Expect these New York Jets players to handle a few different roles this season
Versatility is a valuable trait in the sport of football. When a player is capable of adequately handling multiple roles, it creates new options for his team, allowing them to mix-and-match different lineup combinations so they can find the best solutions for each situation.
Here are five New York Jets players who will likely take on versatile roles for the team in 2022.
CB Sauce Gardner
Sauce Gardner has the ability to do it all. He can play on either side of the field and in either man or zone coverage.
In 2021, Gardner had a 50.6%/49.4% snap-count split between the left side of the field and the right side. When it comes to man and zone coverage, he allowed a passer rating below 35.0 in both concepts last season.
Gardner’s versatility allows the Jets to move every other player in the secondary to their position of strength. He can be placed anywhere to accommodate the strengths and weaknesses of his teammates.
As things currently stand, it appears Gardner will start at left cornerback, allowing D.J. Reed to start at right cornerback. Reed is significantly better on the right side than he is on the left side. Thanks to Gardner’s dual-side versatility, Reed can comfortably settle into the side of the field where he is at his best.
If injuries strike, Gardner can move around to make life easier for everyone else.
Let’s say Reed is forced to miss time. Bryce Hall would likely be the man to take his place. Hall is more experienced at left cornerback than right cornerback. So, in this scenario, Gardner could move to the right side in order for Hall to take his comfortable position on the left side.
The Jets’ defensive scheme asks the cornerbacks to stay on one side of the field for the majority of the time, but sometimes, Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich will ask their top cornerback to follow the opponent’s top receiver for a few plays per game. We saw Hall begin to do this in the latter half of the 2021 season.
Gardner’s man-coverage prowess allows him to take on these tough assignments. Because of his special man-coverage ability, I don’t think the Jets will strictly keep him tethered to the left side of the field for the entirety of every game. There will be games where Gardner frequently roams around, following the opponent’s best wideout to prevent the other team from creating ideal matchups for their star.
DL John Franklin-Myers
John Franklin-Myers‘ versatility is a big reason why he earned his four-year, $55 million extension. Franklin-Myers is capable of playing at a high level as either a defensive tackle or an edge defender. It makes him an ideal player to build a roster around, as he possesses the ability to move into whichever role is best to accommodate his teammates.
The Jets largely neglected the defensive tackle position this offseason. Instead, they focused on making a bevy of additions to the edge position. First-round pick Jermaine Johnson, fourth-round pick Micheal Clemons, and free agent Jacob Martin were all added to bolster the unit. Vinny Curry was also re-signed. At defensive tackle, Solomon Thomas is the only notable addition so far.
This means that Franklin-Myers will likely be the biggest addition to the Jets’ defensive tackle unit.
After breaking out as a defensive tackle in 2020, Franklin-Myers played on the edge in 2021 to help the Jets stay afloat following a rash of injuries. He had a very good year, showing that he can use his large frame (6-foot-4, 288 pounds) to provide top-tier run defense for the position. Franklin-Myers’ pass-rushing was not quite as effective on the edge as it was on the interior in 2020, but he was still solid in that area.
Now that the Jets have a lot of talent on the edge and are somewhat lacking on the interior, Franklin-Myers can move back inside, where he showcased elite pass-rushing ability in 2020. Franklin-Myers created pressure on 14.4% of his pass-rush snaps that year, ranking third-best among interior defensive linemen behind only Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Donald.
However, there is a trade-off when Franklin-Myers plays on the inside. His run defense is not as effective when he’s on the interior.
Franklin-Myers is big for an edge defender, but he’s small for a defensive tackle, and that shows up on film. Opposing interior linemen will move him around in the run game at times, whereas on the outside, Franklin-Myers is a brick wall of an edge-setter.
I think the Jets will attempt to play Franklin-Myers to his strengths by using him both inside and outside; leaning heavily toward the inside but giving him cameos on the edge. It seems likely that he’ll primarily line up at defensive tackle due to the team’s large total of capable edge rushers on the roster, but the Jets should still try to occasionally take advantage of what Franklin-Myers can do on the edge.
