How does the New York Jets’ pre-training camp offense compare to their 2020 offensive depth chart heading into the 2021 season?
After winning just two games in 2020, it’s easy to argue the New York Jets have improved almost every position across their roster. Considering their atrocious outputs at most spots over that nightmarish 16-game run a year ago, improving wasn’t a difficult task.
But how do the vibes at each position compare to the energy surrounding those same groups prior to the disastrous 2020 season? Comparing specific football calendar times is always the key.
Let’s compare the current outlook of each Jets offensive position group to how they looked heading into Week 1 of the 2020 season.
- June 27, 2021: Zach Wilson, James Morgan, Mike White
- July 1, 2020: Sam Darnold, Joe Flacco, James Morgan, David Fales, Mike White
- Verdict: Long-term upgrade, short-term TBD
When it comes to the long-term health of the position, there is no question that the Jets substantially upgraded the quarterback position.
As a No. 2 overall pick with a perfectly clean slate, Zach Wilson offers more upside than Sam Darnold, who has already put three years and 38 starts of mostly poor-to-average tape on his professional reel. A top-five pick that has yet to step on the field is usually a stronger bet than a top-five pick who has played three years and produced poorly.
Darnold owns a career passer rating of 78.6, which ranks as the 22nd-worst mark versus league average over a player’s first three seasons among 122 qualified quarterbacks since 2000. Of the top-30 worst quarterbacks on the list, only one (Alex Smith) has gone on to become a consistently solid starter in the league. The second-most successful quarterback of that group is arguably Joey Harrington, who was a primary starter for just three more years following his first three seasons and went 12-20 over that span.
That’s the type of company Darnold is in right now. If he goes on to become a successful starting quarterback (which is absolutely possible), he would be a major outlier.
Thus, Wilson has better odds of future success than Darnold just due to the fact that he hasn’t hit the field yet and we have no idea who he is going to be, whereas Darnold has already given us a fairly strong idea of who he is. The Jets made the right move by starting over, investing in a moldable, fresh prospect with untapped potential rather than trying to repair damaged goods.
Additionally, the Jets reset the rookie contract timer on the quarterback position. Wilson is under team control on his team-friendly for the next five years, a much more favorable position for the franchise than being in Darnold’s fourth year without having seen him prove he can be a viable starter.
With all of that being said, it remains to be seen whether Wilson will prove to be an immediate upgrade over Darnold. Rookie quarterbacks tend to struggle. As unimpressive as Darnold’s career 78.6 passer rating is, half of the first-round quarterbacks (14/28) taken since 2010 posted a passer rating below 78.6 in their rookie season (minimum 100 rookie-year attempts).
The Jets have also downgraded at the backup quarterback spot. Joe Flacco did a solid job over his four starts last season, tossing 6 touchdowns and 3 interceptions while leading the Jets offense to improved success versus when Darnold was in the lineup. It’s hard to picture James Morgan or Mike White providing reliable security considering neither has thrown a regular-season pass in the NFL.
Long-term, the Jets are in far better shape at the quarterback spot than they were when the 2020 season concluded. Short-term, they have clearly downgraded at QB2, but QB1 all comes down to where Wilson falls on the rookie spectrum. Will he be a slow developer who stinks early on before reaching stardom a few years later, a la Josh Allen? Or, will he be an instant stud a la Justin Herbert?
- June 27, 2021: Michael Carter, Tevin Coleman, Ty Johnson, La’Mical Perine, Josh Adams, Austin Walter
- July 1, 2020: Le’Veon Bell, Frank Gore, La’Mical Perine, Josh Adams, Trenton Cannon, Kenneth Dixon
- Verdict: Upgrade
The Jets’ 2021 running back room seems like it is poised to be a far more well-oiled machine than the uninspiring group that the team trotted out in 2020.
While Le’Veon Bell was still highly regarded by most observers entering the 2020 season (myself included), he was about the only appealing aspect of the position group heading into the year, and his success was a major projection considering his lack of productivity in 2019 (3.2 yards per carry). Frank Gore was 37 years old and coming off of a career-low YPC (3.6 for Buffalo in 2019), while La’Mical Perine was a fourth-round pick who most considered a fundamentally sound, tough, jack-of-all-trades type of back rather than an explosive threat.
