In what areas should the New York Jets expect their 2022 rookies to thrive in Year 1?
Expectations for NFL rookies should be tempered – no matter where the player was selected. In this league, a player’s rookie season usually turns out to be the worst of his career. Most players need time to acclimate before they can hit their ceilings.
With that being said, rookies should still be expected to bring something to the table. This is especially the case for the 2022 New York Jets, who will be relying on their rookie class to play a substantial role in Year 1.
Here is one area of the game where each of the Jets’ seven rookies should be expected to make a positive impact in 2022.
EDGE Micheal Clemons: Exploiting tight ends
Micheal Clemons should have higher Year 1 expectations than most fourth-round picks when you consider his age. He will be 25 years old in August. Clemons is a few months older than Quinnen Williams, who was drafted in 2019.
Clemons has a lot of technical refinement to do, but as a fully-developed grown man with a large frame (6-foot-5, 263 pounds, 34.88-inch arms), he should be ready to use his physical tools to his advantage from day one.
The Jets will likely ask Clemons to play a handful of snaps per game as a situational defensive end. Considering his size advantage in comparison to the rest of the Jets’ edge defenders, there is a good chance that Clemons ends up playing a role in which he primarily plays on running downs. This would give Clemons a lot of snaps against heavier personnel packages – i.e. packages with more tight ends on the field (with those tight ends typically lined up in-line).
I would like to see Clemons use his power and size to dominate matchups against tight ends in both phases of the game. As a pass-rusher, he can create pocket cave-in with the bull rush. As a run defender, he should do a good job of setting the edge.
OT Max Mitchell: Containing speed rushers
Max Mitchell should certainly be expected to have a learning curve as he transitions from the Sun Belt to the NFL.
I’m also curious to see how he works around some of the physical deficiencies that show up on his athletic profile. Mitchell posted low Relative Athletic Scores (a 0-to-10 scale that ranks testing numbers against all historical prospects at the same position) in the following areas:
- Weight: 307 pounds (4.70 RAS)
- Bench press: 21 reps (4.13 RAS)
- Vertical jump: 25 inches (2.31 RAS)
- 40-yard dash: 5.32 seconds (4.51 RAS)
- 3-cone drill: 8.09 seconds (2.52 RAS)
Mitchell could stand to add more strength in the NFL, and it also remains to be seen whether he has enough quickness and explosion to thrive in a wide-zone scheme.
However, what Mitchell does have is this: a big frame at 6-foot-6, and a very good 10-yard split time of 1.78 seconds (8.04 RAS) that suggests he could be able to get out of his stance and into his pass sets at a relatively fast pace.
With those two tools, I want to see Mitchell hold his own when edge rushers try to beat him around the corner using speed. It seems Mitchell has the traits to effectively work into his vertical or 45-degree pass sets and match speed rushers around the corner. He definitely has the size, and if his 10-yard split translates to the field, he’ll also have the get-off to beat defenders to the spot.
TE Jeremy Ruckert: Reliable hands
As shown by Jets X-Factor’s Joe Blewett in his film review of Jeremy Ruckert, the Long Island native is actually less refined as a blocker than many realize. His technique in that area of the game needs some sharpening.
Where I want to see Ruckert thrive in Year 1 is as a pass-catcher. I am not expecting him to post gaudy volume totals with C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin ahead of him on the depth chart; rather, I would simply like to see Ruckert catch the ball at an efficient rate with the targets that he does get.
Ruckert only had two drops in his Ohio State career, registering an impressive 3.6% drop rate. He also caught 6-of-11 contested targets (54.5%).
Whether Ruckert gets 10 targets or 50 targets this year, the Jets should expect him to haul those in at a reliable rate.
RB Breece Hall: Home-run hitting
Breece Hall should probably have the highest Year 1 expectations of any Jets rookie. The learning curve for running backs is much smaller than it is for any other offensive or defensive position. We see rookie running backs take the league by storm on a yearly basis.
Most importantly, Hall has the talent to be a star from the get-go.
If we have to single out one area where Hall should be expected to make the biggest impact as a rookie, it has to be his home-run hitting. Hall has the ability to rack up extremely long runs, which is a trait the Jets have not had at the running back position in a long time.
