Who are the New York Jets’ top dogs?
Four games used to be the official one-quarter point of an NFL team’s season. It was simple and easy. But since the addition of the 17th game, things have gotten tricky. Technically, 4.25 games represent one-quarter of a season, meaning the one-quarter point is the break between the first and second quarters during the fifth game. So… we’re not quite there yet.
For all intents and purposes, though, the first quarter of the New York Jets‘ 2022 season has concluded. They began their season with four games against the AFC North and will now move forward into a much different chapter of the season. Their upcoming five-game stretch features three home games against division opponents and two road games in very tough environments.
With a 2-2 start to the season, the Jets have positioned themselves to achieve their goal of playing meaningful football late into the season. All they need is two or three wins over the next five weeks and they can come out of their Week 10 bye remaining in the playoff hunt with eight games to go.
Accomplishing that is easier said than done for a team that has not made the playoffs since 2010. However, this is a Jets team that arguably boasts a better collection of top-end talent than any of the previous 11 Jets teams that missed the postseason.
Let’s take a look at some of that top-end talent. Here are the Jets’ 5 best players of the 2022 season thus far.
5. WR Garrett Wilson
With 20 receptions on a team-high 39 targets for 255 yards and two touchdowns, Garrett Wilson has quickly emerged as the engine of the Jets’ passing game. Those numbers actually undersell Wilson, as he has been missed after getting open on numerous plays.
Wilson is already showing a clutch gene that is common in star wideouts. He grabbed the Jets’ game-winning touchdown against the Browns in Week 2, and in Week 4, he sparked the Jets’ comeback run when he broke loose for a crucial 35-yard catch on a third-down play in the fourth quarter.
One of Wilson’s most exciting traits is his elusiveness. Wilson is capable of making razor-sharp cuts with the ball in his hands, constantly stopping on a dime and leaving defenders stumbling in the wrong direction. The Ohio State product is tied for third among NFL wide receivers with six missed tackles forced this season.
Throw in Wilson’s remarkable consistency as a route-runner, and you have a player who already looks like a top-notch receiver.
The main thing Wilson needs to iron out is his tendency to drop freebies, as he has flubbed a handful of passes that should have been easily caught.
Corey Davis is the only player who failed to make this top-5 list that I gave any consideration to. Davis leads the Jets with 261 receiving yards and is tied with Wilson for the lead in receiving touchdowns with two. I gave Wilson the edge since I think he has been winning on his routes much more consistently than Davis, but make no mistake: Davis is having a solid year. He’s making catches in big moments, often of high difficulty. Plus, he helps out as a blocker.
Davis’s bad penalty against the Bengals in Week 3 was a killer, though. Without that, he would have a much stronger top-5 case.
4. CB Sauce Gardner
Sauce Gardner is wasting no time establishing himself as one of the league’s best cornerbacks.
The rookie already looks like a seasoned pro. His technique and awareness are rock-solid. Thanks to his strong fundamentals, Gardner’s unique physical traits have been able to shine on a weekly basis.
Gardner has recorded at least one pass deflection in each game, and most of them came on passes that were deep down the field and/or in the end zone. With a total of five passes defended, Gardner is tied with Jalen Ramsey, Darius Slay, Cameron Sutton, and Denzel Ward for the second-most among cornerbacks. Trevon Diggs leads the way with nine.
When targeting Gardner, opposing quarterbacks have gone 9-of-19 for 101 yards, 1 touchdown, and 0 interceptions. Gardner’s allowed completion percentage of 47.4% ranks ninth-best among the 77 cornerbacks to face at least 15 targets.
One of the questions surrounding Gardner coming out of the draft was whether his tendency to get handsy would lead to penalties. So far, Gardner has stayed disciplined. He is yet to commit a penalty. Only six other cornerbacks have played more defensive snaps than Gardner without being flagged.
3. CB D.J. Reed
As good as Gardner has been, he doesn’t even have the best coverage numbers among Jets cornerbacks. That is a testament to D.J. Reed, who is joining forces with Gardner to form one of the NFL’s strongest cornerback duos.
