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Will these two NY Jets underachievers bounce back?

Michael Carter, NY Jets, RB
Michael Carter, New York Jets, Getty Images

These New York Jets players may not bounce back so easily from a poor 2022 season

Who doesn’t love a comeback story? After half a century of futility and over a decade-long playoff drought, the New York Jets are trying to write their own.

When an NFL player has street cred as a good player, it’s easy to overlook some poor play on their part. After all, their reputation is already set as a contributor, and the naked eye doesn’t always do a good job identifying each player’s individual performance.

However, when a player falls off with no discernible injury or reason, it’s fair to wonder whether that’s an anomaly or simply who the player really is. This is particularly relevant if the player performed well as a rookie but dropped off in their second season, but it also applies to veterans.

There were a few Jets players who severely underperformed expectations in 2022 with no obvious explanation. The Jets seem to be counting on them for a bounceback, but are they really reliable?

Laken Tomlinson

When the Jets signed Laken Tomlinson, Joe Blewett warned that Tomlinson isn’t Pro Bowl-caliber despite his 2021 selection. Still, he offered that he thought Tomlinson was a top 12-to-15 guard in the NFL. That may not have been worth the eighth-highest average annual value for a guard, but it should have shored up the Jets’ interior offensive line.

The reality, however, was the opposite. Tomlinson played like a bottom feeder. His Pro Football Focus grades of 56.8 overall (26th percentile) and 46.9 run-blocking (9th percentile) offer a glimpse into his futility.

Tomlinson’s 70.2 pass-blocking grade (63rd percentile) and 4.49% pressure rate (47th percentile) do not tell his full pass-protection story. He had far more pressures allowed than he took the blame for due to many badly-blown assignments. Furthermore, his wins were usually on double teams where he was helping another blocker.

Tomlinson’s run-blocking grade was a disappointment. That was supposed to be his strength and the primary reason that the Jets signed him. Instead, he was routinely beaten off the snap, giving his running backs no chance.

His pass-blocking, though, is what makes me question whether he can bounce back. It wasn’t just that he played poorly; it was more how those poor plays happened. Tomlinson did not seem to know the playbook, his assignments, or even the snap count. He made such rudimentary errors that were hard to fathom from an eight-year veteran.

Tomlinson was not the only Jets’ offensive lineman who underachieved in 2022. It was a unit-wide issue. Still, the mistakes he made were hard to attribute merely to poor play beside him. In fact, he was often the player making his linemates look worse.

The following plays are named WILD: What Is Laken Doing? There were many, many options to choose from.

2023 outlook

It’s possible that stability at the quarterback position will help Tomlinson out. However, some of the issues from his 2022 film have been there all along. Constantly playing high and having his hands too wide, lunging into blocks, and blocking air on screen passes are long-standing problems for him.

Furthermore, it’s possible that Tomlinson will once again have a revolving door around him. Duane Brown‘s status is up in the air, as Saleh has not given any specific timeline. Meanwhile, Billy Turner continues to play left tackle, with Mekhi Becton playing second-string (and ostensibly third-string upon Brown’s return).

On Tomlinson’s other side, although Connor McGovern may win the starting job out of training camp, it’s hard to imagine that the Jets won’t turn to Joe Tippmann at some point. Will the instability be an excuse for Tomlinson once more, or will he rise to the occasion as a veteran?

Michael Carter

The Jets currently have Michael Carter listed as their starting running back while Breece Hall is on the PUP list. That’s quite a leap of faith in a player who was essentially benched for Zonovan Knight at the end of 2022. A possible Dalvin Cook signing further calls into question whether Carter will remain a Jet.

Carter’s 2022 struggles are well-documented. However, it was his performance over the first seven games of the season, specifically, that indicated a significant decline from his rookie year. While Hall was lighting up the stat sheets and winning Rookie of the Week awards, Carter’s output was lackluster.

Consider the difference between their numbers while Vera-Tucker was still blocking for both of them.

2022 Carter vs. Hall, Weeks 1-7:

  • Yards per carry: Carter 3.5, Hall 5.8
  • Expected Points Added (EPA) per carry: Carter -0.101, Hall 0.174
  • Explosive run rate: Carter 4.55%, Hall 10%
  • First down rate: Carter 12.1%, Hall 25%
  • Success rate: Carter 37.9%, Hall 41.2%
  • Yards per reception: Carter 7.6, Hall 11.5
  • Missed tackles forced per touch: Carter 0.221, Hall 0.242
  • Yards after contact per attempt: Carter 2.45, Hall 4.13

Although there are ways to make excuses for Carter, Hall did much more with the same offensive line. Obviously, each play is not going to be blocked up the exact same way. Still, the film verifies that Hall found the holes and broke the tackles that Carter did not.

The most concerning thing about Carter’s decline is that there does not seem to be an evident reason for it. He did miss the Week 13 game with an ankle injury, but his play had been poor long before that. Furthermore, it wasn’t just explosiveness that he lacked, which would more readily signify an injury. It was Carter’s vision that fell off a cliff in 2022 in addition to his tackle-breaking ability.

A running back’s vision is one of his most important assets. It’s what separates a JAG at the position from a quality player. Finding the proper hole, seeing it as it develops, understanding the scheme, and knowing when to be patient and when to aggressively hit a hole are all part of a running back’s skill set. For a player like Carter, these are even more critical, as he lacks true breakaway speed. Without vision or broken tackles, what does he have left?

Absent any reasonable explanation for why Carter’s vision took a nosedive, there is reason to be worried that the 2022 version of the fourth-round pick is who he truly is.

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9 months ago

Pure speculation but it always felt to me Laken got his money and checked out. I hope basically playing for a contract will wake him up to a upper half OG. They have enough guys now that they can’t let him be horrible without benching him.

Carter is complete mystery. I’m not sure he can bounce back, I hope he does but their interest in Cook, makes me thing they don’t believe he can.

9 months ago

Great article- great video’s and painful to watch- it’s easy to blame QB but whew! That they were able to throw it in the ground and avoid the loss was a miracle.

9 months ago

Wow, those are a couple of difficult videos to watch! I’d say thanks, but….
Tomlinson just seems to be “out of it” on many of these plays; missed snap count, missed assignment, and poor technique when he does get to the spot. I’m not sure he’s fixable unless he had some type of personal issues last year that had his mind elsewhere. He says all the right things, but you have to deliver.
It looks like Carter prefers to run outside and looks there first. He’s not quick enough to set up defenders to the outside and then put a foot in the ground and burst inside.
My hope is that someone has showed them these plays and corrections are being made. I know the new OLine coach will be in Tomlinson’s face if this continues.

9 months ago

I remember watching a replay on NFL channelof the 49ers in the 2021 playoffs. This was after the Jets had already signed Laken to a contract. I remember thinking it was a good signing. So I thought let focus on him while watching the game. I was definitely unimpressed and saw so many of the type of mistakes shown in the video. At the time I wrote it off to just a bad game but now I question the pro scouts that thought it was a good idea to sign him. I remember on 1Jet Drive they were talking internally about signing him or Scherff and the consensus was Laken. Hopefully with a new oline coach he will bounce back.