Do not underestimate the New York Jets’ rushing attack
The New York Jets have everything in place to have one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. We saw this over the final seven weeks of the 2021 season when the Jets rushed for 125 yards per game. In 2021, that would rank ninth in the NFL and only two yards per game short of the San Francisco 49ers.
Heading into 2022, Jets fans may need to hold on to their ground-and-pound rally hats because their team made several moves that should elevate the run game even further.
The first moves were re-signing of wide receiver Braxton Berrios and fullback Nick Bawden. Although Berrios certainly helps in many ways, Bawden really helped spark the Jets’ late-season emergence.
The next moves were signing tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin. After starting a waiver claim and an undrafted free agent in Week 18 of 2021, the Jets have two legitimate starting tight ends. This will allow the Jets to field two extra blockers on run plays and open up play-action.
After struggling to emulate the Shanahan scheme in 2021, Mike LaFleur has all the pieces he needs—two competent tight ends, a good fullback, and a gadget wide receiver that helps stretch the defense east-west.
General manager Joe Douglas took the run game from good to elite by drafting running back Breece Hall in the 2022 NFL draft. Hall has the athletic profile and dominant college career to have a shot at top-tier NFL status.
However, a good rushing attack always comes down to having an elite offensive line. No scheme or running back can overcome multiple defenders in the backfield.
Thankfully, the Jets’ offensive line has the potential to be one of the best units in the NFL. I have previously written about Zach Wilson and the Jets’ offensive weapons in great detail. Today, I will focus on the offensive line. Douglas added the final piece via free agency and it has an extremely high ceiling in 2022.
New Players Complete The Offensive Line
The Jets’ offensive guards have been among the worst in the NFL the last several years. Greg Van Roten, Alex Lewis, Pat Elfein and Brian Winters consistently struggled and held the entire line back.
However, in 2022, the Jets will instead field one of the best guard duos in the NFL thanks to the addition of Laken Tomlinson.
Tomlinson has been one of the best guards in the NFL over the last several years with the 49ers. Not only has he been dominant on the field, but he also rarely leaves it—a trait the Jets desperately need.
Tomlinson has been incredibly durable throughout his career, only missing one game due to being traded. His play and leadership will not only elevate the entire unit but the drive-killing blunders of his predecessors will also be erased. (How different could the 2021 season have been if tackle Mekhi Becton remained healthy?)
The signing of Tomlinson completes the starting five, but injuries can quickly derail a unit. This is why the Jets added two key depth pieces that can earn roles moving forward.
The first was offensive lineman Max Mitchell in the 2022 NFL draft. The Division II player dominated his competition and has the intangibles coaches love. He performed poorly at the combine and the Senior Bowl but his tape was too good to pass up. He also offers excellent versatility as he played both tackles and left guard.
After him, the Jets claimed offensive guard Nate Herbig from the Philadelphia Eagles. This was an excellent addition by Douglas as the 24-year-old has played well the last three years.
Herbig has played all three spots on the interior and has been competent in both phases of the game. The former undrafted free agent has the opportunity to earn a long-term role behind the aging Tomlinson and McGovern.
Tackles Max Mitchell, Connor McDermott, Chuma Edoga, and guards Nate Herbig and Dan Feeney give the Jets versatile depth. The tackle depth still has a lot to prove but Feeney and Herbig are borderline starters.
Douglas has been doing his best to rebuild the offensive line and heading into 2022 it appears complete. The five starters all have the potential to be top 10 at their respective positions, to go along with respectable floors.
Behind them, Douglas has finally built up depth where losing a starter won’t cripple the unit. The overall potential is exciting, but I can confidently say that the Jets will have one of the best run-blocking units in the NFL.
The Offensive Line has Elite Potential in the run game
I’ve written several times about my high expectations for the offensive line and I will not stop. The Jets’ offensive line has legitimate top 10 potential and a good floor. It’s in the run game where the Jets will likely be the most impressive as the season starts.
Four of the Jets’ five offensive linemen are above-average run blockers, as Mekhi Becton, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Connor McGovern and Laken Tomlinson all have run block grades above 72.
Vera-Tucker had the lowest grade at 72.5 and it still ranked 58th among 191 offensive linemen with over 400 snaps. There were many plays he cleared a massive lane for Michael Carter or others to run through.
Becton is coming off a major injury but his run-blocking ability was never a concern. Few people have the size Becton does and it allows him to move NFL players with ease. As long as he’s healthy, I expect him to be as good if not better than he was as a rookie.
After originally thriving as a pass protect, McGovern has been one of the best run-blocking centers the last two years. His athleticism has allowed him to thrive in the Jets’ wide-zone scheme. Now, surrounded by Tomlinson and Vera-Tucker, McGovern’s life has never been easier.
Together, the Jets’ offensive line will impose their will on other teams. If Becton and Vera-Tucker build on their rookie years, I believe this can be a top-five unit in 2022. Both have the talent to be among the best at their position and can give the Jets a good offensive line for a decade.
Statistically speaking, the only player holding the Jets run game back is tackle George Fant. He has been fantastic as a pass protector but has struggled greatly as a run blocker. However, the Jets likely don’t mind considering he allowed the sixth-lowest pressure percentage in 2021.
Regardless, the Jets are set up to dominate. Seven of the top ten rushing attacks in 2021 had at least three offensive linemen with a grade of at least 72.5. The Jets have four. This doesn’t include the impact of their scheme or the talent at running back and tight end.
The sky is truly the limit for the Jets in 2022.
A competent run game will make Zach Wilson’s life easier
Nothing makes a quarterback’s life easier than a good run game. Good situations on second and third down allow the offense to be unpredictable.
Play-action attacks have elevated quarterbacks like Jimmy Garoppolo and Kirk Cousins to a top-10-15 level. Easing the burden will also prevent errors that come from an overexuberant Zach Wilson attempting to do too much.
With two good blocking tight ends, a full back and several gadget-type wide receivers that can stretch the defense horizontally via jet-sweep and alike, the Jets will be able to run the ball in every situation. Toss in Wilson’s development as a rusher and two quality running backs, and the New York Jets should be among the best rushing attacks in the NFL.