Denzel Mims & Jabari Zuniga Among 6 Jets ‘Facing Pressure’ in Camp

Denzel Mims

Getty New York Jets wide receiver Denzel Mims has a reception broken up on November 22, 2020.

August 1 is almost upon us and with that comes a flurry of NFL articles, although here at Heavy On Jets we report on Gang Green all year long!

One recent training camp preview from Connor Hughes of The Athletic highlighted six New York Jets players or staff members that are facing the most pressure ahead of the 2021 season.

The Jets beat reporter came up with some interesting selections, some that I agree with more than others, inspiring me to break down his choices and produce six of my own.

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Crowded WR Room Leaves No Room for Error

The number one name on the list for Hughes was wide receiver Denzel Mims, an absolute slam dunk of an answer that it’s hard to disagree with.

I’ve talked about it in the past, the second-year pro out of Baylor is entering a prove-it season in 2021. After only factoring in nine out of 16 games his rookie campaign and performing at a 52.3% catch rate, Mims isn’t guaranteed anything.

General manager Joe Douglas has bulked this wide receiver room and he’s done it by adding pieces that fit Mike LaFleur’s new offensive scheme. Elijah Moore, Keelan Cole and Braxton Berrios were routinely outperforming Mims at OTAs, who fell behind in the playbook after a “stomach illness” according to Hughes.

That doesn’t even include big-name free agent Corey Davis and the ultra-consistent Jamison Crowder, who took a pay cut to stay with the franchise. The Jets slot receiver actually ranked third on Hughes’ list, but I agree with the Mims pick much more than the Crowder one.

Both selections have similar reasoning behind them, competition at WR. “The Jets seemed to favor Cole over Mims this offseason, likely because he’s more of a scheme fit,” wrote Hughes, comparing the linear play style of the Baylor product to Adam Gase’s offense more than LaFleur’s. The new coordinator likes to operate laterally with agile route-runners.

That makes sense for Mims, but not Crowder. This scheme works magnificently for the six-year veteran and I don’t see Moore’s emergence as a threat to his snap count. The rookie frequented the field with Berrios in the slot all throughout OTAs and the two worked well together.

I see Moore and Crowder as an even more dynamic pair for LaFleur to get his hands on.

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Rounding out Hughes’ Top 6

Another choice from Hughes that I agreed with was Jabari Zuniga, a second-year pro out of Florida. I actually think this entire 2020 draft class has a ton to prove after a lackluster rookie season from the majority of them outside of Mekhi Becton and Bryce Hall.

That thought process ties into number six from the beat reporter’s article, but let’s talk about Zuniga first. Hughes notes that ex-Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams “viewed him as a Justin Tuck, Brandon Graham-type player” that could rush the quarterback and stifle the run.

That never materialized in 2020 but I do think Robert Saleh’s shift to a 4-3 will help Zuniga dramatically.

“Zuniga does appear to have made strides after a strong series of OTA and minicamp practices, but finds himself fighting for playing time on a crowded defensive line,” explained Hughes. The latter is definitely true as this area of the roster is stacked.

The final three Jets facing pressure were Zach Wilson, Greg Van Roten and Douglas himself. These picks all make sense but I’m going to go a different direction.

It’s definitely an unpopular opinion but I have Van Roten winning the right guard job pretty easily in training camp. I think he offers discipline and consistency as the player with the highest floor out of the right guard candidates. “GVR” should also perform better under O-line coach John Benton, and it’s much easier to handle your responsibilities when you’re the fifth-best lineman in the unit.

Wilson and Douglas are obvious selections, which makes them kind of silly ones. Franchise quarterbacks and general managers always face pressure, especially in New York, but these two have the luxury of time on their side.

Douglas signed a six-year contract in 2019. Wilson should get at least three or four seasons to figure things out. There’s pressure, but it’s not like anyone is getting fired or cut anytime soon.

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Heavy vs. Hughes

The only two Hughes picks that I’m going to roll with are Mims and Zuniga. From there I’ll be transitioning a bit.

Tight end Chris Herndon was 100% the biggest “miss” from The Athletic writer. After a spring period filled with more of the same (dropped passes and nagging injuries), Herndon-patience is running thin in New York.

Besides an overhyped 500-yard rookie campaign, the Miami product has done next to nothing to deserve the level of clout that supporters credit him with. This Jets tight end room is relatively poor on paper, and that probably factored into Hughes’ decision to leave him out. Even so, I think Herndon could see more scrutiny under a new GM and coaching staff.

My theme is Mike Maccagnan draft picks that have underperformed, and another player that meets those standards is cornerback Blessuan Austin. Douglas didn’t draft the Rutgers product and to make matters worse, he did draft a whole bunch of possible Austin replacements in 2021.

I anticipate that Jason Pinnock, Brandin Echols or Isaiah Dunn will surpass the third-year pro at some point this season, but for now, fans still believe Austin has the edge to start alongside Hall according to a recent Twitter poll. I’m less certain.

Sticking with this theme, linebacker Blake Cashman could also be on the chopping block if he has a bad preseason. The Maccagnan fifth-rounder has an opportunity to start at WILL linebacker for Jeff Ulbrich, but he just as easily get beat out by a rookie like Jamien Sherwood or Hamsah Nasirildeen.

Cashman has dealt with injuries throughout his NFL career, playing in 11 games out of a possible 32 from 2019-20.

Finally, I’ll round things out with another linebacker that is facing immense pressure in my opinion — the $85 million man, C.J. Mosley.

The ex-Baltimore Raven may excel at the center of Saleh’s unit, but any injury or signs of rust may incite a mob of angered fans. Mosley has appeared in two games since joining the Green and White on a massive contract. New Yorkers won’t forget that if things go south.

By the way, neither will Douglas next offseason. The Mosley deal was one of Maccagnan’s final acts as GM that got him fired. The star will be on a short leash long-term because of his crippling cap hit.

Recapping the Jets that are facing the most pressure heading into training camp:

Hughes (The Athletic) Obermuller (Heavy On Jets)
Denzel Mims Denzel Mims
Jabari Zuniga Chris Herndon
Jamison Crowder Bless Austin
Zach Wilson Blake Cashman
Greg Van Roten Jabari Zuniga
Joe Douglas C.J. Mosley

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