The New York Jets are looking to snap an 11-season playoff drought in 2022
After winning two games in 2020 and four games in 2021, the New York Jets don’t necessarily have to make the playoffs in 2022. Significant improvement in the win column is absolutely necessary, but there isn’t a playoff mandate for this young, rebuilding team that is still trying to make up for years of poor drafting by the previous regime.
With that being said, the Jets need to surpass peoples’ expectations at some point. They’re never going to be seen as a team that is expected to make the playoffs until they take the league by surprise and make the playoffs in a season where they weren’t expected to.
NFL rebuilds do not always have to be five-year processes with incremental progress from season to season. Teams go from the cellar to the postseason on a yearly basis. When are the Jets going to finally shatter their expectations?
Could this be the year they finally do it?
To try and figure out if the Jets are built to make a surprising run to the playoffs in 2022, I compiled some key performance metrics from the NFL’s 14 playoff teams in the 2021 season to get an idea of what the average playoff team looks like. Let’s take a look at the results and then analyze the Jets’ roster to see if it is capable of playing up to those standards.
Using Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, here are the average rankings in the game’s four major phases among last year’s 14 playoff teams:
- Pass Offense: 10.5
- Rush Offense: 12.5
- Pass Defense: 12.1
- Rush Defense: 13.6
The average 2021 playoff team ranked 11th in pass offense, 13th in rush offense, 12th in pass defense, and 14th in rush defense. Altogether, their average DVOA ranking in any given category was 12.2.
Are the Jets capable of meeting these standards? Let’s go phase by phase to answer that question.
Pass Offense (Average Rank: 11th)
To meet this standard, the Jets will have to make an enormous 16-spot jump. They ranked 27th in pass offense DVOA last season.
Quarterback play is a crucial aspect of fielding a good passing offense. (Wow! Groundbreaking discovery, right?) Eight of the top-10 passing offenses had a quarterback who ranked top-10 in passer rating. The other two quarterbacks did not miss the cut by much: the Chargers’ Justin Herbert ranked 11th and the Patriots’ Mac Jones ranked 15th.
So, unless your quarterback produces at a top-15 level at the very least, you can forget about being a top-10 passing offense. Most likely, he has to be a top-10 guy. Generally, a team’s passing attack goes as far as the quarterback takes them.
Zach Wilson ranked dead-last in passer rating out of 33 qualifiers last season. Expecting him to make an overnight jump into the top 10, or even just the top 15, is extremely optimistic.
As a realistic best-case scenario, it seems more likely that Wilson leaps into the 16-to-20 range before leaping another 10-plus spots the following year, similar to the development curve of Buffalo’s Josh Allen.
On the strength of a healthy jump from Wilson, a good offensive line, a well-rounded pass-catching unit, and a promising young coordinator in Mike LaFleur, I think the Jets could find themselves in the middle of the pack when it comes to pass offense this year. Anything better than that would require a surprisingly huge breakout from Wilson.
Rush Offense (Average Rank: 13th)
While playoff teams were generally better at passing than rushing, they still tended to be pretty solid at running the football.
The Jets do not have to improve all that much to meet this standard. They ranked 15th in rush offense DVOA last season.
New York’s run game was better than many people realize. While the Jets could not accumulate many total rushing yards due to the fact they ranked 32nd in rush attempts (a product of consistently being in big holes on the scoreboard), they actually ranked 13th in yards per carry at 4.4. The efficiency was there.
After an offseason in which the Jets made a plethora of moves to improve their run game even further, the potential of this unit is sky-high.
New York’s run-blocking is set to improve in many areas. Pro Bowl guard Laken Tomlinson enters the fold as a shoo-in scheme fit thanks to his experience in San Francisco. Mauling tackle Mekhi Becton is set to return after missing all of last season due to injury. Second-year guard Alijah Vera-Tucker is poised to take a mammoth step forward in his age-23 season after showing elite upside as a rookie.
To boot, the Jets made significant improvements to their blocking talent at tight end. C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin will bring competent blocking to the Big Apple after Jets fans had to sit through 17 games of whiffed blocks from their egregious tight end unit in 2021.
In the backfield, second-round pick Breece Hall is the league’s most promising rookie running back. He boasts many physical similarities to some of the league’s most explosive playmakers in recent history and is poised to make an instant impact.
New York’s run game has a chance to be really, really good in 2022. I think this unit will easily crack the top 10, with a shot to sneak into the top 5 if everything breaks right.
Pass Defense (Average Rank: 12th)
The Jets’ pass defense was their biggest weakness in 2021, as they had the worst pass defense in the NFL according to DVOA. They will need a 19-spot improvement to meet the average ranking of last year’s playoff teams.
As Herculean as that task may seem, the Jets have a surprisingly realistic chance of pulling it off. Their pass defense has a very high ceiling.
