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Ranking New York Jets’ players under 25: Who’s No. 1?

Breece Hall, Garrett Wilson, New York Jets
Breece Hall, Garrett Wilson, New York Jets, Getty Images

Which players are the future of the New York Jets?

Once again, it’s time to throw out the New York Jets’ past and focus on the future — too early.

With the season reaching its conclusion, the exercise of ranking the Jets’ future is interesting. We’ll focus on the top Jets players under 25 years old.

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Quinnen Williams already had his day on this list, but he’s graduated. Quincy Williams established himself as a crucial defensive piece this season, but he’s aged out, too. Ditto for John Franklin-Myers and D.J. Reed. Jermaine Johnson turned 25 while I had this article in draft.

We’re counting only players under contract for next season, so Mekhi Becton and Zack Kuntz are not included on the list. The Jets have 18 players who are under 25 and have at least one year remaining on their contracts.

Figuring out which player is best when they all play different positions is a difficult proposition. Therefore, we’ll go with a combination of the following metrics.

  • Ranking relative to their peers at the same position
  • Playing time: we’re not going just based on potential but actual results.
  • Importance to the team’s offense, defense, and/or special teams

Now, let’s get into the good stuff: Ranking the New York Jets players under the age of 25.

18. LB Zaire Barnes

While Zaire Barnes flashed his athleticism in the preseason, his sixth-round status demonstrated his rawness as a player. He struggled in coverage and generally showed a strong comparison to Quincy Williams’ early career — pure speed and decent instincts but a lack of awareness in coverage or tackling discipline.

Barnes spent most of the season inactive, first as a healthy scratch and then later in the year on injured reserve. All told, he appeared in four games and logged 32 special teams snaps, posting a 52.6 Pro Football Focus grade.

As a developmental linebacker, Barnes is not likely to see a significant bump in snaps next season. Still, Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich are known for developing linebackers. That gives Barnes a good chance to stick around and learn.

17. DB Jarrick Bernard-Converse

Jarrick Bernard-Converse is listed here due to his lack of role or playing time. He was first activated to the Jets’ roster on October 24 after spending the whole offseason and season before that point on the PUP list. Bernard-Converse appeared in eight games with the team, seeing just four defensive snaps and playing the rest of his time on special teams. He had one assist on 101 special teams snaps and posted a 62.0 PFF grade in that area, which is slightly better than the default 60.0.

Bernard-Converse’s four defensive snaps came at the free safety position. He played cornerback in college, but the Jets seemingly intended to switch him to safety from the get-go. With Tony Adams as the starting free safety, the Jets may want to bring in more solid competition than Bernard-Converse for the role, which may place his roster spot in jeopardy for 2024. Still, just as the team developed Jason Pinnock after changing his position, they may have the opportunity to do the same with Bernard-Converse.

The only reason Bernard-Converse is ahead of Barnes on this list is that he played more special teams snaps with a better PFF grade. Barnes has more potential and is also more likely to be on the team in 2024.

16. WR Jason Brownlee

There isn’t much to say about Jason Brownlee. The rookie undrafted free agent made the Jets’ roster out of training camp but spent much of the season inactive. He finished the season with five catches on nine targets for 56 yards and a score. He went 0-for-2 on contested catches and had two interceptions thrown his way, though he didn’t record any drops.

Brownlee is unlikely to continue on the Jets’ roster, as the late retirement of Corey Davis is what spurred his addition.

15. RB Israel Abanikanda

The Jets took Izzy Abanikanda purely for his speed, but he doesn’t seem to have much of anything else. The Jets refused to play him for most of the season because of his blocking, ignoring the fact that Dalvin Cook couldn’t block, either. In the end, Abanikanda finished with 22 carries for 70 yards (3.2 yards per carry) with just 2.05 yards after contact per attempt. He added 7 catches for 43 yards and 2 drops, a 22.2% drop rate. He also fumbled a kickoff.

