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By: Michael Nania
The New York Jets’ roster is shaping up nicely after the draft and multiple veteran signings
With the NFL draft in the rearview and a few more free agent pickups in the books, the New York Jets‘ roster has just about taken shape. A few more signings could likely be in the works (Kwon Alexander?), but the majority of the roster that will attempt to make a serious championship push is intact.
To get an idea of the roster’s strengths and weaknesses as we sit here on May 6, let’s rank every unit on the team.
- Veterans: Jordan Whitehead, Chuck Clark, Tony Adams, Will Parks, Ashtyn Davis
- UDFA: Trey Dean, Marquis Waters
The safety position was one of the Jets’ weakest units entering the offseason and that remains the case as New York did not make any clear upgrades at the position. They did trade for Chuck Clark, a solid player with starting experience who could be an upgrade, but the Jets only gave up a future seventh-round pick for him, so it’s not as if they view him as a surefire solution to the unit’s woes.
Outside of Clark, the Jets ignored the safety position, not signing any free agents or making any draft picks (although sixth-round pick CB Jarrick Bernard-Converse is a candidate to move to safety). The unit lacks a proven free safety, and in the box safety role, Jordan Whitehead remains on the team after a rough 2022 season. It seems like he is on track to reprise his role as the starting strong safety.
New York will have to hope Tony Adams can put together an impressive offseason and win the free safety job, as both Whitehead and Clark are at their best in the box and struggle in deep coverage. Starting Clark and Whitehead together would likely lead to disastrous results in coverage. If Adams does not impress, it’s unclear how the Jets plan to navigate this position.
Adams showed very real promise in his limited snaps at free safety last year, but it was only two games, so he remains a complete unknown.
There are plenty of things to be optimistic about with every other position on the Jets’ roster. This is the lone unit that appears to be in extremely murky shape as we enter the dog days of the offseason.
9. Tight end
- Veterans: Tyler Conklin, C.J. Uzomah, Jeremy Ruckert, Kenny Yeboah
- Draft picks: Zack Kuntz
- UDFA: E.J. Jenkins
This is a decent tight end unit. The fact that it places ninth on this list is a testament to how far the Jets’ roster has come.
Tyler Conklin isn’t flashy, but he is sure-handed, runs crisp routes, and is a reliable run-blocker. He tied for eighth among TEs with 58 receptions last year. As far as TE1s go, Conklin probably ranks in the league’s top half.
C.J. Uzomah is a question mark. While he made the most of his targets in 2022 (77.8% catch rate, 11.0 yards per reception), he was barely involved in the passing game (21 receptions) and also quietly struggled as a blocker. The Jets need a bounce-back year from him – or for one of the younger tight ends to usurp him.
Jeremy Ruckert rarely played as a rookie but showed tremendous promise as a blocker in the season finale. The Jets also used a seventh-round pick on uber-athlete Zack Kuntz.
8. Special teams
- K Greg Zuerlein, P Thomas Morstead, LS Thomas Hennessy, coordinator Brant Boyer
The Jets signed Thomas Hennessy to a four-year extension that includes $2.6 million guaranteed, the highest total among long snappers, cementing his status as one of the game’s best players at the position.
Greg Zuerlein and Brant Boyer will also return. At punter, the Jets upgraded by releasing Braden Mann and signing seasoned veteran Thomas Morstead.
New York ranked 21st in special teams DVOA last year. That ranking was dragged down by a woeful 28th-ranked punting unit, which should experience a major upgrade thanks to the switch from Mann to Morstead. If Morstead plays up to his usual standards, the Jets should have a top-half punting unit, which in turn would likely push the Jets’ special teams unit back into the top half of the overall rankings.
The biggest mystery is the return units. Now that Braxton Berrios is in Miami, the Jets need to find a new kickoff returner and punt returner. Regardless of who the Jets place back there, the return units should fare reasonably well as the Jets’ return-team blocking has generally been sufficient during Boyer’s tenure.
