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Biggest strength and concern at every position on the New York Jets’ initial 53-man roster

Frank Gore
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Prior to the bevy of additions and subtractions likely to come over the next few days, here are the biggest concerns and strengths on the current New York Jets roster.

Quarterbacks (3)

  1. Sam Darnold
  2. Joe Flacco
  3. James Morgan
Strength: Flacco as QB2 (once ready)

It is unknown when Flacco will be ready to assume his role as the backup quarterback – the expectation is he will be back for Week 3 or 4 – but once he does, he will be one of the more reliable backups in the league based on experience alone. His career total of 98 regular season victories is the most among projected backup quarterbacks. Flacco’s career passer rating of 84.1 is 11th-best among current projected backups.

FLORHAM PARK, NEW JERSEY – AUGUST 14: Joe Flacco #5 of the New York Jets looks on at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center on August 14, 2020 in Florham Park, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Concern: QB2 prior to Flacco’s return

Flacco’s health leaves the Jets in the unfortunate circumstance of potentially having to roll with Morgan as the backup to start the season. As a rookie fourth-rounder out of Conference USA who had a so-so training camp, it does not seem likely he is ready to provide NFL-caliber performance yet. The Jets will be in major trouble if they are forced to turn to Morgan early.

This brings into question the thought process behind the Morgan selection. Rookie quarterbacks taken on Day 3 cannot be considered reliable backups in Year 1, nor can they be considered reliable at any point until they get substantial experience, which they will not be getting when you already have a franchise quarterback in place. I was not a fan of this pick (the only Douglas pick that made my scratch my head), and it does not look much better now as the Jets are essentially forced to keep Morgan on the roster due to his draft pedigree rather than rolling with a better player as their backup to begin the year and keeping a roster spot open for another position.

It remains to be seen whether the Jets will stuff Fales or White on the practice squad. If they do keep one, then in the event of a mid-game Darnold injury, the Jets can ride Morgan to finish that game and then promote Fales or White the following week to start the next game. Or, they can have that player promoted to the active roster as the backup by taking advantage of the new rule that allows two players from the practice squad to join the active roster each week (although one player cannot be promoted twice in a season or in back-to-back weeks).

Neither Fales nor White would be much more promising than Morgan, however. White had an impressive camp, but he has been bad even in the preseason, averaging 4.5 yards per attempt and posting a 63.7 passer rating over the 2018-19 preseasons with Dallas. Fales has completed less than half of his preseason pass attempts and is averaging 6.0 yards per attempt on a mere 48 regular season passes over six seasons in the league.

Update: The Jets will keep Fales and White on their practice squad, allowing one or both to be promoted into the backup role for the first few weeks of the season while the team awaits Flacco’s return. Morgan will be the QB3.

Running Backs (3)

  1. Le’Veon Bell
  2. Frank Gore
  3. La’Mical Perine
Strength: Ball security, confidence in Perine’s health

This group can be counted on to protect the football. In 2019, Bell, Gore, and Perine combined for one fumble over 662 touches, a microscopic 0.15% rate. The 2019 positional average (among the top-100 NFL running backs in touches) was 0.93%, or one fumble every 108 touches.

Drops will be kept to a minimum. Perine had two drops and 72 receptions in his college career. Bell had three against 66 receptions in 2019. Gore has five against 92 receptions over the past four seasons.

The Jets have to feel good about the state of Perine’s ankle injury, otherwise, they likely would not have cut ties with Josh Adams and gone into the season with two healthy running backs. Of course, more moves could come, but early signals suggest that Perine should be ready sooner rather than later.

FLORHAM PARK, NEW JERSEY – AUGUST 23: Frank Gore #25 and Le’Veon Bell #26 of the New York Jets runs drills at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center on August 23, 2020 in Florham Park, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Concern: Breakaway speed

Bell, Gore, and Perine form an extremely fundamentally sound stable that offers sufficiency in most areas, but one trait they do not offer is home run potential.

Way back in 2013, Bell ran a 4.60 forty (33rd percentile among RB). He did not record a rush longer than 19 yards last year. Even in 2017, his longest rush was only 27 yards. Bell has not recorded a run of 50-plus yards since 2014 (he only has two in his career).

Perine ran a 4.62 forty at this year’s Combine (28th percentile).

Gore ran a similarly mediocre 4.58 forty way back when, which he obviously has taken a step back from considering it was 15 years ago. In 2019, he picked up 15-plus yards on 4.2% of his carries (7/165), which ranked 31st out of 46 qualifiers.