Abanikanda is far from guaranteed to be the Jets’ second running back next season. It seems more likely that the Jets sign a different veteran back on the cheap (unlike Cook). His lack of contact balance, poor hands, and inability to pass block make him a liability as a No. 2 back.

14. OT Max Mitchell

Something is disappointing about Max Mitchell‘s placement on this list. He came into training camp considered a legitimate starting contender at tackle (though that was Joe Douglas’ fault for not bringing in better competition at the position). Instead, based on his play this season, Mitchell should not be assured of a roster spot next season.

Mitchell ranked 69th out of 82 qualified tackles with an 8.9% pressure rate and 62nd with -7.9 pressures saved over expected. He allowed a 2.3% pressure rate over expected, which ranked 68th. He also ranked 73rd with a 49.4 PFF run-blocking grade. Furthermore, his film indicates he is consistently overmatched in both the run and pass games.

The former fourth-round pick ranks higher than Barnes, Bernard-Converse, and Abanikanda only because he’s garnered legitimate playing time on the team. However, that speaks far more to the state of the Jets’ offense and defense than it does to any of the players’ skill levels.

13. OT Carter Warren

Two things can be true at the same time: Carter Warren played better than Mitchell and Warren also played poorly. Warren’s 7.8% pressure rate was a full percentage point better than Mitchell’s but still ranked 59th out of 82 tackles. His -3.7 pressures saved over expected ranked 56th, and his 1.4% pressure over expected ranked 61st. As a run-blocker, his 49.9 PFF grade ranked 71st, barely above Mitchell.

Warren is more likely to be on the team in 2024 because he has one less year of bad film than Mitchell. He also doesn’t lack strength to the same extent Mitchell does.

12. WR Xavier Gipson

Xavier Gipson played a larger role in the passing game than expected. He caught 21 balls for 229 yards, adding a score in the run game. He dropped just one ball (4.5%) and had a 65.6 targeted passer rating.

As a returner, other than his one punt return touchdown, he averaged 7.9 yards per punt return and 23.3 yards per kickoff return, both subpar numbers. Overall, Gipson is a nice feel-good story but shouldn’t be more than the Jets’ sixth receiver next year.

11. LB Jamien Sherwood

The Jets chose to play nickel coverage more often rather than inserting Jamien Sherwood into the Kwon Alexander role. Sherwood saw just 193 defensive snaps, and 141 of them were on run defense. Sherwood garnered a 78.9 PFF run defense grade, ranking 14th-best among 80 qualified linebackers (min. 140 run defense snaps). This is despite his 8.3% missed tackle rate against the run (41st), a 5.9% stop rate (63rd), and a 5.2 average depth of tackle (75th).

On 45 pass defense snaps, Sherwood allowed 8 of 8 receptions for 89 yards (11.1 per reception) and a score. That tracks with his past numbers against the pass both in the preseason and regular season.

On special teams, Sherwood earned a 74.7 PFF grade on 417 snaps, ranking 25th out of 84 qualified special teamers (min. 300 snaps). He tied for 12th with eight solo tackles on special teams.

Sherwood is entering his walk year with the Jets. There is no guarantee that he will make the roster, as Barnes could replace him. Still, his strong special teams play is more likely to keep him around.

10. QB Zach Wilson

The former No. 2 overall pick showed some strides this season, but Zach Wilson still isn’t anything more than a mid-to-low-range backup quarterback right now. His final numbers are better than they were in 2022 but still not great.

  • 2022: 54.5% completion percentage, 7.0 yards per attempt, 6 TD, 7 INT, 65.9% adjusted completion percentage, -6.2% completion percentage over expected, -0.15 EPA per dropback, 5.9% turnover-worthy play rate, 3.07 time to throw, 72.8 passer rating
  • 2023: 60.1% completion percentage, 6.2 yards per attempt, 8 TD, 7 INT, 72.5% adjusted completion percentage, -1.5% completion percentage over expected, -0.31 EPA per dropback, 2.6% turnover-worthy play rate, 2.92 time to throw, 77.2 passer rating

The reduction in his turnover-worthy plays is what makes Wilson a viable backup. Still, he can’t be that backup with the Jets when they have a quarterback entering his age-41 season.

