As organized team activities (OTAs) have begun to ramp up around the NFL, the roster starts to settle in and depth chart speculation takes center stage.
For the New York Jets, that means quite a few talking points and as always, our expert writers Paul ‘Boy Green’ Esden Jr and Michael Obermuller are here to bring that discussion to life. This week’s mailbag column will tackle Zach Wilson’s weapons, the competition at free safety, the 2021 draft class (leaps/regression), potential big-name roster cuts and more.
First, a look back at our most recent weekly chats:
- Week 40: NFL Draft Primer — final Deebo Samuel offers & mock drafts.
- Week 41: Ending droughts in 2022, biggest concerns, and potential veteran signings.
- Week 42: Breaking down the 2022 schedule, plus final free agency targets.
- Week 43: Summer recruitment pitches, upcoming extensions & dark horse predictions.
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Summer Battles & Players to Watch
1. There has been a ton of hype surrounding Zach Wilson’s new core of playmakers. If you had to guess right now, who do you think will lead the Jets in receiving yards in 2022?
This is a fascinating question and one that legitimately has multiple answers — I can’t remember the last time that was a thing. I’m going to go a bit off the beaten path and say Corey Davis.
The sexy answer is Elijah Moore and the super sexy answer is Garrett Wilson, but the underrated answer is Davis. He’s coming off of a very disappointing campaign but he has all the tools to deliver immediately.
The focus will be spread and Davis has thrived in a secondary role previously in Tennessee. Davis was on pace for 1,000 yards — which would’ve been the first of his career — prior to his injury and I think he gets there in 2022, leading the pack.
To answer this question properly, I felt I had to revisit the past. For the last three years, the receiving leaders were players that did some or most work out of the slot. They were also somewhat of a surprise with rookie Elijah Moore, Jamison Crowder, and Crowder again. No tight ends, no running backs.
Although those positions are much improved, the hope is that a wide receiver finishes out on top. Based on prior chemistry and explosiveness, I’ll say Moore does it again.
It’s always tougher on rookies when they have to adjust to NFL coverages and Moore broke out down the stretch once he figured out that part of the game. I’ll say he tops 800 yards this time around but 1,000 would be magnificent.
2. With Jason Pinnock receiving some first-team reps at safety during OTAs, who do you believe the starter will end up being alongside Jordan Whitehead?
I’m going to try and will this one into existence and choose Ashtyn Davis. He has shown absolutely nothing that suggests he will seize the day but from a skillset perspective, he has all the traits to perfectly complement Whitehead.
The former California product has always had the talent, but he hasn’t been able to put it all together. This will be one of the most competitive training camp battles to watch because there are legitimately four or five guys that could win the job — which is both cool and scary at the same time.
Woah, bold take from Boy Green! I cannot join him on that hill, however. I want to say it will be Pinnock but in the end, the boring answer is most likely the correct one.
Lamarcus Joyner will start the season as the free safety and there are two reasons why: experience and skillset. Whitehead is the athletic, run-stuffing tackler and unfortunately for Davis and Pinnock, they mirror him too closely in my opinion.
One would have to really impress in camp to surpass the veteran — who Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich have always liked. The other potential options are Elijah Riley, Will Parks, or undrafted rookie Tony Adams.
Aside from *maybe* Parks, none of these safeties can cover like Joyner and the Jets need a centerfielder that can also step up in man defense, not another hard-hitter. As of now, the vet is still my starting free safety.
3. Will any of the 2021 rookies take a noticeable leap in year two? If so, who are you most confident in and do you think anyone in this class will regress?
Yes, all of the obvious ones like Wilson will naturally — and Moore simply will by default if he can stay healthy. I’ll go with Hamsah Nasirildeen as the wildcard though.
If he stays healthy and continues on his progression, he is slated to be the starting weakside linebacker in this 4-3 scheme. The coaching staff loves his ability and thinks he has some Fred Warner to him. That isn’t fair to say, but there is the conversion history and the freakish talent.
In terms of regression candidates? Michael Carter II. Everyone talked him up last year and he seems to be the penciled-in slot guy next to the two newcomers in Ahmad Gardner and D.J. Reed Jr.
Will lightning strike in the same place twice? Can he keep up his impressive play in his second year after every NFL team has watched the tape on him? MC2 is a name that could make some sense as someone who comes back down to Earth a little bit.
