The New York Jets have turned to former Oklahoma State Cowboy Matt Ammendola to solve their long-running kicking woes.
The New York Jets have added yet another kicker to their roster, announcing the signing of Matt Ammendola going into the weekend. In a corresponding move, the team released veteran leg Sam Ficken.
Ammendola joins the Jets after four seasons at Oklahoma State (2016-19), successfully converting 77 percent of his triple attempts (60-of-78). He led the Big 12 in scoring (139 points) during his sophomore season in 2017. In his final year, he earned at least 10 points in half of his 14 games. The Pennsylvania native departed OSU second in program history in successful field goals since the turn of the century. Ammendola previously spent time in the Carolina organization, signed in March and released in May.
The Jets’ search for a consistent kicker since the departure of Pro Bowler of Jason Myers after the 2018 season continues with this transaction. No matter who suits up for the Jets in their August 14 preseason opener against the New York Giants, he will become the seventh different kicker (including preseason contests) since Myers inked a four-year deal in Seattle. Ammendola is set to compete for the top kicker spot with Chris Naggar, an undrafted rookie out of Southern Methodist.
Ficken was one of the latest names added to that special teams mix, spending parts of each of the last two seasons as the Jets’ primary leg. He got off to a strong start last season, converting each of his first nine three-point attempts over the five games before a groin injury marred the latter parts of his year. Over four other games, Ficken was only 6-of-9 from three and 4-of-6 on extra points. He was released prior to the Jets’ season final in New England but was signed to a reserve/future contract shortly after.
A New York Jets kicking competition is set to commence under the watch of the seemingly immortal coordinator Brant Boyer.
Following the conclusion of minicamp activities, the NFL offseason is officially over. The next time the New York Jets convene in Florham Park, they’ll be getting ready for preseason and regular season action for the 2021 campaign.
With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. Our look back on the offseason comes to an end by wrapping up with special teams…
Much has been made about the constant turnover in the Jets’ franchise quarterback role. But compared to what’s happened in the kicker’s role, that role is among the stable in football.
Since Jason Myers’ historic 2018 campaign…and after the Jets let him abscond to Seattle without much resistance…six different kickers (three alone during the 2019 preseason) have tried and failed to pick up where he left off. Lacking a reliable kicker for two straight seasons is always unacceptable, but missing one during a would-be franchise quarterback developmental years is gridiron doomsday.
Sam Ficken, to his credit, was refreshingly close to ending the trend. His three-point attempts were the one thing that was going right for the Jets over the opening portions of their 2020 season, converting each of his first nine attempts (five alone coming in a nationally televised showdown against Denver). But a groin injury suffered in October derailed his season, forcing the Jets to turn to CFL/XFL veteran Sergio Castillo before staging a meaningless finale with Chase McLaughlin.
Sixth-round pick Braden Mann was one of the busiest men in football last season. He was called upon to punt it away a league-high 82 times, but his 43.9 average was 28th in football. While the Jets would like to see him move up the stat ledger (though, ideally, he won’t be on the field as often this season), Mann did manage to go somewhat viral for some touchdown saving tackles.
In the return game, receiver Braxton Berrios has been reliable on punts. Over the last two seasons, Berrios is one of six returners (min. 30 attempts) to average at least 10 yards (fifth-best at 10.5). On kicks, Giants draft pick and cornerback Corey Ballentine was a pleasant surprise as a late arrival, averaging over 26 yards per return over the last six weeks.
Long snapper Thomas Hennessy lived up to the four-year extension he earned in the midst of the 2019 season and completed another incident-free season.
How It’s Going
Never mind cockroaches; when the apocalypse comes, Brant Boyer might be the last living thing to stick it out. The special teams coordinator was the sole survivor of the post-Adam Gase coaching purge, having also survived the erasure of Todd Bowles’ army.
“So many people called on his his behalf,” head coach Robert Saleh said of Boyer in January, per team reporter Ethan Greenberg. “He’s held in such high regard.”
The Jets spent this offseason delivering Boyer some welcome back gifts. He was particularly excited about the arrival of cornerback Justin Hardee, who became one of the NFL’s most respected gunners in New Orleans. Hardee was added on a three year deal and will certainly help a punt return unit that allowed over 11 yards a return last season, the sixth-worst mark in the league. In comparison, Hardee’s Saints allowed less than three.
“I was ecstatic on that one,” Boyer said in video from the Jets. “We played 13 different gunners last year, so it was a real struggle.” Boyer was also pleased about the leadership role Hardee took in the specialists’ room. “He’s been fantastic, and what he’s done is he’s taken over a leadership role in the room, and that’s what the biggest thing we needed in our room especially losing a bunch of our core guys and things like that.”
“We just need somebody to emerge at that other gunner, so they can’t double (Hardee) every time…we’ll see what happens, which I fully expect someone will do.”
The answer to Boyer’s quandary could lie within the latter rounds of the draft. Defensive project and sixth round pick Hamsah Nasirildeen was an elite gunner during his freshman year at Florida State (seven tackles in special teams coverage) while Brandin Echols served in specialist duties during his JUCO days.
