time that can just drop back and pick people apart and go up and down the field.”

Despite LaFleur’s insistence on having a good run game, the Jets rank in the bottom half of the league’s rushing attempts with 48 compared to 70 passes for Wilson, which currently ranks at the bottom of the top half. In addition to not wearing down Wilson (five of the top ten rookie quarterbacks with the most pass attempts since 2015 are no longer with the team that drafted them), both he and the team need to be as potent as possible, generate as much positive momentum as they can in a year that more than likely won’t end with the Jets’ among the 14 postseason squads.

A strong run game, mere inches away from him in the backfield, could be the perfect way to do that.

The Jets return to action on Sunday afternoon on the road against the Denver Broncos (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS). 

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: Now’s not the time to worry about Denzel Mims

The receiver’s predicament is worth keeping an eye on, but the New York Jets have bigger, broader things to worry about.

For all the talk about the New York Jets’ perpetual search for a franchise quarterback, metropolitan football has been equally bereft of a homegrown big-play receiver.

It has been nearly 15 seasons since a receiver that originally began his career with the Jets reached four digits in yardage (Jerricho Cotchery in 2007). The Jets have had some offensive teases since then: Robby Anderson was a diamond in the rough of the undrafted, but the Adam Gase era caused him to “lose his love” for the game. Day three Quincy Enunwa came close but saw his metropolitan career eaten away by injury.

Denzel Mims was supposed to end that streak during 2020’s virtual draft. Brought in from the offensive Valhalla that is Baylor, Mims’ arrival was the sweetest of consolation prizes: the Jets passed on several elite receiving talents to draft offensive line anchor Mekhi Becton. While the offensive line required undeniable assistance, it left the Sam Darnold era without the talents of a high-profile receiver. Jamison Crowder had done well in the slot but Darnold’s top options by conventional means consisted of first-round washouts (Breshad Perriman) and antiques from New England (Chris Hogan).

When Mims fell into their lap at 59th overall, Joe Douglas appeared to have pulled off an Ocean’s-style heist: he not only got Darnold his protection but topped it off with weaponry, a potent talent that contributed 28 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards to Waco’s gridiron cause. His name is frequently mentioned in the offensive chapters of the Bears’ record books, appearing alongside collegiate legends like K.D Cannon, Corey Coleman, Tevin Reese, Terrance Williams, and Kendall Wright. That group brought Baylor football to unprecedented modern heights: Mims’ senior squad, for example, went to Sugar Bowl and finished 13th in the final Associated Press poll, the program’s best showing since 1960.

Through the Waco experience, Mims knew what it was like to prop up one historically downtrodden green football franchise. Many expected him to do so with another up north. Alas, Mims has instead become the latest victim of whatever gridiron demon has refused to loosen the grip it has held on the Jets for the last five decades.

True to metropolitan form, Mims’ professional career was beset by factors behind his control. Issues with each of his hamstrings kept him out of training camp activities already handicapped by the COVID-19 pandemic. Such ailments cost Mims nearly half of his 2021 season but he left an impact in his limited time: his 357 yards were good for fourth on the woebegone 2020 Jets despite his early absence with 106 of that haul tallied after the catch. The 15.5 yards earned per catch was seventh amongst rookie receivers with 20 catches.

Mims’ mini-emergence didn’t stop the Jets’ new powers that be on the coaching staff from revamping the receiver’s cabinet. They added Corey Davis and Keelan Cole through free agency and used another second-round pick on Elijah Moore. The emergence of the newcomers shifted Mims into the background during training camp and his role has been furthered reduced in the infantile stages of the regular season.

By now, anyone with a passing interest in Jets football knows that Mims partook in only three snaps of the Jets’ opening weekend loss in Carolina. Mims carried on the theme of taking advantage of making the most of whatever scraps were offered to him: his 40-yard reception in the fourth quarter set up the Jets’ final touchdown of a 19-14 final.

Asked about the brewing controversy as the Jets prepare for Sunday’s home opener against New England (1 p.m. ET, CBS), head coach Robert Saleh addressed the Mims restriction. He first blamed the Jets’ stagnant pace in the first half but a far more blunt reveal awaited.

“In that first half, (there were) a lot of three-and-outs, a lot of short drives…Because of it, those (starting) receivers were able to play,” Saleh said, per notes from the Jets. “You roll with your top three guys and if they need a break, that’s where the other guys step in.”

“Mims (has) been doing a good job getting himself a little bit better every day but, he’s got to know, when you’re not one of the main guys, you got to know all three spots and you’ve got to know it at a high level so you can step in and take advantage of all those opportunities,” Saleh continued. “If the Z, the F or, the X needs a break, you’re the first one that goes in because you know all three spots, you can execute at a high level and you can roll.”

Saleh continued to insist that the timing of the game was the primary reason behind Mims’ de facto benching, but his comments suggested something slightly more troubling: Mims simply hasn’t earned extended opportunities.

