Sorting out the flukes from the future when analyzing the New York Jets’ late-2021 hot streaks
When painting an optimistic future outlook for an athlete, one thing we often see in the world of sports media is the act of picking out a specific stretch of games in which the player performed his best. “Player A had the fifth-most [Stat] over the final X weeks of the season” is the basic format. Admittedly, I do this often myself.
There are times when this method can be used to provide some useful information. It can help to showcase the progress being made by a player – particularly if we are talking about a young player. It can also be a great way to illustrate a player’s maximum potential, giving us an image of what their best-case scenario outcome could look like.
In other instances, this method can be an overly optimistic form of cherrypicking. Ignoring the majority of a player’s body of work to focus solely on his best games is a dangerous endeavor.
Another issue is the misconception that end-of-season momentum carries over into the ensuing season. There are some instances where a player’s end-of-season progress can carry over into the next year – specifically if we’re talking about a rookie, especially a rookie quarterback – but for the most part, the “improvements” that a player makes at the end of the season are not actually improvements at all. They are usually nothing more than a stretch of good production that just so happened to occur at the end of the year.
With all of this in mind, I wanted to look at some of the New York Jets‘ individual player hot streaks from the end of the 2021 season and try to guess which ones are signs of things to come and which ones are flukes.
Jason Pinnock (Weeks 16-18)
Rookie defensive back Jason Pinnock was thrust into a starting safety role over the last three weeks of the season. It was a big change for the Pittsburgh alum, who played cornerback in college and worked at that position throughout the majority of his rookie year with the Jets.
Pinnock put up some gaudy numbers over his stretch in the starting lineup. From Weeks 16-18, he had 11 tackles, two forced fumbles, and a pass deflection, all while earning an overall defensive grade of 80.7 at Pro Football Focus. That grade ranked sixth-best out of 70 qualified NFL safeties from Weeks 16-18.
The flashy PFF grade has led to a lot of optimism surrounding Pinnock. And I’m going to say it right here – I think it’s a misleading number.
Pinnock was fine over that stretch (especially considering the circumstances), but his play was much shakier than many fans might realize. To see why, just check out this film breakdown from Jets X-Factor’s Joe Blewett (warning: some NSFW language). Blewett pinpoints two plays that boosted Pinnock’s stats and PFF grade but were actually poor reps in which he was bailed out by the opponent.
I am intrigued by Pinnock and am very much looking forward to seeing what he can become in New York. His physical tools are tantalizing, and the way he took on the challenge of starting at safety to finish the season was admirable. It suggests he could potentially become a good player with more time to hone his game at the position.
With all of that being said, his elite late-season numbers are not a true sign of where he is in his development. He still has a long way to go.
Verdict: A promising display of potential, but an overestimation of where Pinnock is truly at in his development
Elijah Moore (Weeks 8-13)
Elijah Moore was invisible to the naked eye over his first four games, catching 9 passes for 79 yards and zero touchdowns.
But over his final six games prior to a season-ending injury, Moore was one of the best wide receivers in the NFL.
From Weeks 8-13, Moore ranked eighth among wide receivers in receptions (34), sixth in receiving yards (459), and first in receiving touchdowns (5).
I think Moore’s production leap is for real, and here’s why: His performance over those six weeks was hardly different than his performance over the first five. It wasn’t actually a “hot streak” when looking solely at his individual performance. Moore was smoking defenders and getting open all year. He just had to wait for the Jets offense to start rewarding him.
As exemplified in Joe Blewett’s recent film breakdown of Moore’s 2021 season, Moore was playing well enough to put up star-caliber numbers over those first five games. Zach Wilson and the Jets offensive line simply weren’t doing their part to make sure Moore’s great routes were turned into tangible production.
Thomas Christopher’s analytical breakdown of Elijah Moore’s 2022 outlook includes plenty of advanced statistics that back up what you see on film. These metrics agree with the perception that Moore created opportunities at a high level throughout the entire 2021 season and was simply a victim of poor play from his teammates.
Moore is absolutely capable of maintaining his Weeks 8-13 pace over an entire season. Even as a rookie, he would have done just that if he had stayed healthy and gotten better help from his quarterback.
Verdict: Legitimate sign of great things to come
Braxton Berrios (Weeks 12-17)
Braxton Berrios had himself one heck of a six-game stretch to close his 2021 season before missing the finale in Buffalo. He made himself a lot of money with his versatile playmaking.