This year’s group has a little bit of everything. Michael Carter brings the elusiveness and plenty of explosiveness. Tevin Coleman brings the receiving ability. Ty Johnson brings the vision and good top-end speed. Perine can do his thing as a change-of-pace back. Josh Adams provides excellent tackle-breaking talent if he cracks the roster.
Plus, the widespread allocation of unique skills across the position group makes the unit well-suited to execute the committee-style backfield approach that Mike LaFleur’s 49ers utilized so effectively. To top it all off, Carter, Coleman, and Johnson are all great fits for a wide-zone run scheme.
We cannot be blind to the past and act like the Jets community was not still enthused about Bell entering the 2020 season, but it does seem to fair to suggest that the community’s feelings about the Jets’ running back position as an entire unit are more positive than they were a year ago.
- June 27, 2021: Chris Herndon, Tyler Kroft, Ryan Griffin, Trevon Wesco, Daniel Brown, Kenny Yeboah
- July 1, 2020: Chris Herndon, Ryan Griffin, Trevon Wesco, Ross Travis
- Verdict: Slight downgrade
Nothing major has happened here besides the addition of Tyler Kroft. Each of the three tight ends who made last year’s opening-week roster are back and likely to make the team once more.
While the names are mostly the same, I believe this position group looks less promising than it did entering the 2020 season.
We have to remember that Chris Herndon and Ryan Griffin were actually an intriguing duo going into 2020. Herndon was making his triumphant return after missing most of the 2019 season, finally getting a chance to build on his exciting rookie season (502 yards, 4 TDs). Griffin was coming off of a surprisingly good first season with the Jets in which he caught 82.9% of his targets and recorded five touchdowns.
Both players suffered severe declines in 2020. Herndon dropped from 502 yards in 2018 to 287 yards in 2020 (16 games both years). Griffin tumbled from 320 yards and five touchdowns over 13 games in 2019 to 86 yards and zero touchdowns over 15 games in 2020.
So, those two players look far less tantalizing on paper than they did going into last season.
Outside of a Herndon bounceback, the Jets do have a pair of reasons for hope in Kroft and Kenny Yeboah. Kroft will substantially improve the blocking quality of the unit. Yeboah, despite being an undrafted free agent, has noteworthy talent as a receiver.
- June 27, 2021: Mekhi Becton, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, Morgan Moses, George Fant, Chuma Edoga, Dan Feeney, Cameron Clark, Alex Lewis, Conor McDermott, James Murray, Corey Levin, Tristen Hoge, Teton Saltes
- July 1, 2020: Mekhi Becton, Alex Lewis, Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, George Fant, Conor McDermott, Cameron Clark, Chuma Edoga, Jonotthan Harrison, Ben Braden, Josh Andrews, Jared Hilbers, Brand Lundblade, James Murray, Leo Koloamatangi
- Verdict: Substantial upgrade
The Jets have improved their offensive line markedly, losing no pieces of note while adding a pair of key pieces to the starting lineup and a few more to the reserve group.
Alijah Vera-Tucker brings long-term potential and has a pro-ready toolbox that should make him an instant upgrade over Alex Lewis. His lateral agility will have him fitting like a glove in LaFleur’s offense, helping his odds of succeeding right off the bat.
It remains to be seen where Morgan Moses will line up, how well he fits into the scheme, and how his presence will affect George Fant’s role, but no matter what happens, adding a longtime decent-to-good starting tackle will boost the unit’s depth immensely. If Moses starts, the Jets’ top backup tackle will be Fant instead of Chuma Edoga, which is a massive upgrade.
In terms of the returnees to the starting lineup, I see one player with a more positive outlook, one with a similar outlook, and one with a worse outlook.
Expectations for Mekhi Becton are much higher than they were a year ago after he put out a solid rookie season. Most fans and observers were ready for Becton to experience serious growing pains as a rookie, but he went out and thrived, so he enters the 2021 season with star-caliber potential.