In the return game, Berrios should be retained on punts, while Ballentine could face competition on kickoffs from running backs Michael Carter (24.5 average in his junior year at North Carolina) and Ty Johnson (27.2 in his senior year at Maryland).
Ficken was waived in December but was retained on a future deal. He’ll face competition from undrafted rookie Chris Naggar (AAC Special Teams Player of the Year at Southern Methodist) to retain his role.
Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Are They Better Off?
As the Jets try to return to relevancy, they can’t overlook their special teams group. They’re preparing to embark on yet another quarterback development adventure with Zach Wilson as the lead protagonist and special teams can make an immediate difference in terms of helping him earn wins and losses.
When the new quarterback reaches opposing territory, a reliable kicker can ensure such drives end with points, building his confidence. If Mann takes a step forward and Hardee lives up to his sterling gunner reputation, the opponent can start in dire straits, and make the defense’s job a lot easier.
Much like his work on the offensive line, it’s good to see that general manager Joe Douglas is willing to valuable offseason capital on special teams, though it’s time for the arrivals to start rewarding his faith on the field. Adding elite, proven names in the arena like Hardee and Carter losses the pressure.
Final Offseason Grade: B-
How do you think the Jets’ special teams contribute to their resurgence? Follow Geoff Magliocchetti on Twitter @GeoffJMags and keep the conversation going.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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
As the New York Jets bide time before training camp, ESM looks at some veteran faces that could be poised for a breakout.
As we’ve officially reached a rare dead period on the NFL calendar, ESM presents Top 10 Tuesday, a weekly list series that will center on the past, present, and future of the Jets in a sortable format.
We’ll begin this series by looking at ten veteran players that could rise to the occasion come up big for the Jets as they embark on a new gridiron journey…
10. K Sam Ficken
Since Pro Bowler Jason Myers absconded for Seattle, the Jets have been through six different kickers. That’d be unacceptable in pretty much every football realm, but such instability is unacceptable for a team with a developing offense. Confidence can be built if points can be scored in as many drives that invade opponents’ territory as possible.
Ficken, set to enter his third season in green, seemed like he was on his way toward ending the constant turnover. He converted each of his first nine field goal attempts (five alone during a Thursday night tilt against Denver) but he lost the spark after missing several games with a groin injury. This time around, Ficken will compete with undrafted free agent Chris Naggar to get his job back. He can become a vital silver lining in the Jets’ expected growing pains if he’s able to capitalize on a career-best 86 percent success rate from three.
9. DL Kyle Phillips
The versatile Phillips, entering the league as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee, was one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2019 season. Veteran injuries forced him into starting duties, but he made the most of his opportunity with 39 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Phillips was a consistent backfield invader in his rookie season, as his seven tackles for a loss were tied for fourth-best on the team and his quarterback pressures (6) were good for third amongst his fellow linemen.
Alas, an ankle injury prevented Phillips from building on the momentum from his rookie season. To make matters worse from a personal standpoint, the Jets spent the offseason bolstering their front seven with established veteran names that could leave Phillips in an awkward spot. He’ll certainly return with a vengeance in 2021 and will keep things interesting in the second halves of preseason games.
Perhaps no one in the NFL has increased their profile better than Feeney this offseason. The former Los Angeles Charger has gone viral for his goal celebrations at New York Islander playoff games, becoming the literal face of the Jets’ support for their blue and orange comrades on Long Island.
The surge in popularity has had many asking exactly what the Jets get in Feeney, who was mostly used as a depth option in Los Angeles. His experience at center could prove vital: Sam Darnold went through three different primary centers in three years and the Jets would love to establish some starting lineup stability for incoming franchise man Zach Wilson right from the start.
7. TE/FB Trevon Wesco
With Tyler Kroft arriving as an established goal-line option and strong potential behind undrafted free agent Kenny Yeboah (not to mention the return of starter Chris Herndon), the third-year, fourth-round pick faces an uphill battle to make an impact as a tight end. But he can make an offensive difference through the resurrection of the archaic fullback spot.
As we discussed last week, the days of Richie Anderson and Tony Richardson may be gone, but the Jets appear set to resume the Wesco experiment at fullback after injuries prematurely shut down the project last season. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur previously reaped the benefits of Kyle Juszczyk’s prescience in San Francisco and believes that Wesco’s bulkier size could allow him to do things that even the All-Pro fullback wasn’t capable of.
“(Wesco) is a bigger body, he’s longer,” LaFleur explained last week, per notes from the Jets. “He’s going to be able to play a little bit more inline, so we can use him in multiple ways, whether it be 21 or your typical 12 personnel formations.”
One has to wonder if it’s now or never for Cashman, who enters his third NFL season in an unusual spot. The fifth-round pick from 2019 filled in serviceable when C.J. Mosley got hurt two years back, but injuries of his own have limited him to only 11 games in his career so far.
