The New York Jets go into a pivotal offseason after a subpar 4-13 season. How can they improve?
The Jets season on paper was a disappointing one. Four wins and yet another top-five selection is not what most fans were hoping for out of this season. Zach Wilson’s raw statistics were subpar, the Jets defense struggled, and a team that was supposed to be competitive was blown out on multiple occasions.
Having said all of that, many Jets fans feel optimistic about the future, and they absolutely should. The Jets have a number of quality young players on both sides of the ball. The 2021 draft class hit on almost all accounts. Zach Wilson played a fantastic final six games with a depleted offense while up against some challenging defenses. Elijah Moore was a big play waiting to happen every time he was on the field. Alijah Vera-Tucker looks like he’s on his way to an All-Pro kind of career. Even the depth pieces found ways to contribute all year. The youngest team in the NFL certainly played like it at the start of the year, but also progressed like it towards the end of the year.
However, the youth improved drastically.
Not only did the young team improve, but the young coaching staff also took strides together. Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s defense made continuous strides despite losing multiple starters throughout the year. Mike LaFleur went to the booth and became a totally different play-caller. Even the Jets special teams put forth another strong year under Brant Boyer.
So where does GM Joe Douglas go from here? The Jets have the fourth most cap space in the NFL along with two top ten selections. This is the offseason to turn the Jets from a rebuilder into a competitive football team that challenges for a playoff spot next year.
With that in mind, here’s what the Jets roster could look like in 2022.
Quarterbacks (2) Zach Wilson, Joe Flacco
Wilson’s rookie campaign went about as expected. There were ridiculous highs and some really bad lows. Despite accuracy struggles during the season, Wilson showed the arm talent that people raved about during the draft process. The biggest sign of growth from Wilson was his ability to decipher what is “NFL open,” and what is not. Wilson got better at using his arm strength to fit throws into NFL windows while simultaneously holding onto the football in ways a rookie rarely does. Only two quarterbacks did not throw an interception over the final five weeks of the regular season; Aaron Rodgers and Zach Wilson. Obviously, this is Wilson’s gig for the foreseeable future. The good news for Jets fans is, he looks the part.
Running Backs (4): Michael Carter, Tevin Coleman, Justin Jackson, Matt Brieda
There are a lot of Jets fans who think they could pair a running back with Carter to make a two-headed monster this offseason. However, Carter flashed so much potential during his time in the lineup. He has great contact balance, he picks the right holes to run through, and he can block. Carter has shown the ability to be a three-down back, and the Jets will give him the opportunity to be that guy. For insurance, expect the Jets to invest heavily into running backs that fit their system.
Tevin Coleman showed productivity in a pinch during his time in New York, plus he’s familiar with the Shanahan/LaFleur offense. Justin Jackson has proven to be a solid between the tackles runner in zone blocking schemes. He has the power to gain tough yards, which makes him a perfect complement to the other two. Jackson should get a depth contract, just like the last guy on the list; Matt Brieda. Brieda had his most productive years in the Shanahan offense, which the Jets are trying to emulate.
Editor’s Note: Don’t sleep on the Jets picking a running back in the upcoming draft either. There are plenty of day two targets that could create that one-two punch with Carter. Isaiah Spiller is the guy that makes the most sense to me because he has home run ability every time he touches the ball, and he’s a one-cut type of runner.
Wide Receivers (6): Calvin Ridley, Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Braxton Berrios, Keelan Cole, Mack Hollins
There’s no doubt that Corey Davis and Elijah Moore will play big roles next year, especially with Wilson having grown into a better passer during their absence. Braxton Berrios will be back as well. He showed the ability to be a quality slot receiver and an ace in the return game. The rest of the core is a question mark. Will the Jets go back to the draft and select one of the talented wide receivers projected to go in the top 50? Will they look to make a move for an established target like Calvin Ridley?
Joe Douglas said the Jets are in a position to acquire veteran talent via trade during his end of the season press conference. So let’s play the “what if,” game and assume Calvin Ridley is truly on the trade block. The positives for trading for Ridley are obvious. He’s a true number one receiver, he’s an excellent route runner, and he would be a security blanket for Zach Wilson on third down.
The one question mark is if the Jets would actually get into a potential bidding war as a team moving out of a rebuild and into a reload. Plenty of teams will call Atlanta if Ridley is truly on the open market. While the Jets do have the most to offer, will Joe Douglas “overpay,” if he has to?
