Each week of the NFL Regular Season I’ll be posting a new edition of my 2022 Matchup Preview Series. Leading up to that, I’ll be using the same format to preview all four teams in the AFC East.
These previews will look at five components of each team; Pass Offense, Rush Offense, Pass Defense, Rush Defense, and Special Teams. Each component will be ranked using my patented 👏 scale which ranges from 👏👏👏👏👏 (Best) to 👏 (Worst). The post culminates with a Floor, Ceiling, and Prediction of the team’s record.
Let’s start with the New York Jets.
Jets Pass Offense
The Jets’ 2022 passing offense, the Jets’ 2022 season, and the Jets’ future rest on the shoulders of one man: Zachary Kapono Wilson. Wilson’s rookie season left a lot to be desired as the second overall pick posted a QuBeR of just 25.14, ranking #867 out of 896 quarterbacks graded since 1994. A lack of consistent success had the Jets averaging just 16.3 PPG in games Wilson appeared. Jets fans though, like Bills fans in 2019, are holding out hope that their boom or bust prospect is a tad more consistent in year two. Flash plays give this hope credence as Wilson’s unique arm talent is necessary, and unteachable, in the modern NFL.
A key in realizing this hope is reducing the pressure and sack rate Wilson experiences. In 2021, Wilson was pressured a league-high 30.6% of the time and sacked 11%. Wilson will be responsible for achieving a significant drop in the latter but a reduction in pressure seems likely due to a revamped offensive line. George Fant (LT), Connor McGovern (C), and Alijah Vera-Tucker (RG) all return after impressive 2021 campaigns. This season, they will be joined by Laken Tomlinson (LG) and possibly Mekhi Becton (RT). Tomlinson comes from the 49ers after a Pro Bowl season as one of the bigger offseason additions of this NFL cycle. He effectively replaces Greg Van Roten as a Jets starter and should provide significant improvements to pocket stability. The biggest question mark though is Becton, who, when healthy, has all the makings of a franchise offensive tackle. If Becton can maintain that health, he will successfully replace Morgan Moses (RT) and quietly could push the Jets into the Top-10 OL conversation.
Presuming Wilson is provided ample time to progress through his reads, he will have a slew of skill players to dish the ball to. Corey Davis (WR) and Braxton Berrios (WR/ST) return as veteran pass catchers while Elijah Moore (WR) returns from an impressive, albeit short, rookie campaign. Garrett Wilson (WR) comes in as the most hyped offensive addition for the Jets after being selected 10th overall. Did the Jets select the correct Ohio St. WR (Chris Olave was taken one pick later) and will his raw, untapped, potential translate to the NFL? The Jets also have under-the-radar additions in TEs C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin. Uzomah comes off a Super Bowl appearance with the Bengals and Conklin had an impressive season with the Vikings. Each of these players provides the Jets with personnel grouping flexibility as well as pressure release valves for their 23-year-old quarterback.
Jets Rush Offense
Michael Carter and Tevin Coleman ran the ball surprisingly well for the Jets in 2021. The two combined for 231 Rushes, 995 Yards, and a Y/A of 4.31. For context, in 2021, Derrick Henry ran the ball 219 times for 937 Yards and a Y/A of 4.28. Still, general manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh saw room for improvement, trading up for Breece Hall in round two of the 2022 NFL Draft. A rumored first-round pick for the Bills, Hall instead suits up for Gang Green. If Hall’s unique athleticism and elite balance translate well to the NFL, he could quickly become the focal point of what could be a surprisingly good Jets offense.
The Jets’ immense size, strength, and athleticism at IOL should provide them the ability to move the ball consistently on the ground. At 6’3″, 315 pounds, Laken Tomlinson (LG) has built a career using his strength to dominate defenders. Connor McGovern (C) and Alijah Vera-Tucker (RG) are plus athletes, posting 9.87 and 9.80 relative athletic scores respectively, each with 33+ reps on the bench. In theory, this should allow Hall to leverage his above-average vision to identify running lanes similar to how Le’Veon Bell did with the Steelers. If all of this comes together, Hall on the ground should work well in concert with Zach Wilson through the air.
Speaking of Wilson, will we see him run more in 2022? In 2021, the Jets called just 12 designed runs for Wilson. He added to that by scrambling 17 times for just 29 rushing attempts. In his final season at BYU, Wilson ran the ball 70 times for 10 touchdowns while averaging 5.8 Y/A. While he doesn’t possess the physical tools of an Allen, Jackson, or Murray, his post-college scouting report speaks to his running acumen. Couple the Jets’ improvements on the OL along with defenses having to respect Hall, and you would have to assume we see Wilson run the ball more this season. At a minimum, expect Wilson to use his legs in the red zone to improve on his 2021 red zone rushing touchdown total of three.
Breece Hall exhibiting here why most consider him RB1 and the elements of his game could really fit this #Bills offense.
Ran behind a good mix of Zone/Power blocks at ISU so he has a history w/ both schemes. pic.twitter.com/NUMa3saG4N
— Air Raid | Training Camp (@TheBillsGuys) March 17, 2022
Jets Pass Defense
Each NFL offseason, there are a few NFL position groups that are in the “most improved” conversation. The Jets’ secondary is front and center in that discussion. In 2021, they ranked dead last in the NFL in Pass Defense DVOA at +29.0%. The Jets are looking for significant improvements in this regard with four different starters at DB in 2022. Sauce Gardner replaces CB1 Bryce Hall, D.J. Reed takes over CB2, and Jordan Whitehead and Lamarcus Joyner replace Safeties Ashtyn Davis and Marcus Maye. This alone will not assure the Jets have a potent pass defense, but it would be a stunning turn of events if they are worse in 2022.
