NFL training camp is almost upon us — can you feel the buzz of football in the air?
For the New York Jets, it should be one of the more interesting camp periods in years as this roster looks more competitive and exciting than in recent memory. Who will win out at safety, or weakside linebacker? Which players will earn depth spots at wide receiver, edge rusher, defensive tackle and more?
Fans will know the answers to all of these questions in a little over a month but for now, speculation and debate still rule the day. CBS writer Josh Edwards did a little theorizing of his own and dialed in on eight NFL athletes around the league that “need a strong camp” in 2022 — two recent Jets draft picks made the list.
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Ghost of Jets Present
One of the two players Edwards discussed was a current Jet while the other — more information below — has since moved on to another organization.
In Florham Park, all eyes will be on offensive tackle Mekhi Becton this summer and Edwards believes he needs to prove himself in August. He reasoned:
Few players have faced the level of scrutiny as Becton over the past two years. There were moments of brilliance during his rookie season but it was disrupted by injury. After missing two games his rookie year, the Louisville lineman played in just one game in an encore performance. Offseasons have been littered with rumors regarding his physical shape and conditioning which, in turn, led to pre-draft buzz suggesting New York could use one of its two top 10 selections on an offensive tackle. Instead, they drafted Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner and Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson, which put an end to the discussion for now. Becton needs to stack some positive days and curry some favor with media.
It’s hard to argue that Becton needs a strong camp to win over media and fans but it’s the regular season that NYJ supporters really care about. The 2020 first-round pick has appeared in less than half of the Jets’ games over his first two campaigns — 15 out of a potential 33 — and he left a few of those 15 outings early with injury.
The return on investment simply has not been there so far, and a good August won’t deter naysayers who’d prefer to see “The Big Ticket” blocking for Zach Wilson and Breece Hall throughout the fall and winter.
Edwards is right about one thing, general manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh did provide Becton with a vote of confidence when they passed on top tackle prospects like Ikem Ekwonu and Evan Neal in April. Now the Louisville big-man owes them an above-average season across from George Fant as a thank you.
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Ghost of Jets Past
Over in Carolina, an ex-Jet found Edwards’ radar in quarterback Sam Darnold. Honestly, this August could very well be the former first-round pick’s final starting opportunity in the NFL heading into a season — if they even give him a fair fight.
The Panthers traded for Baker Mayfield in early July — who was ironically selected a couple of slots before Darnold in 2018. Officially, the top two quarterback selections in that draft class have now failed with their original franchise. Mayfield was obviously the more successful of the two, ending the Cleveland Browns playoff drought, but neither proved themselves as the long-term answer despite their draft status.
Edwards voiced his explanation for both Darnold and Mayfield making his list:
“Darnold, the No. 3 overall selection, entered the equation last offseason but did not play as well as the franchise had hoped. The light has not gone off on an opportunity to start in this league but it is flickering. The trade for Mayfield, the No. 1 overall selection, has made his path even more complicated. Realistically, the upcoming season will be the last for one or both with the Panthers. They are each playing out fifth-year options.”
He concluded that “if Carolina had felt comfortable going into the year with Darnold and rookie Matt Corral as the two main options at quarterback, they would not have traded for Mayfield,” making him the “odds-on favorite to start Week 1.”