The best things about the 2022 New York Jets are not guaranteed to carry over to 2023
Here on Divisional Saturday, fans of 24 franchises are sitting on their couches and jealously staring at the NFL playoff bracket, meticulously plotting the perfect offseason plan to ensure their team is one of the eight squads left standing on this same day in 2024.
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One of the biggest mistakes sports fans make when entering an offseason is believing every positive aspect of their favorite team will carry over into the next season, which means all their team has to do is fix the negatives and they will be in great shape.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Once a new season begins, a team must prove it can replicate all of the positives from the previous season. Nothing is guaranteed to carry over – both the good and the bad. It’s a brand-new year. Everything and everyone starts back at zero.
For the New York Jets, this is an important thing to keep in mind as they prepare for the 2023 season. The 2022 Jets were a team with very clear strengths (defense, young weapons on offense) and very clear weaknesses (quarterback, offensive line, quarterback, safety, and quarterback). So, it’s easy to look at the Jets and imagine them turning into a great team if they can just squash the weaknesses.
The common mantra about the Jets right now goes something like this: “The defense and weapons are there – just get a quarterback, fix the offensive line, and they’ll be a contender!”
Even I have essentially made that statement plenty of times throughout this offseason so far. While it absolutely could turn out to be true, it’s a statement we should be careful about making, simply because we can never assume the positive aspects of a team are going to be sustained in the following season.
With that in mind, let’s highlight some of the areas where the Jets thrived in 2022 but could regress in 2023. Each trait/player labeled below is something that was a major strength for the Jets in 2022 but is not completely guaranteed to be replicated in 2023.
The Jets had terrible injury luck on the offensive side of the ball in 2022. The offensive line endured a calamity, while the quarterback and running back positions also sustained crushing injuries at the worst times.
However, the Jets enjoyed tremendous injury luck on defense. It’s one of the biggest reasons the unit was so good.
The main components of the Jets’ defense stayed very healthy throughout the year. Take a look at the number of games played by the Jets’ primary defensive players:
- CB D.J. Reed: 17
- CB Sauce Gardner: 17
- CB Michael Carter II: 16
- S Jordan Whitehead: 17
- S Lamarcus Joyner: 14
- LB C.J. Mosley: 17
- LB Quincy Williams: 15
- LB Kwon Alexander: 17
- DT Quinnen Williams: 15
- DT Sheldon Rankins: 15
- DE Carl Lawson: 17
- DE John Franklin-Myers: 17
That’s an average of 16.2 games apiece. Seven of the twelve did not miss a single game and none of them missed more than three games. Overall, they played 194 out of 204 possible games (95.0%).
The Jets may have fielded the healthiest defense in the NFL. They had a league-leading total of nine defensive players who started at least 15 games. The average NFL team only had 5.7 defenders start at least 15 games.
These are otherworldly numbers. Let’s all cross our fingers and hope the great health carries over into 2023, but considering how luck-based injuries tend to be, there is a very real chance for significant regression in this area. Having your defensive starting lineup play 95% of possible games is stunning in this sport.
On the positive side, there’s a good chance the Jets will enjoy much better injury luck on offense, as it’s hard to imagine they can replicate the disaster they endured on that side of the ball.
Keep a close eye on the health of this defense next year. In 2022, we saw the absolute best version of this defense, as every key player was healthy for the majority of the year. There were zero “what if [player] never got hurt?” hypotheticals. That will probably not happen again next year, so for the Jets to maintain the same level of defensive performance, they must improve their base talent level to counteract the likely decline in overall health.
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Quinnen Williams’ contract year
Quinnen Williams was a very good defensive tackle in his second and third seasons, but he wasn’t a superstar until his fourth season. In 2022, Williams finally lived up to the potential that made him the third overall pick in 2019. With 12.0 sacks, 28 quarterback hits, 4 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles, 55 tackles, and stellar off-the-stat-sheet impact against the run, Williams was a game-wrecker on all three downs. He earned First-Team All-Pro honors.
