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NY Jets roster: Ranking the 10 most underrated players

John Franklin-Myers
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

As a team coming off of a two-win season, the NY Jets have a bevy of players who do not get the recognition they deserve.

Honorable mentions

DT Foley Fatukasi

While Foley Fatukasi might be underrated by fans outside of New York, his popularity amongst Jets fans has grown to a level that matches his productivity. He is an elite run stuffer and fans know it.

Fatukasi ranked as Pro Football Focus’ fifth-best run defender among interior defensive linemen with an 87.6 grade in 2019. Despite a small dip to an 86.2 grade in 2020, he rose to the No. 2 spot behind only Aaron Donald.

CB Javelin Guidry

I don’t think Javelin Guidry got enough playing time in his rookie season to quality as truly underrated – he only played 172 snaps – but I also believe that not enough fans recognize how much promise he showed in that limited time.

Guidry’s zone coverage grade of 77.8 at PFF ranked second-best among rookie cornerbacks (trailing Kansas City’s L’Jarius Sneed) and placed at the 87th percentile among all qualified corners. He allowed zero touchdowns and less than 10.0 yards per reception in each of the three games in which he played over 30 snaps.

RB Josh Adams

Like Guidry, Josh Adams did not play enough in 2020 for his accomplishments to warrant him the “underrated” tag, as he only carried the ball 29 times. However, it seems that many fans have written Adams off in the Jets’ running back competition despite his stellar small-sample play last season. Adams averaged 5.4 yards per carry, ranking sixth-best out of 96 qualified backs.

Back in 2018, Adams logged 120 carries for 511 yards (4.3 per carry) and three touchdowns for the Eagles as a 22-year-old rookie. A lot of people seem to forget about that impressive debut campaign.

FS Sharrod Neasman

The majority of casual Jets fans probably don’t know who Sharrod Neasman is. They should. He will be a valuable special teamer and reserve defensive back after serving both roles effectively in Atlanta.

Neasman consistently performed around a league-average level when called upon to replaced the Falcons’ injured starters, which is outstanding stuff for a backup.

RG Greg Van Roten

I hesitate to put Greg Van Roten in the top-10 due to the fact that I do not actually think he is “good,” but I do think he is a lot better than some fans believe. I’ve seen Van Roten labeled as a complete liability by some fans, and that just isn’t true.

For the first four weeks of his Jets career, those fans were right. Van Roten was indeed atrocious. He allowed 15 pressures from Weeks 1-4 of 2020, tied for the most among guards.

From there on out, Van Roten started to play respectable football. From Weeks 5-17, he allowed nine pressures on 309 pass protection snaps, a very good 2.9% rate (guard average: 4.5%).

WR Vyncint Smith

Vyncint Smith did some good things in the 2019 season that most fans seem to have forgotten about.

Smith returned 10 kickoffs for 299 yards, ranking second in the league with 29.9 yards per kickoff return. He was consistent, taking six of his 10 returns beyond the 25-yard line.

In addition, Smith developed into a solid complementary receiver over the final six weeks of the season. From Weeks 12-17, he averaged 31.7 receiving yards per game, doing so at an efficient rate of 9.5 yards per target that placed at the 78th percentile among qualified wide receivers over that span.

10. LS Thomas Hennessy

Nobody ever talks about Thomas Hennessy. That means he is doing his job at a world-class level.

Hennessy rarely launches a bad snap on field goals, extra points, or punts. Can you name a moment where the Jets suffered because Hennessy launched an inaccurate snap? No, you can’t. He doesn’t miss.

As a coverage man for the punt unit, Hennessy makes an impact that most long snappers do not come close to touching. Hennessy leads all long snappers with nine tackles over the past two seasons, collecting them at an efficient level as he has missed only two tackles over that span. He had five tackles and zero missed tackles in 2020.

Hennessy ranked as PFF’s No. 1 long snapper in 2019 (82.3 grade) and stayed on the Mount Rushmore of active long snappers in 2020 as he dropped just one spot to No. 2 (80.5 grade).

9. ST Justin Hardee

I think Jets fans have shown plenty of appreciation for Justin Hardee‘s special teams talent, but the reason I have him included on here is that I think there needs to be more attention thrust upon just how big of a need Hardee is filling.

After fielding the NFL’s fourth-best punting unit in 2019 (+10.1% DVOA) behind the leg of Lachlan Edwards, the Jets apparently felt that Edwards’ production was fluky and/or unsustainable, so they made a change with the selection of Braden Mann in the sixth round.

Things did not go as planned. The Jets’ punting unit was the third-least effective in football (-12.8% DVOA) and probably would have ranked as the worst if not for a trio of ridiculous tackles by Mann to save likely touchdowns.

Mann had his share of struggles individually, but the unit’s problems mostly boiled down to poor coverage. The Jets’ coverage men missed plenty of tackles and frequently overran the returner to give him running room.