It’s always tough to condemn a player for getting hurt in the NFL. After all, football is a violent game and injuries happen. When they do, players should take all the time they need to heal up properly. But the NFL has proven time and time again that it’s willing to make business decisions that aren’t anything personal. Cashman appears to be a good fit in Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s defensive landscape, so it would be a shame to see his NFL career end before it truly begins.
5. RB Ty Johnson
It’s a bit of a shame that Johnson’s mini-breakout was masked by the malarkey of Adam Gase’s final days at the helm. For example, Johnson made Jets history in a December tilt against the Raiders by earning the first triple-digit yardage game for the Jets in over two full calendar years. Not only did the Jets waste the historic tally through Gregg Williams’ ill-advised final blitz, but Johnson earned only 13 carries over the next three games (as opposed to 22 in the Las Vegas debacle).
Johnson has a decent chance to shine in the Jets’ new-look, minimalist approach at running back. The present focus has turned to newcomers Michael Carter and Tevin Coleman, but don’t let Johnson’s status as a holdover from the Gase era fool you: he’s capable of making an impact at moment’s notice. His speed and experience in lining up in the slot could also pay big dividends in LaFleur’s system, giving him a bit of an edge over the more north/south-inclined La’Mical Perine.
With so many new receivers on their way in, it’s somewhat easy to forget about Berrios, one of the leading receivers from last year’s woebegone two-win squad. He faces a bit of a battle to make the roster, but the former Patriot got his season off to a great start in minicamp, emerging as one of the most pleasant surprises. It was enough to earn special props from Wilson.
“Braxton is a smart guy, that’s one of his best attributes,” Wilson said at the end of minicamp, per notes from the Jets. “He’s a slippery player, he gets in there and runs some great routes. He’s quick, but I think the best attribute is just knowing what’s going on. He’s got a great feel for the defense, he’s got great hands. He’s just been in those spots to make plays. We’ve got a lot of good playmakers and Braxton is doing a great job.”
Berrios might also be able to make an impact on special teams. During the 2019 season, he was one of two returners (min. 20 attempts) to average over 10 yards on punts.
3. LB Jarrad Davis
Coming off a brutal two-win season, it was going to be hard for the Jets to convince the truly elite free agents to join their cause. Their consolation prizes include Davis, a former first-round pick that previously repped Detroit.
Davis’ career got off to a decent start, as he earned All-Rookie team honors while working in defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s 4-3 system. However, Austin was let go with the rest of Jim Caldwell’s staff at the end of the 2017 season despite guiding the Lions to three winning seasons in their four campaigns. Detroit football hasn’t been the same since and Davis was an unfortunate part of the decline. He failed to adapt to Matt Patricia and Paul Pasqualoni’s set-ups and the Lions declined his fifth-year option prior to the 2020 season. Davis thus joined the Jets on a one-year, $5.5 million deal this offseason.
Davis’ finest performances have come in the 4-3 set that Saleh and Ulbrich are set to implement. He earned his first-round status through working with Geoff Collins at the University of Florida and worked well with Austin early on in Detroit. That knowledge can not only help him break out on a personal level but can also help him take on the role of a teacher of the 4-3 set.
2. WR Denzel Mims
One thing that’s really unfortunate about Mims’ situation is that he will forever be connected to a fellow member of the green draft class of 2020. When the Jets drafted Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall pick…Joe Douglas’ first at the helm of general manager…it came at the price of passing on considerable receiving talents (i.e. Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, eventual Rookie of the Year Jerry Jeudy). But those concerns were supposedly alleviated when the Jets when Douglas and Co. were able to snag Mims out of Baylor in the early stages of the second round.
Becton’s early promise has somewhat masked the fact that Mims hasn’t been on the field much in the early going. It has mostly been a case of bad luck, as he dealt with injuries at the earliest stages of 2020 prep and was never really able to get into the swing of things. This time around, Mims missed voluntary workouts due to a (non-COVID-19) illness, causing him to lose valuable reps with Wilson. The spotlight has thus turned to another second-round pick, that of Elijah Moore.
“It looks like he has a wingspan like Kevin Durant. He’s got tons of range as long as that ball is anywhere around him. If the ball is anywhere in the vicinity, you expect them to get it,” LaFleur said in May, per Max Goodman of SI.com. “He’s eager, he’s a really cool dude to work with. But he’s just gonna have to get out there…it’s just going to be reps and just going and understanding the speed of the game.”
1. LB Carl Lawson
As the Jets seek to re-energize their pass rush…which becomes vital with a presumed pair of matchups against Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa in the foreseeable future…one of their biggest acquisitions was Lawson out of Cincinnati. Yet, hard-to-please fans and analysts expressed disappointment with his relatively low sack numbers. Lawson tallied 11.5 over the last two seasons, a drastic declined from the 8.5 he put up in his rookie year.
However, don’t let the relatively pedestrian numbers fool you: Lawson has been an agent of chaos in opposing backfields. According to ESPN’s Seth Walder, advanced stats indicated that Lawson was one of eleven defenders that “created” at least 10 sacks last season, even if he himself didn’t obtain it. In more conventional stats, Lawson also put up 32 overall quarterback pressures, good for second in the league behind only TJ Watt.
