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Who should NY Jets use in kickoff coverage in 2024?

Irvin Charles, NY Jets, NFL, Special Teams
Irvin Charles, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets may face a challenge in covering kickoff returns

In the 2022 offseason, I pounded the table for the New York Jets to release special teams-only player Justin Hardee. I felt he had not justified his $2.35 million salary. Instead, the Jets kept him around in 2022 and 2023, only to let him walk in 2024 when his presence was more important than ever.

With the NFL’s new kickoff rules, coverage specialists have far more of a role than in recent seasons. There is a chance for many big returns to happen in a game. Losing Hardee’s coverage (and blocking) will sting.

Many players who contribute on special teams are rookies or players who are lower on the depth chart. The Jets may not be able to afford to do that in kick coverage, though. They’ll need to put the best players out there or risk big returns. The 2022 Jets saw how coverage lapses could cost them games, losing to the Lions and Patriots due to punt return touchdowns.

Who should the Jets use in kickoff coverage in 2024?

Previous studs

Irvin Charles made the Jets’ roster in 2023 due to special teams, and he’s nearly a lock for their 2024 roster for the same reason. Saleh called him an “absolute wolf” due to his prowess. When Hardee went down for several weeks during the 2023 season, Charles was activated and made an impact. Among 176 players with at least 225 special teams snaps, Charles’ 90.3 Pro Football Focus grade ranked No. 1. That being said, Charles had some problems with tackling, missing six of them while making eight. His biggest impact was getting downfield and forcing the return into the teeth of the coverage.

Ashtyn Davis is the Jets’ punt protector, but his speed allows him to get downfield rapidly in coverage. Davis’ 85.2 PFF coverage grade tied for eighth-best, and he had 12 total tackles with just one miss.

Other excellent Jets special teamers include Chazz Surratt (81.1 grade), long snapper Thomas Hennessy (77.2), Jamien Sherwood (74.7), and Isaiah Oliver (71.6). Sherwood is a surehanded tackler in general, and he had nine combined special teams tackles with no misses.

Possible addition

Chuck Clark’s surehanded tackling and ability to take good tackle angles to mitigate big plays could make him a valuable asset as a special teamer. Clark hasn’t played significant special teams snaps since 2019, and the Jets’ starting safeties in 2023, Tony Adams and Jordan Whitehead, barely played on special teams (Adams had 38 snaps, Whitehead none). It seems unlikely that the Jets will use Clark in that area, especially coming off a torn ACL. Still, he could be a valuable asset in that area.

Stay away

Qwan’tez Stiggers was a tackling machine in the CFL — but he was even more of a missed tackle machine. That’s a really bad recipe for special teams coverage, no matter how much Stiggers may try.

Jeremy Ruckert has played plenty of special teams for the Jets through his first two seasons, but he’s not all that good at it. He posted grades of 45.3 and 58.0 in 2022-23, and he’s missed three tackles in two seasons with just two tackles.

Micheal Clemons’ continued usage on special teams despite his size is problematic in coverage. He had 21 kickoff coverage snaps in 2023, but that should go down to zero this season. There’s no reason to have a player with a 4.85 40-yard dash and a tackling issue on the field on kickoffs.

If Nick Bawden makes the roster, the Jets should not use him in coverage, either. His 48.1 PFF grade and two missed tackles demonstrate that.

While teams need to weigh the risk of injury against the likelihood of success, the new kickoff rules may cause more attention on who covers kickoffs. The Jets should change their coverage unit accordingly.

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Jonathan Richter
25 days ago

I hear JBC might be a new ST guy.