From Weeks 12-17, Berrios scored four total touchdowns: two as a rusher, one as a receiver, and one as a kickoff returner. He also contributed efficiently to the passing game, catching 23 of 33 targets for 238 yards (39.7 per game). To boot, it’s over this stretch where Berrios made the bulk of his case to become a first-team All-Pro kickoff returner.
Re-signing Berrios was a great move for the Jets. They can use him in a lot of different ways, and he can be relied upon for solid depth. Plus, he is a beloved locker-room guy and seems to be best friends with the quarterback.
Regardless, it’s too much to expect Berrios to enjoy a full season of the production that he put together over those final six games. We cannot overlook the fact that, prior to this hot stretch, Berrios hadn’t done much over the first 11 weeks.
Through his first 10 games, Berrios ranked 74th out of 103 qualified wide receivers with 1.28 receiving yards per route run. Berrios then exploded over his final six games, ranking 20th out of 99 qualifiers with 2.13 receiving yards per route run. Berrios simply wasn’t productive as a receiver on a per-play basis for more than half of the year.
Additionally, Berrios had only one total touchdown over his first 10 games (on 47 total touches, including returns) versus the four he scored over his final six games with almost the same amount of opportunities (on 49 total touches, including returns).
I am also skeptical that Berrios’ elite kickoff returning is here to stay. His top-notch punt returning should definitely stick around, as he’s been excellent as a punt returner for his whole career, but the kickoff returning production was a new development – and it was ultimately the result of a measly two plays.
Through Week 12 of the 2021 season, Berrios’ career kickoff return average was a pedestrian 21.3 yards on 28 returns. That includes a decent but still unimpressive mark of 25.4 yards over his first 11 games of 2021.
Berrios then averaged 36.2 yards over his final five games of the season, which was entirely a product of his 79-yard return against Philadelphia and his 102-yard return against Jacksonville. Outside of those two games, Berrios’ career-best return is 42 yards and his career average is 22.7. How do we know for certain that Berrios is a good kickoff returner if he only has two big returns in his career?
It’s also important to note that Berrios’ opportunities will be limited this year compared to the end of 2021 when you consider how many new players he has to compete with for touches. Garrett Wilson, C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Conklin, and Breece Hall have all joined the fray. Barring injuries, Berrios will be at the bottom of the food chain.
All in all, the bottom line is that you should expect Berrios to be exactly what he is: a solid backup, a very good punt returner (the kickoff returning is TBD), and a nice gadget weapon that can be used a handful of times per game.
Berrios will certainly have hot stretches like the one he had to close 2021. He’ll also have cold stretches like the one he had from Weeks 4-11 last season (43 yards in 7 games, ranked 125th/135 with 0.74 yards per route). It’s difficult to picture him accruing more highlights than he did last season. I think he’ll have about the same amount of production – which is still tremendous for a WR4.
If NFL teams truly believed Berrios could extrapolate his final six games of 2021, he would have earned more than a two-year, $12 million deal in a free agent market where wide receivers were commanding crazy deals.
It’s best to temper your expectations for Berrios. Look for him to replicate his full-season 2021 production. Don’t expect him to maintain those final six games for a whole year.
Verdict: Berrios should continue to be a useful weapon, but it’s not realistic to expect him to extrapolate this hot streak over a full season
Zach Wilson (Weeks 12-18)
Statistically, Zach Wilson wasn’t all that much better over his late-2021 stretch despite his apparent improvement on film. In fact, his yards-per-attempt average actually dipped from 6.5 pre-injury to 5.8 post-injury.
Going beyond the statistics and looking at Wilson’s overall play, it was clear to most observers that he was playing much better football over his final seven games than he was in his first six. I had him taking a massive leap in my personal grading system that is based on the analysis of his film on a play-by-play basis.
Wilson was objectively the worst starting quarterback in the NFL through Week 7. But over his final seven games, I’d argue that he performed more like a top 20-24 quarterback (regardless of his statistics, which were still abysmal).
If that’s where we’re placing Wilson over his final seven games, the question is, can he prove himself to be a consensus top 20-24 quarterback in 2022?
I think that’s very achievable. In fact, it should be the bare minimum expectation for Wilson considering the quality of the supporting cast around him.
Staying realistic, I think the goal for Wilson is a rise to the 16-18 range. From there, he can attempt to spring into elite status in his third season.
Wilson’s finish to the 2021 season did feel like legitimate progress. The statistical production wasn’t quite there to back it up, but when you watch his film, paying close attention to his process, decision-making, and mechanics, it was clear he played much better.
I do believe Wilson’s second-half progress was real and that he will build on it to become a middle-of-the-pack NFL starter in 2022.
Verdict: Legitimate improvement that raises Wilson’s floor entering 2022