The words “once-promising” will forever haunt the 2022 Jets
The season is over.
Well, there’s one more week, but once the postseason hope is over, the season is gone.
We’ll save the full autopsy for after Week 18, but we can start with the negative superlatives before that.
Every season is going to have its disappointing players. Whether it’s free agents who haven’t lived up to the hype, promising rookies who deal with a sophomore slump, veterans who hit an age wall, or players who don’t make the expected leap, every team has some underachievers, even the eventual Super Bowl champion. A roster of 53 players is hardly going to be exactly as planned from beginning to end.
In fitting with the mood of mourning surrounding the franchise on the Black Monday of the 2022 season, let’s count down the Jets’ five most disappointing players of 2022.
5. EDGE Carl Lawson
We’ve been talking about Carl Lawson all season as a disappointment. We kept waiting for that breakout to come, but it never did. Instead, we’re left with a guy who will almost certainly be a cap casualty in some capacity for 2023.
Lawson was signed to be the ultimate disruptor, even if not a finisher. Instead, he was the reverse: seven sacks don’t look bad on paper, but the quality of those sacks and the production aside from them leaves much to be desired.
This is not to say that Lawson has been a bad player. Seven sacks do count for something. He’s been about league average. But the Jets didn’t give him $15 million a year to be average. He was supposed to be a game-changer, and he wasn’t.
You can blame the Achilles tear all you want, but the fact remains that this became a disappointing free-agent signing by Joe Douglas. Perhaps the blame can be placed on the fact that Lawson was injury-prone prior to signing with the Jets, and it was also a large contract to give someone who was not a big sack artist.
Through 16 games, Lawson ranks 10th among 67 edge rushers (min. 275 pass-rush snaps) with 14 quarterback hits, according to Pro Football Focus. His 16.8% pass rush win rate is 23rd, which is still above average (66th percentile). He’s 27th in total pressures with 46, also above average (58th percentile). He has finally gotten to the league-average pressure rate at 11.2%.
However, the quality and consistency of Lawson’s pressures have just never been there. He makes the occasional nice play but disappears for large chunks of the game. He’s most noticeable when he’s unsuccessfully trying to bull-rush a tackle. He still has the speed and bend to win on those reps at times, but the predictability of his moves has greatly reduced his success.
There remains a possibility that Lawson regains his previous form in 2023 when his Achilles is two years removed from the injury. However, it is difficult to say that 2022 has been a successful season for Lawson, and certainly not relative to expectations. This was not the same guy who manhandled Mekhi Becton in the 2021 preseason. Perhaps the expectations were unrealistic, but they were certainly high, and Lawson did not meet them.
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4. RB Michael Carter
After Michael Carter led the NFL with 0.30 missed tackles forced per touch in 2021, many Jets fans were happy to enter 2022 with him as a complementary RB1 or high-end RB2. Picking Breece Hall was more about adding home run potential than dissatisfaction with Carter’s body of work. He certainly looked like a fourth-round steal.
However, Carter took a major step back in 2022. The Jets’ offensive line has not provided the holes that you would expect, but the film indicates that Carter performed worse than his line. The nadir of his performance was in the Week 11 matchup with the Patriots, when his reads were absolutely putrid.
With the season nearly finished, Carter has put up some ugly numbers among 40 backs (min. 100 rush attempts):
- 3.6 yards per carry (39th)
- 2.74 yards after contact per attempt (30th)
- 0.234 missed tackles forced per rush (7th, but down significantly from 2021)
- 0.207 missed tackles forced per touch (17th)
- 12.6% first-down rate on rushes (last)
- 30.9% of yards coming on breakaways (12th, meaning that he is boom-or-bust with more busts than booms due to his low YPC number)
- 34.2% success rate (39th)
- 28.2% second-down success rate (last)
- 38.5% short-yardage success rate (39th)
- -0.184 EPA per rush (38th)
- -0.5 rushing yards over expected per carry (last)
Overall, Michael Carter has had a bad year as a running back, not just a disappointing one. He will likely enter 2023 as the third back on the depth chart behind Breece Hall and Bam Knight.