Ulbrich noted Lawson’s dedication to the game in some of his first statements as the Jets’ defensive boss.
“(He’s) obsessed with the game,” Ulbrich said of Lawson, per Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. “He wants to become the most technical pass-rusher in the league.”
Lawson admitted in Dunleavy’s report that he does want his sack numbers to return to the levels he knows he’s capable of. He believes the Jets’ bolstered interior defense, led by 2020 breakout man Quinnen Williams, can help him get there.
“I have the mindset that no matter who is around me I should win my 1-on-1,” the signer of a three-year, $45 million told Dunleavy. “That’s a great thing to have, great interior players, but the way I think of it is to produce no matter what the situation because what if everybody got hurt? Could I use that as my excuse for (fewer) sacks? No.”
What other Top 10’s do you want to see? Let Geoff know on Twitter @GeoffJMags
The New York Jets’ special teams improvements will vital in taking their first steps toward their leadership’s vision.
When an NFL team comes off a two-win season and adds a second digit to its playoff drought, a macabre gift is offered in the form of an offseason where almost any move made will push the organization in the right direction.
Even if the New York Jets weren’t coming a season considered garish even by their own star-crossed standards, they certainly had one of most productive offseasons in the NFL.
The hiring of Robert Saleh brought rave reviews domestically and abroad. The end of April saw them find their newest franchise quarterback (Zach Wilson) and finish creating what could be one of the deepest receiving corps in the league (draftee Elijah Moore joining veteran newcomers Corey Davis and Keelan Cole). Defensively, they stocked up on veterans of 4-3 sets that Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich are projected to implement.
While the playoffs still sit out of reach for the Jets, trapped with a divisional juggernaut and established AFC contenders, there’s no doubt they’ve improved on paper on both offense and defense. They’re packed with newcomers that are going to help them improve both immediately (Tevin Coleman/Jarrad Davis) and in the long term (Davis and Carl Lawson, each a signer of a three-year deal).
But the true difference after this offseason could well be on display on the Jets’ special teams.
It feels like an eternity since the Jets were able to breathe easy about their specialists, even though it’s only been two full seasons since they sent both their kicker (Jason Myers) and primary returner (Andre Roberts) to the Pro Bowl. The turnover in the kicker’s spot has been particularly troubling: since Myers absconded to Seattle after his all-star season, six different kickers have appeared in the Jets’ role in either a regular season or exhibition contest.
It’s not just the kicking game where the Jets have struggled. Last season, they ranked 25th and 27th in opposing kick and punt return respectively and alternated between Corey Ballentine and Braxton Berrios as their own kickoff man.
New head coach Robert Saleh made it clear from the get-go that special teams adjustments would be part of his ongoing renovations, even if he wouldn’t take an immediate hands-on role. To that end, he retained longtime special teams coordinator Brant Boyer on his staff after an extensive research process. Boyer has now survived the purges of Todd Bowles and Adam Gase’s respective staffs as he enters his sixth season on the green staff.
“So many people have called on his (Boyer’s) behalf,” Saleh said per team reporter Ethan Greenberg. “He’s held in such high regard.”
General manager Joe Douglas has concurred, demonstrating his dedication by drafting punter Braden Mann with the final pick of his original draft in 2020.
The kicking solution isn’t fully solved, with incumbent Sam Ficken battling with undrafted free agent Chris Naggar. While Naggar might not have had the notoriety of first-year prospects like Evan McPherson or Jose Borregales, but he did lead the AAC in conversation rate (94 percent) and points during his final year at Southern Methodist.
“(We’re) very excited about him, giving him a chance,” Saleh said about Naggar, per Max Goodman of Sports Illustrated. “(We’re going) to give him the opportunity to come here and compete for that job. That’s a real deal and it’s gonna be fun to watch.”
That’s the type of reliability the Jets need in the kicker spot, especially with an offense still lingering in its development stages. With new quarterback Zach Wilson in tow, the maturation process will probably start all over again (though Wilson has a far stronger arsenal to work with in his first year than Sam Darnold probably ever did). What’s going to be huge in boosting a young offense’s confidence is if they can end drives that reach opposing territory with any points whatsoever.
They nearly had that in Ficken last season, as the Penn State-based veteran hit his first nine field goal attempts (five alone in an October prime time game against Denver) before sustaining an injury that forced the Jets to turn to Sergio Castillo and Chase McLaughlin at several points.
Likewise, the Jets need to shore up their return game with Roberts long gone. Darnold’s rookie season was barely blessed, but he did have the relative stability of Roberts, currently a Houston Texan, setting him up with solid starting field position.
If anyone knows about strong starting field position, it’s one of Boyer’s new positional assistants in Leon Washington. Sure, the prescience of Washington, a 2006 New York draftee, may make Jets fans feel old, but that’s a minuscule price to pay for having his expertise on the roster. Washington has spent four of the past five seasons
Upon his arrival to the Jets’ staff, Washington expressed a desire to carry on in the footsteps of his own special teams as a player, the long-tenured Mike Westhoff.