Hall excels at turning good runs into great runs. In his final season at Iowa State, Hall had 22 breakaway runs (rushes for 15+ yards) and turned those rushes into a mammoth total of 778 yards. His average of 35.4 yards per breakaway run was the best mark among the 45 Power-5 running backs with at least 10 breakaway runs.
EDGE Jermaine Johnson: Run defense
Standing at 6-foot-4⅝” with 34-inch arms, Johnson has the size and length to be a sturdy edge-setter. Johnson already showed impressive fundamentals as an edge-setter in college and appears to be fully developed in this area. Exemplifying this, Johnson ranked at the 89th percentile among qualified FBS edge rushers with a 79.2 run-defense grade at Pro Football Focus in 2021.
To boot, Johnson should also be a great on-ball playmaker in the run game thanks to his motor and tackle-finishing ability.
Johnson’s 4.58 speed gives him incredible range from the back side of run plays, and he couples that speed with his nonstop motor to find the football on a frequent basis. As for his tackle finishing, Johnson missed only three tackles in the run game last year while making 44 tackles in that phase, giving him a missed tackle rate of 6.4% that ranked at the 84th percentile among qualified FBS edge rushers.
Few collegiate edge rushers could match Johnson’s combined knack for making plays in the run game and finishing those plays efficiently. Johnson was one of just 11 edge rushers out of 216 FBS qualifiers who had a missed tackle rate of under 7.0% in the run game while making at least 40 tackles in the phase.
WR Garrett Wilson: After-the-catch playmaking
Garrett Wilson offers many elite traits, but the one that I believe will be the most transferable to his rookie year is his after-the-catch productivity. In this Jets offense, Wilson will be presented with plenty of opportunities to make plays in space.
In 2021, Wilson ranked 12th among FBS wide receivers with 19 missed tackles forced. His shiftiness pops off the screen and has a good chance of transitioning smoothly to the NFL.
Wilson was particularly outstanding when the Buckeyes featured him on designed plays. He caught all 13 of his targets on screen passes and turned them into 138 yards. Wilson’s average of 10.6 yards per target on screens ranked sixth-best out of the 155 FBS wideouts to get at least 10 targets on screens (97th percentile).
CB Sauce Gardner: TD-to-INT ratio
Cornerback is arguably the toughest non-quarterback position in the NFL for a rookie since opposing teams can single them out and design their gameplan around exposing them. NFL quarterbacks love picking on young corners, frequently torching them for big plays as they struggle to adapt to the increased complexity and talent of NFL offenses.
Sauce Gardner is probably going to get toasted a few times this year. With a schedule that features matchups against guys like Amari Cooper, Ja’Marr Chase, Stefon Diggs, and Tyreek Hill, Gardner will have his growing pains this year.
However, I think Gardner can make up for his occasional rookie blunders by winning the big-play battle. This is an area where Gardner was dominant at Cincinnati.
During his career with the Bearcats, Gardner improved his overall game each year, just as we expect him to in the NFL. But from day one, he was always phenomenal at creating takeaways and preventing touchdowns.
Gardner never allowed a touchdown pass into his coverage over three years at Cincinnati, and in the meantime, he also recorded three interceptions each year. The Detroit native finished his career with a 0-to-9 TD/INT ratio to his name.
It’s likely that Gardner will yield quite a few receptions and yards this year. But I believe Gardner is capable of balancing things out with a combination of interception production and touchdown prevention. His nose for the football should translate, as should his stinginess in the red zone and his ability to take away the long ball.
If Gardner can have a rookie year like that, he will set himself up to take a leap toward stardom in Year 2.
Darrelle Revis had a similar trajectory. Revis gave up 748 yards in his rookie season – it ranked as the 13th-most among all CBs in 2007 and went down as the worst mark of his career – but he showed elite potential with three interceptions and 17 total passes defended.
In Year 2, Revis combined his playmaking with lockdown coverage to become a true star and make his first Pro Bowl. Revis improved his allowed passer rating from 87.5 to 59.1 and sliced his allowed yardage total from 748 to 510. In the meantime, he also boosted his interception total from three to five.
Expect Gardner to win the big-play battle this year. As long as he can accomplish that, he should be on his way to long-term success; no matter how many rookie mistakes he commits.