9. TE Jeremy Ruckert

Jeremy Ruckert took over as the Jets’ second tight end midway through the season. The team used him almost exclusively as a blocking tight end, as he received just 21 targets for the season, catching 16 of them for 151 yards (9.4 yards per reception). His 1.10 yards per route run ranked 38th out of 59 qualified tight ends (min. 20 targets) and ranked 7th out of 14 tight ends with between 20-30 targets.

Ruckert’s 55.0 PFF run-blocking grade ranked 34th out of 67 tight ends with at least 140 run-blocking snaps, placing him at just about average in that area. As a pass-blocker, though, Ruckert’s 36.3 grade ranked last out of 60 tight ends with at least 20 pass-blocking snaps, albeit only 24 such snaps.

Ruckert’s placement here is due to his underwhelming statistical performance. He did not necessarily prove that he is the clear No. 2 tight end for the Jets moving forward. Perhaps some more activity in the passing game would have done so. His lack of production may have more to do with the Jets’ anemic passing game than his capabilities. Still, the Jets don’t have clear evidence that he’s a strong No. 2 tight end.

8. ED Will McDonald

You could argue that Will McDonald should be lower on this list due to his limited snap count. However, McDonald managed to make his snaps count as the season went on.

McDonald finished the season with a 12.1% pressure rate, which is right at the league average for starting edge rushers. He posted four total sacks on 99 pass rush snaps, a 4% rate that would have ranked second if qualified. That tracks with his 4.2% college rate, showing that it’s not necessarily anomalous due to his low snap count.

From Week 9 on, McDonald began to make the most of his opportunities. He had 11 pressures on 58 pass rush snaps, a 19% pressure rate that was better than Bryce Huff’s during that time (14.5%). Obviously, the sample size is very small, but it’s encouraging from the young player.

McDonald added a near-field goal block against the Giants that enabled the Jets to tie the game. The Jets found a way to make the most out of Johnson’s athleticism, and they could do so with McDonald in 2024.

7. FS Tony Adams

Tony Adams had a decent first season as the Jets’ starting free safety. While expectations may have been higher than that, it’s a solid start for a second-year undrafted player thrust into a starting role after only two starts as a rookie.

Adams finished the season with three interceptions, five passes defended, and 82 tackles. He allowed 18 of 28 targets to be caught (64.3%, 26th out of 70 qualified safeties, min. 325 cover snaps) for 239 yards (27th), 13.3 yards per reception (48th), and a long of 23 yards (7th). His 11% forced incompletion rate was 38th, and his 63.5 targeted passer rating ranked 12th. Adams allowed just one touchdown on the season.

Overall, it was a decent start for Adams, who will look to grow in his second year as the Jets’ free safety. 2024 will be his walk year with the Jets (although they will have the ability to tender him as a restricted free agent), adding incentive for him to come back better than ever.

6. OG/C Joe Tippmann

The Jets’ second-round pick started as the backup center, but Joe Tippmann‘s first starts came at right guard. He then transitioned to center with Connor McGovern’s season-ending injury.

Overall, Tippmann’s final PFF grades are below average for the center position. His 67.4 run-blocking grade was tied for 19th out of 36 centers (min. 350 block snaps), while his 52.7 pass-blocking grade ranked 24th. Still, his 11th-ranked 97.9 pass-blocking efficiency speaks to his ability to prevent the worst of the pressure. On the flip side, he tied for the third-most penalties among centers despite playing the 27th-most snaps.

Despite his poor PFF grade, Tippmann was a net positive as a pass-blocker, tying for 10th in saving 3.0 pressures compared to the league average. His 3.5% pressure rate ranked 13th, and his -0.5% net pressure rate ranked 12th.