“You think about the history of the Jets. They were always known for special teams going back to Mike,” Washington, the Jets’ all-time leader in kick return touchdowns, said in another team. “Brant does a great job. He’s in that Mike Westhoff mold. He can really get guys to play hard for him.”
Among those looking to follow in Washington’s footsteps may be Moore, who filled in on both receiving and punt return duties in a solid fashion at Mississippi. Another offensive choice from Cleveland’s draft, as North Carolina rusher Michael Carter spoke about the idea of handling kickoffs with Jack Bell on the team website.
“I’ve been returning kicks all my life,” Carter said. “I did in college last two years. I don’t know what the future has in store, but I’m sure the Jets have a good plan for me.”
The Jets’ free agency offerings seem to indicate that they’re interested in the smaller, less-heralded aspects of special teams as well. Their coverage issues often set opponents up in strong situations and several touchdowns were perhaps saved by Mann, who earned four tackles last season. Sure, it’s always great to see the team’s reaction when the punter earns a takedown, but the fun wears off when the opposing offense needs a mere 40 yards for six points. This offseason has seen them take steps to combat that problem, wisely allocating their excessive offseason capital toward those goals.
Justin Hardee, well known for his coverage exploits, was signed from New Orleans, while sixth-round choice Hamsah Nasirildeen has been seen by some as a steal for his potential to provide strong specialist coverage. Post-draft endeavors saw them take undrafted rookie Jordyn Peters from Auburn. The safety became well known for becoming a new kind of backfield prescience, blocking four punts during his time as a Tiger.
One can certainly argue that the NFL appears to be chopping at the impact special teams have on the game: longer extra points encourage two-point conversions, the kickoff gets moved up by a few yards more often.
But if the Jets ignore their special teams exploits, Robert Saleh’s “All Gas, No Brake” mantra is going to go for naught and lose its meaning. So far, the Jets are doing what they can to prevent that reality.
The New York Jets have been through six different legs since Jason Myers absconded to Seattle. The next one must last.
Even with a decent free agency haul, the New York Jets still have holes to fill with the NFL Draft looming large. Contending in a crowded AFC…one whose East division likely belongs to Buffalo for the time being and one packed with established contenders…might be difficult anyway even if all those needs are satisfied.
The Jets’ first choice, second only to Jacksonville on April 29, will undoubtedly be used on a quarterback, many presuming the choice to be BYU’s Zach Wilson. Afterward, however, there’s a lot of flexibility, especially with nine further picks in a surplus gained through trading Jamal Adams, Leonard Williams, Sam Darnold, and Jordan Willis. The Jets can thus upgrade areas of major need, such as the gaps in their blocking and secondary.
But there’s one underrated area where the Jets are in desperate need of help: their kicking game.
One could be excused in overlooking the current situation. The Jets, losers of ten games decided by at least two possessions, didn’t drop any games because of a missed kick, after all. But having a reliable leg at this point of the franchise timeline is supremely vital.
For one thing, having this much turnover in a position that often takes up a single slot on the gameday depth chart is troubling. Since 2019 Pro Bowl nominee Jason Myers absconded to Seattle, the Jets have gone through a disturbingly jaw-dropping six kickers, including those who appeared only in preseason games. But the biggest reason why the Jets need to settle this is the sake of their offense.
In a modern NFL that worships a fantasy football deity, the Jets have lagged behind. In the highest-scoring season in NFL history (teams averaged 24.8 points per game, breaking a record set in 1948), the Jets ranked dead-last at an average of 15.2. New York was also dead-last in another vital category: only 16 of their (again, league-low) 38 visits to the red zone ended in a touchdown.
Time will only tell if the Jets will be able to raise any of those numbers this season. But, even with the potential of Wilson (or another rookie party like Justin Fields), there’s no doubt it’ll be tough to build on it with a freshman thrower in tow. But this year of building must end with an offense full of confidence as they try to end this perpetual rebuild. The perfect way to build that poise and assertiveness is by ensuring that drives that end within the opponents’ 20-yard-line yield points. When you’re a team that has had issues…and might continue to have issues…getting balls in the end zone, a good kicker is a must.
Right now, it’s debatable as to whether the Jets have that. They have two kickers on the roster, the most recent pair of the aforementioned six. A competition is all but assured to assume once training camp commences this summer. Each one returns from last year’s roster, with Sam Ficken, the two-year incumbent, coming back on a future/reserve contract and Chase McLaughlin being retained from the Week 17 trip to New England, meaningless if not for being the final stand of Adam Gase.
Both Ficken and McLaughlin could stick around in the NFL for a while. Ficken has floated around in gameday rosters since 2015, while McLaughlin has racked up frequent flier miles as an injury replacement since entering the league four years later. Though McLaughlin has a minuscule sample size (converting two extra point attempts in the aforementioned futile Foxboro visit), Ficken established a new career-high by converting just over 86 percent of triples (13-of-15). The Penn State alum well could’ve been the Jets’ long-term solution, but a groin injury sustained in November could prove concerning.
