Which New York Jets units are thriving and which need to step it up?
We’re only two weeks into the 2022 season, so it seems a little early for this exercise – but hey, let’s do it anyway. It’s time to rank every position group on the New York Jets.
This ranking is based on productivity, not talent. Units will be judged on the production they have put forth through two games.
The biggest flaw in this ranking is the fact that, with only two games in the books, the quality (and style) of the opponents plays a huge role in the production of specific units.
For instance, the Jets have played two elite rushing teams, so that will naturally make their defenders look worse against the run than they would over the course of a balanced 17-game schedule. They have also played two teams that don’t necessarily have elite talent at wide receiver, so that will make the cornerbacks look better than they might look after they face some elite wide receiver groups over the course of the year.
Nevertheless, this exercise is a good way to check up on the strengths and weaknesses of the team. Let’s dive in.
9. Safety (Grade: F)
The safety position is New York’s biggest concern right now. Free safety Lamarcus Joyner can’t seem to do anything right. Strong safety Jordan Whitehead brings physicality in the box but is missing a lot of tackles and struggling in coverage.
Joyner and Whitehead are each tied for fifth among safeties with four missed tackles – all of those misses came in Week 2 against the Browns.
In coverage, Joyner and Whitehead have combined to allow 8-of-8 passing for 133 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions (perfect 158.3 passer rating).
8. Tight end (Grade: D)
The Jets clearly see Tyler Conklin as an integral cog in their offense. He has played 95% of the offensive snaps, which is the highest mark among the team’s skill position players (WR/RB/TE). Conklin leads all NFL tight ends with 147 snaps this season.
C.J. Uzomah was significantly out-snapped by Conklin in Week 1, playing only 23 snaps. He missed Week 2.
Jeremy Ruckert (18 snaps), Lawrence Cager (10 snaps), and Kenny Yeboah (2 snaps) have also made cameos.
So, the majority of this unit’s work has gone to Conklin.
Conklin is playing fundamentally sound football as it pertains to route-running and blocking. He is helping the team in subtle ways. His assistance in pass protection is valuable and his run blocking has been solid. As a route-runner, he does a good job of executing his role in route combinations to open up teammates, such as on Garrett Wilson’s game-winning touchdown.
However, Conklin is making too many mistakes with the football. He already has two fumbles and two drops after having one fumble and one drop in all of 2021. Conklin needs to figure this out.
Once Conklin cleans up his ball security (and he will – he is not going to have 17 fumbles and 17 drops this season), he’ll be a consistent positive-impact player for the Jets. He is playing well on a down-to-down basis, and that impact will shine through once he is not putting the ball on the ground twice a game. For now, though, it’s impossible to ignore the negative impact of four drops/fumbles in two games.
The other tight ends have played poorly. Cager was benched in Week 1 after commiting a holding penalty and then slipping on a route to cause an interception. Ruckert dropped an easy catch against Cleveland and lost on a few blocking reps in his limited time on the field.
7. Defensive line (Grade: C-)
In Week 1, the Jets’ defensive line did a really nice job of stopping the run against the Baltimore Ravens’ unique running game. They helped hold the Ravens to 63 rushing yards, the fewest Baltimore has ever gained in a game started by Lamar Jackson. It was a surprisingly excellent performance.
That is their only notable accomplishment, though.
All of that run-stopping success went out the window in Week 2 as the Browns scorched the Jets for 184 rushing yards.
The biggest problem is this unit’s lack of pass-rush punch. New York is currently tied for the sixth-fewest sacks in the NFL with three. One of those was a bogus sack in which linebacker Quincy Williams just chased Jackson out of bounds for no gain, so the Jets really only have two sacks (one in each game).
New York also has the seventh-fewest quarterback hits (9) and the fifth-lowest pressure rate (18.2%).
In Week 1, the DL’s lack of pass-rush production was partially excusable because of their disciplined approach against Jackson. The Jets were clearly playing with a more patient approach to try and contain Jackson, and it worked. Still, even in the obvious pass situations where the Jets did get to pin their ears back, there wasn’t a whole lot of pressure to speak of.
But the DL’s Week 2 performance in the passing game was simply disappointing. Cleveland’s elite offensive line dominated the Jets’ pass-rush, giving Jacoby Brissett plenty of clean pockets throughout the game.
The Jets are allocating $51.0 million of cap space to defensive linemen this season, the second-highest total in the NFL. This pass-rush needs to turn it up. A weak offensive line awaits this week in the Cincinnati Bengals. There will be no more excuses if they cannot have a dominant performance on Sunday.
6. Linebackers (Grade: C)
The linebackers have a similar story to the defensive line. They played a key role in stopping the run against Baltimore but were beaten up by Cleveland’s rushing attack while also struggling in the pass game. New York’s linebackers allowed six first downs in coverage against the Browns.
I give the linebackers the edge over the defensive line simply because of the spark Kwon Alexander has brought to the table. In each game, Alexander showed up at the perfect times with big stops in which his explosiveness popped off the screen. He’s been a spark plug for this defense.