In passing situations, Franklin-Myers can line up inside, where his quickness and explosiveness would be maximized against slower guards. In obvious rushing situations, Franklin-Myers can be kicked to the edge, where he provides size and proven run defense that the Jets do not have in any other edge defender on the roster.
OL Nate Herbig
Swapping Greg Van Roten for Nate Herbig was a major coup for the Jets’ offensive line depth.
Herbig can fill in at any of the three interior offensive line spots for New York. He’s played 942 career snaps at right guard, 377 snaps at left guard, and 49 snaps at center (47 of those coming in 2021). Herbig has even played nine snaps as a tight end/sixth offensive lineman (six of those coming in 2021).
While Dan Feeney also provides three-position versatility on the interior, Herbig is just a flat-out better player.
Herbig has given up three sacks on 848 career pass-blocking snaps (one every 283 snaps). Feeney has given up 18 sacks on 2,467 career pass-blocking snaps (one every 137 snaps). Herbig is also a better run-blocker, owning a composite PFF run-blocking grade of 68.5 in his career compared to Feeney’s 54.0.
TE Tyler Conklin
Tyler Conklin will do a lot of different things for the Jets offense. He provides a unique blend of receiving and blocking.
Conklin was used as a blocker on 45.2% of his offensive snaps in 2021. While that ranked 59th out of 85 qualified tight ends, it’s actually an unusually high mark for a tight end who is featured in the passing game as often as Conklin was.
Conklin ranked 14th among tight ends with 593 receiving yards. Among the top-20 tight ends in receiving yards, Conklin’s 45.2% blocking-snap rate was the fourth-highest, trailing only Noah Fant (45.4%), George Kittle (51.1%), and Dallas Goedert (51.5%).
Most of the league’s top receiving tight ends rank at the very bottom in terms of blocking-snap rate, typically ranging from 25 to 40 percent. It’s impressive to finish as a top-15 receiving tight end despite playing as a blocker on nearly half of your snaps.
As we discussed in a film breakdown last week, Conklin’s pass-blocking will make a big impact for the Jets. Conklin led all tight ends with 98 pass-blocking snaps last season and was often asked to match up against star pass-rushers.
Conklin also offers versatility as a pass-catcher. In addition to his reliability as a short-range route-runner, Conklin can be featured in the screen game. Conklin ranked 10th among tight ends with seven receptions on screen passes last season, and he was efficient with those, ranking eighth with 60 receiving yards off screens.
WR Braxton Berrios
The Jets were heavily rumored to be in pursuit of 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel during the weeks leading into the draft. That, of course, did not come to fruition.
While he is obviously not remotely close to the caliber of player that Samuel is, Braxton Berrios is a similar player in terms of how he is utilized. In small dosages, Berrios can provide the creativity, trickery, and versatility that Mike LaFleur likes to utilize in his offense.
Like Samuel, Berrios can line up in the backfield, make noise on screen plays, and utilize his speed on horizontal handoffs out of pre-snap motion (jet-sweeps/end-arounds).
Berrios ranked 10th among wide receivers with 15 receptions on screen passes last season, turning them into 80 yards and five first downs. He placed 19th out of 54 qualified wide receivers with an average of 8.8 yards after the catch per screen reception.
As a rusher, Berrios carried the ball seven times for 40 yards (5.7 yards per carry) while tying for second among wide receivers with two rushing touchdowns. Berrios also had three carries for 29 yards in 2020.
Situated in the No. 4 spot on the Jets’ wide receiver depth chart, Berrios will not get much playing time as a pure wide receiver when everyone is healthy, but he is a versatile gadget-guy who will certainly get some schemed-up plays every once in a while.
Throw in Berrios’ All-Pro returning capabilities and you have an all-around weapon that will be doing damage in a variety of ways.