The bottom line is, a top 40 selection in the upcoming draft will be tough to pass on for the Falcons. If the Jets attach a future conditional pick, it should be a slam dunk, win-win trade for both teams.
Tight Ends (3): David Njoku, Ryan Griffin, Jeremy Ruckert
This position group will get a complete overhaul in 2022. The tight end group in this draft may not have the elite prospect, but it is incredibly deep. Expect the Jets to use a pick in the middle of the draft at this position. Ruckert was the choice because he’s a quality receiving option and the Jets will see him up close during the Senior Bowl week.
The “aggressive,” prediction here is David Njoku. Njoku has flashed immense potential as a receiver, but he’s plagued by drops. Having said that, his blocking skills have improved drastically, which means a team could take the chance of giving him a long-term contract. The Jets’ offense makes a ton of sense for him. Njoku can seal the edge in the run game, and use the seams in the passing game. If the Jets can unlock the potential in a David Njoku it could drastically change their offense for next year.
Editor’s Note: As awesome as giving the bag to Dalton Schultz would be, it ain’t happening. This is a quality tight end class in the draft, and Dallas probably finds a way to keep Schultz anyway.
Offensive Line (9): Mekhi Becton, Alijah Vera-Tucker, James Daniels, Kenyon Green, George Fant, Ty Sambraillo, Dan Feeney, Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff, Chuma Edoga
Here’s the start of Joe Douglas’ spending spree. The Jets will try for Brandon Scherff. They need to bolster their offensive line, and Scherff is the best player on the market. However, even though the Jets will likely offer him the most money, Scherff could choose to play for less in order to play for a winner right away.
The move that may not be on the average fan’s radar is James Daniels. Daniels has experience at guard and center. He has blossomed in the Bears’ zone-blocking scheme and appears to be on the verge of a long-term deal. While Daniels has had his breakout at guard, his familiarity at center could make him an option for the Jets.
If the Jets only add one piece in free agency, it’s safe to assume the second piece would come in the draft. While the conversation surrounding the Jets’ 10th overall selection has been Iowa Center Tyler Linderbaum, Kenyon Green from Texas A&M makes more sense. He’s a mauler in the run game and has the power to deliver heavy strikes in pass protection. Plus, he’s played four positions along the offensive front during his collegiate career. Green is more worthy of a top 10 selection than Linderbaum.
Keep an eye on Ben Jones in free agency as well. Jones is a veteran center that excels in the run game. His durability will also be attractive to many teams. A plug-and-play center could be an attractive option to Douglas and company.
The one guarantee; the Jets will bolster their offensive line this offseason.
Defensive Line (9): Carl Lawson, Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, Myjai Sanders, Bryce Huff, Sheldon Rankins, Jonathan Marshall, Al Woods, Kyle Phillips
Other than an edge rusher, expect the Jets defensive line to remain mostly the same. This group was banged up the majority of the year, but their depth flashed throughout the year. For this group to take a step forward next year and dominate, they will need a breakout year from Quinnen Williams. Williams has shown flashes of dominance, but he’s yet to put it together for a full season. If the Jets want to be a playoff team in 2022, he will have to do a better job at making teams pay for leaving him one-on-one.
The one piece that could change is Foley Fatukasi. Fatukasi played so well this year that he might get a look as a starter. If he can be a high-end backup somewhere though, the Jets will be in play to bring him back.
The lone addition in this mock offseason is Myjai Sanders. Sanders is an interesting prospect. He’s an elite athlete with a lethal first step. He uses his length and quickness to win in the passing game. If his technique can be coached up a little, Sanders can be an elite pass rusher at the next level.
Editor’s Note: While the Jets could use their draft capital to trade for an established player, don’t sleep on them trying to move up in this draft either. The Jacksonville Jaguars have one primary concern; protecting Trevor Lawrence. Their offensive line was just dreadful this year, and there are talented tackles at the top of this draft. It’s not unrealistic for the Jaguars to prioritize Evan Neal. Many feel that the top two edge rushers are not worthy of a true number one selection. Therefore, if a team can give them close to the right value, maybe Jacksonville is willing to move the top pick.
Editor’s Note Part Two: Keep a real eye on Sanders this offseason. The Jets will see him up close during Senior Bowl week, and he should thrive during the combine in Indianapolis.