As we discussed in our defensive breakdown this week, Quincy Williams still needs to improve at stopping screens while C.J. Mosley seems to be a liability in one-on-one coverage situations.
5. Offensive line (Grade: C+)
The offensive line put in a terrible pass-blocking performance in Week 1, which was mostly due to two of the unit’s five players: left tackle George Fant and left guard Laken Tomlinson. It was one of the top two reasons the Jets lost the game, in close competition with Joe Flacco’s performance.
However, the group bounced back with solid protection in Week 2 against a fearsome edge rush duo of Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. It was far from a perfect game, but the unit consistently gave Flacco enough time to execute longer-developing passing concepts. The interior trio was particularly excellent – Tomlinson bounced back while Alijah Vera-Tucker and Connor McGovern were sharp.
New York’s run-blocking has been pretty good. The Jets are ranked 12th in the NFL with 4.8 yards per carry and had an efficient YPC mark in both games (4.9 vs. Baltimore and 4.7 vs. Cleveland).
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4. Quarterback (Grade: C+)
Jets fans must avoid becoming consumed by recency bias. It cannot be forgotten how poorly Joe Flacco played in Week 1. He was indecisive, inaccurate, and flat-out slow (both in terms of physical speed and processing speed) in a performance where he left a litany of plays on the field. The Jets may have been able to compete in that game with a league-average quarterbacking performance.
With that being said, Flacco bounced back in a huge way with a good (not great) performance in Week 2. Flacco was very sharp for most of the game against Cleveland, throwing the ball with precise accuracy in the intermediate range while making quick reads to carve the Browns up with short passes on the Jets’ game-winning drive.
Flacco did badly misfire to open receivers on a handful of plays – particularly early in the game and throughout the fourth quarter – so those misses damper the overall quality of his performance a bit. But this was still a good outing from Flacco on the whole. More importantly than anything, Flacco was clutch. When the Browns left the door open for the Jets, Flacco made them pay by capitalizing on every opportunity in the clutch moments.
3. Running back (Grade: B)
The Breece Hall–Michael Carter duo has been a mixed bag so far. They’re playing solid football, and their sky-high potential as a tandem is apparent, but there are some things to clean up before they can hit that ceiling.
On the ground, the duo has been very efficient, combining for 156 rushing yards on 30 carries (5.2 yards per carry). Carter has 83 yards on 17 carries (4.9 YPC) while Hall has 73 yards on 13 carries (5.6 YPC).
As good as those numbers are, head coach Robert Saleh thinks Hall is leaving some meat on the bone.
Robert Saleh raved about Breece Hall but also said the next step in his development is to do less running "sideways" and sticking his foot in the ground and going north/south more. #jets
— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) September 21, 2022
And when you turn on the film, it’s clear that Saleh is correct. Hall will perform even better once he becomes more willing to stick his foot in the ground and run north-south. Right now, Hall has a strong tendency to string runs out to the sideline, and it has cost him some yards.
A play Saleh likely had in mind here https://t.co/zKg3btYvRg pic.twitter.com/O3uaVuHxZr
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) September 21, 2022
Still, the fact that Hall is averaging 5.6 yards per carry despite his imperfect vision just shows you how talented he is. Hall’s breakaway speed has popped off the screen throughout his first two games. He has the unique ability to come out of a cut and kick straight into top gear. Once he starts seeing the field better, his potential will be limitless.
Hall also lost a fumble against the Ravens in Week 1.
Carter, meanwhile, is having a rough time in the passing game. He has already been tagged with allowing three pressures over just 11 pass-blocking snaps. Plus, he dropped a wide-open touchdown in Week 1.
Carter’s rushing has been excellent, though (in spite of the fact that Hall has the better YPC right now). The second-year back’s elusiveness is truly phenomenal. Carter has forced six missed tackles on only 17 carries. He ranks sixth out of 39 qualified RBs (min. 15 carries) with an average of 0.353 missed tackles forced per carry.
2. Cornerback (Grade: A-)
The Jets’ corners have not been tested by a top-tier group of wide receivers yet. Regardless, they deserve a ton of credit for putting in a pair of strong performances to start the year.
Through Week 2, the Jets’ CBs have allowed the third-fewest yards into their coverage of any CB unit in the league, yielding just 120 yards (60.0 per game). They are also one of only five CB units that have not committed a penalty.
Rookie Sauce Gardner was dinged with allowing a touchdown to Amari Cooper in Week 2 as he appeared to be the culprit on a botched match coverage in the red zone. Other than that, though, the rookie has looked NFL-ready. On the year, he’s given up 5-of-8 passing for 41 yards (1 TD) over 65 snaps in coverage.
D.J. Reed is shining. He’s given up 3-of-10 passing for 24 yards and no touchdowns, recording an interception and a pass breakup.
In the slot, Michael Carter II is playing well, yielding 3-of-5 passing for 30 yards.
Bryce Hall allowed a touchdown over his limited total of 4 coverage snaps in Week 1, although his coverage was tight. Brandin Echols, though, provided outstanding relief in Week 2 when he had to replace an injured Gardner to close out a surging Cleveland drive. Echols forced back-to-back incompletions in the end zone to prompt a Browns field goal attempt.
