Ex-Jets Pass Rusher Plays Role of 49ers’ Savior vs. Packers

San Francisco 49ers

Getty The San Francisco 49ers celebrate a blocked punt touchdown on January 22, 2022.

We have touted New York Jets GM Joe Douglas as a trade wizard in the past and although his track record with swaps speaks for itself, he has dealt away some talent.

It’s all part of the process for a rebuilding team but every now and then, an ex-Jets player does something that turns heads around the league — or at least the internet. On January 22, that was pass rusher Jordan Willis, who literally saved the San Francisco 49ers season on special teams.

That’s right, per Jets podcaster Matt O’Leary, that was Willis who got his hand on the blocked punt that tied the divisional-round matchup with the Green Bay Packers at 10.

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Trade Chip Turned Savior

Willis wasn’t much more than a rotational pass rusher with New York, with one lone sack in 11 appearances from 2019-20 under ex-DC Gregg Williams. Douglas elected to ship him to the Niners for a sixth-round draft pick — a great value considering his production. Later, that selection was used to acquire Carl Lawson fill-in, Shaq Lawson.

Since moving to San Francisco, the backup edge has already accumulated 5.5 sacks in 17 appearances. During the postseason upset over the Packers, however, it was his special teams’ contribution that was a game-changer.

Late in the fourth, the 49ers were down 10-3 and in desperate need of a touchdown. Only, Jimmy Garoppolo and their offense could hardly move the ball in snowy conditions. That’s where Willis came in.

Green Bay punter Corey Bojorquez was tasked with sending the ball deep downfield from his own 12-yard line when Willis burst through the gut and got a hand on the football. In the end, it was recovered by Talanoa Hufanga for a Niners touchdown.

At that point, the momentum had shifted and San Francisco sealed the 13-10 victory on the following drive with a walk-off field goal.

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Jets Must Follow 49ers Blueprint

A majority of the Jets coaching staff comes from San Fran and last week, I wrote a piece noting that because of the coaching ties, Packers-49ers would be a fantastic “Super Bowl roadmap” for Douglas and Gang Green.

While watching the Niners — who run the most similar offensive and defensive systems in the NFL to the Jets — certain positions stood out to me where Douglas must upgrade the roster.

The most obvious two were tight end and linebacker. We already know what sort of TE Robert Saleh and this staff are looking to target in 2022 and they’re dual-threats that resemble George Kittle’s skill set. Whether through free agency or the draft, this position is a no-brainer where NYJ must improve.

Linebacker may surprise some fans after C.J. Mosley won team MVP and Quincy Williams developed into a promising piece. To be perfectly honest though, neither of these talented tacklers are perfect scheme fits in Saleh’s Cover-3 and that became abundantly clear in 2021.

The Jets need young, fast linebackers that can cover and clog up their gaps. They have to have a high football IQ and scheme awareness like Mosley, but the youth and explosiveness of Williams. If only the Jets could combine the two players.

According to Michael Nania and PFF, the Jets’ strongest position group in 2021 was their offensive line based on cumulative grade average. The weakest by far was linebacker, while interior defensive line (DT), tight end, quarterback and cornerback rounded out the bottom five.

The Jets could also use more D-linemen and defensive pieces in general, but one last player that stood out to me was the Niners’ left tackle. Gang Green needs Mekhi Becton to stay on the field so he can play the Trent Williams role in this offense — a massive left tackle who can be a mauler in the run game.

Garoppolo isn’t much better than Zach Wilson. In fact, the Jets rookie has a much higher ceiling even if the 49ers QB is the better player at this moment in time. If Douglas and Saleh can correct the areas above, they’ll turn into a playoff contender in no time.

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