It was a mixed bag for the Jets on Friday night
It wasn’t a great preseason opener for the New York Jets.
As Jets Nation held their collective breath about Zach Wilson, they also watched their tackles get pummeled, their defense allow a methodical drive downfield by Jalen Hurts, and their linebacker get called for a completely unnecessary late hit to prolong the opening drive.
Preseason is usually the time that positional battles get decided and roster spots are won or lost. Overall, it’s the first look at players against real competition.
After Week 1 of the preseason, whose stock is up and whose is not?
Micheal Clemons, DE
Micheal Clemons, the Jets’ fourth-round pick at defensive end, turns 25 next week. As such, although his ceiling may not be so high in the long run, he may contribute early in his career because his body is stronger and more filled out than most other drafted defensive linemen.
That strength was on full display against the Eagles, when he was credited with seven total pressures – one sack, one QB hit, and five hurries on 20 pass rush snaps (30 total snaps). That’s an outrageous 35% pressure rate.
Clemons certainly put himself in position to be given more meaningful snaps on the defensive line as the summer continues. With a crowded defensive line battle, his roster spot was secure, but his playing time most likely just rose.
Zonovan Knight, RB/ST
Although it was assumed that the Jets will carry only three halfbacks, the undrafted rookie Bam Knight is attempting to challenge that. It’s unlikely he will push Tevin Coleman for a roster spot, but he still brings value at running back and on special teams.
Knight’s day was not about statistics, but just the way he looked and how he contributed overall. Knight’s official 4.58 time on the 40-yard dash was unimpressive, and he’s not going to win speed contests. But the rookie still demonstrated elusiveness that could bring value to the team.
Knight had a 52-yard kick return in which he found a seam and demonstrated a burst belied by his 40 time.
He also put up a one-yard touchdown run in which he first appeared to be stuffed but fought his way to paydirt.
RB Zonovan Knight went undrafted in the 2022 NFL Draft. He kept churning those legs after contact last night and got his first rushing TD in the #Jets preseason opener.
— Maher 🇵🇸 (@pabloikonyero) August 13, 2022
Making the Jets roster is not going to be easy for Knight. But at the very least, he earned himself a closer look in practice and other preseason games and put up some tape that may help him find a role on an NFL team.
Jabari Zuniga, DE
Of course, it would have to be another defensive lineman who stood out in the preseason, because the Jets don’t already have enough of a battle there.
Jabari Zuniga has already been on the Jets roster for a couple of years. However, he was a long shot to make the team after the Jets drafted both Jermaine Johnson and Micheal Clemons and Carl Lawson returned from his torn Achilles.
Zuniga was credited with a sack, a QB hit, and three hurries in 20 pass rush snaps (32 total snaps) vs. the Eagles. Although the sack was mostly mop-up duty, Zuniga made his presence felt against the Eagles quarterbacks.
Tanzel Smart, IDL
And… another defensive lineman. Unlike Zuniga, Tanzel Smart has not been on the Jets roster before. Like Zuniga, he is a long shot to make the team.
Still, Smart was credited with two sacks, one QB hit, and two hurries in the victory vs. Philadelphia. He was also credited with four stops by Pro Football Focus, which is defined as a tackle that constitutes a failure for the offense.
With the overflow of options that the Jets have at interior defensive line, the undersized defensive tackle may find himself looking for a job elsewhere or on the practice squad. But he’s making a name for himself to be the next man up in the event of injury.
Jets run defense
This is one of the weakest links of the Jets team, and it didn’t look that bad in Week 1. The Eagles averaged 3.1 yards per carry, and their longest run was only eight yards. Admittedly, we did not see Miles Sanders or Boston Scott, and Hurts did not take off running, either. But it’s still an encouraging sign for a Jets run defense that ranked near the bottom of the NFL last season in most categories.
Rashard Davis, WR/KR
Signed out of the USFL as a possible sixth wide receiver and returner, Rashard Davis did himself no favors with a fumbled punt return. With Braxton Berrios already an All-Pro returner, Davis was going to have to impress to make the roster. Fumbling a return was not the way to do it.
Mike White, QB
This preseason game should put to bed any notion that Mike White is the Jets’ answer at quarterback. Not only did White regularly miss badly on intermediate throws, but he also made a number of poor throws on short attempts. He demonstrated all of Zach Wilson’s weaknesses without any of the strengths or upside. Although Wilson’s injury solidifies White’s place on the roster temporarily, his long-term future becomes further muddied with this subpar performance.
Zach Wilson, QB
Although it was only a handful of snaps and was almost completely overshadowed by his scary-looking injury, Zach Wilson looked quite bad on Friday night. He threw an interception that was reminiscent of his early play from last season. He missed a five-yard out to Garrett Wilson that had Jets fans groaning about lack of progress.
Although he had a nice third-down completion to Tyler Conklin, the bad outweighed the good. Wilson clinched a forgettable night when, rather than going out of bounds or sliding down, he tried to evade a tackler and fell to the ground with a non-contact knee injury that appeared at first glance to be a season-ending ACL tear. For now, it appears Wilson will only miss 2-4 weeks.
Jets pass defense
This is the part of the defense that is supposed to be the most improved, but there was little sign of that improvement on Friday night. The Eagles had a number of wide-open receivers and tight ends, including Dallas Goedert’s touchdown and another big gain.
The Cover-3 defense that the Jets love to run left some zones wide open. The linebackers, Bryce Hall, and Jordan Whitehead appeared to be the culprits earlier in the game, and Justin Hardee certainly doesn’t belong out there in the secondary. The bright spot was Sauce Gardner, who had tight coverage for most of his snaps in both zone and man coverage and was not targeted.
Quincy Williams, LB
The biggest knocks on Quincy Williams, which span all areas of his game, are overpursuit and overaggressiveness. That was certainly on display when, on what would have been a third-down stop of Jalen Hurts, Williams hit the quarterback a full two steps out of bounds. Plays like that are not going to earn brownie points.
As much as the Jets like Williams, Kwon Alexander’s coverage skills have already cut into Quincy’s practice reps. Getting flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty is not a good look for the soon-to-be 26-year-old linebacker.
Denzel Mims, WR
For Denzel Mims truthers, the preseason game against the Eagles was not a good sign. Mims had a bad drop and a foolish penalty in this game. It seems more and more likely that he will not be on the Jets roster come Week 1.
Jets rushing offense
There was no room for the Jets to run for the majority of the game against the Eagles. For a team that plans to pound the ball down other teams’ throats, that’s not a great sign.
Yes, Jordan Davis is a monster in the middle. But the Jets’ interior line is supposed to be equally monstrous. Alijah Vera-Tucker was thrown out of the way by Davis on one play. Breece Hall and Michael Carter both had negative yards per carry before contact, forcing them to break multiple tackles just to gain a few yards.
Though the Jets’ backs excel in forcing missed tackles, having no room to run before the line of scrimmage is not how the Jets envisioned their run game.