1. Wide receiver (Grade: A)
For the first time in a long time, the Jets have an array of weapons on the outside that strike fear into the hearts of opponents.
This was evidenced by the Cleveland Browns’ gameplan in Week 2. Cleveland played a lot of quarters coverage (4-deep) instead of the heavy Cover 3 approach they typically favor. This suggests they feared the Jets’ wide receivers would beat them deep if they played one-on-one on the outside.
The Browns’ conservative approach allowed the Jets’ wide receivers to carve them up in the short-to-intermediate range all game long. Against Cleveland, the Jets’ receivers combined for 14 catches on 24 targets for 243 yards and 3 touchdowns.
In the Week 1 loss to Baltimore, you could see on film that the Jets’ wideouts were opening themselves up for big plays on a consistent basis, but they weren’t rewarded until late in the game due to a combination of the struggles at QB and OL. They still managed to accrue some solid production despite it all, combining for 20 receptions on 31 targets for 215 yards.
The Jets’ WR unit is ranked third in the NFL with 458 receiving yards, trailing only the Bills (508) and Dolphins (563). Granted, this is largely because the Jets have thrown the ball at such a high frequency (they lead the NFL with 104 pass attempts, 15 more than any other team), but it’s still a promising stat to see for a franchise that has not featured top-tier production at the wide receiver position for many years.
Keep in mind that the Jets’ WRs have faced some quality competition so far. Baltimore featured a secondary that included Pro Bowl cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Kyle Fuller. Cleveland’s cornerback room is led by Pro Bowler Denzel Ward and talented second-year man Greg Newsome.
Garrett Wilson enjoyed a breakout game against the Browns (8 catches for 102 yards and 2 TD) in which the Jets featured him as their clear No. 1 option, giving him 14 targets (more than all other WRs on the team combined). The Jets clearly learned from their Week 1 follies, when they gave him only 6 first-half snaps and then constantly failed to get him the ball when he got open in the second half.
Through two games, Wilson has caught 12 of 22 targets for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s fifth in the NFL with 21 first-read targets – which is incredible for a rookie with two games under his belt.
WR Leaders by Total First Read Targets
1. Cooper Kupp (26)
2. Ja'Marr Chase (24)
3. Tyreek Hill (22)
3. Jaylen Waddle (22)
5. GARRETT WILSON (21)
6. Justin Jefferson (20)
7. Amon-Ra St. Brown (19)
7. CeeDee Lamb (19)
9. Stefon Diggs (18)
10. Brandin Cooks (18)
11. AJ Brown (17)
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) September 21, 2022
Wilson’s potential is off the charts. Not many players are able to demand so many targets at this stage of their career.
Corey Davis is off to a nice start, catching 8 of 14 targets for 160 yards and a touchdown. Much of that yardage came on a 66-yard coverage bust against Cleveland, but Davis was the Jets’ go-to guy in Week 1 when he caught 6 of 10 targets for 77 yards and 5 first downs.
Elijah Moore is having a quiet start relative to expectations, catching 8 of 12 targets for 90 yards through two games. However, he has been getting open plenty. Things just haven’t broken his way from a target volume perspective.
As the season goes on, it will become clear the Jets do not have a true “No. 1” receiver. They just have a versatile group of dangerous weapons who complement one another and can all take over on any given Sunday. Davis was the guy in Week 1, and this past week, it was Wilson who led the charge. That means the Bengals will likely key in on Wilson next week, opening the door for Moore to have his breakout game.
This WR unit is clearly the heart and soul of the New York Jets right now.
Thanks Michael, well done
On the TE analysis; I agree that Conklin will be just fine and end up being a huge weapon for Zach. Although everyone has blamed cager falling for the pick, looking at the film it was a horrible throw that probably would’ve been picked regardless. The TE coach (?) said he was stunned by Ruckert’s drop, said something like “he makes that catch w/ his eyes closed a hundred times in practice”. Not worrisome.
Looking big picture for Joe D: we must address (in no particular order) Safety, OL depth (I am of the opinion to play Max even after Duane is healthy), LB (w/ coverage skills) and Center (CMG is simply a backup).
As for the problems at safety, Whitehead comes in with solid credentials so one would think he’ll straighten out pretty soon, but the Jets’ belief in Joyner has always kind of been a mystery. He didn’t do very well with his last team. The potential of Ashtyn Davis to take over as deep safety is tantalizing. He had a couple of interceptions last year, and one this year, so it seems like he tracks the ball in the air very well. The problem is he appears to stink at tracking players running with the ball on the ground (??!!).
Great article as usual. The WR position is my favorite position in sports. Its been since 2015 that we had great WR’s. The games are more exciting with a long pass. I’m just so happy with this team over last year. Let’s go!
Great call in Breece Hall, he hasn’t learned that its much harder to get to the edge in the NFL. But he’s going to be really good.
Interesting to see how G Wilson will do with the spotlight on him. Ill bet, with his route running skills, that he does just fine.