New York Jets: 3 stars from Saturday’s preseason win vs. the Giants

New York Jets

Zach Wilson’s debut took center stage, but the New York Jets should be very pleased by a relentless defensive effort.

The New York Jets welcomed back their fans to MetLife Stadium with a glorious defensive showing and a hint of the future under center.

Zach Wilson had an uneventful yet effective evening on two possessions that ended in opposing territory (6-of-9, 63 yards) while the upgraded pass rush earned five sacks en route to a 12-7 victory over the New York Giants. The resumption of the East Rutherford civil war was the first professional football game staged in front of fans in the tri-state area since February 2020.

Though the Giants did not play a majority of their offensive starters, it’s probably hard for Jets fans not to be enthused by their team’s defensive showing. Gang Green allowed only 163 yards of total offense and 11 first downs. They also allowed the Giants to convert only two third downs in ten attempts.

ESM looks back on the Jets’ preseason triumph, awarding three game balls to the victors…

3rd Star: WR Vyncint Smith

3 receptions, 39 yards

Each of Smith’s receptions (the first being a 12-yard grab from Wilson) led to first downs, but the veteran’s finest weekend contributions might’ve come on special teams. He helped Braden Mann land three of his five punts inside the Giants’ 20, including a tip out of the end zone that pinned Big Blue a yard away from a safety. It’s plays like that that will allow Smith, a third-year Jets, to continue his career in green amidst of a crowded receivers’ picture.

2nd Star: LB Bryce Huff

3 tackles, 2 sacks

The Jets’ offseason obsession with bolstering their pass rush…which was one of the rare silver linings of the woebegone 2020 season…was immediately vindicated through a five-sack showing. That tally was headlined by a pair from Huff, whom some see as a breakout candidate for the Jets after making the most of an unexpected opportunity last season. His first preseason outing made a strong statement and helped make the case that he has a future in New York.

Several unsung rookies appear ready to follow in the undrafted Huff’s footsteps. Hamilcar Rashed Jr. had 1.5 sacks on Saturday night while the team’s final draft pick, Jonathan Marshall, was involved in two, bringing down Clayton Thorson for a safety on the latter. Elsewhere, Hamsah Nasirildeen forced a fumble in the red zone, one recovered by another undrafted breakout, Michael Dwumfour (who shared a sack with Marshall before leaving with a calf injury).

1st Star: WR Denzel Mims

3 receptions, 51 yards

Rumors of Mims’ New York demise appear to be greatly exaggerated. Mims appeared to be a talking point for all the wrong preseason: he barely played in the first half, appearing only in kickoff coverage (sharing a tackle with Javelin Guidry on the opening boot). Granted an extended offensive opportunity in the second half, Mims left a lasting impression.

Mims earned some big yards after the catch and created one of the biggest plays of the infantile preseason on the Jets’ lone touchdown-scoring drive: with New York facing an 18-yard third down in Giants territory, Mims earned 14 yards himself after making the grab from Mike White before dragging about three Giants past the first-down marker. The Jets would take full advantage, punching it on La’Mical Perine’s scoring run three plays later.

The Jets return to action next Saturday night on the road against the Green Bay Packers (4:25 p.m. ET, WLNY/NFL Network)

Geoff Magliocchetti is 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

WR Vyncint Smith headed back to the New York Jets

New York Jets

The New York Jets are set to welcome back Smith, who posted career-best numbers during his first season with the team in 2019.

The New York Jets announced the re-signing of receiver Vyncint Smith on Saturday afternoon. Smith, who set to be a restricted free agent, joined the Jets off the Houston Texans’ practice squad in 2019.

Smith, born in Germany and an alum of Division II Limestone College, dealt with injuries during the 2020 season, limited to only a single 13-yard reception in seven games. During his debut Jets campaign, Smith earned 225 yards on 17 receptions, each career-bests to date.

Additionally, Smith showed off a brief rushing prowess in his first New York season with 52 yards on a trio of carries. His biggest play of the season was a 19-yard scoring carry in his Jets debut, earned in an October visit to Philadelphia.

Smith also became a threat in the return game for the Jets, putting up 299 yards on 10 kick return turns in 2019. During his injury-plagued season last year, fellow receiver Braxton Berrios and mid-season pick-up Corey Ballentine took over such duties. Smith is one of the rare Jets on the current roster with postseason experience, having played a majority of offensive snaps in Houston’s 2018-19 Wild Card appearance against Indianapolis.