Hardee has a career tackle-to-missed tackle ratio of 6.6-to-1 on special teams, which is more than twice as strong as the 2020 league average for special teams players (2.9-to-1). In 2020, Hardee made eight tackles while missing just one, earning a 90.4 special teams grade at PFF that ranked sixth-best out of 193 qualifiers.

The Jets added a star in an area where they performed at a horrendous level last season.

8. C Connor McGovern

Connor McGovern‘s numbers – namely his overall PFF grade (62.2, 25th out of 38 qualified centers) and sacks-allowed total (6, most among centers) – have led some fans to believe that he was terrible in 2020.

This is a case where I think the numbers are fairly misleading. McGovern certainly disappointed in his first season as a Jet – not coming close to his top-10 performance as a Bronco – but he was still a respectable NFL starting center – a far cry from the Spencer Longs and Jonotthan Harrisons of the world. I would argue McGovern played closer to a league-average level than a No. 25 level.

McGovern was solid as a run blocker, ranking 13th at his position with a 70.5 run-blocking grade. His lateral agility was impressive as he consistently carved holes on reach blocks.

The reason for McGovern’s No. 25 ranking was his pass blocking, as he ranked 36th at his position with a 42.7 grade in that phase.

However, when you flip on the film, you see that many of McGovern’s struggles as a pass blocker were mental rather than physical. His issues are fixable. It was not a decline in his one-on-one blocking ability or his athleticism that hampered him, but rather, his awareness. Picking up blitzes, handling stunts, and providing well-timed help were his weaknesses. McGovern was great in these areas the prior season, so we have evidence on tape that he is capable of getting back on track.

There will be no excuses for McGovern if he has another low-ranking season, but for now, there are legitimate reasons to believe that he remains a talented player who can return to a top-10 level this year.

7. EDGE Kyle Phillips

Kyle Phillips is no world-beater, but he is a very good player in one of the two phases of defense, yet I hardly ever hear or see Jets fans mention his name.

Phillips had a 76.6 run defense grade at PFF in 2019, which ranked at the 87th percentile among edge defenders. His total of 16 tackles in the run game for no gain or a loss tied him for third at the position.

While injuries limited the length of Phillips’ 2020 season, he remained strong against the run, earning a 65.4 run defense grade (65th percentile). He had five tackles against the run for no gain or a loss in six games.

6. DT Sheldon Rankins

Like his fellow former Saints mainstay Justin Hardee, I think Jets fans have given Sheldon Rankins his due amount of praise since he was added. Also like Hardee, I think Jets fans should be talking about the Rankins addition more than they have been because of how large of an upgrade he represents.

Rankins will be taking Henry Anderson’s snaps on the defensive line, as they represent the unit’s only major addition and subtraction, respectively. That swap is a huge step up for the Jets’ pass rush.

Anderson was quiet as a pass rusher in 2020. He ranked 58th among interior defensive linemen with 18 pressures. His pressure rate of 5.9% placed him 75th among 135 qualified players at the position (45th percentile). The average pressure rate for IDL in 2020 was 7.0%.

In each of the past four seasons (including playoff games), Rankins posted a pressure rate of at least 8.4% and ranked no lower than the 80th percentile among qualified interior defensive linemen in the category. His career pressure rate is an excellent 8.7%.

When healthy, the former first-round pick has showcased top-tier potential. In the 2017 regular season, Rankins ranked 13th among IDL with 44 pressures, and in 2018, he ranked 15th with 46 pressures.

Including the playoffs, Rankins has only 48 pressures over the past two seasons combined, which is exactly half of the 96 regular season-plus-playoff pressures he had from 2017-18.

However, Rankins only got 524 pass-rush snaps from 2019-20 compared to the 1,048 he got from 2017-18. Rankins’ pressure rate over the past two seasons is identical to his rate from 2017-18 (9.2%). His efficiency hasn’t declined – he just needs to stay healthy and prove to his coaches that he deserves a heavy diet of snaps.

Regardless of whether or not Rankins can replicate the volume production he posted in his prime, he is extremely likely to produce at a far more efficient level in the passing game than the man he is replacing.

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5. EDGE Vinny Curry

I have been beating the Vinny Curry drum all offseason. This guy is highly underrated. There is not much flair to his game, but he gets the job done at a remarkable level of consistency.

In 2020, Curry collected 25 pressures with a tiny batch of 178 pass-rush snaps, giving him a pressure rate of 14.0% that ranked at the 94th percentile among qualified edge rushers.

That was no fluke. The season prior, Curry had 41 pressures on 257 pass-rush snaps for a pressure rate of 16.0% that ranked at the 95th percentile.

Over the past two seasons, Curry posted at least two pressures in 19 of his 27 games (70.3%), which is simply amazing considering he got backup-level playing time (16.8 pass-rush snaps per game. For reference, Jordan Jenkins posted multiple pressures in just 7 of 12 games (58.3%) last season while playing 25.1 pass-rush snaps per game.