Up front, the Jets’ pass rush is loaded with weapons. Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, and Carl Lawson are the headliners, as all three players have proven in recent seasons that they can create pressure at an upper-echelon level. First-round pick Jermaine Johnson brings limitless potential. Bryce Huff, Jacob Martin, Solomon Thomas, and Sheldon Rankins are explosive rushers who will bring the heat in rotational roles.
The secondary is ready to turn things around after struggling a year ago. D.J. Reed, Jordan Whitehead, and Sauce Gardner give the Jets three new starters in the defensive backfield.
Even at linebacker, where the Jets have plenty of question marks, there is some upside in the passing game. Newly-added Kwon Alexander is known for his solid coverage. Quincy Williams has the athletic ability to develop into a similarly useful coverage linebacker.
Williams has to prove he can fulfill that potential, though. Until he does, he will be prone to quite a few costly mistakes in the passing game, especially on screen plays. Additionally, it seems that C.J. Mosley’s coverage skills have declined.
The Jets also have uncertainty at the free safety position. The hope is that veteran Lamarcus Joyner can win the role and provide a secure backbone for the secondary, but Joyner is 31 years old, coming off a major injury, and has not played the position full-time since 2018. Outside of Joyner, the Jets’ free safety options are limited to wild cards like Jason Pinnock and Ashtyn Davis.
I’m going to hold back from predicting that the Jets’ pass defense will be elite, with my main reasons being the question marks at free safety and linebacker, the rookie growing pains of Gardner and Johnson, and my concern with Lawson’s durability. But this should be a solid unit in 2022. An excellent pass rush should help to cover up some of the possible holes in coverage.
Rush Defense (Average Rank: 14th)
Stopping the run appears to be the least important phase of the game when it comes to constructing a playoff team. That’s good news for the Jets.
New York ranked 26th in rush defense DVOA last season. Their ensuing offseason did not inspire confidence that they will make a significant improvement upon that ranking.
The Jets lost one of their best run-stoppers in free agency, defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi. Letting him walk was a fine decision, as Fatukasi was not an ideal scheme fit, but the Jets did not do anything to improve their interior run defense. Their only notable addition at defensive tackle was Solomon Thomas, who is known as a poor run defender when he lines up on the inside.
At linebacker, the Jets’ entire unit (outside of Mosley) is made up of small, fast linebackers who have athleticism and coverage upside but are known to consistently struggle with tackling and run defense. Like the defensive tackle position, the Jets did not add anybody at linebacker who provides a good track record in the run game.
Things are looking bleak up the middle. But there is hope on the outside.
On the edge, Jermaine Johnson should help improve the Jets’ edge-setting production, even as a rookie.
Huge boosts were made in the secondary. Jordan Whitehead is one of the league’s best run-stopping safeties and D.J. Reed is one of the league’s best run-stopping corners. Sauce Gardner has the potential to join Reed if he can clean up the shaky tackling technique he displayed in college.
I think Reed, Whitehead, Gardner, and Johnson will help the Jets do a much better job of preventing those breakaway runs that killed them a year ago. Runners who break through the first level of the Jets’ defense will have a tougher time turning their good plays into great plays. That will help to improve this unit quite a bit.
However, the first level of the Jets’ run defense still looks weak. Opponents should have no problem gaining 4-to-8 yards on a consistent basis.
New York should improve in this area. I’m not sure it will be by much, though.
Rounding it all together
I predicted that the Jets will rank 16th in pass offense, 6th in rush offense, 14th in pass defense, and 22nd in rush defense. That’s an average ranking of 14.5 across the four categories, which falls short of the 12.2 mark that was accumulated by last year’s average playoff team.
However, that number would still put the Jets within range of being a lower-end playoff team. It’s a better mark than five of last year’s 14 playoff teams: Philadelphia (15.0), Tennessee (15.8), Las Vegas (18.0), Cincinnati (18.0), and Pittsburgh (20.8).
Personally, I feel confident in the Jets meeting the expectations I laid for their rush offense and pass defense. Those units have too many strong pieces for them to land in the NFL’s bottom half, provided they all stay healthy.
The most crucial X-factors for New York are the pass offense and the rush defense.
Zach Wilson can land anywhere on the spectrum in 2022. He could continue being one of the league’s worst quarterbacks or he could fulfill his tantalizing potential and become a star. Most likely, he will land somewhere in between. We have no idea who Wilson will be this year, and yet, his progress is the key to this all-important unit. So, this one’s a crapshoot.
When it comes to the run defense, this is the unit that looks the least impressive on paper. If the Jets can somehow find a way to soar beyond expectations in this area, it would give them a strength that few people expect them to have, drastically raising their ceiling. At the same time, this unit has a realistic chance of being one of the worst in the league.
As we stated at the top of this article, the Jets are going to have to beat expectations in the win column at some point if they want to accomplish their goal of becoming a Super Bowl contender. The same thing applies when looking at their specific units in 2022. Altogether, the Jets are probably a notch below the average playoff team on paper. But if they can do just a little bit better than we expect in a few different areas, they might just be able to shock the world.