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These NY Jets players’ roster spots depend on special teams

Zack Kuntz, NY Jets, TE, RAS, Roster
Zack Kuntz, New York Jets, Getty Images

These players could clinch a roster spot with the New York Jets due to special teams contributions

One of the New York Jets’ most underrated losses this offseason was special teams captain Justin Hardee. Just as the kickoff rules changed, the Jets lost their player who excelled at covering and blocking for kickoffs.

For the Jets, special teams has played more of a role in roster positioning than for most other teams. It seems evident that special teams coordinator Brant Boyer gets a say in who makes the bottom of the roster. That will likely be the case more than ever with the new rules.

Which Jets players stand to benefit or lose the most from this?

WR Irvin Charles

Irvin Charles unexpectedly make the Jets’ 53-man roster in 2023 due to his special teams contributions. He played just 43 offensive snaps the whole season but saw 236 on special teams. In particular, he took over for Hardee after injury. Charles struggled with tackling, making 8 tackles compared to 6 misses, but he still earned a 90.3 Pro Football Focus special teams grade, leading all 176 players who had at least 225 special teams snaps.

As Michael Nania detailed, Charles already had a reputation as a strong special teamer before the season began. He backed it up when filling in for Hardee.

If Charles has any chance to make the Jets’ roster, it’s as a gunner. If he made it in 2023 with Hardee present, it seems likely he’ll make it again now that Hardee is gone.

CB Qwan’tez Stiggers

The Jets’ fifth-round cornerback has a nose for tackling, ranking 33rd among CFL players in that category where the highest-ranked NFL corner was 65th. His elite 2.50 20-yard split and 1.52 10-yard split show that he can get up to full speed quickly. Stiggers’ tackling form can be spotty, but he can make his mark on special teams.

LB Chazz Surratt

Chazz Surratt’s 81.1 PFF special teams grade ranked 18th out of 176 qualifiers. He recorded six solo tackles and one assist with no misses on special teams. Surratt posted a 69.1 grade as a special teamer in 2021 with Minnesota on 98 snaps. Jamien Sherwood is the Jets’ primary backup linebacker, and they seem to like Zaire Barnes enough to keep him around as a developmental player. That means Surratt’s way on to the roster is special teams.

TEs Kenny Yeboah and Zack Kuntz

These two tight ends may just be battling each other on special teams to make the roster. Kenny Yeboah has mainly played special teams with the Jets, as did Zack Kuntz when he got an opportunity in 2023.

Yeboah posted a 76.8 PFF grade on 113 snaps, his third consecutive season with a grade over 75.0 on at least 110 snaps. Kuntz will have a long way to go to unseat him, but his 4.55-second 40-yard dash is a significant advantage against Yeboah’s 4.75 mark.

Kuntz has displayed the potential to translate this speed to the field. In the preseason, he reached a maximum speed of 20.19 mph while playing on the kickoff team, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Only three tight ends in the entire 2023 season (preseason through postseason) reached a faster top speed on a kickoff. The challenge for Kuntz is proving he can use that speed to make a real impact.

Safeties Jaylen Key and Jarrick Bernard-Converse

Being Mr. Irrelevant with a 4.6 40-time doesn’t make it easy to stick on a roster. Despite Jaylen Key’s 9.17 RAS, speed is not his primary athletic trait. That won’t help him try to win a roster spot against Jarrick Bernard-Converse, whose 9.77 RAS and 4.42 40-yard dash easily outstrip Key.

Add the fact that the Jets kept Bernard-Converse on the roster as a sixth-round pick even though he was on the PUP list for much of his rookie season, and you clearly have a player the Jets seem intent on developing. That could hurt Key’s chances of making the roster.

WR Xavier Gipson

With the Jets’ selection of Malachi Corley in the third round, Xavier Gipson lost his starting slot spot. Considering that the Jets like to use Garrett Wilson inside and could also put Allen Lazard there, Gipson could find himself buried on the depth chart.

That means Gipson’s primary way onto the roster is as the kick and punt returner. The problem is that Gipson did not acquit himself well in that role. He fumbled a combined 5 times and only averaged 8.2 yards per punt return over the next 16 games after his game-winner in Week 1, a rate that would’ve ranked 22nd out of 28 qualifiers in 2023. Gipson also didn’t stand out as a kickoff returner, averaging 23.2 yards with a long of just 34 yards across 22 attempts.

Luckily for Gipson, the Jets don’t have much competition for him, especially at punt returner. Even if they try Corley at kick returner, they’re unlikely to use him as a punt returner if he’s rarely done it before. There aren’t too many other options on the roster. That could keep Gipson’s spot on the roster.

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