To that end…there’s little issue.

 Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

After the sad circus atmosphere of the Gase era, one no doubt exacerbated assistants like Gregg Williams, Jets fans yearned for accountability from the team’s new boss. Todd Bowles, reborn in Tampa Bay, was beloved by his players but his stoic to a fault personality ran its course. Gase spent half of his public comments insisting that he wasn’t verbally sparring with the franchise’s more renowned faces.

Now, a new coach comes armed with a quotable promise: All Gas, No Brake. If a player isn’t living up to those requirements, it stands to reason that the offender will not earn prime opportunities. It just so happens that a well-invested, supposedly indispensable part of the eternal rebuild’s latest chapter is the subject this time around.

Isn’t this form of accountability that Jets fans wanted and yearned for?

It’s fair for frustration to linger, especially when one looks back at the post-Mims draft board: Carolina safety Jeremy Chinn and Washington rusher Antonio Gibson were among those chosen in the immediate ten picks after him. Mims’ situation is definitely worth monitoring for the rest of the season. But the Jets have far greater, immediate issues to worry about.

If the Jets’ biggest issue was a receiver at an early crossroads in Week 2, they would be very, very lucky. Alas, that’s not the New York way. There are far bigger issues to worry about at this point in time, including how the offensive line is going to tread water until Mekhi Becton comes back…and the group is already reeling from a performance that saw them let up six sacks with Becton in town. The Jets’ defensive issues are also broadly on display through a lack of experience in the secondary, and those issues don’t even account for the vital financial decision looming around Marcus Maye’s future.

The soothing about this situation is that there’s plenty of time for Mims to restabilize his infantile NFL career and his attitude has never been a problem. He’s had every reason to curse the football gods for his current predicament…a chance to prove himself during training camp was partially erased by a bout with food poisoning…but he’s been ready to embrace all opportunities presented to him.

“You always got to battle each and every day no matter where you’re at,” Mims said during camp, per Max Goodman of SI.com. “You can be starting at X or (be the) number one receiver, you gotta battle each and every day because you slack and someone else can come take your spot.”

“I just got to focus on my job and just continue to be myself and focus on my craft so I can get better. If you worry, you won’t get (any) better.”

The apparent experiment in discipline isn’t to say that Saleh and his staff are infallible. If anything, this further shortens a metropolitan honeymoon that’s never lengthy. The pressure particularly rises on offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, who must find forge a role for a pricey, talented target.

But this is nowhere near the Jets’ largest issue. If only, many inside and outside the organization likely believe, that was the case.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: Three overreactions from Week 1

zach wilson, jets

The New York Jets’ 2021 opener in Carolina brought familiar pessimism, but the green sky isn’t falling just yet.

In the aftermath of the NFL’s most recent opening weekend, Canton’s sculptors are designing Jameis Winston’s bust while fans in Philadelphia and Cincinnati might be researching flights and hotels in Southern California for the second weekend in February.

Of course, Week 1 should never be used as an exclusive barometer for how an NFL season is going to pan out: in last year’s edition, the Jacksonville Jaguars, future bearers of a 1-15 ledger looked like a sleeper team after earning an upset win over Indianapolis. Tom Brady’s career was declared over for the umpteenth time after a loss to his new divisional rivals in New Orleans.

The New York Jets are used to kickoff weekend calamities as losers of five of their last six openers. Alas for New York, they’ve failed to defy the curse of Week 1, as each of the last six efforts has ended with a losing record. The theory that Gang Green has to pay some sort of “Jets tax”, where their simplest mistakes are held against them as comedy, also hasn’t helped.

Needless to say, the Jets’ 19-14 defeat at the hands of Sam Darnold, Robby Anderson, and the Carolina Panthers has only exacerbated the feelings of gridiron dread. ESM channels its inner Third Eye Blind and asks Jets fans to step back off that ledge…the season doesn’t end with Week 1.

zach wilson, jets

The Overreaction: Zach Wilson is a bust!!!

Why Cooler Heads Should Prevail: Overreactions manifest most prevalently when it comes to quarterbacks. Nothing draws clicks and views better than a debate over the passer’s spot on the depth chart. Gridrion schadenfreude is perhaps best manifested through the struggles of rookie quarterbacks. Casual and professional observers alike are quick to pounce on any mistake.

Enough has been written about the Jets’ blocking woes on Sunday. Those passers built for the NFL game know how to adapt to uncomfortable situations and Wilson struggled to do so in the first half (6-of-16, 84 yards, and an interception) as the Jets fell behind a 16-point margin. The amateur critics on social media were quick to attack, ready to place Wilson in the same halls as fellow first-round washouts Richard Todd, Mark Sanchez, and Sunday’s opponent Sam Darnold.