Tippmann had an uneven season overall, but his performance was solid for a rookie. Importantly, he vastly outperformed the Giants’ John Michael Schmitz, whom the Jets passed over to draft him. He has a chance to make a leap in Year 2 and become the Jets’ rock-solid center of the future.

5. CB Michael Carter II

The Jets’ nickel corner is continuously snubbed from discussions of the league’s best cornerbacks. Michael Carter II ranked 16th among 77 qualified corners (min. 375 cover snaps) in allowing a 56.1% completion percentage, which is rare for a slot corner whose targets are more often quick and therefore difficult to defend. He ranked third in yards per reception (8.1), 13th in targeted passer rating (73.6), fourth in yards per cover snap (0.594), sixth in coverage success rate (65.1%), and 17th in receptions over expected (-2.4).

Overall, Carter II has been one of the best and most consistent nickel corners since entering the NFL. As he stated, “Nickels matter.” He is heading into the final year of his contract and should receive an extension this offseason.

4. OG/OT Alijah Vera-Tucker

You can argue that Alijah Vera-Tucker should be lower on this list because of his back-to-back season-ending injuries in the first half of the year. However, what happened to the Jets’ offensive line after his injuries proves his immense value to the team. His numbers are less relevant than the team’s overall statistics without him from 2022-23.

  • With Vera-Tucker: 250 rush attempts, 4.78 yards per carry, 10 touchdowns, -0.0154 EPA per rush, 39.2% success rate
  • Without Vera-Tucker: 465 rush attempts, 3.85 yards per carry, 7 touchdowns, -0.175 EPA per rush, 32.9% success rate

For reference, the NFL team average from 2022-23 is 4.32 yards per carry, 29 touchdowns, -0.0452 EPA per rush, and a 40.7% success rate. With Vera-Tucker, the Jets would rank fourth in yards per carry, ninth in EPA per rush, and 24th in success rate. Without him, they would rank 29th in yards per carry, 31st in EPA per rush, and last in success rate.

That’s how much of a difference Vera-Tucker makes, regardless of the other injuries the Jets sustained along the offensive line. He singlehandedly turned the league-worst run game into a competent and even above-average one. This season proved the difference holds even with Breece Hall on the field.

3. WR Garrett Wilson

I think this is where the bigger controversy will start — in ranking the Jets’ top three players. They are all 2022 draft picks, and they are three of the most talented players in the NFL.

I put Garrett Wilson here only because his 2023 season was the most disappointing relative to expectations. Some of it was not his fault. The Jets’ anemic passing game made many of his targets uncatchable.

Still, Wilson did less than his share on many passes. A top NFL receiver is expected to make his quarterbacks look better by catching difficult throws. Wilson’s stock in trade is meant to be his large catch radius and acrobatic catches, but that hasn’t shown up in the NFL thus far. Among 70 qualified receivers with at least 60 targets, Wilson ranked 59th with a 29.7% contested catch rate. That was even worse than his 35.9% rate in 2022, when his quarterbacking was just as bad.

Furthermore, Wilson saw a reduction in yards per route run (1.85 to 1.54), YAC per reception (4.7 to 3.4), and yards per reception (13.3 to 11.0). Meanwhile, his drop rate more than doubled from 2.4% in 2022 to 5.9% in 2023. While that was actually better than the 6.1% league average this season, it was still frustrating for Jets fans to see Wilson drop balls that were right in his hands.

This trend likely will reverse if Aaron Rodgers can remain the Jets’ quarterback throughout next season. Additionally, Wilson was the only threat in the Jets’ receiving corps in 2023, while in 2022 he had Davis and Elijah Moore (despite his ineptitude) taking attention away in coverage. Still, there were parts of Wilson’s game that diminished independent of his quarterback play, making him the Jets’ third-best player under 25.

2. RB Breece Hall

In 2022, I would have flipped Breece Hall and Wilson, but Hall finished stronger this season. Hall’s receiving threat and performance in the adverse conditions he faced put him ahead.

PFF ranked the Jets’ offensive line 27th in run-blocking with a 53.7 grade. They ranked 29th in adjusted line yards (separating the offensive line from the back) at 3.64. From the time Vera-Tucker went down, Hall ranked last among 45 qualified backs (min. 75 carries) with 0.63 yards before contact per attempt.

Hall had little running room but ranked fourth in missed tackles forced per touch (0.275). He also ranked 17th with 2.98 yards after contact per attempt even though he was consistently hit near the line of scrimmage.

For the season, Hall ranked fourth out of 49 qualified backs (min. 100 carries) with 3.43 yards after contact per attempt and eighth with 0.258 missed tackles forced per touch. His 88.6 PFF elusiveness rating ranked sixth. Impressively, his 1.75 yards per route ranked second among all backs and was the best mark on the Jets. He also finished the season 13th in yards per carry (4.5) despite poor run-blocking, primarily due to his fifth-ranked 0.7 rush yards over expected (RYOE) per carry.

Hall’s RYOE was not necessarily influenced by a few big runs. He ranked 18th in rushes with at least 10 RYOE and 11th in rushes of at least 5 RYOE. Hall was a regular producer of RYOE, making him an overall consistent running back relative to his blocking.

Although Hall had some issues with his hands, his final numbers were average. His 0.67% fumble rate ranked 25th out of 49 backs and was average (0.71%). His four drops averaged out to a 4.44% rate, ranking 20th and better than the league average for backs (5.67%). He still has occasional problems with his hands, but nothing drastic.

If the Jets can ever get their run-blocking straight, Hall proved that he is one of the most dangerous backs in the NFL. If Nathaniel Hackett understands that Hall is one of the best receiving backs in the league, Hall can see a lot more than 76 receptions for 591 yards and four touchdowns.

1. CB Sauce Gardner

Sauce Gardner was a first-team All-Pro in his rookie season and may well follow that up for a second consecutive year. He’s been a Pro Bowl starter in both of his years. After a slow start in 2023, Gardner finished the season with very similar numbers to his final marks in 2022.

  • 2022: 45.9% catch rate, 18 coverage snaps per reception, 27% forced incompletion rate, 45 long, 14 pass breakups, 5 penalties, 53.9 targeted passer rating, 34 receptions, 361 yards, 1 touchdown, 0.562 yards per cover snap, 10.6 yards per reception, 3.1 YAC per reception
  • 2023: 56.9% catch rate, 19 coverage snaps per reception, 21.6% forced incompletion rate, 32 long, 10 pass breakups, 5 penalties, 76.5 targeted passer rating, 29 receptions, 251 yards, 1 touchdown, 0.431 yards per cover snap, 8.7 yards per reception, 3.1 YAC per reception

The primary difference in several of Gardner’s stats is his interception total. After recording two as a rookie, he dropped three and did not catch any interceptions. Still, his overall numbers were just as good as ever, and he was targeted a lot less (73 vs. 51) because teams finally got the memo not to test him.

Gardner has exceeded the Jets’ wildest expectations when they picked him No. 4 overall in the draft.

Follow Rivka Boord on Twitter @rivka_boord

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5 months ago

Great piece. Just a suggestion to add the positions to the names. Even I, a long-time fan, didn’t recognize a few of these names – although I’ll admit to having zoned out on the team some weeks ago…

5 months ago

Great breakdown, I actually agree with you on Garrett. There are some things he does out there that I think we ignore because of his talent. He’s very loose with the ball and had some careless fumbles. He has had some untimely drops, and there are times I wish he would “fight” harder for the ball. That’s not to say he’s not loaded with superstar potential, and with Rogers should improve, but before we go blaming poor QB play for some of his shortcomings, he’s got some business of his own to tend to.

5 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

good point. I just feel he can do more.