What the Jets need right now is a reliable, proven leg, one where fans don’t have to hold their breath as long when his name is called. It’s probably too late to turn to free agency to solve that problem. The most reliable available name, Ryan Succop, re-upped with the defending champions while veteran Matt Prater moved from Detroit to Arizona. What’s left is a group of names past their prime (Dan Bailey/Stephen Gostkowski) or inconsistent (Brett Maher/Zane Gonzalez).
Thus, the means toward a solution may come from an unusual source: the NFL Draft.
It’s true that the Jets could probably scour the undrafted free agent wire to add to the special teams festivities at camp. Four of the five most accurate kickers last season (the exception being Mason Crosby) were, after all, UDFA finds. But the Jets need to be confident in the name they have going forward, unlike the 2019 season. The team scooped up former Minnesota preseason hero Kaare Vedvik mere days before their season opener against Buffalo. Vedvik lasted just one game in green, missing an extra point and a field goal, the indirect difference in a 17-16 loss to the Bills.
In this era, the Jets need a proven name that has succeeded at a high level of football, and this year’s selection pool has some strong names to work with. Reigning Lou Groza Award winner Jose Borregales perhaps headlines the class out of Miami, while his fellow finalist Evan McPherson hails from Florida. Senior Bowl standout Riley Patterson from Memphis could also hear his name called during the four-round, final day process on May 1.
Drafting a kicker often gains your team only postmortem mockery in the immediate aftermath. Tampa Bay’s aforementioned Super Bowl triumph may only now finally end the Roberto Aguayo jokes after they chose the Florida State booter in the second round in 2016. The Jets themselves endured some of this the last time they opted for a leg in the draft, shockingly choosing Mike Nugent with their second-round choice (47th overall) in 2005 (passing on future Pro Bowlers like Nick Collins, Vincent Jackson, and Frank Gore).
This time around, though, the Jets can afford such a risk. That’s part of the gifts that come with ten draft picks, a surplus gained through trading several franchise staples. Quantity, as the Jets found out through John Idzik’s doomed dozen in 2014, doesn’t always equal quality, so they have to make the most of the extras granted to them. Drafting a kicker might be a great way to do that. There’s obviously no need to go the Nugent route…there are far greater holes to fill…but using one of their later picks could be a good way to find an immediate contributor and gain some consistency at a position where there’s been endless turnover.
Using a draft pick on special teams and valuing the group isn’t unheard of in this new era of Jets football. In his first draft at the helm, general manager Joe Douglas used his final choice on punter Braden Mann and special teams coordinator Brant Boyer is a rare survivor of the purge of Gase’s coaching staff, having also survived that of Todd Bowles’ group. Douglas knows that football is a three-pronged game, and getting the right guy at the vital positions is going to be crucial to building what he and Robert Saleh are trying to build.
Drafting a kicker’s an unusual situation in any NFL era. But desperate times, times that would welcome even the simplest form of football stability, call for unusual measures.
The New York Jets undoubtedly improved this offseason, but there are several areas of need to address as the calendar flips to April.
The New York Jets undoubtedly became a better team this offseason. Whether that’s a result of the Adam Gase era giving them nowhere to go but up or it leads to actual results on the field remains to be seen, but the Jets have laid down a solid foundation for the Robert Saleh era. Optimism reigns for an already star-crossed franchise coming off a two-win season through the signings of names like Tevin Coleman, Corey Davis, and Carl Lawson.
“There’s a lot of optimism, especially coming off a bad season, so I’m looking forward to working. I love the process,” Lawson said in video provided by the Jets. He compared the situation to franchise mode on the Madden NFL video game franchise. “I play Madden because I love building teams. I love franchise mode. Franchise mode hasn’t changed on Madden in like 15 years, but I’m never going to stop loving it because I get to build, I get to grow, I get to improve.”
Yet, as the calendar flips to April and the free agency frenzy mostly pacified, the Jets have several areas of need that have yet to be satisfied. Competing in the crowded AFC will probably be difficult with even the perfect offseason, but the Saleh era can get off to an optimally smooth start if the following areas are satisfied, preferably sooner rather than later…
Solving the offensive line issues was probably at the top of the Jets’ offseason to-do list, the necessity even outweighing the quarterback quandary. No matter who’s throwing the ball, he’s going to need protection.
Joe Douglas has shown he’s willing to make up for the blocking negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. His drafting of Mekhi Becton was a strong start, but his free agency signings failed to pan out. Several are set to return for another season, but the Jets missed out on the big targets (Joe Thuney, Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler), adding only interior man Dan Feeney from the Los Angeles Chargers. Another addition, tight end Tyler Kroft, has gained positive reviews for his blocking, but nothing that should dramatically change the Jets’ protection affairs.
An interesting gambit for the Jets would be to draft top blocking prospect Penei Sewell with the second overall choice and letting Sam Darnold work behind a revamped line, but the Jets’ due diligence at incoming rookie passing class hints that they’re headed toward that direction. But at least one of their early picks, namely the 23rd and 34th overall selections, should be used on a blocker if only to raise the heat on some of the incumbents. Veteran help from abroad, like Kansas City’s Austin Reiter, should also be considered. Reiter, set to turn 30 in November, was the Chiefs’ starting center in each of the last two Super Bowls.