Interesting answers. I’m not as high on Nasirildeen but Carter will be a player to keep an eye on in 2022. His stats fell off significantly over the second half of his rookie campaign and he really struggled as a run defender with a 40.4 grade on Pro Football Focus. With Brandin Echols and Javelin Guidry on the roster as options to play nickel, is MC2 as much of a lock to start as he seems?
I’ll agree with Boy Green on that one, with a nod to Echols. Barring injury, both can’t play and Saleh does not rotate corners very often mid-game. Without reps, regression is only natural for one of the two sophomore CBs.
For my year two leap — besides Wilson, hopefully — I’ll say Alijah Vera-Tucker. Honestly, the prayer is that a defender like Jonathan Marshall, Pinnock, Nasirildeen or Jamien Sherwood becomes this guy but the realistic answer is AVT.
The offensive line got better around him and having a new mentor in Laken Tomlinson can only help his game improve. I feel Moore and Michael Carter (RB) will see a slight bump in production, but Vera-Tucker could jump to Pro Bowl status in year two.
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4. Do you believe the Jets will release any big-name veterans before Week 1? Who and why?
I’m not buying the hype on Sheldon Rankins getting cut. That just doesn’t make sense, despite the minimal cap savings. The most likely ‘biggest name’ is running back La’Mical Perine.
I think we’re really going to bear witness to the destruction of the 2020 draft class as we progress through the offseason. That was general manager Joe Douglas’ first whack at the proverbial pinata and it makes sense why he wouldn’t want to wave the white flag on his picks before he had to.
However, the rubber has met the road here and several ritual animal sacrifices are going to happen. Perine just doesn’t have a path to the roster and it’s a sad story when you’ve seen the revolving door on the coaching staff that never really gave him a chance. Unfortunately, he was always a JAG (just a guy). The Florida product never had any elite trait that you could rely on and that hurt him.
While I agree with Perine, I want to go a little bigger with my answer. This roster has a logjam at certain positions and something’s got to give.
Two areas I’m looking at as overcapacities are defensive line and safety. The Jets have 17 D-linemen currently on the roster and there’s a ton of talent within this group. They also have nine safeties. Both of these units will have to downsize, there’s just no other way around it.
I’ll give several larger names at those positions that may not make it to Week 1: Rankins, Vinny Curry, Nathan Shepherd, Tim Ward, Jabari Zuniga, Parks and drumroll please, Ashtyn Davis.
When you take away the guaranteed starters and recent draft picks/signings, as well as some of the more obvious practice squad talent, this is the group you’re left with. Sadly, most won’t survive the summer.
5. Pro Football Focus released the Jets’ top-three players heading into the 2022 season. Predict the franchise’s top-three heading into 2023.
Zach Wilson, Mekhi Becton, and Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner.
These are three premium positions and each of these players is critically important to the success in 2022. So naturally, if they live up to the hype, then they’ll be heavily recognized heading into 2023.
Wilson is the quarterback and that’s self-explanatory. If he proves he is the real deal, then watch out for the Jets next-next season. Becton is a tremendous leap of faith but I’m going to bet on the talent and the traits. Gardner is going to be a guy that makes an instant impact in the NFL.
If that prediction comes true, he could quickly become one of the faces of the NFL with his electric personality, brand-worthy nickname, and the position he plays. Obviously, he has to go out there and seize the moment, but he has the chance to be a swagalicious version of Deion ‘Prime-Time’ Sanders from an aesthetics perspective and we’ll see if he can match that unrealistic chutzpah on the field.
This year’s top three according to PFF were Laken Tomlinson, Carl Lawson and Quinnen Williams, so the grading site didn’t necessarily limit it to premium positions.
Building off my earlier answer, I think Vera-Tucker takes a Pro Bowl leap and replaces the older Tomlinson in the Jets’ top three. I’m also going to leave Lawson in there. I understand he’s coming back from a torn Achilles but this guy doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit. I think the pass rusher has a bounce-back campaign and solidifies his role on the roster.
My third answer won’t be Wilson and it’s not because I don’t have faith. The Jets quarterback will improve significantly but I think this offense will still pound the run game whenever they can. That should limit Wilson’s year two production to solid, but somewhat unspectacular if you’re expecting fireworks.
I’ll agree with Boy Green and say Sauce Gardner — with a nod to Reed or Whitehead. I think this could turn into a lockdown secondary, and the face of it will be recognized by the NFL community. P.S. guys like Williams and John Franklin-Myers will be in the mix, but in a heavy rotation, it’s hard to say which D-lineman may stand out most in 2022.
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