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New York Jets 2020 draft class: One skill each player must improve

Becton, Mims, Perine, Hall, Mann Jets
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

Joe Douglas’ 2020 New York Jets draft class had a solid debut season. If those 9 players can patch these holes, they can take a step forward.

Mekhi Becton: Pre-snap penalties

Mekhi Becton committed seven penalties over 691 offensive snaps in 2020. That gave him a rate of 10.1 penalties per 1,000 snaps, which ranked seventh-worst out of 63 qualified tackles.

Of Becton’s seven penalties, six of them occurred pre-snap. He was knocked for five false starts and one illegal formation. Becton committed just one holding penalty.

Pre-snap penalties are less detrimental than any other type of penalty, so this is a minor issue for Becton. The fact that he only committed one post-snap penalty is stupendous. He simply needs to improve his understanding of the snap count, which is a highly fixable weakness that he should be able to clean up as he gains experience.

Denzel Mims: Contested catches

Making contested catches is the skill that Denzel Mims is probably best known for. He was specifically designed by the football gods for high-pointing jump-balls, as he was blessed with a big frame (6-foot-3 and 207 pounds), long arms (33.875 inches, 93rd percentile among wide receivers), and great hops (38.5-inch vertical jump, 83rd percentile).

In college, Mims maximized those tools to become a contested-catch maestro. In 2019, he finished tied for second in the FBS with 20 contested catches, according to Pro Football Focus’s tracking.

Mims showed flashes of translating his contested-catch wizardry to the NFL in his rookie season, but he ultimately struggled in this area as a rookie. PFF credited Mims with three contested catches on 11 contested targets, a rate of 27.3% that ranked eighth-worst among the 78 wide receivers with at least 10 contested targets.

The Jets clearly made sure that this was a primary facet in Mims’ game – 26.8% of his non-throwaway targets were deemed as contested, which placed eighth-highest out of 99 qualified receivers.

We saw a handful of acrobatic grabs that gave us a glimpse of how good Mims could become as a contested-catch winner, but the Jets need to see more consistency from him in this area next year.

Ashtyn Davis: Deep safety play

Ashtyn Davis performed much better near the line of scrimmage than he did as a deep safety, as Vitor Paiva broke down in amazing detail here.

Across three games in which he played the majority of his snaps at free safety (W2 vs. SF, W5 vs. ARI, W8 @ KC), Davis earned an overall PFF grade of 33.8, which would have been the worst mark among qualified safeties in the 2020 season if maintained over the whole year.

In the five games he played fewer than half of his snaps at free safety, Davis posted an overall PFF grade of 63.5, which is just barely below the 2020 league average for safeties (64.1).

With the way the Jets’ defensive depth chart is shaping up, it looks like Davis is set to settle in as a versatile nickel defender, which would give him the chance to play to his strengths and live in the box.

While it would be great if Davis developed into an effective box player in his rotational role, it would only raise his ceiling even higher if he could also show improvement in his deep game, which was supposed to be his strength coming out of Cal.

Jabari Zuniga: Everything

I have to be blatantly honest here; Jabari Zuniga was not good at anything during his limited time on the field as a rookie.

Zuniga only played 103 defensive snaps in 2020, so the sample is small, but he was completely silent. He had one pressure over 64 pass-rush snaps (1.6% rate) and one run stop over 38 snaps against the run (2.6% rate).

With one missed tackle and one penalty on his line, Zuniga had the same numbers of missed tackles and penalties (2) as pressures and run stops (2). Zuniga was the only edge defender out of 148 qualifiers who failed to post more pressures and run stops than missed tackles and penalties.

Zuniga couldn’t even be relied upon for impact in coverage, dropping back to cover on one snap.

The mission for Zuniga is pretty simple: just prove you can be effective at something.

La’Mical Perine: Elusiveness

There are a lot of things that La’Mical Perine needs to get better at after a disappointing rookie season, but the main area of concern for him is the facet of the running back position that is arguably the most important: elusiveness.

Perine did not create much beyond what was blocked for him in 2020, ranking 59th in yards after contact per carry (2.5) and 65th in missed tackles forced per carry (0.109) among 76 qualified running backs. Over 64 carries, Perine forced seven missed tackles and collected 159 yards after contact.