Wide Receivers (7)

  1. Breshad Perriman
  2. Denzel Mims
  3. Jamison Crowder (Slot)
  4. Braxton Berrios
  5. Chris Hogan
  6. Jeff Smith
  7. Vyncint Smith
Strength: Crowder and the contested-catch ability of Perriman/Mims

Crowder is excellent in his role, a bona fide top-10 slot receiver. He ranked fourth in receptions (58), fourth in receiving touchdowns (5), and ninth in receiving yards (648) out of the slot last year.

Perriman and Mims both offer the ability to go up and snag contested balls at an effective rate, something Darnold and the Jets have lacked. Mims was second in the nation with 20 catches considered “contested” in 2019. Perriman was trusted for plenty of aggressive deep shots in Tampa Bay, leading qualified wide receivers with 43.1% of his targets coming at least 20 yards downfield this past season.

Concern: Depth behind top-three

Vyncint Smith and Jeff Smith may both hit injured reserve, so there are probably more moves to come at this position. For now, the depth is scary.

Berrios has plenty of upside with the slick route-running he showcased in camp this year, but he has not proven anything yet with his play on offense, doing little in his sparse regular season and preseason appearances.

Hogan may be somewhat of a household name because of his time in New England, but he benefited from a lot of wide-open grabs as a member of the Patriots that inflated his numbers. He has been mostly poor over the past few seasons. With Carolina in 2019, he caught 8-of-15 targets for only 67 yards (4.5 per target) and three first downs (20% rate). When getting starter snaps as a Patriot in 2018, Hogan ranked 94th in yards per route run (0.97) out of 103 qualified wide receivers.

Tight Ends (3)

  1. Chris Herndon
  2. Ryan Griffin
  3. Trevon Wesco (FB)
Strength: Chemistry with Sam Darnold

Darnold has a strong camraderie with Herndon and Griffin.

In 2018, Darnold had a 127.2 passer rating when targeting Herndon, best among Jets players with at least 40 targets. Griffin accomplished the same feat in 2019, as Darnold had a 129.0 passer rating when targeting the former Texan.

Herndon is the far more dynamic and versatile player – much of Griffin’s production this past season came when he was wide open – but as a tandem, they have the potential to be one of the league’s best in the receiving game. Griffin’s soft hands and savvy feel for the open pace in the short game makes him one of the best pass-catching TE2s in the game. Herndon’s intermediate route-running, improvisional ability, overall athleticism, and pass protection give him top-tier TE1 potential.

FLORHAM PARK, NEW JERSEY – AUGUST 14: Chris Herndon #89 of the New York Jets runs drills at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center on August 14, 2020 in Florham Park, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Concern: Run blocking

Herndon is a good pass protector, but the Jets have questions in the run game at this position. Griffin is very poor as a run blocker. Herndon is better, offering better movement skills at the second level, but he is still mediocre, often failing to generate push on the edge against larger defenders.

That’s where Wesco comes in. He had an improved second half as a blocker and needs to keep the progress rolling into 2020. Skill position blocking is a crucial part of every offense’s performance in both phases and never gets enough attention for its importance.

Many of Wesco’s best reps in 2019 came as a fullback or H-back, but if he blocks well enough, perhaps he makes a push for Griffin’s TE2 role this year. With Griffin coming back from ankle surgery and admitting that he “may never feel like [he] did before the injury,” the door may be open for Wesco to leapfrog him.

Since Griffin struggles as a blocker, the Jets are always compromising when he’s out there. If Wesco can develop his receiving game, he would be a more ideal option as a TE2, threatening defenses at all times. Wesco can certainly get to the point where he is a sufficient threat as a receiver. Part of his appeal coming out of West Virginia was his YAC upside and soft hands. Reports out of camp seem to indicate that Wesco did indeed take some steps forward in this phase, while the cutting of Daniel Brown is another sign in Wesco’s favor.

Count on Griffin to handle TE2 snaps early on, maintaining involvement as a receiver with 3-to-4 targets per game (with increased emphasis in the red zone) on the strength of his chemistry with Darnold. But look out for Wesco. His blocking performance will be important, even if he only averages around 10 snaps in the early part of the season. As the year progresses, if Wesco ever gets the opportunity to see a sizable number of targets or enjoy a jump in playing time due to injury, he will have a chance to stake his claim to a bigger role.

Tackles (3)

  1. Mekhi Becton (LT)
  2. George Fant (RT)
  3. Chuma Edoga
Strength: Athleticism, outside zone run-blocking

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