Brant Boyer’s New York Jets special teams unit is looking to repeat a stellar 2021 season
When a team is young and there are many new faces in the building on both sides of the ball, an adjustment period is inevitable. The talent potential is undeniable, but it may take some time to mesh. This is where the New York Jets currently stand.
In the meantime, this Jets team needs the third facet of the game, special teams, to fire on all cylinders. However little special teams may contribute to the greater objectives of a season, it’s one of those things that can make or break a team. Just ask the 2021 Green Bay Packers.
Special teams was a strength for the Jets in 2021, as they ranked second in the NFL in special teams DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value over Average, measuring the unit’s overall effectiveness adjusted by opponent strength). Pro Football Focus also ranked the Jets’ special teams second-best in the NFL with a 91.0 grade.
Braxton Berrios‘ re-signing means that there is a good chance for the return game to be effective again. Berrios averaged 13.4 yards per punt return and 30.4 yards per kickoff return, both elite numbers. This helped the Jets lead the league with 16.0 points above average earned from their kickoff return game, per Football Outsiders (FO). Their punt return game generated 4.0 points above average, good for fifth in the league.
The Jets’ kickoff unit was also above average last season. They gained 5.4 points above average on kickoffs, per FO, the seventh-best mark in the NFL. Braden Mann put up a respectable 67.6 PFF kickoff grade.
Still, some other aspects of the Jets’ special teams are a mixed bag. Mann put up an uneven campaign at punter with a PFF grade of 57.1, ranked 21st in the league (min. 40 attempts). Interestingly, the Jets ranked seventh in the NFL with 3.6 points above average generated in the punting game (per FO). Mann’s net punting average (41.6) was 14th-ranked in the league, even as his gross yards per punt ranked 17th.
Mann was league-average in allowing punt returns with 39% of his punts being returned. His ability to pin teams inside of the 20 was 28th-ranked in the NFL, but that may partially be a function of the average line of scrimmage on his punts due to the Jets’ dismal offense.
Lastly, Mann’s average hang time of 4.33 seconds was good for fifth in the NFL, suggesting that Mann gives his coverage plenty of time to get down the field. Given these stats, Mann’s PFF grade is surprising. The Jets’ ranking in points above average on punts makes more sense in context.
The biggest question mark for the Jets’ special teams, though, is their field goal kicking. Last season, the Jets lost 7.0 points more than average in the kicking game, the fifth-worst mark in the league.
Matt Amendola (35.7 PFF grade) and Alex Kessman (29.3) combined for some putrid kicking, leading to their unceremonious departures from the team. Ammendola and Kessman combined to miss six field goals and three extra points in 12 games.
Eddy Pineiro joined the team later in the year and stabilized the unit by hitting all eight of his field goals and 9-of-10 extra points. Only one of those field goals was longer than 50 yards, though.
This offseason, the Jets signed Greg Zuerlein, known as “The Leg.” Zuerlein posted a 56.2 PFF grade last season for Dallas as he had fits with extra points, missing six of them. He was better on field goals (82.9%) but weakened significantly at longer distances.
Recently, Jets’ special teams coach Brant Boyer said that the kicking competition is neck-and-neck. According to Connor Hughes of The Athletic, both Pineiro and Zuerlein have struggled thus far. That’s not a good sign for a team that has not had consistent kicking in years, minus Jason Myers’ 2018 Pro Bowl campaign.
Considering that kicking is the most consequential special teams component, the Jets may have a problem. The weakness of the kicking game makes the Jets’ #2 special teams ranking all the more impressive.
One thing to keep in mind with the Jets’ kicking game is their home field. The Jets lost 4.6 points below average due to the weather factor, per FO, the fifth-worst mark in the league. MetLife Stadium is perpetually an issue when it comes to kicking. That still does not mitigate the harm that poor kicking does to the Jets’ game.
Overall, there is reason to be optimistic about the Jets’ special teams. However, the breakdown of strengths and weaknesses is not even. Hopefully the team can sort out the kicking game and not be left with scrap-heap options when the season begins.