But Wilson’s recovery and ability to dodge the defenders allowed through (especially after a stagnant preseason in the pocket) was inspiring to watch. Those traits were best on display through Wilson’s pair of scoring passes to Corey Davis, ones that drew the Jets close in a game that had little business lingering in.

His adaptation and recovery in the latter half-hour 14-of-21, 174 yards, two scores, 123.9 passer rating) drew praise from notable names both domestically and abroad.

“I loved his resilience in the second half,” former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer said, per Darryl Slater of NJ.com. “I thought he played terribly in the first half. And then the pieces I saw in the second half, I was really impressed. I’m like: Wow, that takes a lot of resilience for a rookie — to go in at halftime, getting your butt kicked in your first start, and come back out and really settle down and play with structure and timing and make some plays. I was impressed.”

“We want tough guys and dudes who have no quit,” Davis, Wilson’s new favorite target, said in a report from Al Iannazzone of Newsday. “That’s what he exemplifies. He’s going to be great here. I’m excited to have him. We’re going to do great things.”

No one can deny that Wilson endured a roller-coaster debut. But it shouldn’t be defined by its opened half.

The Overreaction: Denzel Mims has to go!!!

Why Cooler Heads Should Prevail: The Jets continue to deal with the curious cause of Mims. He has gone from second-round consolation prize after passing on aerial talents to draft Mekhi Becton and their best potential homegrown deep-ball threat since Santana Moss to the constant source of speculation.

It took only a single 40-yard reception, one that set up the Jets’ final score of the day, for Mims to become the Jets’ third-leading receiver in Charlotte. But Mims partook in only three snaps, stuck behind journeyman Braxton Berrios and former Boston College quarterback Jeff Smith. Blunt comments from head coach Robert Saleh have only raised further red flags, as did the fact that Mims only saw three snaps on an afternoon where the Jets were already missing veterans Keelan Cole and Jamison Crowder.

“He’s been doing a good job getting himself a little bit better every day but, he’s got to know, when you’re not one of the main guys, you got to know all three spots and you’ve got to know it at a high level so you can step in and take advantage of all those opportunities,” Saleh said this week, per notes from the Jets. “So, if the Z, the F, or the X needs a break, you’re the first one that goes in because you know all three spots, you can execute at a high level and you can roll.”

The Jets have invested a lot into Mims: Jeremy Chinn and Antonio Gibson were chosen within the immediate ten picks after him. If Cole and Crowder return for Sunday’s home opener against New England (1 p.m. ET, CBS), there’s a chance that Mims could land on the inactive list.

But there’s something to be said about Saleh’s willingness to hold someone who’s projected to be a major part of the offensive revolution accountable. This isn’t to say that Saleh and his staff are infallible…honeymoons end fairly quickly for metropolitan football head coaches…but it’s an early statement, an early gambit that can light a fire under Mims and set him on a good path for the rest of his career.

Mims’ situation should be watched for the rest of the season, but there’s no use in panicking after opening weekend. It’s worth seeing how Saleh’s gambit pays off. Saleh isn’t the only head coach on the staff who has a big opportunity granted to him by the Mims situation: offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur can leave an instant impact on a unit that has struggled for literal years by finding a spot for an embattled big-play threat.

george fant, jets

The Overreaction: The Offensive Line is Going to Make Things Difficult All Year!!!

Why Cooler Heads Should Prevail: Hey, at least “Let’s Find Mehki Becton’s Replacement!!!” hasn’t gained too much traction yet.

Holding Becton’s injury history against him is a mistake…it’s still early in his career and football is a violent game…but there’s no denying his medically induced absence leaves the Jets in a prickly situation. This is a chance for general manager Joe Douglas’ constant tinkering and remodeling of the offensive wall to make their benefactor proud.

At the forefront is the arrival of Morgan Moses, who was added during the doldrums of July. Moses was one of the most impact post-minicamp signings across the league and perfectly fits into what the Jets were trying to accomplish this offseason: he fulfills a dire need (Douglas continues to make up for the blocking negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era) and has the big-game experience the fledgling Jets sought after helping the Washington Football Team capture the NFC East.

Getting the work in this offseason allows the Jets to welcome in an experienced, talented name, rather than scooping a name off the practice squad or the wasteland that is in-season free agency.

Moses will take over at right tackle while George Fant assumes Becton’s role as the left anchor. Fant struggled on Sunday but he believes that working with Moses is going to help him out. Their relationship dates back to offseason workouts and could pay big dividends as the Jets

“I learned a lot from him. It was not one of those competitions where we were not speaking to each other,” Fant said in a report from team writer Randy Lange. “We were coaching each other up (saying) I like this guy, I like this guys’ family. We’ve been close for a while. That was the cool part.”

