Most important takeaways from the New York Jets’ 2023 preseason opener
Here are 10 statistical tidbits from the New York Jets‘ preseason opener that caught my attention.
1. Joe Tippmann got plenty of reps and dominated
Rookie center Joe Tippmann led the Jets’ offense with 46 snaps, making up 92% of the Jets’ 50 offensive snaps.
The second-round pick has been coming along slowly in training camp and is seemingly not involved in the competition for the Jets’ starting center spot. Clearly, the coaching staff viewed the Hall of Fame Game as a great opportunity for Tippmann to gain some valuable experience – and he made the most of it.
Tippmann looked dominant in both phases against the Browns’ backups. In pass protection, Tippmann allowed zero pressures over 24 pass-blocking snaps. In the run game, Tippmann consistently won his battles.
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) August 4, 2023
2. Zack Kuntz’s alien athleticism translates to intriguing special teams potential
Zack Kuntz is known for his perfect 10.00 Relative Athletic Score, tied for the best all-time by a tight end prospect. The question for Kuntz is whether he can figure out how to maximize that athleticism on the football field. When a player with elite testing numbers falls all the way to the seventh round, it’s a sign that teams are extremely skeptical of their actual football skills.
In his NFL debut, I saw some flashes of how Kuntz can translate that athleticism to making an impact on the field. But not on offense – on special teams.
Kuntz didn’t show much of note over his 24 offensive snaps. However, he played 11 special teams snaps, and it was in that phase where he demonstrated speed that is rare for a player of his size.
According to data from NFL Next Gen Stats, Kuntz topped out at a max speed of 20.19 miles per hour in Thursday’s game, which he reached on a kickoff return in the first quarter. That was the 10th-fastest speed of any player to appear in the game – everyone ahead of him was a safety, cornerback, running back, or wide receiver.
During the 2022 regular season, only nine tight ends in the NFL reached a max speed above 20.19 mph. Of those, eight are lighter than Kuntz, who is listed at 251 pounds on the Jets’ website. All nine of them are shorter than the 6-foot-8 Kuntz (he is sometimes listed at 6-foot-7, but even then, all nine would be shorter).
You can see Kuntz’s unique speed for his size in the two clips below (the second is the one where he reached his top speed; the first is just shy at 20.03 mph):
Zack Kuntz's crazy athleticism pops out the most on special teams.
You don't see 6'7 250-pound TEs cover ground like this pic.twitter.com/AEQV4GvrYZ
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) August 4, 2023
This speed gives Kuntz the potential to become a productive player on special teams – in more ways than just covering kicks. While Kuntz did not make any tackles on Thursday, he did have an important block on Alex Erickson’s 36-yard punt return.
Zack Kuntz helped clear the lane on Alex Erickson's 36-yard punt return pic.twitter.com/XNUKLCcYbj
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) August 5, 2023
3. Trystan Colon is someone to keep an eye on
In his debut, Colon backed up what we’ve been saying about him. Colon allowed zero pressures over 13 pass-blocking snaps and threw some key blocks in the run game. Check him out on Israel Abanikanda’s touchdown run (RG #65):
Izzy TD…angle eliminator pic.twitter.com/EGNakwS2Wd
— Joe Blewett (@Joerb31) August 5, 2023
4. Max Mitchell struggled mightily
It’s a troubling sign when your potential Week 1 starting right tackle looks like a liability against backups. Max Mitchell, who has been getting first-team reps at right tackle in practice, had a rough time in the Hall of Fame Game.
Mitchell started at right tackle and played 13 offensive snaps. He held up fine in pass protection, not allowing any pressures over six pass-blocking snaps, but his run-blocking was utterly abysmal. Mitchell played seven run-blocking snaps, and by my count, he allowed his man to blow up the run on five of them. Three examples can be seen here (RT #61):
Both coming out of the draft and after his rookie year, the biggest question for Mitchell was whether he could improve his strength. Due to the unfortunate health scare Mitchell had to fight through this past offseason, it’s fair to wonder whether he was able to adequately work on his strength training.
5. Javelin Guidry strengthened his roster case
Seeking to make the Jets’ roster as the backup nickel cornerback to Michael Carter II, Javelin Guidry took a step forward on Thursday night.
Guidry played 37 defensive snaps and made a strong impact for the Jets’ defense. He recorded four tackles without missing any. His stops were valuable, as three of the four tackles held the ball carrier short of the first-down marker with a gain of four yards or less. In coverage, Guidry allowed one of two targets in his direction to be completed for four yards (not a first down). Guidry also added a fumble recovery.
