The trouble with preseason hype for the New York Jets is that some players just don’t live up to it
Still, there were many players on both sides of the ball to be excited about. Some of them had their statistical ceiling lowered with Zach Wilson throwing them the ball rather than Rodgers, but great players generally find a way to make an impact. The hype around the Jets was precisely because of a talented roster with Rodgers as the final piece.
The problem is that several of the Jets’ most hyped players from training camp are not meeting expectations. Some of them are playing fairly well but just not at a star level, while some have been playing poorly. We already know about Dalvin Cook, but we at Jet X called that one from a mile away. While Cook is taking on a reduced role, the team needs these other players to get going in order to remain competitive in the AFC.
I know this will be controversial. Quinnen Williams is the Jets’ biggest defensive star and was their team MVP a season ago. His four-year, $96 million deal in the offseason reflected this status and expectation. On Hard Knocks, Robert Saleh consistently made an example out of Williams to show the rest of the team how they should be performing.
Fast forward five weeks, and Williams has not been quite as dominant as expected. He’s still finding a way to make plenty of an impact, but he’s just not as noticeable as he was last year.
Statistically, he’s still showing up on the scoresheet, if not in the sack column. He ranks fourth among interior defensive linemen with 20 pressures. Out of 70 qualified interior defensive linemen (min. 80 pass-rush snaps), he ranks 10th with a 13.2% pressure rate and seventh with an 18.3% pass-rush win rate. Interestingly, his pressure rate is actually higher than it was last year (12.4%).
Williams also ranks seventh in true pass set pressure rate at 20%. The players he’s tied with are whom you’d expect — Dexter Lawrence and Chris Jones. He has the third-most true pass set snaps among defensive tackles and still has strong pressure numbers.
Then why is he disappointing?
Unfortunately for Williams, the impactful pressures, sacks and hits, have not been there as they were in 2022. He has a 2.4% sack-plus-hit rate, which ranks 39th out of 70 defensive tackles. For reference, Quinton Jefferson‘s 5.4% rate is eighth, even though his 9.8% pressure rate is significantly lower than Williams’. Therein lies the question: would the Jets prefer more pressure but fewer sacks and hits, or less pressure but more sacks and hits?
In 2022, Williams excelled in both areas. He was second among defensive tackles in total sacks (13) and third in QB hits (14) while also ranking in the top five in pressure rate. In 2023, the pressures are coming, but the finishes aren’t.
You’d think that perhaps this is because quarterbacks are getting the ball out quickly, but they aren’t. While Dak Prescott and Mac Jones had average time-to-throw rates of 2.50 and 2.52 seconds, respectively, Josh Allen was at 2.89, Patrick Mahomes at 3.18, and Russell Wilson a whopping 3.45 seconds.
Still, maybe that’s the answer. Allen, Mahomes, and Wilson had such slow release times because they escaped pressure and scrambled a lot. We’ve seen Williams chasing a running quarterback on a regular basis.
Is it the edge rushers who are not containing the pocket? Is it third-down man coverage against running quarterbacks, which the Jets didn’t face as much last year (aside from Allen)? Either way, it could be that the escape lane is preventing Williams from finishing the way he did last year.
Williams’ run defense has been as strong as ever, as his 83.6 PFF run defense grade ranks third among DTs. Still, that’s nothing new, and it’s not why the Jets paid him. He’s been good, just not as impactful as they had hoped.
This isn’t necessarily a major criticism of Williams. Still, whatever the reason, Williams has been a bit disappointing compared to the sky-high expectations heading into the season.
This one is far more tangible than Williams. The hype train surrounding Garrett Wilson in the offseason was through the roof. Rodgers heaped praise upon the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year. Jets fans expected a Davante Adams-style output.
Obviously, Wilson’s statistical ceiling dropped significantly with Rodgers’ injury. Zach Wilson is just never going to get him the same volume, and the pair didn’t seem to develop chemistry in 2022. Still, beyond the numbers, it’s Wilson’s tape that has been the most disappointing.
Joe Blewett raved about Wilson’s 2022 season, going as far as to say that his tape was more impressive and refined than Sauce Gardner’s. He didn’t just put up phenomenal numbers as a rookie; he showcased a feel for route-running that was far more advanced than expected. He seemed to have beaten his biggest weakness coming into the league, which was press-man coverage.
However, Wilson has seemingly regressed in that particular area. Christian Gonzalez, L’Jarius Sneed, and Patrick Surtain all got the better of him multiple times with jams that did not even allow him to get off the line. He’s leaving his chest exposed, and defenders are taking full advantage. He’s not open nearly as often as he was in 2022.