Reed has allowed 8-of-18 passes to be completed for 73 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 1 interception. His allowed passer rating of 32.9 ranks fourth-best among qualified corners, trailing only Jaycee Horn, James Bradberry, and Darius Slay. Reed also ranks fourth-best with 4.0 yards per target, behind only Horn, Bryce Callahan, and Jamel Dean.
Reed is providing a quieter form of excellence in comparison to Gardner. While Gardner has five passes defended, Reed has just two.
It’s not the on-ball playmaking that has made Reed great – it’s simply been the tightness of his coverage. He’s sticking so closely to his receivers that quarterbacks are misfiring more often than not when challenging him. When a corner consistently creates tight windows, quarterbacks are going to miss a lot of throws, since they have to be overly precise to avoid giving the closely-trailing defender a chance to make a play.
2. DT Quinnen Williams
Quinnen Williams is playing some of the most consistently dominant football of his career. Every week, No. 95 pops off the film as he wrecks the opponent’s interior offensive line in both phases.
Williams is third among defensive tackles with 2.5 sacks. He is also tied for first with six quarterback hits, sharing the lead with Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox. Williams is tied for 11th at his position with 11 total pressures.
Quinnen is accomplishing all of this despite playing a relatively small snap count. Williams is 36th at his position with 159 defensive snaps (39.8 per game) while many of his peers are playing well over 50 snaps per game.
On a per-snap basis, Williams is as good as anybody right now.
With 11 pressures (11th-most) on 93 pass-rush snaps (38th-most), Williams’s pressure rate of 11.8% is tied for third-best among 77 qualified defensive tackles (min. 60 pass-rush snaps). Only Green Bay’s Kenny Clark and the Giants’ Dexter Lawrence have him beat.
In the run game, Williams has been just as dominant, albeit in a subtler fashion that hasn’t really translated to the statistics.
Williams’s ability to create congestion at the point of attack is a huge reason the Jets’ run defense has been surprisingly effective (6th-best with 3.7 yards per carry allowed). Watch here as he dominates the center to disrupt Najee Harris and allow the troops to rally for what becomes a 3-yard loss.
Williams got no statistical credit on the play. C.J. Mosley and Sheldon Rankins received shared credit for the TFL. Yet, Williams is entirely responsible for that TFL happening. If Williams did not have that dominant rep, the rest of the blocking looks good enough for Harris to get at least three or four yards. Williams saved about six or seven yards on his own.
This is why it is silly to evaluate defensive linemen based on sacks alone. That play by Williams was equivalent to a sack in terms of the net yardage value he earned for his team, yet the box score gives him no credit for that play. There are many ways to create sack-equivalent impact outside of sacks themselves.
Here’s another way Williams is quietly creating big-time impact: drawing penalties. Williams has drawn two holding penalties, worth 20 yards combined.
Williams is having a remarkable year. If the Jets can snap out of their love affair with the rotation-heavy mindset and just give Williams 10-12 more snaps a game, his season could become even more special.
1. RG/LT Alijah Vera-Tucker
As I broke down on Monday, Alijah Vera-Tucker is the Jets’ best player right now. This is true from both a talent/production standpoint and from a value-to-the-team standpoint. In addition to being a gifted player who is performing at a high level, Vera-Tucker is coming up clutch during a dire time. He is single-handedly holding together the most injury-ravaged unit on the team.
Vera-Tucker was playing like an elite right guard over the first three games of the season. Then, the Jets called on him to be their fifth different starting tackle of the calendar year after George Fant went down. Vera-Tucker came right in at left tackle and looked just as sharp over there as he did at guard. His excellent start on the blindside against Pittsburgh helped the Jets’ makeshift offensive line put together a performance that Zach Wilson could survive with.
With a bad performance from their left tackle, things could have gotten disastrous for the Jets offensive line in Pittsburgh. But Vera-Tucker’s sharp outing was the difference. His stability allowed the unit to be just competent enough for Wilson to put 24 points on the board and get a comeback win.
I think Vera-Tucker already had a case for this No. 1 spot with the way he was playing at guard. Now that he’s proven he can be trusted to thrive both guard and tackle, his value is through the roof. It’s such a rare trait for an offensive lineman. And for a Jets team that is dealing with a mountain of injuries on the offensive line, it is a trait that could save their season.