At the start of the 2021 season, it was the New York Jets defense that was keeping them in games. Then, as the year progressed, things seemed to flip.
Backup quarterbacks Mike White, Josh Johnson and Joe Flacco led an offensive resurgence that appeared to rub off on rookie Zach Wilson down the stretch, and outside of one or two outliers like the Buffalo games, Mike LaFleur’s offense became a productive unit. Unfortunately, the defense quickly plummeted to worst in the NFL around the same time.
The Jets have to play more complementary football in 2022, and that appears to be possible on paper. Both sides of the roster are much-improved heading into the summer and the offense looks particularly strong. Well, with one potential “unknown.”
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Zach Wilson Is ‘Still an Unknown’
The Athletic’s Connor Hughes ranked the Jets’ offensive position groups earlier today on May 31 and the NYJ beat reporter labeled quarterback the No. 1 concern. He explained:
Make sure you read these next few words carefully before you take to the comment section: This is not an indictment of Wilson. Quarterback falling No. 1 on the worry meter is simply because Wilson is, after his rookie season, still an unknown. The Jets are confident in him. They still see a franchise quarterback. It’s just tough to place the quarterback position, considering its importance, anywhere other than No. 1 until there is tangible proof of progress from Wilson. Right now, there’s just faith from the men whose jobs are linked to his success or failure.
General manager Joe Douglas really bulked Wilson’s supporting cast this spring so this decision from Hughes isn’t exactly a shock. The BYU product is certainly still a wait-and-see prospect despite the arm talent and athleticism, and 2022 should be a massive year in determining whether or not he’s the man for the job.
It will likely go one of three ways:
- Wilson “takes flight.” In other words, the youngster makes that Patrick Mahomes-type leap that some analysts believe is possible and steps into the role of an unquestioned franchise quarterback.
- Wilson is solid/serviceable but unspectacular. This type of result would secure his job heading into year three but it wouldn’t necessarily solve the quarterback question long-term. In a run-first offense, this is also the most likely outcome.
- Wilson crashes and burns. No Jets fan should be rooting for this because it might mean the end of the entire Douglas-Robert Saleh regime. If Wilson busts, there might be some major casualties, and that could mean restarting everything from scratch.
Hughes did add some minor words of encouragement toward the end of his article, voicing: “It was impossible to glean anything about Wilson’s progress from New York’s one media-open, laid-back OTA last week. He certainly looked more decisive, but the Jets didn’t run any 11-on-11 drills. It will be interesting to see if that changes over the coming weeks.”
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Offensive Line Comes in at No. 2
After the overhaul of the tight end room and the top draft selections at wide receiver and running back, the O-line came in as Hughes’ second-most alarming area on offense — but this ranking was mainly due to two question marks out of five.
“The flip potential of this position is among the greatest on the Jets’ roster — both on offense and defense,” wrote Hughes. “The interior line might be among the better ones in the league. [Laken] Tomlinson is a Pro Bowler while [Alijah] Vera-Tucker, the Jets believe, has All-Pro potential. [Connor] McGovern is an above-average center. The concerns are on the outside, and they’re real.”
The beat reporter is referencing the offensive tackle positions, an area Douglas chose to forego in the early rounds of the 2022 NFL draft. Instead, the GM trusted in former first-round talent Mekhi Becton, as well as veteran George Fant.
“Fant has durability issues and last year was the best of his career,” reasoned Hughes. “That could be a sign of things to come, or he could regress to the mean. There are few tackles in the NFL with more physical talent than Becton, but will he mentally commit himself, stay in shape and eliminate some of the technical issues that held him back as a rookie and in camp last year?”
In the end, the reporter admitted that the Jets’ offensive line could be one of the best in football if all goes well, but the “potential red flags” at tackle and lack of depth overall could also turn deadly.
It goes without saying that any major hiccups from the line would most likely impact Wilson and the quarterback room, not to mention the entire offense as a whole.