Projecting 4 different scenarios for the New York Jets’ 2022 season
After six seasons of total futility, this New York Jets offseason has given fans cause for optimism. Joe Douglas made smart moves in free agency rather than splashy ones, preferring to make the splashes in the draft. His four top-40 picks headline a team that has experienced a resurgence of talent. It’s possible that the Jets have not had this much talent on their roster since the 2009-10 teams.
Then the schedule was released, and it took the wind out of the sails a bit. Starting off with a slate against the ultra-competitive AFC North, games at Denver and Green Bay, and the difficult division games, it’s possible that the win-loss record will only marginally reflect the improvement in talent.
Still, this season can go a few different ways. Let’s break down the scenarios and the probability that each will happen.
Scenario 1: Worst case
This is every Jets fan’s worst nightmare after a decade full of nightmares.
Offensively, Zach Wilson looks just as lost as he did early in his rookie season. The running game is decent but not dominant. The wide receivers fail to get open and struggle with making catches when the ball does hit their hands. C.J. Uzomah gets hurt. Mekhi Becton never gets back to form, and George Fant takes a step back. The O-line allows sack after sack.
The defense, despite seeming personnel improvements, still can’t stop anyone. The middle of the field leaks, allowing tight ends and running backs to feast. Quinnen Williams is stuck in the middle of the pack, leaving the Jets uncertain over his future. Jermaine Johnson and Carl Lawson cannot get pressure off the edge. Sauce Gardner suffers through a penalty-laden rookie season.
The injury bug haunts the Jets on both sides of the ball. The Jets win 4-5 games against inferior teams. They get blown out a few times, including by at least one mediocre team.
Though this is a possibility, I find it unlikely. Even if Wilson struggles, there’s just too much talent on offense for the team to be this bad.
The run-blocking is solid five-deep. Breece Hall and Michael Carter should form a strong one-two combo. We’ve seen the Kyle Shanahan-style offense succeed even with mediocre quarterback play (Jimmy Garoppolo), and the Jets’ running backs and receiving corps may be more talented than the 49ers had. Even if Uzomah gets hurt, Tyler Conklin is a starting-caliber tight end. It’s hard to believe that the Jets’ offense won’t take a step forward.
Scenario 2: Coldly realistic case
The Jets’ influx of talent starts to show, but a difficult schedule holds them back.
Zach Wilson improves but still makes the mistakes of a young quarterback, such as holding onto the ball too long and throwing off his back foot. He flashes more of his arm talent and makes some wow plays. Corey Davis has a bounceback year with protection around him, and he becomes Zach Wilson’s favorite target. Hall and Carter combine for 1,300 rushing yards and 10 TDs. The offensive line excels in run-blocking but struggles somewhat in pass protection.
The defense struggles against the run, but with an improved pass rush and secondary, they win some games against teams with weaker offensive lines. Sauce shows a lot of potential, but he struggles with penalties and gets beaten a few times deep as is typical for rookie cornerbacks. Jermaine Johnson struggles to get to the quarterback but does well with run-stuffing on the edge. John Franklin-Myers takes advantage of moving inside and gets close to 10 sacks. The Jets win 6-7 games with one or two surprise victories.
I think this is the most likely scenario. I expect Zach Wilson to take a step forward, but I’m not going to rush things. He had such a bad year last season that it’s hard to believe he’ll suddenly become Justin Herbert. I think he’ll throw more touchdowns and look better on the short-to-intermediate passes, but I’m still anticipating some interceptions that leave us scratching our heads.
I expect the running backs to do well. Between the scheme, Michael Carter’s success last season, and the offensive line’s proclivity for run-blocking, everything seems to be lined up that way.
Struggling against the run is almost inevitable for the Jets, as Joe Douglas almost completely ignored the middle of the field. The mixed reviews from scouts about Jermaine Johnson lead me to believe that sacks may not come immediately. JFM is a strong interior pass rusher who was the Jets’ best defender last year. Darrelle Revis didn’t light the world on fire in his rookie year, and I expect the same from Sauce.
