Stakes are high for New York Jets’ trip to Green Bay
In the past, NFL teams came out of their second preseason game with two exhibition contests left to go.
That’s not the case anymore. With the preseason schedule sliced to three games, the New York Jets have only one game left following their Saturday afternoon clash with the Green Bay Packers.
For this reason, stakes are unusually high for the fringe players who are fighting to make the Jets’ roster. It feels like the preseason just started, and yet, at halftime of this game, it will already be halfway over.
Time is quickly running out for players to make their case that they belong on the team. Here are five Jets who will enter Lambeau Field with a lot on the line.
Tanzel Smart had a strong preseason debut, posting two pressures (one quarterback hit, one hurry) and a tackle for loss over 33 defensive snaps. Jets X-Factor’s Joe Blewett chose Smart as the Jets’ top performer of the game in his film review.
With the Jets having six interior defensive linemen who seem like surefire bets to make the team – Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, Sheldon Rankins, Foley Fatukasi, Jonathan Marshall, and Nathan Shepherd – Smart had previously seemed like a longshot to make the roster.
However, the losses of Carl Lawson (season-ending Achilles injury) and Vinny Curry (on active/NFI list, out until at least Week 2) open things up a bit for the defensive line.
Smart is not an edge rusher like the aforementioned two players, but he could still be a beneficiary of their absences. Franklin-Myers may essentially move to the edge to take over some of Lawson’s snaps, which would leave room for another defensive tackle.
If Smart can continue doing damage in the trenches over the next two games, he could sneak his way onto the 53-man roster.
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One would think that Jabari Zuniga should be safe and sound as a third-round pick in his second season (with the general manager who drafted him still in charge). However, as he stockpiles reps without showing any promise whatsoever, it is starting to look like he may be a surprise cut candidate considering how deep the Jets’ defensive line is.
Zuniga had zero pressures, zero run stops, and one missed tackle over 12 snaps in his preseason debut against the Giants. His overall Pro Football Focus grade of 29.6 was the worst on the Jets defense.
Lawson and Curry’s absences provide Zuniga with some security. Their injuries have Zuniga in a much safer position – safe to the point where he should make the roster regardless of his performance level.
Even so, Zuniga needs to do everything in his power to place a stranglehold on his roster spot. Undrafted rookie Hamilcar Rashed is hot on his trail after a 1.5-sack preseason debut. Heck, even Jeremiah Valoaga shined with a team-high four pressures against the Giants.
There still might be a slim chance that Zuniga hits the chopping block if he continues to do absolutely nothing while other players on the defensive line thrive. Zuniga has to make at least a couple of impactful plays in Green Bay to completely seal his spot.
Rashed could also use a good performance. With Zuniga, Bryce Huff, Ronald Blair, and Jeremiah Valoaga as the only other healthy edge rushers on the roster, he has a golden opportunity in front of him to make the team as an undrafted rookie (just as Huff did last season).
Braxton Berrios is back and healthy after missing the Jets’ preseason opener. He made some noise in the Jets’ joint practices with the Packers, catching a long touchdown bomb from Zach Wilson.
Berrios’ chances of making the roster seem strong thanks to his consistency on the practice field throughout the offseason and his punt returning ability.
However, the prominence of one particular receiver in the Jets’ season opener may signal that Berrios isn’t quite so safe.
Vyncint Smith was getting reps with the first-team offense against the Giants while Berrios and Elijah Moore were out of action. He played well as he caught three of four targets for 39 yards and three first downs.
Smith also offers kickoff return ability, which adds to his roster appeal.
If Smith is a roster lock, that gives the Jets six wide receivers who should be safe – Smith, Corey Davis, Keelan Cole, Jamison Crowder, Elijah Moore, and Denzel Mims.
Keeping seven wide receivers is fine when you have a unit as deep as the Jets’, but seven wideouts is definitely above the norm. Most teams keep five or six.
Berrios should be safe, but like Zuniga, he needs to do everything he can to eliminate any doubt.
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Alex Lewis‘ sudden retirement opens up a spot on the Jets’ second-team interior offensive line.
Corey Levin could be the man to fill Lewis’ shoes.
Against the Giants, Levin was the Jets’ second-team center and then moved over to play at both left guard and right guard later in the game. He tied with Conor McDermott and Jimmy Murray for the team lead in offensive snaps (55) and was the team’s only offensive lineman to play three different positions in the game.
Levin had mixed results against Big Blue. His run blocking was solid, as his 67.9 run-blocking grade at PFF ranked fourth-best on the Jets offense and placed at the 71st percentile among qualified offensive linemen in Week 1 of the preseason.
Playing left guard, Levin flashed with a tremendous block to lead La’Mical Perine‘s touchdown run. He created movement at the first level and then climbed to the second level to clear out another defender.
Pass protection was an issue for Levin. His pass-blocking grade of 11.7 ranked at the 3rd percentile among all qualified linemen.
Levin must maintain his quality run blocking and improve his pass protection to ensure that his versatility lands him a roster spot as a useful second-team lineman. Jimmy Murray (played center and right guard in Week 1) and Tristen Hoge (played left guard) are Levin’s top competitors.
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James Morgan is in an odd predicament.
As a second-year quarterback who was a fourth-round pick and did not get any preseason or regular season reps in his rookie season, Morgan is the type of guy who deserves at least another year of development before he can be written off.
However, finding room for Morgan on the roster may be tough for the Jets given their current needs.
Mike White sits ahead of Morgan on the depth chart and outperformed him in the preseason opener. White posted an adjusted completion rate of 72.2% and a yards-per-dropback average of 6.0, while Morgan posted marks of 66.7% and 5.0, respectively.
Josh Johnson sits behind Morgan on the depth chart but provides the veteran experience that the Jets may want to have in their locker room alongside Zach Wilson.
It’s not difficult to picture the Jets cutting Morgan in favor of White’s superior performance, Johnson’s superior mentorship capabilities, or both. Morgan could make his way through waivers and be stashed on the practice squad, although he may have a decent chance of getting claimed by another team considering he was a fourth-round selection just one year ago and has limited tape.
Morgan needs a great performance in his hometown of Green Bay. White may be ahead of him at the moment, but White certainly has not severely outplayed Morgan throughout training camp. Both quarterbacks have had ups and downs.
The door remains open wide enough for Morgan to steal the backup quarterback job if he can forge a strong finish to the preseason and training camp.