Here’s the main thing each 2022 New York Jets draft pick needs to focus on improving in the NFL
No NFL prospect is without weaknesses. Each newcomer has at least one crucial hole in their game that they must eradicate at the professional level.
If a prospect fails to clean up a collegiate weakness, it is only going to fester; becoming significantly more noticeable against the greater competition of the NFL.
Here is one area of the game for each member of the New York Jets‘ 2022 draft class to focus on improving in the NFL.
Texas A&M EDGE Micheal Clemons: Run defense
Standing at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds with supreme length (34.9-inch arms and an 81.3-inch wingspan), Micheal Clemons is one of the bigger players in a Jets EDGE unit that includes quite a few guys on the smaller/speedier side. For this reason, there is a good chance the Jets will ask him to primarily play on run downs.
Despite having the experience advantage of being a fifth-year senior who is 24 years old, Clemons failed to use his size to dominate as a run defender in 2021.
Clemons’s 65.5 run-defense grade at Pro Football Focus was a mediocre number for an FBS edge defender. It placed him at the 52nd percentile among 481 qualified edge defenders in the nation. You expect much better than that from an NFL prospect, especially one as old as Clemons.
Finishing was the biggest problem for Clemons in the run game. He was credited with six missed tackles in that phase. His missed tackle rate of 18.8% in the run game placed him at the 21st percentile among qualified FBS edge defenders.
Louisiana OT Max Mitchell: Rising to the competition
Max Mitchell was mostly dominant for the Ragin’ Cajuns in 2021. Statistically, he was one of the best tackles in the nation. His 94.8 overall grade at PFF was the best of any FBS tackle.
But we have to consider the level of competition that Mitchell faced in the Sun Belt Conference.
Mitchell played 9 of his 13 games against teams that ranked outside of the top 80 (among 130 teams) in ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). Included in that group are six teams ranked outside of the top 100 and even one FCS team.
When Mitchell did play against solid competition, his performance was a bit less stellar.
Mitchell played four games against teams ranked in the top 60 of FPI: one against Texas (#24), two against Appalachian State (#33), and one against Liberty (#56).
Here is a comparison of Mitchell’s stats based on the quality of opponent he faced:
- 9 games against bottom-50 FPI teams: 95.2 PFF grade, 12 total pressures allowed on 383 pass-blocking snaps (3.13% pressure rate), 2 sacks allowed (0.52% sack rate), 95.4 PFF run-blocking grade
- 4 games against top-60 FPI teams: 85.2 PFF grade, 7 total pressures allowed on 145 pass-blocking snaps (4.83% pressure rate), 2 sacks allowed (1.38% sack rate), 82.6 PFF run-blocking grade
Impressively enough for Mitchell, his numbers didn’t dip too much when he played his toughest opponents. He was still very good. But he did look far more human in those games than he did against the Sun Belt bottom-feeders. And, those higher-ranked competitors still weren’t even that impressive. The sample includes only one Power-5 team and that’s a 5-7 Texas squad.
Mitchell must show he is ready for NFL competition.
Ohio State TE Jeremy Ruckert: Maintaining improvement after the catch
Jeremy Ruckert was not an after-the-catch threat over the first three years of his career. From 2018 to 2020, Ruckert only forced one missed tackle over 28 receptions (0.036 per reception) and averaged just 4.0 yards after the catch (YAC) per reception.
Ruckert took a big step forward in this category as a senior. In 2021, Ruckert forced five missed tackles on 26 receptions (0.192 per reception) and averaged 5.7 YAC per reception. The average rates for FBS tight ends in 2021 were 0.119 and 5.4, respectively.
The Jets’ offensive scheme thrives upon giving its pass-catchers chances to make plays with the ball in space. If Ruckert wants to earn targets in New York, he must continue building upon his 2021 progress in the YAC department, proving that his days as a non-threat with the football in his hands are long gone.
Iowa State RB Breece Hall: Pass-blocking
Breece Hall did not have many holes in his game at Iowa State. Choosing a weakness for him feels like nitpicking, but pass-blocking seems to be the best choice.
Hall wasn’t bad at pass-blocking with the Cyclones. He was actually above-average for an FBS running back. But he definitely wasn’t great at it, so there’s plenty of room for improvement as he prepares for the jump in competition.
In 2021, Hall gave up four pressures over 70 pass-blocking snaps, giving him an allowed pressure rate of 5.7% that ranked at the 60th percentile for FBS running backs. The positional average was 8.1%.
Again, that’s nice work for a college back, but in the NFL, Hall will be blocking rushers who are bigger, stronger, faster, and more technically refined. If he pass-blocks at the same level he did last year, his pressure rate will certainly jump a few points considering the increase in opposing talent. So, Hall needs to counter by bolstering his own talent.