I believe the Jets are going to start off 2-7 and then win five of their last eight games against weaker teams.
Scenario 3: Optimistic but not crazy
Zach Wilson takes a big step forward with the weapons around him. He throws for 3,800 yards and 24 TDs against 12 picks. He shows the arm talent that made him the #2 overall pick and reminds us of Patrick Mahomes on a few big-time throws out of the pocket.
Wilson gets into a groove with Elijah Moore, who goes off for 1,100 receiving yards and 8 TDs. Breece Hall and Michael Carter combine for 1,500 rushing yards and 12 TDs. The offense is a Top 15 unit in the league, and the line reprises its 11th-best ranking in the NFL (via Pro Football Focus).
Defensively, Quinnen Williams is back to 2020 form, going off for 9 sacks and a top-5 big-play rate for interior linemen. Carl Lawson and Jermaine Johnson bring a lot of heat off the edge, even if it doesn’t necessarily translate into sacks.
The Jets still struggle with run defense and give up 4.5 yards per carry, but C.J. Mosley and Jordan Whitehead do a good enough job to keep the 20+ yard plays to a minimum. The Jets eke out wins against some good teams, starting the season 3-6 and ending up with 8 or 9 victories.
This is possible, if a little rosy. Zach Wilson has the talent and the weapons to take a sizable jump in his second season. I expect the rushing attack to be strong in almost all scenarios. Elijah Moore showed us that he can become a force in this league, and it’s not unrealistic to expect him to hit a target that he exceeded on a per-game basis for a six-game stretch last year. The O-line can be rock-solid with good health and Mekhi Becton’s strong return.
On defense, Quinnen Williams had a disappointing season last year, but his big-play and pass rush win rates suggest that with less attention from opposing lines, he will rake. Lawson and Johnson have all the potential to bring heat. The run defense is bound to struggle.
With the early-season schedule, if the Jets can pull off 3 victories in the first 9, they have a chance to end up near .500 at season’s end.
Scenario 4: Best case, most unrealistic scenario
Zach Wilson takes an even bigger step forward, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 28 TDs with fewer than 10 picks. He sees the whole field, makes a number of wow plays on the run, contributes with his legs, and dominates between the hashmarks.
The trio of Garrett Wilson, Elijah Moore, and Corey Davis is unstoppable, combining for over 2,400 yards receiving. Breece Hall and Michael Carter form the league’s best one-two punch at running back and have the Jets near the top of the NFL in time of possession.
Mekhi Becton returns to his 2020 form and improves in pass-blocking. Alijah Vera-Tucker becomes a Pro Bowler in his second season, and Laken Tomlinson makes his second consecutive Pro Bowl.
Quinnen Williams and JFM combine for 18 sacks. The Jets’ run defense holds its own in the middle of the pack, and their secondary is among the tops in the NFL.
Quincy Williams builds on the flashes he showed last year to become a solid starter. Sauce looks like Antonio Cromartie, his biggest pro comparison, circa 2007 (10 INTs, 89.9 Pro Football Focus rating). Jason Pinnock becomes an underrated quality safety.
The Jets begin the season 4-5 against superior competition. They sweep the Dolphins, beat the Patriots at least once, and go 10-7. That may secure a wild card berth.
This is everything coming together ahead of schedule. Wilson certainly has the potential to join the AFC’s elite quarterbacks, though it’s hard to see that happening this year. The Jets’ receiving corps is young to put up those kinds of numbers so quickly, but it’s possible with their talent. The running backs could really be that good.
The potential is there in each of these areas, but for it all to happen against superior competition would be surprising.
New York’s defensive line would need to reach max potential for the defense to be good. It’s hard to imagine that the run defense will even manage mediocrity, but it’s possible if the chips fall in place. The Jets will need a surprise breakout player or two, as well.
To win 4 games in the first 9 and finish with 10 victories would be a dream. It’s not likely to happen, but it’s still fun to talk about.