It’s not just Zach Wilson who’s causing Garrett’s reduced offensive output, although that certainly plays a role. Garrett himself is off to a worse start than expected, and that’s very disappointing. The Jets are going to need him to figure things out sooner rather than later.
This was one where the hype train truly went off the rails. Saleh raved about Tony Adams, and Peter Schrager of the NFL Network listed Adams as his No. 9 breakout candidate for the season. The Jets had hoped that they finally had a true single-high free safety who could both roam the middle of the field and also stop the run.
Adams missed two games, so he has only a three-game sample size. What’s on his tape, though, is subpar. He’s not just disappointing relative to expectations; Adams is not playing well.
According to PFF, Adams allowed 5 of 5 receptions for 77 yards, including 15-, 20-, and 23-yarders. He has a 118.8 targeted passer rating. Although his 11.1% missed tackle rate is not that far below average for safeties, he’s taken horrible angles multiple times, allowing pass-catchers and ball-carriers to gain extra yardage both over the middle and around the edge. While he wasn’t officially charged with missed tackles on those plays, they were nevertheless highly detrimental to the defense.
Perhaps it’s just that Adams is young and inexperienced. Still, with another poor defender in Jordan Whitehead alongside him, the Jets really need more from their starting safety.
Sacrilege though it may be considered to Jets fans, Sauce Gardner has been somewhat disappointing to begin the year. PFF has charged him with allowing 17 of 23 receptions for 152 yards, one touchdown, and zero interceptions. While the 8.9 yards per reception is still very solid, his 105.7 targeted passer rating leaves something to be desired. It appears that offenses have discovered that Gardner (and D.J. Reed) turns his hips too early and can be beaten underneath.
It doesn’t help that Gardner has a dropped pick-six to his credit, another dropped interception, and a costly (albeit controversial) defensive holding penalty. It could also be that he just started out the year a bit slowly since he’s played a lot better over the last few weeks.
Still, Gardner and Whitehead have had several coverage lapses where it’s hard to determine whose mistake it was. It’s reminiscent of early last season when Gardner and the safeties had some miscommunication about assignments, resulting in touchdowns against Cincinnati and Cleveland. You tend to give Sauce the benefit of the doubt in these situations, but it looks suspect when a tight end runs free down the right side of the field on what appeared to be Cover 3.
Run defense and tackling
Gardner has also cost the Jets in virtually every game with bad run defense and terrible tackling. In fact, Gardner ranks 62nd out of 68 qualified cornerbacks (min. 70 run defense snaps) with a 47.5 run defense grade. In 2022, he earned a 69.2 grade in that area. While he had a tendency to make some business decisions, he was as solid as you could expect overall. That has been anything but the case in 2022. The Jets’ difficulties with long runs can be attributed partially to him, as he’s taken terrible angles multiple times.
Furthermore, Gardner’s tackling in general has been extremely poor. His 20% miss rate is tied for 55th out of 68 qualified cornerbacks, and that’s aside from the bad angles he’s taken. He hasn’t wrapped up well, letting medium plays become longer runs in the process.
All in all, Gardner is still a very good player, but he has a lot to clean up in his game this year. As Blewett commented, he may have been a bit overhyped last season, which made these sophomore blips inevitable.
Will McDonald and Jermaine Johnson
One of the players I’m personally most disappointed in is first-round pick Will McDonald. The pick shocked me (along with everyone else) until I watched his film. I can see what the Jets liked: his bend around the edge and ankle flexion are almost ridiculous, and he has a surprisingly diverse pass-rush skillset.
Still, four games into his career (with one healthy scratch), McDonald has been invisible. He has managed one measly pressure on 33 pass rush snaps. While that’s a very small sample size, there’s also a reason he’s not getting more snaps: he’s doing nothing with the ones he does get. Instead, Jermaine Johnson and Bryce Huff have both seen large bumps in their snap counts.
Johnson has also been disappointing, although I’m less surprised about that one. Jets fans were hyping him up tremendously in training camp after he bulked up. His rippling muscles along with the No. 11 made him appear poised for a breakout. Instead, his 7.4% pressure rate ranks 60th out of 68 qualified edge rushers (min. 80 pass rush snaps).
While Johnson did have the best game of his career against Denver, posting five pressures and a strip sack, Johnson has mostly not justified the nearly-double snap count he’s getting compared to a season ago (63% vs. 34%).
Of the six players listed, only the edge rushers can in any way be replaced. Maybe Tony Adams, too, but the Jets don’t really want to use Adrian Amos instead. Bryce Huff can eat up an even larger snap share, but the Jets really need Wilson, Adams, Gardner, and Williams (in that order) to pick it up to maintain any semblance of competitiveness.
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