It’s not just the youngsters powering the New York Jets’ hot start: The veterans are coming through, too
The New York Jets are off to a 3-2 start, and much of the credit is going to the franchise’s young core. That praise is well-deserved. First and second-year players like Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Breece Hall, Alijah Vera-Tucker, and Zach Wilson are already establishing themselves as leaders on the team.
However, the role of the Jets’ veterans in this solid start should not go overlooked. In particular, two veteran players are in the midst of bounce-back campaigns: Corey Davis and Sheldon Rankins.
Davis and Rankins joined the Jets as free agents in 2021. Unfortunately, neither player had the season they were hoping for in their debut season with New York. But they each appear to be back in peak form here in 2022.
On paper, Corey Davis‘s first season with the Jets was not all that bad. In nine games, Davis caught 34 of 59 targets for 492 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers put him on pace for 64 catches, 929 yards, and 8 touchdowns over 17 games – very solid.
The problem with Davis’s 2021 campaign was his penchant for coming up small in big spots. Whether it be a drop, a fumble, or a contribution to an interception, it felt like Davis was always doing something costly.
Despite missing seven games, Davis set career-highs in fumbles (2), drops (6), and interceptions when targeted (5) in 2021. Jets quarterbacks had a passer rating of only 72.1 when targeting him.
In 2022, Davis has completely flipped the script. His box-score numbers are not all that much different, but contrary to the previous year, Davis is playing efficient and fundamentally-sound football. He is delivering when called upon and consistently comes through with game-changing plays.
Davis has caught 17 of 29 targets for 299 yards and two touchdowns in five games. So, his 3.4/59.8/0.40 line (Rec/Yds/TD per game) is hardly different than his 3.8/54.7/0.44 line from last year.
The difference lies in the details.
Davis is playing mistake-free football, as he has one drop and zero fumbles while none of the passes thrown in his direction have resulted in an interception. Davis did have a costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Cincinnati, but other than that, he has avoided egregious blunders.
Davis’s efficiency has also undergone tremendous improvement, which is evidenced by his average of 10.3 yards per target (versus 8.3 last year) and the stellar passer rating of 130.1 that Jets quarterbacks have generated when targeting Davis. Among wide receivers with at least 20 targets, Davis ranks eighth-best in yards per target and fifth-best in passer rating when targeted.
We are also seeing Davis come up with more clutch plays. He has recorded 15 conversions (combined total of touchdowns and first downs) on 29 targets, a 51.7% rate. That is a big improvement over last year, when only 39.0% of his targets resulted in a conversion (23 of 59).
On top of all that, Davis’s run-blocking has been excellent this season. The Jets love to align him in tight splits and have him use his size to pin defenders inside, helping to set up runs to the outside.
This is the Corey Davis the Jets thought they were getting when they signed him to a three-year, $37.5 million deal with $27 million guaranteed.
Sheldon Rankins was a solid playmaker at the defensive tackle position throughout his career with the Saints. He provided consistent pressure in the passing game and used his excellent athleticism to make plenty of splashy plays in the run game, balancing out his occasional mistakes in that phase.
But in his first season as a Jet, Rankins was often a liability. His run defense was poor as he frequently yielded large running lanes for the opponent. Rankins found himself being moved off the line of scrimmage too often, and against gap running concepts, he tended to overshoot his gap and get sealed out of the play. The splashy run stops he made in New Orleans were not there to balance things out.
Rankins’s pass rushing was his main appeal prior to joining the Jets, but he was not as active in that phase as the Jets hoped.
The 2022 season has been a valiant return to form for Rankins. He is popping off the screen in a positive way much more often than he did in 2021.
I am particularly impressed with Rankins’s run defense. His turnaround in this phase is one of the primary reasons the Jets defense is surprisingly ranked fifth-best in the NFL with 4.0 yards allowed per rush attempt. Rankins has quietly turned into a very solid run defender for New York.
Rankins’s gap discipline has been significantly better this year, and it’s allowing him to find the football for big stops on a consistent basis. Through Week 5, Rankins is tied for fifth among defensive tackles with 10 run stops. That is only two shy of the total he had over 16 games last season (12). His run-stop rate of 13.0% is more than double his 2021 rate of 5.3%.
As a pass rusher, Rankins is back to winning his one-on-one reps at the frequency he did in New Orleans. Rankins has a 22.2% pass-rush win rate in “true pass set” situations, which ranks 19th out of 109 qualified defensive tackles (83rd percentile). That is a massive improvement over his 15.6% rate from last year (51st percentile).
It felt like Quinnen Williams was all alone on the interior of the Jets’ defensive line in 2021. He was often the only player winning his rep, and when only one player wins, it makes it much easier for the quarterback (or running back) to dodge them and continue going about their business.
But now that Rankins is finding his groove, the Jets have two players creating havoc from the interior, which is helping the New York defense generate more plays in which multiple defenders are winning. And when multiple defenders win, it creates utter chaos for the offense. The Jets are getting more of these chaotic plays thanks to Rankins’s resurgence.
Next Article: The New York Jets offense has an identity | Film
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