This issue persisted in the passing game. Perine failed to force a missed tackle over 11 catches. His average of 6.2 yards-after-catch per reception placed at the 22nd percentile among qualified RBs.

Making better decisions to improve his before-contact yardage is another area where Perine can improve.

James Morgan: Short passing

James Morgan‘s short passing was a consistent issue throughout the final three years of his collegiate career. Here is a look at his year-by-year rankings in adjusted completion percentage (which accounts for drops, throwaways, etc.) on passes that traveled from 0 to 9 yards downfield:

  • 2019 (Florida International): 77.3% (29th percentile among qualified FBS QB)
  • 2018 (Florida International): 75.9% (29th percentile)
  • 2017 (Bowling Green): 77.3% (34th percentile)
  • 2016 (Bowling Green): 80.6% (65th percentile)

Morgan was one of the nation’s bottom-40% short passers in three consecutive seasons. It goes without saying that he’ll need to be much better than that to be successful in a league where quick-rhythm passing is king.

Cameron Clark: Protection in one-on-one situations

Cameron Clark was an excellent pass protector at UNC Charlotte, but he was rarely tested by true one-on-one battles.

Clark only faced a “true pass set” (which excludes quick passes, 3-man rushes, and other similar play types to isolate plays in which a blocker and rusher engage in an extended one-on-one battle) on 17.8% of his pass protection snaps in 2019. For reference, that’s significantly lower than Mekhi Becton’s 2019 rate of 24.1% at Louisville, and Becton received a lot of skepticism for his lack of experience in this area.

On the bright side, Clark performed well in these situations. He allowed a pressure rate of 4.7% in true pass set situations in 2019, which is well below the 2020 NFL average for tackles (8.7%).

As Clark transitions to the guard position and looks to stake his claim to the Jets’ starting right guard spot in 2021, he must show the coaching staff that he can be trusted to hold up in pass protection one-on-one.

Bryce Hall: Coverage vs. TE and RB

Bryce Hall‘s coverage against wide receivers was pretty decent in 2020, which is a fantastic jumping-off point for a fifth-round rookie who had no offseason practice time and was thrown into the fray mid-season.

Against wide receivers, Hall allowed 246 yards on 34 targets, an average of 7.2 yards per target. Based on the career production of his matchups, Hall should have been expected to allow 8.1 yards per target, giving him a plus-0.9 margin in this department.

It was a small sample size, but Hall’s production against tight ends and running back was concerning. Over 10 targets against TEs and RBs, Hall allowed 106 yards, an average of 10.6 yards per target. He should have been expected to allow 7.3 yards per target based on the career production levels of the TEs and RBs he faced, giving him a minus-3.3 margin.

Most of that production was accumulated by Raiders tight end Darren Waller in Week 13. Waller caught four of his five targets against Hall for 65 yards, one touchdown, and two additional first downs.

Braden Mann: Returns allowed

Braden Mann had 38 of his 82 punts returned, a rate of 46.3% that ranked eighth-highest out of 34 qualified punters.

Mann’s uncanny tackling talent is a beautiful sight that can cure depression, but in a perfect world, he shouldn’t ever have to be putting his hands on returners. The best punters in the league are able to prevent returners from getting opportunities to make plays in the first place.

New England’s Jake Bailey led the NFL with an average of 45.6 net yards per punt this past season, landing him First-Team All-Pro honors. Preventing returns was his best skill. Only 12 of Bailey’s 55 punts were returned, a rate of 21.8% that was the lowest among qualified punters.

Keeping returns to a minimum is not a requirement to be a good punter. It is still possible to thrive without an elite return rate. Brett Kern, who was the First-Team All-Pro punter in 2019, had 38.5% of his punts returned that season, which ranked only 15th-best. As long as you have good hang time, precise accuracy, and fluid synchronization with your return team, you can be highly effective even if a decently high percentage of your punts are returned.

However, Mann’s nearly-50% rate is just a tad too much. While there usually isn’t much difference in overall punting quality between punters with elite return rates and punters with decent return rates, punters with high return rates do tend to struggle (although there are some exceptions).

Mann needs to get his return rate under 40% in 2021. Sliding under 35% would be tremendous.

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