Of the four new starters, the biggest question is Sauce Gardner. Gardner was electric in college where on 1059 coverage snaps, he gave up zero Touchdowns. His above-average CB height (6’3″) has led some to question if he will have the swivel necessary to compete at a high level in the NFL. His potential is through the roof though, and until proven one way or another, the safer bet is that Sauce is a HUGE upgrade over Bryce Hall. D.J. Reed takes over CB2 which allows Michael Carter II to move full-time to Slot CB. Reed has been an underappreciated CB his past two seasons with Seattle, boasting a 71.0 passer rating against him during that span. Those two CBs will be protected by Jordan Whitehead from the Buccaneers and Lamarcus Joyner coming back from injury to produce a well-rounded secondary.
Where the Jets could be most dangerous defending the pass is their pass rush. In 2021 only Quinnen Williams (DT) and John Franklin-Myers (DE) posted 3.5+ Sacks. Looking to address this, the Jets drafted Jermaine Johnson II with the 26th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. During the draft process, some mentioned Johnson in the same breath as Travon Walker and Aidan Hutchinson mainly because of his potential. A similar profile as Greg Rousseau as a freakish athlete with a lack of experience, his potential on the edge provides the Jets with an improved ability to get after the QB. But it’s not Johnson that should scare quarterbacks the most, it’s Carl Lawson, who will play his first snap for the Jets in 2022. The ex-Bengals will look to live up to his three-year, $45 million contract post Achilles tear last preseason.
Jets Rush Defense
In 2021, the Jets were a below-average team by nearly every metric and their rush defense was no different. They ranked #25 in rushing Y/A against, holding just three teams below 100 rush yards (Bengals, Texans, Buccaneers). Their IDL was arguably their best position group in Quinnen Williams, Folorunso Fatukasi, and Sheldon Rankins, but C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams were subpar play-makers in the second level. Issues there became apparent with the Jets ranking 27th in missed tackles (122) and 32nd in rush touchdowns against (28). While the Jets improved mightily this offseason, they only made minor alterations to address this deficiency.
The Jets brought in two vets that they hope can improve the run defense, Solomon Thomas (DT) and Kwon Alexander (LB). Thomas’ edge rusher skill-set used from a DT position should give them slightly more ability to contain opposing RBs. Thomas has shown abilities throughout his career to shred blockers and bring defenders down in the open field. He is likely used in sub packages and not a starter for the Jets, but nonetheless could be an important cog for them this season. As for Kwon Alexander, early in his career he was thought of as one of the premier up-and-coming linebackers. Since tearing his ACL in 2018 though, Alexander has struggled to stay on the field, playing in just 58.5% of possible games. He provides competition for Quincy Williams but at a minimum provides a solid veteran presence on a fairly young team.
One place the Jets should see significant improvements against the run is in the play of their secondary. Lamarcus Joyner provides a more consistent tackler while the Jets look at Jordan Whitehead the way the Bills look at Jordan Poyer. Whitehead has shown the ability to play both in and out of the box which gives the Jets more opportunity to reduce large gains on the ground. Further impact should be felt when the Jets face mobile quarterbacks, where Whitehead excels. The Jets were already successful in this regard, holding quarterbacks not named Taysom Hill to just 225 Rush Yards and one Touchdown on 60 carries (3.75 Y/A), but should see further improvement because of Whitehead. That will be necessary to keep Josh Allen in check who accounted for 29.3% of QB Rush Yards against the Jets in 2021.
Josh Allen's legs have killed the #Jets – he's averaging 53.8 rush YPG against them in 6 starts
Finally, they might have their Josh Allen stopper in Jordan Whitehead pic.twitter.com/WGWLWZyJf9
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) March 16, 2022
Jets Special Teams
On paper, the Jets assuredly have an above-average special teams group. Punter Braden Mann is probably the weakest of this group but is still a solid contributor. In 2021, he was middling with a net average of 41.6 but had 14 punts inside the 20 with just one touchback. Mann won’t wow you with his leg but he is more consistent than most and cuts down on opposition returns. As for kicker, the Jets are likely moving on from the tandem of Matt Ammendola and Eddy Pineiro, each of whom were featured in 2021, in favor of veteran Greg Zuerlein. Greg the Leg was widely considered the best Kicker in the NFL just a few years back and most recently drilled 82.9% of his kicks for the Cowboys in 2021. It’s worth noting that Zuerlein missed four XPs in 2021 which should be monitored as the 2022 season progresses.
Where the Jets’ special teams moves from average to above average is Braxton Berrios. Named a first-team All-Pro in 2021, Berrios averaged 13.4 Y/PR and 30.4 Y/KR. Berrios is a shifty return man with high top-end speed. If the defense can significantly improve and force more punts, Berrios could have a major impact on the season. Shifting the field by nearly 15 yards on each return and doing so with ball security is a huge boon to a young offense. And there may be no more sure-handed return man than Berrios. In his career, he has 46 punt returns and just a single muffed punt which occurred in 2019.
FLOOR: 3-14, CEILING: 9-8, PREDICTION: 6-11
Joe Douglas has seemingly made all the right moves to set the Jets up for success. At some point, though, all of those moves have to produce tangible success as opposed to theoretical success. The Jets are vastly improved this season and are going to sneak up on a few teams. Don’t be surprised if the Jets steal a few games from the AFC East and are a needle in the side of playoff contenders all season. Still, everything rests on the shoulders of second-year QB Zach Wilson. Regardless of their final record, the Jets season will not be considered a success unless Wilson takes a major leap in 2022. Whether he does or not will determine if the Jets are competing for the #2 spot in the AFC East or if they are sitting on the floor of the AFC East for the sixth time in seven seasons.