3. LG Laken Tomlinson
Laken Tomlinson‘s play compared to expectations may be quantitatively worse than any other free-agent signing across the NFL in 2022. Tomlinson received a three-year, $40 million deal with $27 million guaranteed. That’s a top-10 contract for a former first-round bust who made his first Pro Bowl in 2021. (After seeing C.J. Mosley make the Pro Bowl in 2022 and Braxton Berrios be selected as an alternate, you wonder how much the selection even means.)
Tomlinson has played like a bottom-ten guard in the league for much of this season, in which he is paid the eighth-highest guard salary by average annual value. It is difficult to quantify an offensive lineman’s statistics to explain their play, but there is one number that encapsulates just how bad of a disappointment Tomlinson has been: blown block rate in the run game.
Tomlinson has blown 3.6% of his run blocks this season, per Sports Info Solutions (SIS), the fourth-highest mark among starting guards. His 12 blown blocks are tied for second-worst. SIS has a metric called Total Points, which, like Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in baseball, tries to compare players to each other. In run-blocking, Tomlinson has earned just 9 Total Points, tied for 36th out of 60 starting guards (40th percentile).
In pass-blocking, Tomlinson’s numbers indicate that he has been roughly a league-average guard. He is 37th out of 67 guards (45th percentile, min. 275 pass-blocking snaps) with a 4.57% pressure rate allowed, which isn’t that much worse than the league average of 4.49% for guards. PFF charges him with just one sack and three QB hits allowed, a 0.59% rate that is sixth-best among guards. SIS is actually high on Tomlinson’s pass-blocking, crediting him with 21 Total Points, tied for fifth-best (with Zack Martin and James Daniels) among guards.
Those stats make it sound like Tomlinson has not been all that bad, and maybe, dare we say, good? But that’s why offensive line statistics are imperfect. We’ve already demonstrated Tomlinson’s inordinate propensity for mental lapses. He often does not get charged for pressures, hits, and sacks because he completely blew his assignment, and it appears that SIS is not charging him with a blown block on those plays (considering his listed 1.3% blown block rate in the passing game).
The best we can say for Tomlinson is that he’s been healthy. Availability has been at a premium on the Jets’ offensive line. Additionally, whatever calls we may have made for Tomlinson to lose his starting job are well out the window after seeing the putrid performances of all the Jets’ backup guards in Nate Herbig, Dan Feeney, and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (charged with nine total pressures against Seattle, including 2 QB hits and a sack).
It would be difficult for Joe Douglas to cut Tomlinson considering the dead-cap charge. Essentially, it comes down to this equation:
- Should the Jets carry Tomlinson at a $17.4-million cap charge for next season?
- Restructuring Tomlinson could save them $2.13 million this season, making his cap hit $15.27 million, but it would also increase his dead cap charge in 2024 from $4.26 million to $6.39 million. Is that worthwhile?
- Should the Jets cut Tomlinson before June 1, his dead cap hit will be $8.52 million, netting $8.88 million in savings. Is that enough savings to justify the dead cap hit of releasing Tomlinson?
- If the Jets cut Tomlinson with a post-June 1 designation, his dead cap hit will be $4.26 million in 2023 and the same amount in 2024, essentially spreading out his charge over two seasons. Is it more worthwhile to cut Tomlinson this way, saving $13.1 million in 2023, or to carry the $17.4 million cap hit in 2023 and only absorb one season of $4.26 million in dead cap?
Overall, Laken Tomlinson has been a colossal disappointment at guard this season. He’s paid to be a top-10 guard, and he’s played like a 35th-to-40th-ranked guard, at best. This is the kind of cap-to-production equation that lands teams in cap purgatory.
2. WR Elijah Moore
This ranking is debatable only because of performance itself, but I think it’s warranted given the expectation. Virtually every Jet X analyst listed Elijah Moore as their pick for Team MVP in 2022. We all expected him to lead the team in receiving yards, and we predicted that he’d be the Jets’ No. 1 receiver.