Time…namely the next four weeks that Becton will undoubtedly miss…how that previously established relationship plays to the Jets’ benefit. But it’s something that should give them at least a little bit of confidence as they move forward into a landscape rife with uncertainty.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Attainable goals for Saturday’s game at Green Bay

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

How can the New York Jets end a (literally) painful visit to Wisconsin on the right note? ESM’s Jets experts investigate…

Following a devastating injury on the football field, the New York Jets will look to pick up the pieces and seek redemption in a familiar place: the football field, namely the not-so-famous thawed, green tundra of Lambeau Field.

The Jets will seek to end a business trip to Wisconsin on the right note on Saturday late afternoon, as they’ll battle the Green Bay Packers in an exhibition contest (4:25 p.m. ET, WLNY/NFL Network). New York and Green Bay have done battle this week through a pair of joint practices within a stone’s throw of the football cathedral.

The latter portion was a scene plucked from Jets’ fans’ most garish nightmares: defensive end Carl Lawson was carted off the field during a team drill. Their newly acquired pressure artist was later revealed to have torn his Achilles tendon, an injury that will keep force him to miss the entire 2021 season. Undrafted secondary defender Zane Lewis was likewise lost for the year in a separate medical incident.

So how can the Jets leave Titletown with a sense of accomplishment, no matter how small? ESM’s Jets experts investigate with an attainable goal for the Jets to aspire to.

Geoff Magliocchetti: Find Clarity, Confident, and Depth in the Offensive Trenches

Jets fans have every right to be sad and upset over losing Lawson. But, as we discussed earlier this week, his prescience alone didn’t launch the Jets into the playoff conversation and the front seven’s pass rush potential is deep enough to weather the coming storm in 2021. This was always going to be a year centered on development and Lawson’s injury shouldn’t change that.

This season is about finding long-term solutions that can sustain the Jets during the potential good time ahead. One area that was full of fostered potential is the offensive line made to protect the new franchise quarterback Zach Wilson. The blockers mostly did their job last weekend against the Giants’ reserve defenders…they allowed only one sack on the night and their rushers had a little bit of real estate to work with. But this week featured some developments, perhaps masked by the mourning over Lawson, that could have the Jets questioning their depth on the offensive wall.

One of their blocking staples from the last two seasons, guard Alex Lewis, retired this week. Another interior blocking project, 2020 fourth-rounder Cameron Clark, was also placed on injured reserve. Alijah Vera-Tucker, drafted to take over interior duties on Wilson’s blindside, has dealt with a pectoral muscle injury all camp and likely won’t play on Saturday.

Furthermore, reports from Green Bay state that the Jets’ line struggled in front of a legitimate opponent, as Green Bay’s starters took center stage during this week’s get-togethers. Brian Costello of the New York Post estimated that Wilson would’ve been sacked seven times during Wednesday’s practice had his red non-contact jersey saved him. Last season’s most cherished silver lining, tackle Mekhi Becton, has reportedly struggled against opponents, both domestically (Lawson) and abroad (Preston Smith).

Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur mentioned that Becton was “going through some things right now”, per notes from the Jets. LaFleur nonetheless remained confident that Becton would regain his freshman swagger before opening weekend in Charlotte.

“He’ll keep on going. We’re only one preseason game in, we still have over three and a half weeks until we go out and play Carolina. Every day, there are still slight improvements that he’s making and we’re just trying to take it one day at a time right now,” LaFleur said. “Mekhi, he didn’t have a training camp last year. He didn’t have an OTAs last May and June so, he’s still working through some things. I got all the confidence in the world in Mekhi because one, I know how talented he is and two, he’s a good dude and he’s going to work through all this stuff. We got a long way to go across that whole front, across this whole offense and myself included.”

The Jets thus need to use Saturday’s proceedings as a way to build back confidence. Green Bay will likewise be resting many of its starters on Saturday, but a big opportunity lingers to regain the good vibes felt after last week’s win over the Giants. Some names to watch include Dan Feeney, who should continue to get premier interior reps with the first team, and David Moore, an undrafted first-year out of Grambling who drew interest from several teams on the rookie free agency market.

Brendan Carpenter: Go Beyond Lawson

The Jets have had a rough week. Leading up to their Saturday afternoon game against the Packers, joint practices took place in Green Bay. As we know by now, these practices were not injury-free.

.There were a few bumps and bruises, but no injury was bigger than that of Carl Lawson. He is going to miss the season with a torn Achilles. This gut-wrenching news, however, does bring about a new goal for the second preseason game: to see the rest of the depth at defensive end produce.

Outside of Lawson, the Jets have John Franklin-Myers, Bryce Huff, Ronald Blair, Jabari Zuniga, and Vinny Curry, (who should return to the field around Week 2). Lawson was clearly the number-one edge rush option, but the team has nice depth and should still be able to apply pressure. The Jets will most likely have an even more noticeable rotation at end during Saturday’s game, and that’s fine.

The season isn’t over. The loss of Lawson hurts, but it creates an opportunity for other players to show their worth on the field. It won’t be easy to replace the impact the Jets’ most expensive offseason addition would’ve had on the field, but they’ll find a way to compensate. The opportunity starts against Green Bay, and they should be up to the task.

