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Top 5 non-injury fears that could sink NY Jets’ 2024 season

NY Jets, Aaron Rodgers, QB, 2024
Aaron Rodgers, New York Jets, Getty Images

Outside of injuries, what are the main ways the New York Jets’ 2024 season could fall apart?

Without a doubt, injuries are the number one reason that NFL teams fall short of expectations. This is especially true for the New York Jets, who have dealt with worse injury luck than most NFL teams in recent years. As we look forward to the 2024 season, injuries remain the likeliest impediment that could hold the Jets back from achieving their lofty goals.

With that in mind, let’s put health to the side and pinpoint the top five non-injury-related outcomes that could hold the Jets back in 2024.

1. Aaron Rodgers not being the QB we expect

Aaron Rodgers is a four-time MVP who owns the best career passer rating in NFL history. That’s who the Jets believe they are getting. If you think their expectations are lower than that, just rewatch Hard Knocks to remind yourself how much this team fawns over him.

The Jets and their fans are expecting to get a superstar quarterback who is capable of going toe-to-toe against the many other all-world passers in a loaded AFC. And by all accounts, Rodgers seems fully capable of continuing to play at the superstar level people have come to expect from him. Throughout 2023 training camp and his brief preseason appearance, his arm seemed to remain in peak form, and we know his brain isn’t going anywhere. Rodgers’ mobility has certainly declined in recent years (and will continue to decline post-Achilles), but his mobility was already significantly drained by 2021, and yet, he still won MVP while being more of a pocket quarterback.

Hopefully, Aaron Rodgers will be Aaron Rodgers in 2024. There’s a good chance this will happen. But there is also a real possibility that Rodgers is just “good” or “okay” rather than amazing.

The last time we saw a full season of Rodgers, he was very pedestrian from a statistical perspective. He finished the 2022 season ranked 15th in passer rating (91.1), 18th in passing yards per game (217.4), and 27th in QBR (41.3).

Much of Rodgers’ lackluster production in 2022 could be pinned on an underwhelming supporting cast that failed to replace Davante Adams. Rodgers was also dealing with a thumb injury for a large portion of the year. Still, for a guy who will soon turn 40 and is coming off an Achilles injury, we cannot brush aside his 2022 production. Yes, he will have a better supporting cast with the Jets, but he’s also two years older with a major injury tacked on. Rodgers’ 2022 campaign showed that, at this stage of his career, he can be made to look human in certain circumstances.

With their defense, weapons, and offensive line, the Jets can still be a playoff team with Rodgers being “good” or “okay.” Heck, they probably would have been a playoff team in each of the last two seasons if Tyrod Taylor started all 34 of those games. If they want to win the Super Bowl, though, they will probably need the peak version of Rodgers. If he comes out this year looking like a shell of himself, it would place a firm cap on the team’s ceiling.

2. Olu Fashanu struggling mightily as a rookie

In my rookie-year stat predictions for the Jets’ 2024 draft class, I projected that Olu Fashanu will pass protect at the level of a league-average starting tackle in his rookie year. This would be a great outcome. The Jets must be prepared for their aging starting tackles to miss a hefty total of games. If their backup tackle can come in and protect Aaron Rodgers like a middle-of-the-pack starter, the offensive line will be able to stay afloat in the face of injuries.

However, being a rookie, Fashanu could look awful this year. That’s not a knock on him as an individual, nor would it eliminate him from becoming a great player down the line. The fact of the matter is that NFL rookies tend to struggle, even those selected in the first round. I broke down the tendencies of rookie first-round tackles in a previous article:

Of the 30 first-round tackles since 2014 who started at least four games as a rookie, 13 of them (43%) committed at least 10 penalties per 1,000 snaps, a rate that would have ranked bottom-16 among 64 qualifiers in 2023. An equal total of 13 players allowed a sack rate of at least 1.09%, which is the bottom-16 threshold in that category. Seven of the 30 players (23%) hit both of those criteria, meaning they ranked in the bottom quarter of sacks and penalties as a rookie.

First-round picks such as Kolton Miller, Kaleb McGary, and Andrew Thomas rebounded from brutal rookie years to become high-end starters. Fashanu’s 2024 performance will not define his career. With that being said, the Jets are relying on him to play a vital role for them this year, so if he does fall into the group of rookies who undergo severe growing pains, it will be costly for the Jets. With Tyron Smith holding down one of their starting spots, there is a chance Fashanu could start a large chunk of games, meaning it would hurt immensely if he is a poor player in 2024.

3. Mike Williams’ production falling off a cliff

On a per-game basis, Mike Williams has been a dominant wideout over the past three years, producing 71.6 receiving yards per game. Since 2021, he’s averaged 84 receptions for 1,217 yards and 7 touchdowns per 17 games. That would make him a WR1 on most teams, and he’s the Jets’ WR2.

If the Jets get this version of Williams, they will have one of the best offenses in the NFL. The problem is that we don’t know what version of Williams will show up this year. If NFL teams felt confident that Williams would be an 84/1217/7 guy going forward, the Jets wouldn’t have gotten him on a measly one-year, $10 million deal.

Williams is coming off a torn ACL, will turn 30 this year, and already has a long history of back and neck injuries. His outlook is troubling. While he offers a tantalizing ceiling, he is nowhere near a lock to hit that ceiling when considering all of the red flags.

As the roster is currently constructed, the Jets are taking a big gamble on Williams to be the peak version of himself. The only other addition they’ve made to the wide receiver room is third-round pick Malachi Corley. If Williams is a severely declined player this season, Garrett Wilson could be running a one-man show at wide receiver once again.

This wouldn’t be the end of the world for New York’s offense, as they have good pass-catching threats at other positions in Breece Hall and Tyler Conklin. However, it would still be quite costly. The main appeal of having Williams is that he can take pressure off Wilson and allow him to face more one-on-one matchups. If Williams doesn’t prove himself to be a threat this year, Wilson will be back to seeing constant double teams.

4. Will McDonald not taking a leap

With Bryce Huff and John Franklin-Myers out the door, the Jets have lost 60% of the total pressures from their 2023 EDGE room (117 of 195). Haason Reddick can be trusted to make up for a large chunk of those 117 vacated pressures, but the Jets are gambling on Will McDonald to cover the rest.

The four-man rush is what anchors this Jets defense. Their whole defensive philosophy is built upon the ability to create pressure without blitzing. The Jets have done that marvelously over the past two years, and it was thanks in large part to Huff and Franklin-Myers. If Reddick and McDonald can seamlessly replicate their production, the Jets’ defense won’t skip a beat. But if McDonald fails to take a leap this year, the pass rush will take a noticeable dip – and the entire defense along with it.

5. Run defense being a major weakness

In a recent article, Rivka Boord discussed why the Jets’ run defense is a concern going into this year. She ultimately concluded that the Jets’ pass defense will remain dominant enough to outweigh a mediocre run defense, and I agree with that. The Jets fielded elite defenses in each of the past two years with this mindset. As long as the run defense is “fine,” they can be an elite defensive team on the strength of elite coverage and elite pass rushing.

Still, the Jets have many questionable run defenders on their unit. Three of the top four players in their defensive tackle rotation were among the worst interior run defenders in the NFL last season based on PFF’s run defense grade: Javon Kinlaw (136th of 142 qualified DT), Solomon Thomas (133rd), and Leki Fotu (122nd). Two of their top three edge rushers (Haason Reddick and Will McDonald) are average at best against the run, although McDonald has the potential to improve. At safety, Tony Adams needs to clean up his tackling after tying for eighth at the position with eight missed tackles against the run.

What if the run defense stoops to being not just mediocre, but poor? The Jets have been able to remain elite with a top-tier pass rush and a merely “fine” run defense, but if it nosedives to being poor, it could become a more severe issue that limits the team’s overall defensive dominance.

I think the Jets’ run defense will be just fine, as they have plenty of great run defenders as well (Quinnen Williams, Quincy Williams, Jermaine Johnson, C.J. Mosley), but don’t rule out the possibility of it being a bigger issue than it was in the past two years. This unit is a tad soft in the trenches when it comes to plugging up running lanes.

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