Instead, Moore endured an up-and-down season that included early season misuse, quarterbacks not looking his way, blown assignments, lack of maximal effort, several Twitter tantrums, a trade request, a benching, several weeks’ worth of slow reintegration in the offense, and, by season’s end, a similar lack of overall target share compared to his talent level.
It seems that every talented pass-catcher the Jets have on the roster is not utilized to his potential. It was easy to say earlier in the season that this might happen due to the abundance of mouths to feed, but that’s not really what happened. As much as it was a pleasant surprise that Garrett Wilson broke out as an Offensive Rookie of the Year frontrunner, it was equally disappointing that Elijah Moore did not take the next step but rather took two steps back.
The talent is still there with Moore. The question is why the Jets could not find a way to utilize it, and that, I believe, is a knock on Mike LaFleur as much as it is on Moore himself.
Overall, here’s how Moore’s numbers stand out of 77 qualified receivers (min. 50 targets):
- 36 receptions on 58 targets (62.1%, 63rd)
- 435 yards, 12.1 yards per reception (42nd)
- 1 touchdown
- 2.8 YAC per reception (68th)
- 0.93 yards per route run (76th) despite a 12.5-yard average depth of target (25th)
- 16.7% contested-catch rate (last)
- 1 INT thrown his way
- 83.6 QB rating on targets (62nd)
- -0.0155 EPA per play (72nd).
- The two positive stats for Moore was that he continued to be elusive with 0.306 avoided tackles per target, second to only Deebo Samuel and that he was charged with 0 drops (although he had two plays in which he should have gotten his feet in bounds but was not charged with drops).
Some of these numbers are obviously connected to quarterback play. However, there is no doubt that this was one of the most disappointing outcomes of the 2022 season. We thought Elijah Moore would become a star, but instead, he regressed tremendously.
1. QB Zach Wilson
I was debating whether Zach Wilson is actually the Jets’ biggest disappointment of 2022. After all, following his subpar play in 2021, it would’ve been foolish to have the same sky-high expectations for him as we had when he was a rookie. That being said, with the overall upgrade in talent around Wilson, most Jets fans were cautiously optimistic that he would at least get to the 18-to-20 range among quarterbacks in 2022. Such a performance would give some optimism to believe that he could make the leap in Year 3.
Due to the importance of the QB position, the fact that Wilson was a No. 2 overall pick, and what his lack of development meant to the Jets’ playoff hopes, I believe that there’s no other way to characterize Wilson except as the biggest disappointment of the Jets’ season. Perhaps he deserved the No. 1 slot by a mile in 2021, but he hits that spot again here.
Wilson has clearly proven to one and all, even his most ardent defenders in the media, that he is not a starting quarterback in the NFL. Whether you want to take a temperate approach and assume that there is possibly room for development elsewhere is a personal choice, but there’s nothing else to call the pick right now except a bust.
Zach Wilson is currently in the ranks of Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell as the biggest quarterback draft busts in NFL history. That’s a lofty rank to hold after only two years in the league. There’s nothing else to call that but an abject disappointment.
Wilson (presumably) finishes his 2022 season with the following numbers and ranks among 35 QBs (min. 175 dropbacks):
- 54.4% completion rate (last)
- 7.0 yards per attempt (18th)
- 6 TD, 7 INT, 0.86 TD:INT ratio (31st), 2.9% INT rate (31st)
- 5.9% turnover-worthy play rate (34th)
- 65.7% on-target rate (last)
- 5.1% drop rate (T-9th)
- 0.029 batted balls per attempt (30th)
- 20.7% pressure-to-sack rate (19th)
- 3.07 average time to throw (33rd)
- 0.280 first downs per dropback (T-29th)
- 72.7 QB rating (last)
- 37.0 QBR (30th)
- -15.3% DVOA (27th).
Let that put a bow on the Zach Wilson era with the New York Jets. Even if he is still on the roster in 2023, it will be for cap reasons, not performance.
Dishonorable mentions: SS Jordan Whitehead; RT George Fant; KR-PR-WR Braxton Berrios