Williams will likely earn a massive contract extension this offseason. During the Jets’ season-ending interviews, Williams already made it clear that he will skip the team’s voluntary workouts in April if he does not have a new contract by then.
Whenever a player has a breakout season in their contract year, it’s fair to be skeptical of what he will do after getting paid.
This is never an indictment on that particular individual himself – I have zero doubts that Williams is an extremely hard worker and a world-class dude who will continue playing his hardest – it’s just a matter of history. There is a long-running track record of players going all-out in their contract year and then failing to replicate that performance after being rewarded with a new contract. The Jets just saw it in their own building with Laken Tomlinson.
Can Williams continue dominating in 2023? Or will he revert back to being very good, but not a superstar?
We also need to see Williams maintain the improved durability he showed in 2022. Williams missed a career-low total of one game after missing eight games over his first three seasons (with at least two each year). Obviously, staying healthy is largely out of his control, but it’s still an important factor. Hopefully, more healthy seasons lie ahead for Williams.
Williams is the heart and soul of the Jets’ defense. He is the engine powering everything the team hopes to accomplish in both the pass game and the run game. For the defense to be dominant, Williams needs to be dominant.
Let’s see if Williams can start stringing these elite seasons together. As of right now, he has only been a superstar in one season out of four, so he must prove he can sustain this level of play on a yearly basis.
Breece Hall and Alijah Vera-Tucker’s post-injury performance
Breece Hall and Alijah Vera-Tucker are young stars for the Jets’ offense. Their impact on the 2022 squad can be easily summarized by the team’s 5-2 record with both players healthy and 2-8 record after they each suffered a season-ending injury against Denver in Week 7.
The Jets’ offense looked competent with Hall and Vera-Tucker in the lineup. In particular, the run game was functioning at an elite level. While the pass game was still held back by the quarterback play and shoddy pass protection along most of the offensive line, even that unit was functional when Hall and Vera-Tucker were out there.
It’s exciting to think about what the Jets’ offense could look like in 2023 when it gets back healthy versions of Hall and Vera-Tucker. At the same time, we always have to consider the unfortunate possibility that Hall and Vera-Tucker are not themselves after returning from injury.
Of the two players, Vera-Tucker has the better chance of coming back in peak form. A torn triceps shouldn’t have significant long-term effects.
But Hall is coming back from a torn ACL. Hall is still extremely young at only 21 years old, and he’ll have plenty of time to recover ahead of the 2023 opener since his injury occurred in October. Still, an ACL injury is no joke. Some players come back strong from it, and some don’t. Even the ones who do come back strong often need a year or two to fully recapture their previous form.
It’s no guarantee that Hall and Vera-Tucker provide the instant team-lifting boost that everyone hopes they will. They each might need some time before they look like themselves again.
Hopefully, both players come back as effective as ever.
It’s important to avoid assuming that strengths will remain strengths
In a perfect world, the Jets maintain all of the wonderful strengths they established in 2022 and they complement them by addressing the weaknesses at QB and OL, building a powerhouse team that can make noise in the AFC.
However, as we all know, this is not a perfect world. It’s very possible that some of the Jets’ strengths do not translate to 2023. Good players regress. Players you expect to progress remain stagnant. Injuries happen. These things are part of the game.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I did not write this article to serve as a grim reality check for Jets fans. I wanted to share these thoughts for strategic reasons. Maintaining this brutally realistic outlook can be extremely helpful as we map out our idealistic offseason plans for the Jets.
In regards to both free agency and the draft, I think it all points us back to the old adage of “best player available”.
Since it cannot be assumed that strengths will remain strengths, it’s important not to ignore positions of perceived strength on your roster. You can never predict if a currently-good player will get hurt, regress, get traded, or sign elsewhere. This is why teams should prioritize amassing depth at every position. The goal should be to accumulate as much talent as possible, not to plug present-day holes – because a strength today could easily become a need tomorrow.
Things change quickly in the NFL, and teams must be ready. In this cruel sport, it’s never wise to assume that something is set in stone.