Don’t necessarily look for a substantial amount of sacks against the Packers, but the line should be able to make noticeable noise in the backfield on drop-backs. That alone would be enough to reach this new goal on short notice.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Three reasons why the New York Jets can make the playoffs

new york jets, zach wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Sorry, Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Pressure Treated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Meet the New Boss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Jets: A training camp battle at every position (Offense)

As the New York Jets inch closer to training camp, ESM looks at the offensive roster battles to watch at every position.

Competition has always been a staple at summer camp. But if you’re headed to Florham Park, leave the archery materials at home.

The New York Jets are eight days away from descending upon One Jets Drive for their training camp activities. Once camp commences, they’ll have several positional struggles to solve before Week 1 kicks off in Carolina. ESM takes a look at each spot on the depth chart, sizing up a major battle that should be solved over camp practices and the coming trio of preseason games.

Our primer begins on offense…

 Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Backup QB: James Morgan vs. Mike White

Barring an epic disaster, the Jets will go into Week 1 with second overall pick Zach Wilson as their quarterback. Sitting the star rookie behind a veteran for a year has become a lost art in the modern NFL, even if Kansas City’s Alex Smith-to-Patrick Mahomes transition kept the concept alive for a few more years.

The Jets, though, are apparently planning to go in the completely opposite direction: no one in their quarterback cabinet has thrown a pass in an NFL regular season game. Immediately thrusting Wilson into the starter’s role is one thing, but backing him up with two veteran questions marks is another entirely. But head coach Robert Saleh apparently doesn’t see an issue.

“If you just bring in a veteran who doesn’t know anything about your scheme, he’s learning just like the rookie is,” Saleh told Max Goodman of Sports Illustrated. “There’s a match that has to happen. There’s a scheme familiarity that has to happen.”

That, of course, begs the question why the Jets didn’t go after someone like fellow former 49ers Nick Mullens, but it’s probably redundant at this point. Until further notice, the backup job comes to Morgan and White.

Morgan probably has the inside edge, if only due to his status as a Joe Douglas draft pick. Chosen in the fourth round of 2020’s virtual draft, the Florida International hasn’t even worn a game jersey yet due to the cancellation of last summer’s preseason. White entered the NFL as a fifth-round pick of the Cowboys in 2018 and has been on and off the Jets’ practice squad over the last three years. By going with someone inexperienced, it’s clear the Jets aren’t going with the “mentor” route for their backup quarterback. The winner will be judged on late summer showings and their performance in preseason games could be particularly intriguing.

 Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Spell RB: Ty Johnson vs. La’Mical Perine vs. Josh Adams

The primary rushing duties could become a battle as the season goes on. Veteran newcomer Tevin Coleman will probably at least start as the top option before giving way to rookie arrival Michael Carter. It’s fair to assume that Coleman, who worked with new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur in San Francisco, has the early edge though Carter has reportedly impressed New York brass during his first spring sessions.

In training camp, however, there are more immediate, desperate matters to attend to, namely answering the question of who will be the third back.

Behind the Coleman and Carter tandem lies a trio of young projects that could’ve gained more clarity had Adam Gase not become obsessed with a Frank Gore farewell tour. Though injuries and a late placement on the COVID-19 list turned Perine’s rookie season into a wash but Johnson and Adams, spare parts from Detroit and Philadelphia respectively, impressed when called upon, uniting for 411 yards on 83 carries, good for an average of nearly five yards an attempt.

The battle between this trio isn’t a matter of playing time, but will determine roster spots. Even though he’s a Douglas draft pick (also chosen in the fourth round), Perine could be in the wrong place at the wrong time. His north/south style may not fit in  LaFleur’s preferred systems that value agility and athleticism, creating a wrong place at the wrong time situation. Meanwhile, the re-signed Adams has worked with Douglas before, sharing a single season with the Eagles.

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Top Slot WR: Jamison Crowder vs. Elijah Moore

Over the past two seasons, Jamison Crowder has been far and away the Jets’ most consistent offensive weapon. Through that endeavor, he has become one of the NFL’s most reliable slot options. But does the fact he’s been a reliable weapon in woebegone New York say more about Crowder or just how dire the Jets’ situation has become?

Douglas and Co. spent the offseason upgrading their receiving corps and that included the slot depth chart. Drafting Moore with the second pick of the draft’s second day was seen as a steal by many and he seemingly arrived at the perfect time. The Jets were due some sizable cap savings upon Crowder’s release or trade and they could’ve easily had Moore take over. Instead, they restructured the final year of Crowder’s deal to focus on guaranteed money and will keep both of them in tow for Wilson’s first deal.

Crowder faces a bit of an uphill battle to get his snaps back, as he missed almost all spring activities during his contract dispute. There should still be an opportunity for him amongst the Jets’ revamped receiving corps but it’ll be tough to hold off the rise of a touted rookie.

. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Starting TE: Chris Herndon vs. Tyler Kroft 

Entering his fourth year in New York, Herndon is a rare relic in green. Nothing, however, has lived up to the production of his rookie season (502 yards on 39 receptions) as the more recent stages of his career have been beset by a suspension, injuries, and inconsistency.

Though Herndon somewhat began to resemble his rookie self in the latter stages of last season, the Jets sent him a message this offseason. While they avoided the pricier options on the free agent market (i.e. Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry), they added goal line option Tyler Kroft from Buffalo and re-upped with Daniel Brown. During minicamp, Herndon saw his first team reps go to Kroft and Ryan Griffin. Connor Hughes of The Athletic claimed that Herndon “struggled” to adjust to the new offensive playbook, playing a role in his demotion.

It’s been a while since Kroft was the primary option at tight end, last doing so in Cincinnati during the 2017 campaign. The Rutgers alum re-established himself as a reliable short-yardage and red zone target last season in Buffalo. Time will tell if the Jets turn over the full-time tight end reins to Kroft, or even give Griffin, Brown, or undrafted rookie Kenny Yeboah (11 touchdowns over the last two seasons at Temple and Ole Miss). But If Kroft’s signing even merely lights a fire under Herndon, it will have been well worth it.

 Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Line: RG Greg Van Roten vs. Newcomers

A Long Island native (Rockville Centre, to be precise), Van Roten was destined to make a difference in New York. While he endured a bit of an up-and-down season in terms of production, he partook in literally every snap over the Jets’ first 11 games and emerged as a leader and voice of reason when the team’s 2020 affairs became particularly dire.

With the Jets’ left side fortified with Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker, the focus turns to the right. Morgan Moses is a reliable one-year solution on the outside, while Van Roten appears to have a good grip on the interior. But the Jets brought in some interesting depth options, including the New York Islanders’ most celebrated new fan, Dan Feeney. Incumbent top left guard Alex Lewis is also set to move over to the right side, while one also can’t forget Cameron Clark, a 2020 fourth-rounder who spent last season preparing to make the transition from tackle to guard.

But Van Roten, who has shockingly tallied only a single accepted penalty in his NFL career, believes that the arrival of Saleh and LaFleur should help provide stability.

“They hire Saleh and it just feels like a weight has been lifted and hope has come back into the building,” Van Roten said, per team reporter Jack Bell. “All we ask for is a fresh start in this league and no one is happier than the Jets. Now we’re on page one, so let’s write this year’s chapter.”

Which offensive training camp battles will you keep an eye on? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and continue the conversation.

Four New York Jets poised to make fantasy football fireworks

jets, michael carter

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

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

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

jets, michael carter

RB Michael Carter

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

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

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

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

WR Corey Davis

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

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

carl lawson, new york jets

Defense

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

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

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

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

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

K Sam Ficken

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

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

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

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

New York Jets: The fullback experiment set to continue for Trevon Wesco

trevon wesco, new york jets

Some of the more potent offenses in the NFL still feature a fullback. The New York Jets appear to be turning to Wesco to try it again.

Though hope reigns through newcomers, the New York Jets are in no position to turn down any method of boosting their offensive momentum…even if the potential approaches are considered archaic by NFL standards.

The fullback is an endangered species in the modern league, as the days of Mike Alstott and Daryl Johnston have gone the way of the Oilers and the tuck rule. Causes of the countdown to potential extinction have never been truly isolated, though the rise of single-back sets and empty backfields in the shotgun has more or less convinced teams that offensive resources are better spent on receivers and blockers.

But there’s no denying that the fullback still has a role in today’s game and can play an active role in a good team’s success. Several successful squads, including Super Bowl participants, still have a specifically listed fullback on their roster.

That made it a tad more surprising that the Jets didn’t make a stronger push for Kyle Juszczyk, the Bay Area staple that stands as the NFL’s premier fullback. It probably would’ve taken a lot for the Jets to lure Juszczyk over. Juszczyk’s five-year, $27 million contract was one of the first deals announced at the commencement of the movement period, done even before the legal tampering period got underway. But considering the Jets brought several former San Francisco 49er bosses (including Juszczyk’s old offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur), it was still somewhat surprising not to see a larger New York case made.

Even so, the Jets can use all the protection and weaponry they can get, especially with yet another franchise quarterback, Zach Wilson, on the path to his NFL debut. A fullback can provide both, even in its unsung status, though it has been a while since they fully utilized the position. The closest thing the Jets have had to consistent glory days were earned with a fullback in tow. Richie Anderson was a metropolitan essential for a decade while Tony Richardson ended his accomplished NFL career with the Jets’ AFC finalist squads in 2009-10.

New York’s offensive bosses appear to have taken the hint.