The special teams unit projects to be at least average, with the potential to soar well into the top 10. Just like the TE unit, the fact this unit ranks so low says a lot about how strong the roster is.
- Veterans: C.J. Mosley, Quincy Williams, Jamien Sherwood, Hamsah Nasirildeen, Chazz Surratt
- Draft picks: Zaire Barnes
- UDFA: Caleb Johnson, Claudin Cherelus, Maalik Hall
The linebacker unit has one of the lowest ceilings on the roster, but its floor is relatively high.
C.J. Mosley is back for another run. Mosley’s accolades probably overrate the caliber of player he is at this point of his career, but at worst, he’s still an above-average starter. He is mostly durable, plays every defensive snap, and is a valuable leader on and off the field.
Quincy Williams returns. He took big steps forward in 2022, doing a better job of maximizing his athleticism to be a true positive-impact player rather than a heat-seeking missile who generates highlights at the cost of many mistakes.
Williams’ run defense was valuable. He still has room for improvement in coverage, though at 26 years old with only 36 career starts, there is a slight chance he may not have hit his ceiling yet.
Still, even if Williams does not take another step forward, his 2022 season set the foundation of an average/above-average starting linebacker who is particularly effective as a run defender, blitzer, and hard-hitting tackler. Couple him with Mosley, and the Jets’ starting LB duo has a floor that is just above league-average, which is pretty good for a worst-case scenario.
The issue is the third linebacker spot. With Kwon Alexander still a free agent, the Jets would be relying on an unproven youngster to play the sub role. If the Jets get Alexander back at some point, this unit would be solidified as a strong group, but until then, the depth beyond Mosley and Williams will linger as a question mark.
6. Running back
- Veterans: Breece Hall, Zonovan Knight, Michael Carter
- Draft picks: Israel Abanikanda
- UDFA: Travis Dye
This unit could be ranked much higher, but the uncertainty of how Breece Hall will perform post-ACL injury has it down in the seventh spot. When healthy, Hall was leading the NFL in numerous rushing-efficiency metrics. We just need to see how he looks in his first year after a serious knee injury.
The depth behind Hall is mostly solid, although there are still some question marks. Michael Carter showed in his 2021 rookie season that he can be a well-above-average starting running back, but he experienced a mysteriously drastic decline in 2022. Zonovan Knight looked impressive during his limited action as a rookie this past season; he’ll need to maintain it and prove he’s the real deal.
Rookie and Brooklyn native Israel Abanikanda projects as an instant home-run threat in small dosages. As an explosive one-cut runner, he is a great fit for the Jets’ outside-zone run game. Abanikanda will need to improve his vision, ball security, and overall passing-game skills to prove he can be more than a change-of-pace home-run hitter. For now, he shouldn’t be considered a viable option to fill in as a starter.
If Hall is healthy and playing at the level he was in 2022, the Jets will have one of the best runners in the league (if not the best) with good depth behind him, as the other three backs can remain in roles that suit them – maximizing their effectiveness. It will be one of the best RB units in football.
But if Hall is not the same player, the depth will be tested. There is certainly a chance Knight, Carter, and Abanikanda prove more than capable of making up for Hall and leading the Jets’ run game to massive success. There’s also a chance they are not up to the task – just as the Jets’ non-Hall runners were in 2022. It’s a mystery. That’s why it is crucial the Jets get a healthy, fully-realized Hall in 2023.
5. Offensive line
- Tackles: Duane Brown, Mekhi Becton, Max Mitchell, Carter Warren (R) Billy Turner, Cedric Ogbuehi, Greg Senat, Eric Smith
- Guards: Laken Tomlinson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Wes Schweitzer (G/C) Trystan Colon (G/C), Chris Glaser, Adam Pankey
- Centers: Connor McGovern, Joe Tippmann (R)
- UDFA: Brent Laing
Some might think this ranking is too high for the offensive line, and that’s fair. This unit is loaded with concerns and its floor might be the lowest of any unit on the roster.
However, the ceiling of this unit is very high. Joe Douglas has invested a lot of capital into the offensive line and it can be seen when looking at the depth chart on paper.
The only problem is that football games aren’t on paper.
A lot of things need to happen for the on-paper talent to translate to on-field impact. Everyone must stay healthy. Mekhi Becton must continue improving off the player he was as a rookie (he was good and showed a high ceiling but was imperfect and still needed development, especially in pass protection). Laken Tomlinson needs to bounce back. Joe Tippmann needs to minimize the rookie growing pains and hit the ground running like Creed Humphrey did for the Chiefs in 2021 as a fellow second-round center.
That’s a hefty pile of concerns. Most likely, at least one of those things will not go the Jets’ way. But the talent is there. If things break right, the Jets have the pieces to field one of the best offensive lines in the league.
Aaron Rodgers plays an underrated role in this unit’s outlook. While the Jets’ offensive linemen have undoubtedly been flat-out bad over the past few years, it didn’t help that they were blocking for a revolving door of bewildered rookies and mediocre backups. Having a four-time MVP under center – one who is known for masterfully managing the offense at the line of scrimmage – should drastically improve the communication and chemistry of the unit, making everyone’s jobs easier.
Rodgers will also do a better job of getting the ball out quicker and protecting himself, which will be night-and-day compared to Zach Wilson, who hung the O-line out to dry by taking sacks he had no business taking. Finally, the respect Rodgers commands in the passing game will lighten up the box and give the O-line more favorable numbers in the run game. The Jets have been facing loaded boxes for years because opponents simply have zero respect for the player under center.
4. Wide receiver
- Veterans: Garrett Wilson, Corey Davis, Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman, Randall Cobb, Denzel Mims, Diontae Spencer, Irvin Charles, Malik Taylor
- UDFA: Xavier Gipson, Jason Brownlee, T.J. Luther
While the Jets were unable to get a fellow star alongside Garrett Wilson, this still figures to be a strong unit.
It all starts at the top with Wilson, who already performed at a top-15 level in his rookie season despite the quarterback situation. With a year-two leap and the added boost of Aaron Rodgers, Wilson has legitimate top 5-10 potential in 2023.
There are quite a few NFL teams whose second-best WR is better than the Jets’. New York can’t compare to the Hill/Waddle, Chase/Higgins, and Lockett/Metcalf duos of the world. However, the Jets’ five-deep lineup can go toe-to-toe with most of the league.
Corey Davis and Allen Lazard are big-bodied targets that Rodgers will love – and Rodgers already has established chemistry with Lazard, which should maximize Lazard’s production. Both players are also among the best run-blocking WRs in the league, which will make a subtle yet immensely positive impact in an offensive scheme where WRs are often asked to make key blocks.
Mecole Hardman is a dynamic gadget weapon who is a threat to score any time he touches the ball. This offense is perfect for maximizing the things Hardman does well; Nathaniel Hackett will have a blast cooking up ways to get Hardman involved.
Randall Cobb rounds out the unit as a seasoned veteran who brings soft hands and chemistry with Rodgers. Last year, the Jets didn’t have a reliable backup slot receiver who could come off the bench and just do the little things correctly. They relied too heavily on Braxton Berrios, who is uber-speedy and brings explosive potential, but is too drop-prone and not good enough of a route-runner.
This came back to bite the Jets in Minnesota when Berrios dropped a potential game-winning touchdown. It also hurt the Jets throughout the year as Berrios was one of the least efficient per-route receivers in football due to his underwhelming route-running.
Cobb won’t be able to match Berrios’ dynamic open-field skills, but he won’t make the killer mistakes Berrios made, and he will create separation more consistently in key situations. He’s the perfect backup receiver – extremely non-flashy but great at the boring stuff that really matters. He’ll also be a great locker-room presence for the youngsters.
- Aaron Rodgers, Zach Wilson, Tim Boyle, Chris Streveler
The depth behind Rodgers is the reason this unit isn’t higher. Jets fans can rest assured about the quality of their starter for the first time in ages, but if Rodgers goes down, the Jets are not built to survive. Simply based on his career production, Zach Wilson is about as unreliable of a backup as there is in the league.