Smith is the first of the Jets’ wide receiver issues to be resolved this offseason. He was among the free agents-to-be along with Breshad Perriman, and Jeff Smith (no relation). Jamison Crowder could also be a departure for salary cap reasons, with potentially $10.5 million in cap space available upon his departure.

The Jets’ receiving situation has been well-discussed with the quarterback situation still not resolved. They haven’t had a 1,000-receiver since Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker each reached the plateau in 2015. The team has high hopes for second-round choice Denzel Mims, while Berrios is also under contract with Lawrence Cager.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets positional preview 2021: Wide receivers

The New York Jets may have found a big-play man in Denzel Mims, but the receiving picture behind him is far murkier.

The Position: Wide Receiver
On the Roster: Braxton Berrios, Lawrence Cager, Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims,
Free Agents: Breshad Perriman, Jeff Smith, Vyncint Smith
Reserve/Future: Josh Malone, D.J. Montgomery, Jaleel Scott

With the offense at a crossroads of sorts, the New York Jets are looking for playmakers. When it comes to their receivers, they may have uncovered a diamond in the second-round rough in Denzel Mims, but things behind him a lot murkier.

Part of the reason why it’s been so hard for Sam Darnold to develop a true rhythm as the Jets’ franchise quarterback is that his targets have undergone a ridiculous amount of turnover. Upon the departures of Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa, no receivers from Darnold’s rookies season of 2018 remained on the roster. In the of the 2020 season, Mims eventually found his NFL footing after missing the early stages due to injury, vindicating general manager Joe Douglas’ decision to pass on first-day talents like Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Justin Jefferson.

But Douglas’ free agent options didn’t fare as well. Breshad Perriman, for example, failed to recapture the glory of his final Tampa Bay days, earning only 30 receptions over 12 games. New England castaway Chris Hogan failed to make a difference and the injury bug refused to leave the Jets alone. The most consistent part of the unit, slot man Jamison Crowder, led the team in all major receiving categories for the second straight season. Crowder is under contract for one more year, but the Jets would save just over $9 million in cap space if they moved on from him through a release or trade.

Even if Darnold doesn’t return under center, the Jets needs to freshen the receiving situation for the newcomer. The unit’s last 1,000-yard endeavors came through the Brandon Marshall/Eric Decker pairing during the doomed 2015 campaign.

Free Agents-to-be 

Breshad Perriman

Signed to a one-year deal worth $8 million ($6 million guaranteed), Perriman was brought in as the potential top target after ending his single season in Tampa in style (506 yards, five touchdowns in his final five games in 2019). But he never lived up to that billing in New York. He sustained an injury in the early going and never gained any momentum, save for strong performances in the New England games (8 receptions, 185 yards, 2 touchdowns).

With a new regime coming in and Perriman struggling in his lone green season, he is likely destined to hit the market.

Jeff Smith

Undrafted out of Boston College, the former quarterback has turned into a fun project in New York. Injuries have stunted his true potential, but Smith earned 167 yards on 17 receptions last season. That included a strong 81-yard showing when he was called upon to take extended duties when ailments ate up the top of the depth chart. He could potentially return as a depth option under new receivers coach Miles Austin.

Vyncint Smith

After getting some extended playing time when injuries struck in 2019 (joining in-season from the Houston practice squad), Smith himself landed on injured reserve in the early going and was limited to seven games, during which he only earned a single reception and lost his return duties to Braxton Berrios and Corey Ballentine. It’s possible he could get another go at it if the Jets want to create a special teams competition.

Will They Draft?

While there are plenty of names available to the Jets through free agency…and there are plenty of resources to bring in an elite name…the Jets’ receiving corps needs a complete makeover. With an extra pick in two of the first three rounds, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them use one on a receiver. In the event they get Watson…a happening made increasingly remote but the Texans’ apparent stubbornness to hold on to the disgruntled thrower…they likely wouldn’t have the second pick to use on Heisman winner Devonta Smith, but Jaylen Waddle, his Tuscaloosa partner-in-playmaking, might be around if they hold onto the 23rd pick send from Seattle. The speedy Waddle has seen his projections fall after enduring an ankle injury in Alabama’s October tilt against Tennessee.