4. RB Ty Johnson

While Ty Johnson has the respect of Jets fans, I think he deserves more consideration as the team’s best option to lead the offense in carries at the start of the season.

Johnson ran for 254 yards on 54 carries with the Jets last year, an average of 4.7 yards per carry that placed him at the 79th percentile among qualified running backs.

The most impressive aspect of Johnson’s performance was his vision, which is exemplified by his average of 2.4 yards before contact per carry (3rd-best among RBs).

This trait makes Johnson an excellent fit in the Jets’ wide-zone offense, where vision is especially crucial.

Michael Carter has a lot of potential and Tevin Coleman is an explosive back with pass-catching talent, but do not forget about Johnson. He might be the best scheme fit of the bunch, and thus the best option to start out as the Jets’ top ball-carrier in their committee-style backfield.

3. WR Keelan Cole

Despite dealing with subpar quarterback play in Jacksonville throughout his career, Keelan Cole has still been able to put himself on the map with an extensive reel of highlight catches and some pretty solid numbers considering the situation he was in.

One statistic that does an excellent job of summarizing how Cole was able to rise above the quality of his quarterbacking is his performance in contested situations. Over the past three seasons, Cole caught 19 of his 29 contested targets, per PFF, a rate of 65.5% that led all qualified wide receivers over that span.

Cole has also been a consistently productive deep threat. He has secured 22 of his 49 career deep targets, a 44.9% rate. Cole accumulated 772 yards (15.8 per target) and three touchdowns on his deep catches. Those are great numbers – in 2020, a 44.9% deep catch rate would have landed Cole at the 70th percentile among qualified wide receivers. An average of 15.8 yards per target would have dropped him in at the 71st percentile.

To top it all off, Cole is a great blocker, grading at a high level in that phase on a yearly basis.

2. LB C.J. Mosley

My ranking of C.J. Mosley in this spot simply has to do with his reputation in coverage. I put together an entire breakdown on this topic.

A lot of fans seem to think that Mosley is just a physical thumper who gets a lot of tackles and hits hard. He’s definitely good at those things, but that’s not all he does. He would not have made four Pro Bowls and earn an $85 million contract if he was a bruiser who could not cover.

I am not sure where that reputation comes from. Maybe just from fans making an assumption by Googling his weight and seeing he weighs 250 pounds? Or from seeing his subpar times in the agility drills at his Alabama pro day?

That has to be the only explanation because if you study Mosley’s game at all, you would know that he is elite in coverage.

On film, Mosley’s outstanding spatial awareness, great football IQ, and picturesque technique all stand out. He also shows a strong understanding of the opposing offense on a weekly basis, making it clear that his preparation during the week is top-notch. Altogether, Mosley is a savant who always knows where to be to shut down threats in his area. The man does not botch coverages and consistently forces the quarterback to go to his next read.

Even without watching Mosley intensely, it does not take much effort to see that he compares favorably in coverage and as an athlete to most other linebackers in the league. From 2014-18, he was third among linebackers in passes defended (35) and third in interceptions (9). He then proceeded to collect an interception and a pass deflection in his very first game as a Jet.

Mosley is great in coverage.

1. DT John Franklin-Myers

John Franklin-Myers hardly got any recognition throughout his masterpiece of a 2020 season. He has seen a little bit more love thrown his way throughout the offseason, but it still has not been close to enough.

I don’t think enough fans have truly grasped how dominant Franklin-Myers was last year. He was elite. End of story.

Franklin-Myers ranked eighth among interior defensive linemen with 51 pressures, doing so while ranking 30th in pass-rush snaps (303). His 14.4% pressure rate trailed only Stephon Tuitt (14.5%) and Aaron Donald (17.2%).

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Franklin-Myers’ production was his reliability. He did not have a couple of outlier games that boosted his numbers, nor did he have hot and cold streaks throughout the season. Franklin-Myers just kept bringing the heat all year. The Stephen F. Austin product posted multiple pressures and a pressure rate above 7.0% (the IDL average) in 13 of his 15 games (86.7%).

For some fun with numbers, Franklin-Myers had:

  • more pressures than Henry Anderson in 2019 and 2020 combined (36)
  • more than twice as many pressures as Muhammad Wilkerson in 2017 (25)
  • more pressures than the combined total of all non-Quinnen Williams IDL on the Jets in 2020 (41)
  • more pressures than any Jets edge rusher in a single season since the stat was first tracked in 2006 (team record for the position is Bryan Thomas’ 41 in 2006)

Franklin-Myers’ modest total of 2.5 sacks is the reason for his lack of recognition, highlighting the statistic’s misleading nature. Hopefully, for the sake of his notoriety and future contract negotiations, the sacks will come, but even if they do not, it hardly diminishes the star-level impact he makes as a pass rusher.

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