With good size for the position (5-foot-11 and 217 pounds) coupled with the pass-blocking potential he showed in college, Hall can be a solid pass-blocker in the NFL with just a little bit of refinement.
Florida State EDGE Jermaine Johnson: Pass-rush win rate
Jermaine Johnson is ready to make an impact in the run game. As a pass-rusher, though, Johnson’s profile is built more around potential than production.
Johnson has all of the tools you could want in an NFL edge rusher. He’s lengthy (34-inch arms), lightning-fast (4.58 forty time), explosive (125-inch broad jump), and powerful. On tape, Johnson shows the ability to use these tools. His highlight reel features plenty of exciting moments in which he looks the part of a future star.
But on an overall level, Johnson did not win his battles as consistently as his highlight reel or sack total might suggest.
In 2021, Johnson posted a pass-rush win rate of 14.1%, per Pro Football Focus, which only ranked at the 60th percentile among qualified FBS edge rushers. That’s slightly lower than what you typically want to see from a first-round edge rusher, especially one who was 22 years old last season.
Johnson’s pass-rush win rate pales in comparison to three of the other four edge rushers chosen in the first round of the 2022 draft:
- Aidan Hutchinson: 25.0% (98th percentile)
- George Karlaftis: 23.6% (97th percentile)
- Kayvon Thibodeaux: 23.2% (95th percentile)
- Travon Walker: 9.8% (25th percentile)
Johnson does beat out Travon Walker by a wide margin, but Walker is nearly two years younger than Johnson and boasts one of the best athletic profiles in the history of the draft. He is perceived to have much more room for growth, which is why he went first overall.
With all of his talents, it seems likely that Johnson will continue making some splashy plays in the NFL. But how consistently will he make those plays? That is the question.
Ohio State WR Garrett Wilson: Drops
While Garrett Wilson made one incredible grab after the next during his Buckeyes career, he did drop a pass every now and then.
Wilson had six drops in 2021, giving him a drop rate of 7.9% when stacked against his 70 receptions. That’s a mediocre rate, placing Wilson at the 40th percentile among 251 qualified FBS wide receivers.
This was a continuation of Wilson’s drop woes in 2020. That year, Wilson had four drops and 43 receptions for an 8.5% drop rate.
Compared to other areas of the game, drops are significantly less affected by the level of competition. It is, for the most part, an individual statistic that does not have much to do with outside factors.
This means that, unlike nearly every other statistic, we do not have to assume a player’s collegiate drop rate is going to significantly worsen when they get to the NFL. Drop rates tend to translate fairly decently.
So, right now, Wilson projects to be slightly below average at dropping passes in the NFL.
To be honest, that’s not an awful place to be. There are a lot of great receivers in the NFL who drop passes more often than Wilson did at Ohio State. Deebo Samuel, Ja’Marr Chase, and D.J. Moore are just a few NFL receivers who had higher drop rates in 2021 than Wilson’s 7.9%.
Still, that doesn’t mean Wilson should not seek to improve here. He’s talented enough to get his drop rate down to a much lower clip.
Cincinnati CB Sauce Gardner: Tackling
Sauce Gardner was not a bad tackler at the college level but he wasn’t nearly as incredible in that department as he was in most others.
Gardner missed six tackles in 2021, registering a missed tackle rate of 13.0%. That ranked at the 60th percentile among FBS cornerbacks. It’s fine for a collegiate cornerback but doesn’t project well to the NFL when you consider the jump in talent from the American Athletic Conference to the pros.
Most of Gardner’s missed tackles occurred in the passing game. Of Gardner’s 13 career missed tackles at Cincinnati, 10 were against the pass and 3 were against the run. His career missed tackle rate in the passing game was a shaky 14.1% while his missed tackle rate in the run game was a strong 7.9%.
NFL teams are getting the ball out faster and faster each year, focusing on keeping their quarterback safe and limiting turnovers while relying on their playmakers to make defenders miss. Tackling is becoming an increasingly important skill for cornerbacks as they try to keep up with these increasingly quick-hitting offenses.
In 2021, the average NFL completion only gained 11.0 yards, an all-time low. This beat the record of 11.1 that was set in 2020. At the same time, completion percentages are soaring. The league-average completion percentage reached an all-time high of 65.2% in 2020, while the 2021 season came up just shy of that number at 64.8%.
What these numbers tell us is that teams are completing more passes than ever and that those passes are being completed at a shallower depth than ever. Blend those two things together, and we are seeing cornerbacks being forced to make more tackles in the short-passing game than ever before.
Coverage skills and interception totals draw all of the attention for cornerbacks, but it’s tackling that is quickly becoming the most essential trait for cornerbacks. Gardner must sharpen his consistency in this area if he is to become the shutdown cornerback that the Jets know he can be.