Linebackers (6): C.J. Mosley, Leighton Vander Esch, Quincy Williams, Hamsah Nasirildeen, Jamien Sherwood, Frankie Luvu
This will come as a shock to most Jets fans because the linebacker position looks like one that could go through a massive overhaul. No one shined this year, and there are some stellar draft prospects at the linebacker position. However, there are a few reasons why I expect the core to remain the same in 2022.
CJ Mosley is the leader of the defense. He’s due a ton of money over the next two years, but the Jets will likely restructure his contract to keep him around. Quincy Williams flashed big-time potential during his time here. He’s a thumper in the run game, and he learned how to cover running backs as the year went on. Hamsah Nasirildeen could be a breakout star if given the chance in 2022. It was going to take some time to adjust to a new position and a new scheme. Plus, he was banged up during his rookie campaign. Year two could be a massive jump for him or Jamien Sherwood.
Therefore, after adding a guy like “LVE,” on a one-year “prove it,” deal, you could see the Jets stay put at this position…
…or this is all wildly off-based and they draft Nakobe Dean out of Georgia at the 10th pick.
Cornerbacks (7): Bryce Hall, J.C. Jackson, Michael Carter II, Brandon Echols, Jason Pinnock, Isaiah Dunn, Justin Hardee
This is another position where Jets fans might expect a massive overhaul and not get one. Sure, the secondary at points in times this year looked disastrous. Nevertheless, they chose to have a young group for a reason. The Jets brass wanted this group to get a ton of reps, and see who they had that could start for them in the future.
Bryce Hall had a fantastic season. He proved he can take the opposing team’s top players and stay with them because of good technique on the outside. Michael Carter II also looks like a star at the nickel corner position. Echols and Pinnock are likely depth pieces for a good secondary, which is fine because both showed they can start in a pinch. The question then becomes, who is the missing link?
JC Jackson is the obvious answer. Jackson is set up to be paid in a big way this offseason. He’s a turnover machine with the ability to play multiple coverages in the back end. Bill Belichick is known for letting players walk, and it is true that a lot of players do not succeed outside of his system. However, Jackson feels like a Chandler Jones kind of scenario. He’s been so successful and he generates so many turnovers that it’s hard to see him failing outside of New England. This becomes even more true if you hand him to a defensive guru like Robert Saleh.
Safeties (4): Marcus Williams, Kyle Hamilton, Jeff Heath, Ashtyn Davis
Unlike the cornerback group, the safety group is guaranteed to see an overhaul. Not only was it an unproductive unit, but its lone quality player, Marcus Maye, is a free agent.
Marcus Williams is going to be an attractive option for the Jets. He’s steady in the back end and excels in multiple coverages. While he’s not a superstar kind of player in terms of impact plays and forcing turnovers, Williams has few weaknesses to his game. He makes a ton of sense for the Jets to pursue in free agency.
The gamble here is Hamilton. Now Hamilton is absolutely worthy of a top-five selection. He’s a turnover machine, he tackles well inside the box, and he reads and reacts from multiple coverages exceptionally well.
The gamble is the Jets spending a top 40 pick on a secondary piece. Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas had a lot of success this year with late-round secondary pieces. Saleh was a part of the “Legion of Boom,” defense, which only had one early selection on it in Earl Thomas. He was also a part of the Niners defense which was led by its pass rush. Douglas has said many times that the Jets are going to build through the trenches. In short, both seem committed to finding value in secondary instead of using high-priced draft capital on defensive backs.
Special Teams (3): Eddy Pineiro (K), Braden Mann (P), and Thomas Hennessey (LS)
Free Agent Contracts
Sign and Trade for Calvin Ridley (Jets send the #39 and a conditional 2023 5th round pick for Ridley. The Jets then Sign Ridley for 4 years at 64 million dollars with 36 million guaranteed. The extension kicks in after the 2022 season.) James Daniels (5 years, 50 million with 20 million guaranteed), Marcus Williams (4 years, 36 million dollars with 20 guaranteed), David Njoku (4 years, 26.5 million with 14 million guaranteed).
High Profile Draft Picks
Kyle Hamilton (Fourth Overall Selection), Kenyon Green (10th Overall Selection), Myaji Sanders (39th Overall Selection), Jeremy Ruckert (69th Overall Selection)