After the spending frenzy in March, the Jets appear to have a plan in place when it comes to their safeties. Marcus Maye was granted the franchise tag, which basically serves as a $10 million “prove it” deal. On the strong side, the post-Jamal Adams era continues. Ashtyn Davis will get a de facto second rookie season after injuries marred his original and the Jets have brought in a strong mentor and veteran prescience in LaMarcus Joyner to help out. Elsewhere on defense, front seven newcomers Lawson and Jarrad Davis have experiences in the 4-3 scheme that Robert Saleh is reportedly hoping to implement.
But the cornerback depth is definitely concerning. Youngsters Bless Austin and Bryce Hall have shown flashes of brilliance in their infantile NFL careers, but they’ll probably need further development before fully embracing the starting roles. Newly signed Justin Hardee is listed as a corner but primarily works on special teams. The Jets also have a decision to make on one of their free agents, Brian Poole.
The 23rd pick, obtained from Seattle for Adams, can potentially be used on the top cornerbacks on the draft, namely Caleb Farley, Patrick Surtain, or Jaycee Horn.
The Jets have not had a quarterback start every game in a season since Ryan Fitzpatrick went all 16 in 2015. If Darnold stays, the Jets should be ready for the unthinkable again, as he has yet to play a full NFL season. Should the rookie arrive, some see Darnold as a safety blanket. But if Zach Wilson or Justin Fields make their entrance, Darnold still shouldn’t stay. There doesn’t need to be a quarterback controversy and the USC alum isn’t at the “veteran mentor” stage.
When Darnold got hurt last season, the Philadelphia-bound Joe Flacco did a serviceable job in relief. But with the Super Bowl XLVII MVP donning a new shade of green, they need to be prepared in case of an emergency. The draft can’t be an option, as the Jets have far too many needs to fill with their surplus and the fourth-round choice of James Morgan in last year’s proceedings remains puzzling. If they want a safety net that can win games, Saleh and Mike LaFleur’s Bay Area comrade Nick Mullens could be an option, while veteran mentors are available through Alex Smith, Brian Hoyer, or Blake Bortles.
Since Pro Bowler Jason Myers absconded to Seattle, the Jets have gone through six different kickers over the last two seasons. When you’re a team like the Jets, a team that struggles to get into the end zone, you need a reliable kicker to ensure visits to opposing territory end with at least some points. There appears to be a competition in place between two of those names (Sam Ficken and Chase McLaughlin), but the Jets need reliability and would be smart to showcase new talent.
The Jets haven’t used a draft pick on a kicker since Mike Nugent in the second round of the 2005 selections. There’s certainly no need to go that early this time around, but the selection of punter Braden Mann with their final pick last year shows the Jets won’t hesitate to address their special teams on draft weekend. Evan McPherson (Florida) and Jorge Borregales (Miami) are the top boots this time around.
ESM’s New York Jets offseason preview concludes by analyzing the special teams, which welcomes back overseer Brant Boyer.
The Position: Special Teams On the Roster: P Braden Mann, LS Tom Hennessy, K Chase McLaughlin Free Agents: N/A Reserve/Future: K Sam Ficken
As the New York Jets have abandoned their coaching ship twice over the past three years, Brant Boyer has proven unsinkable.
The Jets’ special teams coordinator is about to embark on a journey with his third coaching group, having survived the respective purgings of Todd Bowles and Adam Gase’s staffs. Boyer has overseen the development of Pro Bowlers (sending two, Jason Myers and Andre Roberts, in 2018) and has often been floated by fans as an interim boss once they get tired of the regular man in change.
“So many people have called on his behalf.” head coach Robert Saleh said of Boyer’, per notes provided by the Jets. “He’s held in such high regard.” Saleh eventually made the decision to retain Boyer to his new staff, a rare holdover from Gase’s group.
The retainment comes at a time where strong special teams are more vital than ever. New York is desperate for offensive traction but must work with what it can in these trying times. Whether it’s pinning an opponent deep when a driver sputters out or making the most of a drive that reaches fourth down in enemy territory via a field goal, the Jets need to make sure their special teams are ready to go.
While one area seems to be settled…rookie Braden Mann earned positive reviews at punter, and gained a cult following for his propensity to make touchdown-saving tackles…the Jets have been looking for a solution at kicker ever since Myers shipped off to Seattle. Including preseason contests, six different kickers have filled the role since the 2019 season began. There was three alone last season, as injuries and inconsistency forced Sam Ficken from the post. The Jets got by with Sergio Castillo and Chase McLaughlin for the remainder of the year.
Also back for another year is long snapper Thomas Hennessy, who has spent the last four years in the role incident-free. Receiver Braxton Berrios had primary punt return duties, while former Giants defensive draft pick Corey Ballentine later took over affairs on the kickoff.
Will They Draft?
