We all know about the New York Jets’ stars of last night’s preseason week two game against the Green Bay Packers.
Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson had a near-flawless outing and his top two targets were clear — wide receiver Corey Davis and tight end Tyler Kroft.
The special teams game was also in rare form for the Green & White, as Matt Ammendola was drilling kicks from all over the field and punter Braden Mann has been absolutely deadly this summer. Kick returner Corey Ballentine also caught the coaching staff’s eye with a 73-yard return that set up Wilson’s second touchdown pass.
Those are the more obvious winners from the Jets’ second preseason win on August 21, here are the less obvious ones.
ALL the latest Jets news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Jets newsletter here!
Honorable Mention: Wide Receiver Race Rages On
We’ve talked about it a lot this summer, the wide receiver room is double-digit numbers deep in 2021 but only six or seven of these weapons will make the Week 1 roster. Against the New York Giants, Vyncint Smith and Denzel Mims stole the show. That was not the case this time around.
Mims was out after a hip injury on ‘Black Thursday,’ while Smith was quiet on Saturday. Aside from Davis, the main receivers that stood out were Braxton Berrios and Jeff Smith.
The slot-expert Berrios showed toughness on a ball over the middle from Mike White. He took a monster hit but held on, popping back up like it was nothing. ‘B.B.’ finished second on the team in targets with four, catching two passes for 17 yards. He also reclaimed his role as the primary punt returner and had a highlight-reel catch in practice this week.
Jeff Smith was given snaps with Wilson, which is huge for his chances of making the 53-man roster. The gadget-receiver is an intriguing tool for offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, although he only ended up with one first-down reception in this one.
Follow the Heavy On Jets Facebook page, where you can weigh in on all the latest NYJ-related daily content, analysis, features and more!
Young Standouts on the Defensive Side
5. Linebacker Core Overcomes Adversity
It was not a great day for the starting defense, who Green Bay ran straight through, but the backups at linebacker might have outplayed the starters. Jarrad Davis, C.J. Mosley and Noah Dawkins received a lot of the first-team reps in this one before an injury forced Davis out of the game. The middle linebacker has become a team leader since joining Gang Green, so this loss should not be overlooked.
The youth took over from there with Hamsah Nasirildeen, Jamien Sherwood and Camilo Eifler all factoring in at various points of quarters one through four. The UDFA out of Illinois (Eifler) ended up with a team-leading five solo tackles and was all over the ball. Sherwood also had a couple of tackles and a key fumble recovery to start the second half.
As for Nasirildeen, the projected starter at WILL linebacker, the rookie continues to look like a veteran. The Florida State product received the highest Jets’ LB grades in week two according to Pro Football Focus with a 69.2 score. What impresses me most is his balance in all facets of the game. Nasirildeen graded at a 66.0 in run defense, a 66.6 in coverage and a 78.3 in tackling.
4. Certain Corners Shine Bright
Like the rest of the defense, the cornerback position also had a rough day from its starters and got better as the game went along. Keep in mind that the Packers played the same quarterback and offensive unit for the majority of the game, outside of a couple of players like running back AJ Dillon, so most of the Jets’ defenders matched up against similar levels of talent.
Having said that, Brandin Echols and Lamar Jackson headlined this group with big performances and one interception each. The sixth-rounder out of Kentucky has led the Green & White’s rookie cornerback room in recent weeks, outshining players like Jason Pinnock and Isaiah Dunn.
Echols pick can be seen above, but that play was more of a reward for a dominant showing. PFF awarded the rookie with an 82.5 overall grade and a 90.0 coverage grade. Jackson was right there with him, with a late interception that closed out the game and a 90.9 coverage grade (83.2 overall). I’ve personally doubted the 2020 UDFA a bunch this summer but he shut me up yesterday, watch his INT below.
One small extra note, rookie Michael Carter II received the start in the slot and performed decently, but Javelin Guidry ended up outplaying him with an 87.0 coverage grade and an 85.2 defensive grade.
Follow @obermuller_nyj and @BoyGreen25 on Twitter for all the latest New York Jets breaking news, rumors, fresh takes and more!
Top 3 Underrated Performers Versus Packers
3. Michael Carter
The rookie running back out of North Carolina came off the bench once again, but he continues to show why he probably won’t for much longer. Carter took 10 hand-offs for 52 yards, scurrying around the left end for an 18-yard gainer on his best run.
His 5.2 yards per carry led the Jets’ running back core. In fact, the only one close to Carter’s level of productivity was veteran Tevin Coleman, who took four rushing attempts for 19 yards. The UNC product has displayed tremendous vision so far, but according to PFF, he also excelled as the team’s best pass-blocking RB on Saturday with a 78.4 grade in that regard.
2. Starting Pass Protection
For the second straight week, the Jets starting offensive line silenced critics when it mattered most with zero sacks allowed. It’s been a strange training camp for this group that seems to get destroyed in practice only to hold up well in games. One explanation is the level of competition. Green Bay chose not to start pass-rushers like Za’Darius and Preston Smith, who terrorized Mekhi Becton and Morgan Moses during joint practices.
You don’t choose who you match up against though, and for whatever it’s worth, this unit had another really solid outing. The interior really came together on Saturday as Connor McGovern (78.7), Greg Van Roten (81.6) and Dan Feeney (82.7) all received high pass-blocking marks from PFF.
Becton and George Fant actually pulled up the rear with 73.2 and 54.5 grades respectively (Moses did not play). The star left tackle was an absolute mauler in the run game, however, with an 81.5 grade. I will give a shout-out to depth tackle Conor McDermott, who was having a nice game before getting carted off the field with an injury. Backups like Corey Levin, Tristen Hoge and Jimmy Murray on the other hand mustered up atrocious scores on PFF.
1. J.T. Hassell & Backup Safeties
The safety position has dealt with injuries this summer and there could easily be a roster spot that’s up for grabs at the end of training camp. The latest injury was to Lamarcus Joyner, who missed week two with back spasms. Starting in his place was Sharrod Neasman, who had a much better performance in this one than he did last week against the Giants.
The real man of the hour was Hassell though. The backup safety flashed during OTAs and he had another huge day in Green Bay. Hassell is a former undrafted prospect that started with the Cleveland Browns in 2019 before joining Gang Green last season.
He really showed up on Saturday, with five combined tackles, one sack, one tackle for a loss and a forced fumble that did produce a turnover. PFF ranked him as the top Jets defender with an 86.7 overall, 83.1 run defense, 78.0 tackling, 74.1 pass-rush and 65.2 coverage grade.
READ NEXT: Jets Zach Wilson Amazes With Near-Perfect Passer Rating Versus Packers