Greg Van Roten is the current favorite to win the right guard job, which he held throughout last season. I don’t think much has changed for the Long Island native. He’s an okay stopgap, nothing more, nothing less. That is what was expected of him going into the season and that is what he was.
On the downside, Connor McGovern does not look as intriguing of a piece as he did last year. McGovern entered 2020 after a season he was ranked as Pro Football Focus’ 10th-best center. This year, he enters the season as the site’s No. 25 center.
Dan Feeney is not an adequate starter, but he provides solid depth on the interior offensive line after starting every Chargers game over the past three seasons, sporting experience at both center and guard.
Cameron Clark brings youth and potential, providing the Jets with a lottery ticket that may not have a great chance of hitting but could yield supremely juicy rewards if it does.
Like the running back group, this unit’s player-to-scheme compatibility seems better than it did under Adam Gase. Across the board, this offensive line is stocked with players who have the short-area quickness and agility to thrive in a wide-zone offense.
In each of the last two seasons, while the Jets’ offensive line went into the year with some promising aspects, it never seemed as if the unit was a well-oiled machine in which the players’ collective strengths and weaknesses were a match for the scheme. For this reason, the unit’s whole always performed worse than the sum of its parts.
Depth also played a role in the Jets’ abysmal offensive line output over the past few years. Their backups consistently performed at league-worst levels.
With more talent in the starting lineup, more reliable depth, and more compatibility between the players and the scheme, this offensive line is in much better shape than it was a year ago.
- June 27, 2021: Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Denzel Mims, Jamison Crowder, Keelan Cole, Braxton Berrios, Jeff Smith, Lawrence Cager, DJ Montgomery, Josh Malone, Manasseh Bailey, Matt Cole
- July 1, 2020: Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman, Denzel Mims, Chris Hogan, Braxton Berrios, Jeff Smith, Vyncint Smith, Lawrence Cager, Jehu Chesson, Josh Malone, George Campbell
- Verdict: Substantial upgrade
Does this even need to be discussed?
Jamison Crowder was the Jets’ top wideout entering the 2020 season and proved to be their favorite option throughout the season, just as he was in 2019. He’s an excellent underneath separator who was one of the league’s most productive receivers out of the slot in each of his first two years as a Jet.
Now, it looks like Crowder might not even rank top-3 on the team in targets. He could even finish fifth or sixth.
The Jets’ only key loss at wide receiver was Breshad Perriman, who had a ho-hum 2020 season that featured some bright flashes but lacked consistency (505 yards, 3 touchdowns in 12 games). Meanwhile, they will be bringing back Crowder, Denzel Mims, and Braxton Berrios while adding Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, and Keelan Cole.
This unit’s depth is elite. That’s not to say it’s an elite unit as a whole – that all depends on variables such as Mims’ development and the speed at which Moore can hit his peak – but there are very few teams in the league who can claim their fourth, fifth, and sixth options at wide receiver can rival the Jets’.
There was not much buzz about the Jets’ wide receiver group going into 2020. While fans were excited about Denzel Mims, the Perriman addition did not generate a ton of hype, and there was a decent amount of uproar about the team letting Robby Anderson walk in free agency. Overall, the team’s handling of this position was largely criticized.
Fast forward to now, and the mood around this position is the polar opposite of what it was a year ago.
Davis arrives in New York as the highest-profile wide receiver the team has added since Brandon Marshall in 2015, and the first wide receiver they have added after a season with 70.0+ receiving yards per game since Santonio Holmes in 2010.
Moore is an all-around elite prospect who has been dominating in practice. Cole and Berrios have joined him in the festivities of shredding Jets defensive backs on a remarkably consistent basis.
The retention of Crowder on a restructured deal created plenty of positive buzz, as it solidified the wide receiver group’s supremely unique depth and showed that the team was serious about providing Zach Wilson with high-quality support.
Seemingly overnight, a razor-thin, bland group of misfits has been transformed into an electrifying, high-upside group that is filled to the brim with depth.