New York better hope Wilson is a completely transformed quarterback from the “heavenly” experience of being around Rodgers every day. That doesn’t even mean Wilson has to develop into the guy the Jets thought he was when they drafted him second overall. If Wilson can just be a competent, don’t-ruin-the-game backup, the Jets would have a much better chance of staying afloat without Rodgers.
That’s wishful thinking, though. For now, the Jets are a Rodgers injury away from disaster. Wilson needs a strong training camp and preseason to inspire confidence in his reliability as a backup.
2. Defensive line
- Veteran IDL: Quinnen Williams, Quinton Jefferson, Al Woods, Solomon Thomas, Tanzel Smart, Marquiss Spencer, Isaiah Mack
- Veteran EDGE: Carl Lawson, John Franklin-Myers, Jermaine Johnson, Micheal Clemons, Bryce Huff, Bradlee Anae
- Draft picks: Will McDonald (EDGE)
- UDFA: Deslin Alexandre
The Jets already ranked first in QB hits (130) and third in pressure rate (25.4%) last season. The area holding them back from being the No. 1 pass-rushing defensive line was their finishing: they only ranked ninth in sack rate. After adding another two quality pass-rushers in Quinton Jefferson and Will McDonald, the Jets have the pieces to become the best pass-rushing defensive line in the league.
This probably won’t be an elite run-stopping unit, but it can maintain its above-average run defense from 2022. The Jets ranked 10th-best in yards per carry allowed (4.2). The only good run-stopper lost by the defensive line was Sheldon Rankins, and the Jets replaced him with a run-stopping extraordinaire in Al Woods, so the overall run-stopping talent of the defensive line is about the same.
There are concerns about the way this unit was constructed; the asset allocation isn’t necessarily ideal. The Jets have two first-round picks (McDonald and Jermaine Johnson) who might play less than 50% of the snaps. Bryce Huff had a dominant season on a small sample in 2022 and deserves more snaps, but he probably won’t get them. Carl Lawson is still set to have a $15.3 million cap hit that his 2022 production does not warrant.
All of those concerns are legitimate from an overarching perspective regarding the long-term health of the roster. Over-investing in this one unit could ultimately cost the Jets at other positions.
But solely from an on-field, win-now perspective, the Jets’ overflowing depth on the defensive line is a devastating weapon that could cause nightmares for the star-studded lineup of quarterbacks on the Jets’ schedule this year. We’ll see if the Jets’ can get reasonable value out of their investments in the long run, but as they chase a Super Bowl in 2023, all that matters is the Jets have a juggernaut of a defensive line.
The Jets will be able to withstand defensive line injuries like no other team in the league, and when everyone is healthy, the extreme depth will allow the Jets to do two things: firstly, keep everyone fresh, and secondly, deploy players in situations that suit their skill sets (rather than having to force them into uncomfortable situations).
Depth is valuable at every position in football, but there may not be a position where it is more important than the defensive line. The Jets might have the best D-line depth in the NFL.
- Veterans: Sauce Gardner, D.J. Reed, Michael Carter II, Brandin Echols, Bryce Hall, Justin Hardee, Jimmy Moreland
- Draft picks: Jarrick Bernard-Converse
There isn’t much to say about this group. The Jets got arguably the best production from their cornerbacks of any NFL team last season and the whole unit is back. Not only that, but since all three of the starters are 26-and-under, their performances are sustainable. There do not appear to be any noticeable red flags suggesting the unit will decline.
Of course, NFL players inexplicably fall off a cliff all the time, so there is always a chance of a shocking downturn. This is especially true at the cornerback position, where production is more volatile from year-to-year than just about any other position.
With that being said, the Jets’ cornerback unit is as well-constructed as realistically possible. In all likelihood, it will be an elite unit once again.
Next Article: NY Jets’ Izzy Abanikanda has clear potential but must fix key issue
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Originally posted on Jets X-Factor