“You like to have a fullback. You like to be in those traditional 21-personnel formations. It just keeps the defense balanced a little bit more,” LaFleur said at the end of this week’s minicamp activities, per notes from the Jets. “You can go lead their way so you can control the angles, particularly in the run game and obviously all the play passes that come off of it. (Juszczyk) was the traditional fullback, there’s no doubt, and he’s obviously performed at a high level, maybe one of the best ever, who knows. He’s certainly gotten paid like the best ever, and I love Juice, so he deserves all of it.”

But there’s no use crying about the past. Excuses, after all, don’t exactly have a place in head coach Robert Saleh’s quickly-adapted “all gas, no brake” mantra, nor does looking back at the past. After all, the Jets mostly avoided getting the San Francisco band back together. A major exception was made through running back Tevin Coleman, but the only other Santa Clara holdovers (receiver Matt Cole and running back Austin Walter) face uphill battles to make the roster.

Even if on-field personnel from San Francisco won’t be making the journies to Florham Park and East Rutherford, LaFleur and the new offensive staff won’t hesitate to employ similar looks in their new surroundings.

If LaFleur’s final statements of training camp are any indication, expect the Trevon Wesco experiment to continue behind Wilson. Modern fullback endeavors have often substituted a bred fullback for a tight end, offensive lineman, or even linebacker to play the role. It appears that the Jets plan to utilize the 267-pound Wesco to establish the role again.

Surprisingly, LaFleur has worked with Wesco before, even though their paths never crossed in San Francisco. The 49ers’ staff served as the coaches for the South squad in the 2019 Senior Bowl, where Wesco represented West Virginia. He was used as a fullback throughout the afternoon, earning three receptions in a 34-24 defeat to the North. Three months later, the Jets made him the 121st overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

“We played him a little bit at fullback and got to know him,” LaFleur recalled. “He was really the same guy there as he is here in terms of his personality. He’s a very confident dude, he loves being out there and yes, he is our fullback right now.”

Wesco is no stranger to the fullback experiment, as the Jets have tried to work him into the role over the past two seasons. The fourth-round selection burst onto the scene with a memorable showing in a rare regular season contest against the Giants. A fullback dive to Wesco on a one-yard fourth down produced a first down and kept an eventual Jets scoring drive going. He’d later go on to recover a backfield fumble the following week in Washington. Wesco likewise earned two reception in more traditional tight end duties, each of which went for first downs.

Last season’s fieldwork didn’t go so well. Wesco got only a single carry, an unsuccessful third-and-one carry deep in Arizona Cardinal territory. The project was more or less shut down when Wesco suffered an ankle injury in practice, but it’s clear that LaFleur wants to reestablish it. It could wind up being the way that Wesco plays his way onto the Jets’ Week 1 roster. Doing so as a tight end is a less certain endeavor with former Buffalo Bill Tyler Kroft added to the proceedings.

Wesco was downright euphoric when discussing his duties as a fullback with team reporter Randy Lange last season.

“I like it,” the former Mountaineer said. “You’ve got to be a man to be back there, that’s how I look at it. Not a lot of people want to run five yards, full speed, collision.”

August’s training camp, as well as a trio of exhibition games, should help the Jets further establish the offensive identity they’re pursuing. LaFleur admits that Wesco probably isn’t going to be the next Juszczyk…then again, that might not even exist…but he sees him as a prime spark that can ignite the Jets’ offensive fire.

The Jets, according to LaFleur, don’t need another Kyle Juszczyk. He says that Wesco’s size (over 25 pounds heavier than “Juice”) could in fact allow LaFleur and his staff to accomplish things he wasn’t able to in San Francisco.

“Is he going to do all the same stuff that (Juszczyk) could do? Probably not. Is he going to do some stuff that (Juszczyk) couldn’t do? Absolutely,” LaFleur said. “He’s a bigger body, he’s longer. He’s going to be able to play a little bit more inline, so we can use him in multiple ways, whether it be 21 or your typical 12 personnel formations. So, he’s embracing it.

“The fullback, kind of like our tight end, which obviously Wesco is a tight end, has a lot of moving parts and you’ve got to be able to process what’s going on post-snap and change direction, do all that kind of stuff. It’s going to be a challenge but he’s a guy that has done a really good job at it and it’ll be really cool when we put on the pads and get into training camp and preseason.”

Should the Jets continue to use Wesco as a fullback? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Zach Wilson reflects on his first professional spring

new york jets, zach wilson

The prologue to Zach Wilson’s New York Jets career ended this week, as the rookie reflected on his first minicamp experience.

The most anticipated and talked-about throws of post-social distancing life in the metropolitan were silenced on Wednesday. In Queens, Jacob deGrom’s outing for the New York Mets ended after three innings due to right shoulder soreness against the Chicago Cubs. An hour away in Florham Park, Zach Wilson tossed his last professionally sanctioned passes of the spring.

