Overlooked Factor Will Help Jets 2020 Draft Class Take Next Step

Bryce Hall

Getty New York Jets cornerback Bryce Hall tries to break up a deep ball on December 13, 2020.

Most New York Jets fans are thrilled with Joe Douglas but it’s no secret that his inaugural draft class on the job didn’t have the greatest rookie season.

Don’t get me wrong, even an average class by the Jets general manager would be a godsend compared to Mike Maccagnan’s five years on the horn. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how many of these 2020 picks become real NFL players for the franchise.

Here’s the full 2020 draft class.

  • Round one, left tackle Mekhi Becton, Louisville (No. 11).
  • Round two, wide receiver Denzel Mims, Baylor (No. 59).
  • Round three, defensive back Ashtyn Davis, California (No. 68).
  • Round three, edge rusher Jabari Zuniga, Florida (No. 79).
  • Round four, running back La’Mical Perine, Florida (No. 120).
  • Round four, quarterback James Morgan, Florida International (No. 125).
  • Round four, offensive lineman Cameron Clark, UNC Charlotte (No. 129).
  • Round five, cornerback Bryce Hall, Virginia (No. 158).
  • Round six, punter Braden Mann, Texas A&M (No. 191).

A few of these players did just fine during their rookie campaign, like Douglas’ first-rounder. Although he did have a couple of different injury issues, Becton looked like the real deal when he was on the field, which is more important long-term.

Then I’d lump the majority of the class in a second-tier that I’ll call “varied success.”

Players like Mims, Davis, Hall, Mann, Perine and even Zuniga to some extent fit into this category. They were all given meaningful opportunities throughout the season, to which us fans and analysts saw flashes of their potential. None had the sustained success that Becton had, however.

Morgan and Clark then fall into tier three, the “red-shirt” level. We’ll learn a lot more about these two during the 2021 preseason.

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Did 2020 Rookies Get a Fair Shake?

This goes for every 2020 rookie when I say it, but the pandemic offseason was toughest on the first-year players.

While the diehard fan might understand this and cut them some slack, many overlook this factor. The global pandemic took away OTAs, minicamp and crucial practice time on the field learning all the little intricacies of the pro-level game.

For anyone that’s never played the sport, trust me when I tell you that it takes time and dedication to learn a playbook, and learning it over zoom compared to learning it hands-on during practice makes all the difference in the world.

It’s not just playbook comprehension though, it’s game speed and technique as well as comradery and team-building. Some of that takes trial and error, the latter part takes trust.

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No Wait, There’s More

To make matters worse, four Jets rookies dealt with extended absences during the abbreviated training camp — Mims, Zuniga, Hall and Clark.

There’s no way to tell for sure but it’s probably no coincidence that at least one or two of these injuries occurred after a lack of typical conditioning throughout the summer. I’m sure these athletes did their best to stay in shape but were their training schedules on par with a normal NFL offseason? Probably not.

Three of these four caught up with the Jets team reporters recently and each one highlighted how much a real offseason and OTA period has helped them in 2021.

Denzel Mims

The wide-out, Mims, sustained a hamstring injury in August of last year. The nagging issue ended up keeping the Baylor product on the sidelines until Week 7, and his overall chemistry with Sam Darnold seemed to suffer as a result of the late start.

Mims confirmed that it does feel like his first offseason in 2021 when speaking with Eric Allen.

“It feels good,” the wide receiver told Allen when asked about how it feels to participate in OTAs, “we got a new staff so we can get to work on the plays and just build a chemistry with our teammates and quarterbacks, and just try to build a relationship with our teammates and our coaches.”

The spotlight has not followed Mims as much in year two, which could be a good thing for the NFL sophomore. He is expected to have a large role in this offense, even if he doesn’t end up becoming a Week 1 starter.

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Jabari Zuniga

Zuniga has also seemed like a better scheme fit this spring in Robert Saleh’s 4-3 front. The defensive end missed training camp with a quad injury in 2020.

He ended up dressing his first game in Week 8, but he told team reporter Ethan Greenberg that he never felt 100% healthy during his rookie campaign.

“It was a disappointment,” Zuniga replied when asked about his first NFL season, “but it taught me a lot. It taught me to stay consistent, stay on my body… but I wasn’t satisfied at all.”

The pass-rusher also admitted that “it’s been nice getting able to be on the field and actually practice instead of looking at a computer.”

Zuniga voiced that he’s “extremely hungry” for year two, telling Greenberg that he’s “just trying to prove that he can play” after his injury-plagued 2020.

Bryce Hall

Hall’s situation was a bit different from the other two, being that his injury came in college. The Jets knew the cornerback would be in for a long rehab when they drafted him, but Hall didn’t realize he’d be going through it during a pandemic.

“It’s been different,” Hall told Allen, “I’ve learned not to take my health for granted.”

Throughout the interview, the Virginia product stressed the importance of preparation, both mentally and physically. He talked about strengthening his legs and fine-tuning his game from an intellectual standpoint.

Hall described his Week 9 debut as “being thrown into the fire” straight off the injured reserve and that’s a pretty accurate description.

How many of these rookies could have performed better in 2020 under a wiser coaching staff or more favorable circumstances? We’ll never know the answer to that question, but this class can go a long way in proving themselves with a productive year two.

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