Day two options open to the Jets could include Kadarius Toney, Rondale Moore, Sage Surratt, and Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Veteran Possibilities

Allen Robinson, Chicago

Unlike Watson, Robinson is set to be a free agent and isn’t held back by stubborn management if he wants to find new opportunities. Fresh off a career-best 102 receptions despite the Bears’ unstable quarterback situation, Robinson could be a game-changer for the Jets no matter who’s throwing to him. Additionally, Robinson hasn’t exactly been subtle about his approval of the Jets’ offseason thus far. Twitter sleuths uncovered that some of Robinson’s recent “likes” involve calling for Watson to go to New York and approval of the Robert Saleh hire.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh 

If there’s one thing Darnold needs right now, it’s consistency. Bridges are burned with, say, Anderson (who has become a selling point in Carolina’s ongoing rebuild), but Smith-Schuster’s Sothern California collaborations with Darnold earned rave reviews. Smith-Schuster caught some of Darnold’s earliest passes as the two guided USC to a 10-win season in 2016, capped off by the epic 52-49 thriller against Saquon Barkley and Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Smith-Schuster and Darnold united for 133 yards on seven hook-ups in that game, which afforded the Trojans the third slot in the final AP poll from that season. Some will point to Smith-Schuster’s propensity for pregame TikToks as an excuse to stay away, but that’s a small price to pay compared to the comfort and stability Smith-Schuster could provide to a quarterback in desperate need of those feelings…be it Darnold or otherwise.

Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay

For all intents and purposes, Godwin should be one of the biggest household names in football. Through no fault of his own, Godwin often gets lost in the headlines, but that might happen when your catching cohorts are Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski. Godwin also missed four games with a hip/quad injury but still managed to post 840 yards after a breakout year in 2019. Godwin has played a major role in the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl endeavors as well; he scored a touchdown that put them ahead for good in the Wild Card round against Washington and led the team with 110 yards in the NFC title clinch against the Packers. If Godwin is looking for a place to prove he can be a No. 1 receiver, New York would be a strong place to do it.

Outlook

A makeover is definitely coming to the Jets’ receiving corps. Free agency would certainly be the better way to go, as it would provide Mims a good mentor and give the team so much-needed, experienced stability. Whoever comes into the Jets’ quarterback spot is going to be thrown into a roaring green fire. They need to do whatever they can to make Darnold or the incoming new party to feel as comfortable as possible. Providing him with a strong, elite receiving talent would be the best way to do that.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: WR Vyncint Smith to miss significant time (Report)

New York Jets

The New York Jets receiving corps appear to be taking another hit, as Vyncint Smith is set to miss several weeks with a core muscle injury.

Per Connor Hughes of The Athletic, New York Jets receiver Vyncint Smith will be sidelined for the next 5-8 weeks with a core muscle injury. Smith missed practice on Sunday and later visited a specialist, leading to a verdict of surgery.

With the expected recovery period, the earliest Smith could return would likely be after the Jets’ Week 3 tilt with the San Francisco 49ers on September 20.

Smith, 24, is set to enter his second season with the Jets. He was signed off of the Houston Texans’ practice squad last September and earned 277 yards of offense on 20 touches (17 receptions). Of that total tally, 17 Smith touches led to first downs and he also earned the first rushing touchdown of his career during the Jets’ regular-season visit to Philadelphia last fall. Smith also had reps as a secondary kick returner.

With Smith’s injury, the Jets’ already precarious receiving corps has taken another hit. Second-round pick Denzel Mims has been dealing with a hamstring issue and has been held out of the opening practices, likely leaving veteran newcomer Breshad Perriman as the top target for the time being. Jamison Crowder returns in the slot, but there’s a major drop-off in experience from thereon. Smith’s injury will likely lead to increased opportunities for the unrelated Jeff Smith, who spoke to Randy Lange of NYJets.com about this new opportunity.

Jeff Smith, a second-year undrafted free agent out of Boston College, partook in one game last season and earned 12 yards on a single reception.

“I think my main thing is just to know the whole offense and wherever my chance comes, to be able to go in there, not think too much, and be able to play fast,” Jeff Smith said to Lange. “Next man up.”

The Jets also signed former New England Patriot Chris Hogan earlier this week. Hogan, a two-time Super Bowl champion, is currently awaiting clearance to practice in quarantine after his signing was announced on Sunday.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags