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100 reasons to believe the 2020 New York Jets are a playoff team

Sam Darnold and Le'Veon Bell
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

Michael Nania lays out 100 reasons – yes, one hundred – to believe the New York Jets will snap their nine-year playoff drought in 2020.

1. Joe Douglas putting his money where it matters

With his very first two selections at the helm (Mekhi Becton and Denzel Mims), Joe Douglas invested 1,560 points worth of draft pick value (according to the draft trade chart) into non-quarterback positions on offense.

Mike Maccagnan used 1,141 points on non-quarterback offensive players with his 34 total picks over five drafts.

The Jets have a general manager who gets it.

2. Joe Douglas’ addition of numerous low-penalty players

Penalties were not a massive issue for the Jets in 2019, but they were certainly a problem. The Jets were tagged with the 16th-most penalties (115) for the sixth-most yards (1,105). Their net differential of -203 penalty yards versus their opponents ranked fifth-worst.

Most of the players added by Douglas in 2020 have been excellent at maintaining low penalty counts.

  • Connor McGovern (2019): 0 penalties over 1,013 snaps (only qualified center with none)
  • Greg Van Roten (2018-19): 4 penalties over 1,763 snaps (2.27 per 1K snaps vs. 2019 G average of 5.11)
  • George Fant (2019): 1 penalty over 462 snaps (2.16 per 1K snaps vs. 2019 OT average of 8.25)
  • Bradley McDougald (career): 10 penalties over 5,044 snaps (1.98 per 1K snaps vs. 2019 S average of 2.44)
  • Pierre Desir (career): 13 penalties over 2,645 snaps (4.91 per 1K snaps vs. 2019 CB average of 6.30)
  • Breshad Perriman (career): 5 penalties over 1,734 snaps (2.88 per 1K snaps vs. 2019 WR average of 3.85)
  • Mekhi Becton (2019): 0 holding penalties, 1 false start penalty

Look for the Jets to place near the top in fewest penalties.

3. The impact of Sam Darnold‘s presence

I listed 100 reasons to believe in Darnold a few months ago. If you’re looking for another gargantuan dose of optimism, do yourself a favor and check that one out.

The Jets have been a completely different football team with and without Sam Darnold. With him, they’re 11-15 (.423) with an average of 19.0 offensive points per game. Without him, they’re 0-6 with an average of 7.8 offensive points per game. No quarterback’s presence over the past two years has been a bigger factor in his team’s offensive productivity.

Sam Darnold

Had Darnold been completely healthy for the first four games of 2019 (assuming he was physically limited in the season-opener), it’s not hard to imagine that the Jets could have gone 2-2 rather than 0-4. Two extra wins would have pushed the Jets to 9-7 and tied for the final wild card spot with the Titans, who went to the AFC Championship Game.

The team’s outlook would feel a lot more promising right now if Darnold had not missed any time last year – but you do not have to play the what-if game here. By simply removing the atrocities of the first four games and looking solely at the final 12, things do feel much more promising.

4. Blessuan Austin‘s Week 10-13 stretch

Austin’s career got off to a ridiculously hot start. Over his first four games, Austin allowed 10-of-21 passing in his direction for 77 yards (0 TD / 0 INT) across 141 snaps in coverage. Here are some of his ranks among qualified cornerbacks from Weeks 10-13:

  • 3.7 yards per target allowed (1st)
  • 84.8 overall PFF grade (2nd)
  • 83.4 coverage PFF grade (3rd)
  • 82.3 run defense PFF grade (3rd)
  • 21 targets without a touchdown allowed (6th)
  • 0.55 yards per cover snap allowed (7th)
  • 57.0 passer rating allowed (8th)

That stretch of play was borderline unbelievable considering that the rookie was coming off of two ACL injuries, did not practice with the team until October, and was tossed into a messy situation lacking any stability in the secondary or pass-rush help up front.

While Austin cooled down over the ensuing games, he set an enticing ceiling for himself with a red-hot start in spite of difficult circumstances.

Bless Austin makes crushing hit for 3rd down stop

5. Trevon Wesco‘s blocking progress

Trevon Wesco took big steps as a run blocker in the second half of the season. With the Jets using him more dynamically – often asking him to line up at fullback or H-back and frequently putting him in motion pre-snap – Wesco posted the ninth-best Pro Football Focus run-blocking grade among tight ends from Weeks 8-17 (70.8).

Blocks like this one became more commonplace from Wesco. The Jets bring Wesco in motion and then pull him back to the play side, and he pancakes the defensive back.

Bell is stuffed due mostly to Kelvin Beachum (bonus reason to feel confident – Beachum’s abysmal run blocking is gone!).

If Wesco can string together a full season of the same consistency as a blocker that he closed 2019 with, he will help the Jets offense take a big step forward from its league-worst average of 0.26 yards before contact per rush attempt on carries directed outside of the tight end (mostly due to Daniel Brown and Ryan Griffin).

6. Avery Williamson‘s sound tackling

Williamson is tremendously consistent as a finisher. He posted one of the top-10 lowest missed tackle rates among linebackers in four of his five seasons. In 2018, his first season as a Jet, Williamson ranked seventh-best at the position with a miss rate of only 4.8% (120 tackles made, six missed).

The Jets will eagerly welcome Williamson’s tackling boost after a season in which their linebacker group was the only one in the league to rank bottom-five in miss rate both against the pass and against the run.

7. Avery Williamson’s elite run defense

Williamson is the complete package as a run defender. He is able to both make plays on the ball and execute the nuances of his role to make an off-the-stat-sheet impact, all coming together to make him one of the most revered run-stoppers at the position.

In 2018, Williamson earned the fourth-best PFF run defense grade among linebackers (82.8). As a member of the Titans in 2017, Williamson ranked second-best with a 90.2 grade. His 79.1 grade in 2016 ranked ninth-best. That’s three consecutive seasons in the top-10.

8. Avery Williamson’s ability to limit targets in coverage

While Williamson’s losses in coverage are typically ugly (career numbers of 9.5 yards per target, 123.4 passer rating, and 14:3 TD/INT ratio), he does a great job of executing his assignment to limit targets in the first place.

In 2018, Williamson logged 550 coverage snaps and was tagged with 56 targets. That’s an average of one target per 9.8 snaps in coverage, a rate that placed ninth-best out of 93 qualified linebackers (91st percentile).

Williamson has been one of the top-10 least frequently targeted linebackers in every season of his career.

9. Breshad Perriman’s December

Perriman’s explosion over the final five weeks of 2019 flashed potential that is unmatched by any pass-catcher that Sam Darnold has thrown to in his career to date.

Breshad Perriman

10. Breshad Perriman’s hands

Perriman has been knocked with only one drop on 52 receptions since 2018, a minuscule drop rate of 1.9% (2019 positional average: 7.5%).

Breshad Perriman

11. Denzel Mims’ blocking

Just as it was at tight end, blocking at the wide receiver position was an issue for Adam Gase’s offense. Jets wide receivers combined for a composite PFF run-blocking grade of 48.1 in 2019, better than only the Dolphins.

Mims offers rare blocking upside that should immediately help to turn this weakness around. Not only does he have the frame to dominate opponents at 6’3/207, but he has the determination to win every blocking rep that few receivers have.

12. Denzel Mims’ intermediate prowess

In 2019, Mims collected nine touchdowns on passes that traveled 10-to-19 yards downfield, most in the nation. His feel for creating separation in the intermediate range will be a huge boon for a Jets offense that has only eight passing touchdowns from the opponent’s 10-to-19 yard line since 2018, tied for third-fewest in the league.

New York Jets, Jets X-Factor

13. Denzel Mims’ contested catch ability

Mims ranked second in the nation with 20 catches that were considered “contested” in 2019.

14. Sam Darnold’s ability to maximize good support

The NFL average pressure rate (percentage of dropbacks in which the quarterback is pressured) has typically been around 34% over the past few seasons.

Darnold has taken a sub-34% pressure in just eight of his 26 career games (30.8%). In those rare instances, Darnold has shown the ability to maximize good protection as well as anyone.

Over eight career games in which he was pressured on 34% of his dropbacks or less, Darnold completed 156-of-229 passes for 2,039 yards (8.9 per attempt, 254.9 per game), 16 touchdowns (7.0% rate), and six interceptions (2.6% rate), generating a 108.3 passer rating. The Jets went 7-1 while the offense scored 29.0 points per game.

15. Having a starting center that is not absolutely terrible

The Jets will finally enter the season with a not-awful starting center, which in itself is enough to work wonders for the entire offense.

In pass protection, it’s night and day. McGovern’s pass-blocking efficiency and PFF pass-blocking grade are both lightyears ahead of the Jets’ recent starters.

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