After using their final choice of Mann last season, it’s definitely possible the Jets could use one of their day three picks on another leg, this one of the more offensive type. Last season was a bit of a struggle for the top prospect Evan McPherson, but other options arose through Miami’s Jose Borregales (18-of-20, long of 57) and Riley Patterson of Memphis, who struggled as a senior but posted sellar numbers the year prior.
Younghoe Koo, Atlanta
Born in South Korea and raised in Ridgewood, NJ, Koo has been one of the more inspiring stories in recent NFL history. He memorably executed three successful onside kicks during a Thanksgiving 2019 tilt in New Orleans and led the NFL with 37 made field goals last season (on 39 attempts). Koo was also the NFL’s leading scorer at 144 points, tied with fellow kickers Daniel Carlson of Las Vegas and Jason Sanders in Miami.
Ryan Succop, Tampa Bay
Mr. Irrevelant was anything but for the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers this season. The final pick of the 2009 NFL Draft recovered very well after knee surgery, tying a career-best best with 136 points and converting all nine of his postseason triple attempts en route to the Big Game.
Jamal Agnew, Detroit
If the Jets are looking to spice up their return game, or at least create some competition, they can turn to Agnew, who has likewise played offense and defense during his time with the Lions. Agnew would have to work on his ball control, but double-digit averages on both kicks and punts are nothing to scoff at.
For the third straight year, the Jets are going to spend the offseason looking for a new kicker. It’s possible that endeavor can be solved in the spring by signing someone like Koo or Succop, or create competition with the draft. Either way, that situation must be resolved sooner rather than later. With punter and long snapper accounted for,
The well-traveled Ficken got off to a hot start in 2020, but his New York Jets career appears to be over after two seasons.
The New York Jets have announced several roster moves leading into their season finale against the New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Their most consequential moves may be the release of kicker Sam Ficken and the activation of starting blocker Greg Van Roten off of injured reserve.
Ficken, 28, sees his Jets career end after two seasons, continuing the Jason Myers saga on a sour note. He began the year on a strong note, converting his first nine field goal attempts and all six of his extra point opportunities through Week 6 action. A groin injury sidelined him for the next three games before he briefly returned for the Week 11 tilt against the Los Angeles Chargers, missing two extra points in the 34-28 defeat. In yet another visit to Los Angeles, this one coming against the Rams, Ficken score 11 of the Jets’ 23 points in their first win of the season, but he missed two, an extra point and field goal each, in last week’s victory over Cleveland at home.
The Jets (2-13) will use Chase McLaughlin as their kicker in New England. McLaughlin entered the league in 2019 and has spent time with eight different organizations in some capacity. This season, he was originally cut by Indianapolis after training camp before joining Minnesota’s practice squad. He later served as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ kicker for three weeks, converting all four field goal attempts, before the Jets picked him up in December. McLaughlin will become the fourth different kicker to appear in a regular season game for the Jets since the Pro Bowler Myers departed for Seattle after the 2018 campaign.
Van Roten partook in every offensive snap over the Jets’ first 11 games before leaving their Week 13 contest against Las Vegas with a toe injury. Ironically, the 30-year-old Van Roten was also paced in IR with a toe injury last season during his final year with the Carolina Panthers. Signed to a one-year deal over the offseason, Van Roten has been one of the Jets’ more consistent offensive line.
In addition to Van Roten and McLaughlin, a quartet of other Jets will make their debut on the active roster this week. Linebackers Noah Dawkins and Brady Sheldon were promoted from the practice squad, while another linebacker, Sharif Finch, and a defensive lineman, Tanzel Smart, were picked up and moved to the 53-man ledger.
The New York Jets have made yet another change at kicker, announcing the release of Sergio Castillo and the signing of Chase McLaughlin earlier this week.
McLaughlin, 24, joins his seventh NFL team since entering the league as an undrafted rookie out of Illinois in 2019. He has converted 22-of-28 field goals in his career, including 4-of-5 during a three-game stint with Jacksonville earlier this season, subbing for an injured Josh Lambo, a tenure that also saw him spend some brief time on the reserve/COVID-19 list. McLaughlin did manage to boot his career long with the Jaguars, during a November loss to Green Bay.
Better known for his endeavors in the CFL and XFL, Castillo converted 8-of-13 field goal attempts during his time in New York. His green tenure came to an unceremonious end on Sunday in Seattle, as he missed three attempts in a 40-3 loss to the Seahawks.
McLaughlin will become the third kicker the Jets (0-13) have used this season, the substitutes stemming from Sam Ficken’s groin injury earlier this fall. According to notes from the Jets head coach Adam Gase said that “there is definitely” a chance Ficken could return to the practice field as the Jets prepare to return out west to battle the Los Angeles Rams this Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET, Fox). Ficken converted each of his first eight attempts this season, but missed two kicks when he attempted to come back early from the injury in a prior visit to Los Angeles in November, a 34-28 loss to the Chargers.
The Jets have struggled at kicker since Pro Bowler Jason Myers departed for Seattle during the 2019 offseason. Should he partake in Sunday’s trek to Los Angeles. McLaughlin will become the fourth kicker to partake in a regular season game for the Jets over the past two seasons.