The New York Jets are one of the handful of teams that find themselves locked into a rebuild this year. And it is a rebuild that they desperately need. The Jets have not been a good football team for a few years now but are looking to change that.
The rebuild is off to a pretty good start. They have talented young players at nearly every position on both sides of the ball. They have been drafting quality players that look like they can be long-term starters and bringing in veterans on good deals to fill other holes. The future could possibly be bright for New York if a certain player at a certain position pans out.
That player is obviously Zach Wilson. How quickly the Jets exit this rebuilding phase likely depends on the level of play that he can achieve. He played alright as a rookie but he gets some leeway because the roster around him wasn’t necessarily set up for him to succeed. He won’t have that excuse this year. The team got better so he will be expected to do the same.
Wilson has already gotten off to a rough start this season. He already has undergone surgery for a knee injury he suffered in the first preseason game. The injury isn’t expected to keep him out for too long but it does seem likely he will miss some of the start of the year.
When Wilson does come back, he will need to play the best football of his life in order to prove that he belongs under center for the Jets. Even though he is heading into just his second season, the NFL is a cruel league and if New York thinks it can win more with another quarterback they could move on from Wilson. He does have the talent to be a starter in this league, he was drafted second overall for a reason, but Wilson desperately needs to show it this season.
One way to help a young quarterback is to have a good offensive line in front of him, but, unfortunately, Wilson has not had that luxury. The Jets gave up 53 sacks last year and Wilson was sacked over 10 percent of the time he dropped back.
To make matters even worse, the Jets will probably be without tackle Mekhi Becton this year due to a knee injury after he already missed all but one game in 2021. New York did sign veteran tackle Duane Brown to effectively replace Becton and have tackle George Fant to man the other side but they would surely rather have the services of their 2020 first-round pick.
The interior offensive line is a different story because the Jets have some pretty good talent there. Second-year guard Alijah Vera-Tucker started 16 games last year, living up to his first-round draft selection. The team also brings back center Connor McGovern, who has been solid in the middle of the line. Lastly, the Jets brought in guard Laken Tomlinson, who is fresh off the best season of his career and first Pro-Bowl nod, to round out the o-line.
The guys up front should hopefully provide a little more protection for Wilson, or whoever else starts at quarterback than they did last year. But they should also provide a boost in the run game, an area that definitely needs it.
Despite having a promising young running back in Michael Carter, the Jets finished 27th in rushing yards last year, largely because they had the fewest rushing attempts in the league. To help fix that problem, New York drafted running back Breece Hall in the second round, making him the first back off the board. Hall was one of the most productive running backs in recent college football history. He and Carter should form a good one-two punch in the backfield and help the Jets not have one of the worst ground games this season.
New York’s passing attack didn’t need as much help but that didn’t stop the team from seeking out improvements. The biggest one was the selection of wide receiver Garrett Wilson with the 10th overall pick. Wilson was a dominant player in college and was considered by many the best receiver in a very good rookie class this year. He has the potential to be the number one wideout this year, especially if he clicks early with Wilson the quarterback.
There are also some other very good pass-catchers on the Jets’ roster. Second-year wideout Elijah Moore is another player who could have some success if he follows up his promising rookie year. He was the most effective receiver, leading the team in yards and touchdowns, even though he got off to a slow start and only played in 11 games. New York also has veteran options in Corey Davis and Braxton Berrios that they can rely on to make plays.
The tight end position was a weak spot for the Jets last season as the most productive player caught just 27 passes for 261 yards. So the front office was aggressive in improving the position, signing tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin in free agency while also drafting tight end Jeremy Ruckert in the third round. any three of those players could earn the starting role, though Uzomah is probably the favorite, but expect all three to be involved in some capacity.
The defense is also full of young talent but it will need to take an even bigger step forward if the Jets want to be better than last season. New York gave up the most yards in the entire NFL last year and was also bad in other aspects such as forcing turnovers and getting sacks. But there is still some promise on that side of the ball given all the young and unrealized talent.
The most intriguing player on the unit is defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. The third overall pick in the 2019 draft hasn’t developed into the monster player that many predicted he would be by this point but he has steadily improved his game every year. He also hasn’t been helped out by a lack of production surrounding him. It is a matter of when, not if, the breakout season for Williams comes. 2022 could be the year if the rest of the defense steps up and takes some of the pressure off the young defensive tackle.
A big part of that will be defensive end Carl Lawson. He was the big offseason signing for New York last season but didn’t play a game because he suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason. Lawson is a disruptive pass-rusher when healthy and should provide a big boost to the Jets’ defense this year.
The pass-rush will also get some help in the form of rookie defensive end Jermaine Johnson, the third of New York’s 2022 first-rounders. he possesses unique athleticism that should be able to translate to production at the next level. He may not make an immediate impact if it takes him some time to adjust to the pros but he will surely be a productive player at some point.
The defensive line will also get some solid play from defensive linemen John Franklin-Myers, Vinny Curry, Sheldon Rankins, and Solomon Thomas. It may not be the best group in the league but the Jets’ defensive line should be good enough to not be a weakness this year.
New York also has a potential star in the secondary in cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. The corner from Cincinnati was the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft and will have massive expectations for his career. He is certainly capable of meeting those lofty expectations and could be the best Jets corner since a guy named Darrelle Revis.
Gardner will have some help in the secondary in the form of cornerback D.J. Reed, who was another big offseason signing for New York. Reed had a surprisingly productive season for Seattle last year and earned himself a big payday in free agency because of it. Those two should be a solid duo out wide with players such as Javelin Guidry and Bryce Hall filling in in the slot or whenever else is necessary.
Safety is a bit of a different scenario because it is not clear who will man those positions after Marcus Maye departed in free agency. Ashtyn Davis is the returning player who made the most starts last season so he seems like a good bet to be a starter. The other spot will go to one of a handful of veterans. Lamarcus Joyner, Will Parks, and Jordan Whitehead will all be in the running for a big role and will probably be used in some capacity even if they don’t win the job.
The one position with some certainty on the defense is linebacker, where veteran C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams held down the fort in 2021. Those two combined to make 29 starts and rack up 278 tackles. Sure, some of that production was due to making up for a lack of talent at other positions, but they still proved to be an effective linebacker duo.
This year they will have veteran linebacker Kwon Alexander with them. Alexander is an intriguing player that has had very productive seasons but has suffered from injuries lately. He won’t need to do too much next to Mosley and Williams so he should have some success in his role, whatever it may be.
The Jets have a chance this year to prove that they are making their way out of the rebuild by fielding a competitive team. Unfortunately, they have an extremely tough schedule this year so they might not have a lot of wins to show for it. New York plays one of the toughest schedules this season and only have four games that I would consider winnable (Bears, Lions, Jaguars, Seahawks).
I do think the Jets can pull off an upset of two, but that will be very dependent on how well Wilson performs in his second year under center. It also depends on when Wilson returns from his current injury and how it affects him throughout the rest of the season.
There will be a few bright spots for New York in 2022. I think Williams will start to emerge as one of the best interior defensive linemen in the league. I think Wilson, Hall, and Gardner will have really good rookie seasons and look like good starters going forward.
But what I don’t think will happen is the Jets winning games. I think this team finishes 4-13, and that may be on the more optimistic side. There will be very few times, if any, that the Jets will be the better team on paper so they will have to get used to playing the underdog, and get pretty good at it, if they want to earn a few more wins.