6. Zaire Barnes looks as raw as expected
Competing to be the Jets’ primary backup linebacker behind the starting trio, sixth-round pick Zaire Barnes got off to an expectedly rough start in his NFL debut.
Barnes was credited with three missed tackles, the most of any defender on either team. He also appeared to be at fault for allowing a 3-yard touchdown catch out of the backfield by Browns RB John Kelly.
It was a rough game for the Jets’ backup linebackers. Hamsah Nasirildeen, Barnes’ primary competitor, left the game in the first quarter with a neck injury. The Jets have not yet provided an update on Nasirildeen’s status.
On the positive side, Chazz Surratt flashed with an interception.
7. Mixed bag for Jason Brownlee
Undrafted wide receiver Jason Brownlee has been all the rage at Jets training camp. In his first game action, Brownlee showed some flashes of what the Jets are excited about, but also had some down moments.
Brownlee finished with two catches on five targets for 17 yards. He was also targeted on another pass that resulted in a 23-yard defensive pass interference penalty.
All five of Brownlee’s official targets came in the second quarter (the DPI came in Q3). Brownlee snagged his first two catches for eight and nine yards, respectively. Later in the second quarter, on the Jets’ final drive of the half, Tim Boyle targeted Brownlee on three consecutive plays and all three fell incomplete. One was uncatchable. Two were thrown accurately and could have been caught, but the defender broke them up (the second appeared to bounce off Brownlee’s chest after he leaped up to grab it).
8. Israel Abanikanda tried to make it work with poor blocking
Running behind a struggling makeshift offensive line, fifth-round pick Israel Abanikanda did not get many opportunities to showcase his abilities.
Abanikanda gained only 7 yards before contact across his 9 carries (0.78 per carry). He fought his way to 20 yards after contact (2.22 per carry), reaching 27 rushing yards in total (3.0 per carry).
Even Abanikanda’s lone target of the game was poorly set up. On a screen pass, Abanikanda was contacted just one yard beyond the line of scrimmage. Abanikanda impressively made the defender miss and rumbled forward for four extra yards after contact.
9. All-around sublime performance for the special teams units
The Jets are seeking to bounce back on special teams after ranking 21st on last year’s DVOA leaderboard. Thursday was a promising start.
There was also plenty to like from the coverage units. Cleveland was held to 10 yards on five punt returns (2.0 per return) and 62 yards on three kickoff returns (20.7 per return).
Rounding it all out were the return units. Xavier Gipson picked up 45 yards on the Jets’ lone kickoff return (although Gipson muffed a punt return, which fortunately went out of bounds). Alex Erickson recorded a 36-yard punt return. Even if Gipson and Erickson do not make the team, their impressive returns are a testament to the special teams unit as a whole.
With a pair of reliable veteran legs and a plethora of excellent athletes lining the back end of the roster, Brant Boyer’s unit is poised for a comeback in 2023.
10. Quiet day for the pass rush overall, but Will McDonald and Jermaine Johnson flashed
There was not much to write home about regarding the Jets’ pass rush. In total, the Jets’ defenders combined for just seven total pressures in the entire game, including only one sack (Bryce Huff) and two quarterback hits (Will McDonald and Ifeadi Odenigbo).
McDonald and Odenigbo tied for the team lead with two total pressures apiece.
It was a decent debut for McDonald in the passing game, who recorded his two pressures over 16 pass-rush snaps (12.5% pressure rate, above the 2022 EDGE average of 10.7%). One was an unblocked QB hit on a bootleg (although he showed great recognition to not bite on the play fake). He had one legitimate pass-rush win: this dazzling spin move.
Pretty spin from McDonald pic.twitter.com/BrL9dm2pcW
— Joe Blewett (@Joerb31) August 4, 2023
Jermaine Johnson only played six pass rush snaps. While he did not get credit for any pressures, he did record a pass deflection off this sweet one-on-one victory – flashing some of the finesse he lacked in his pass rush repertoire as a rookie.
Good job by JJ (off the left edge) driving through his one arm stab and then pulling himself through with the arm over…good pairing of the hands + feet as he pulls himself through. Then gets his hand up for the slight pd pic.twitter.com/WJ0FHT0OKf
— Joe Blewett (@Joerb31) August 4, 2023