Fortunately for those who support the rhyming, star-crossed franchises, the respective pauses are only temporary. deGrom said he’s “pretty optimistic” that he’ll make his next start, while Wilson’s shutdown is only induced by the end of minicamp.

Thus ends Wilson’s first form of a different kind of spring training under a New York banner, as the New York Jets’ minicamp proceedings came to a close this week. Reviews for his performance over minicamp and organized team activities have been generally positive, as NJ.com’s Darryl Slater reported that returned Jets owner Woody Johnson claimed that Wilson “looks as advertised”. Further coaching reports from Brian Costello of the New York Post claim that Wilson has “has done a good job of minimizing mistakes” (passing game specialist Greg Knapp) and that the “last two weeks have been awesome for him” (offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur).

The end of the proceedings gave Wilson time to likewise reflect on his first experiences in green. While social media offers only extremists…every minicamp touchdown or interception is respectively seen as nirvana or armageddon…Wilson’s offered a grounded self-assessment.

“It’s hard to say exactly how you did. Personally, in my eyes, I feel I can improve every single day, I feel like I’m learning something every single day,” Wilson said in notes provided by the Jets. “Even on the good days, it’s still frustrating, and it’s just because it’s like a foreign language, every single day it’s the same plays but you’re getting different reps, different looks at it, different defensive coverages, whatever it is. One of our running backs (later revealed to be Michael Carter) said to me after practice today, ‘it’s hard to know sometimes if it was a good or a bad day.’ It’s really just because there are so many learning experiences, things that are good to learn from.”

In terms of what he feels has improved most over his debut weeks in a green helmet, Wilson said he’s been particularly pleased with the way his “timing” has progressed.

“The NFL game, understanding what holes you can throw things into, how quickly guys can break on things. Just the timing with your footwork,” Wilson said when asked where he thinks he has improved since the Jets made him the second overall pick in Cleveland. “I think that comes with understanding the offense. I look back in college, you’re running the same offense for three years, so you know it like the back of your hand. Out here, you’re always just a step slow at first. It’s just how fast can I get through my progressions to where I don’t even have to think about it, if something’s covered I instantly know how to move on.”

The Jets diligently prepared for the arrival of Wilson, who succeeds the Charlotte-bound Sam Darnold. Extra action has been taken to ensure that Wilson has a loaded arsenal upon his arrival, adding offensive weaponry of both the protective (Alijah Vera-Tucker, potentially Morgan Moses) and box score (Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Keelan Cole, Michael Carter, Tevin Coleman) variety.

Wilson has already a rapport with some of his new receivers, as he had special words for Moore, his fellow offensive rookie.

“When the guy’s not thinking, he is a great player. He’s got so much potential,” Wilson said of Moore, the Jets’ second-round pick out of Mississippi last April. “You throw a ball at his knees or above his head and he catches it so well and is able to transition up the field. It’s so natural for him, his ability to catch the ball and get up the field. (He’s a) very smooth player and he wants to be great. I spend a lot of time with him, he’s someone I want to be around because he wants to be great.”

Wilson has also appeared to have developed an early relationship with 2020 holdover Braxton Berrios, referring to the former New England Patriots as a “slippery player” and praising his route-running abilities. Berrios is second amongst returning Jets receivers in receptions, yardage, and touchdowns last season.

Wilson’s next throws in a Jet uniform will come in front of a crowd, as Tom Pelissero of NFL Network has reported that fans will be welcome back to view training camp practices later this summer. The pressure will be on to atone for decades of false passing prophets, to finally fill in the franchise quarterback void an aging Joe Namath opened after the 1976 season.

To that end, the preparation and journey toward his NFL debut don’t end simply because the practice fields at One Jets Drive will be closed. While there may be a trip off the green path or two…after all, the New York Islanders return to Nassau Coliseum tonight…Wilson left Florham Park with a promise that the de facto month-plus off that he’s going to abscond himself in film, and he’s not talking summer blockbusters.

Wilson’s reputation as a film hound was already somewhat known to the Jets’ coaching staff. LaFleur told NJ.com’s Joey Chandler that the quarterback’s obsession with tape reminded him of his brother Matt’s fixation at the helm of the Green Bay Packers, calling Wilson’s desire to do visual homework “unique”. But perhaps the most fascinating thing about is Wilson’s approach is that he views film sessions as his “time away from football”. Rather, he views it as a matter of preparation, a skill that can be built during relative downtime.

“I feel like that’s when you can rest your legs a little bit and hang out,” Wilson said. “I’m not saying I work extremely hard, there’s always someone working harder than you. I don’t love feeling unprepared, I don’t love feeling like I’m not ready for something. I love the always having something new feeling every day in practice.”

“You don’t know what defense they’re going to throw at you and there’s always something new to prepare for and get better at. I’m just going to make sure I’m doing everything I can to be ready once training camp comes around.”

What are your expectations for Wilson this season? Continue to the conversation with the writer on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Returning New York Jets receivers in an interesting spot

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags