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Top 10 players in the AFC East: How many are NY Jets?

Sauce Gardner, Tyreek Hill, NY Jets, Dolphins
Sauce Gardner, Tyreek Hill, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, AFC East, Getty Images

The New York Jets have a strong roster, but how many of their players rule the AFC East?

The AFC East seems as wide open for the New York Jets as it has in decades. The Buffalo Bills went with a youth movement, while the Miami Dolphins lost talent in the trenches and on their coaching staff. The New England Patriots are clearly in rebuild mode.

Still, top-end talent can go a long way in football, particularly at the quarterback position. Even bad teams can have some stars who stand out. Who are the top 10 players in the AFC East?

Honorable mentions

Haason Reddick, Greg Rousseau, Jermaine Johnson, Jaelan Phillips, Bradley Chubb, and Matthew Judon all have an argument for this list. Different pass rush statistics (pressure rate, sacks, pass rush win rate, true pass set pressure rate) in different seasons could make the case for them.

Jalen Ramsey would have been on this list a few seasons ago, but his numbers are just not up there with the top cornerbacks in the NFL anymore. Michael Carter II and Taron Johnson deserve a spot far more than him, as they are two of the top three slot cornerbacks in the league.

Jevon Holland is one of the best ball-hawking safeties in the NFL and probably has the best argument for this list.

T-9. WRs Jaylen Waddle and Garrett Wilson

It’s hard to differentiate between these two players because of the disparity in their respective roles. Jaylen Waddle played opposite Tyreek Hill in a high-flying offense. Garrett Wilson played opposite no one in one of the worst offenses in NFL history.

Still, Waddle has averaged 5.3 receptions for 72.0 yards and 0.38 touchdowns per game in his three-year career. Wilson is at 5.2 receptions for 63.1 yards and 0.21 touchdowns per game in two seasons. While Waddle’s numbers are better, the difference in their situations makes them roughly equal. Waddle’s rookie numbers — 104 receptions, 1,015 yards, 6 touchdowns — were not that different from Wilson’s — 83 catches for 1,103 yards and 4 touchdowns.

You could give Waddle the nod because of his yards per route run (2.27 vs. 1.69), but again, in their rookie seasons, it was similar (1.75 vs. 1.85). Contested catch rate is more of an advantage for Waddle (44% career vs. 32.9%).

Still, overall, the two players are similar enough to put them together. Wilson has the potential to pull ahead if Aaron Rodgers can stay healthy in 2024.

8. RBs De’Von Achane and Breece Hall

Like with Wilson and Waddle, it’s hard to differentiate these two players because of disparate running environments. Achane was running in a wide-open offense with the league’s fastest team, while Breece Hall was running against defenses who did not fear the pass at all. Additionally, Achane is facing a stacked running back room in Miami, with Raheem Mostert still present and rookie speedster Jaylen Wright vying for touches.

Still, Achane’s absurd efficiency in 2023 cannot be underestimated. He averaged 7.9 yards per carry on 102 carries, 2.5 yards above the next-closest player. He scored eight touchdowns in 13 games even with Mostert getting most of the goal-line carries. Achane averaged 5.12 yards after contact per attempt — he would have ranked fifth among running backs in yards per carry just with his yards after contact! His 153.5 elusiveness rating led all backs.

Hall’s numbers in 2023 were not nearly as impressive, but his two-year body of work coupled with being the bell cow back put him in the same range. Hall averaged 4.5 yards per carry with 0.7 rush yards over expected per carry, meaning that his expected yards per carry was 3.8. He ranked second among backs with 1.76 yards per route run and averaged 3.43 yards after contact per attempt (fourth among backs). In his rookie season, behind poor run-blocking, he averaged 5.8 yards per carry and 4.13 yards after contact per attempt.

Hall is a bigger receiving threat out of the backfield than Achane and has dealt with worse circumstances. Still, the 4.32 speedster in Miami is a force to be reckoned with heading into his second season.

7. QB Aaron Rodgers

It’s hard to know where to put Aaron Rodgers on this list, if at all. Objectively speaking, Tua Tagovailoa outplayed him in 2022 and played at a top-tier level in 2023. Still, it’s Aaron Rodgers we’re talking about, four-time NFL MVP. Tagovailoa’s own team hasn’t committed to him beyond 2024 yet.

T-6. LTs Terron Armstead and Tyron Smith

The Jets’ and Dolphins’ left tackles are of similar ages (32.8 vs. 33.4), similar injury histories (100 vs. 98 games played since 2015), and similar ability levels. While Armstead’s 1.9% pressure rate was significantly better than Smith’s 3.4%, Smith outdid Armstead in true pass sets (3.7% vs. 5.9%). Both are better pass blockers than run blockers but are capable in the run game, as well.

Smith was a second-team All-Pro in 2023, while Armstead is coming off back-to-back Pro Bowls. Smith has a more impressive resumé of awards, with two first-team All-Pros, three second-team All-Pros, and eight Pro Bowls compared to Armstead’s one second-team All-Pro and five Pro Bowls.

It’s difficult to differentiate these two players. Smith likely means more to the Jets than Armstead does to Miami, as Miami has managed without him over the past two seasons, while the Jets have fallen apart due in large part to their tackle play.

5. LB Matt Milano

Matt Milano was a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler in 2022 before fracturing his leg in Week 5 of the 2023 season. Milano is perhaps the best coverage linebacker in the game outside of Fred Warner. He allowed the ninth-lowest completion percentage (72.9%) and the 16th-lowest yards per reception (8.5) among linebackers with the ninth-highest forced incompletion rate (10%) and sixth-most pass breakups (5) in 2022, also posting three interceptions (with four dropped interceptions).

The Bills’ defense will run largely through Milano with their top safety duo gone.

4. CB Sauce Gardner

Sauce Gardner is the best cornerback in the NFL. He’s been a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler in each of his first two seasons. He ranked third among 72 qualified corners in yards per target (4.9), fourth in yards per reception (8.7), second in yards per cover snap (0.43), eighth in pass breakups (10), second in forced incompletion rate (21%), and fourth in coverage snaps per reception (18.9) in 2023.

Gardner could have easily been No. 3, but I think the next player is more important to the Jets’ defense.

3. IDL Quinnen Williams

Quinnen Williams made the Pro Bowl in 2023 after being a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler in 2022. Williams posted a 15.1% pressure rate in 2023, second only to Chris Jones among 65 qualified interior defensive linemen. He also ranked seventh in Pro Football Focus run defense grade (77.7). More importantly, he anchored the Jets’ defensive line, allowing others one-on-one matchups. He was double-teamed on 70% of his reps, more than any other interior defender in the league.

2. WR Tyreek Hill

It was a close call between Tyreek Hill and the No. 1 player on the list, but receiver will never outstrip quarterback. Hill has nearly broken Calvin Johnson’s single-season receiving record in consecutive seasons. His 3.20 yards per route run in 2023 dwarfed the next-closest receiver (Justin Jefferson at 2.62). A five-time first-team All-Pro in eight seasons, eight-time Pro Bowler, runner up for Offensive Player of the Year in 2023, and receiver of MVP votes in 2022 and 2023, Hill has left not much more to say about him. He’s the best receiver in the NFL.

1. QB Josh Allen

Josh Allen’s lack of playoff success does not diminish his absurd record. A two-time Pro Bowler and one-time second-team All-Pro only because Patrick Mahomes exists, Allen has posted at least 42 combined touchdowns in each of the last four seasons. He has never managed to protect the ball as well as he did in 2020, but his explosiveness as a two-way threat generally dwarfs that concern. He ranked fourth in the NFL in passing yards and tied for first in big-time throw rate (6%) in 2023.

Allen’s ability as a difference-maker will likely be put to the test in 2023, as the Bills lost Stefon Diggs without properly replacing him. Still, he’s proven to be the X-factor in the AFC East for the last four seasons, earning the No. 1 spot on this list.

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