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One area where each of NY Jets’ biggest stars can improve

Sauce Gardner, NY Jets, NFL, Stats, Analytics
Sauce Gardner, New York Jets, Getty Images

How can the New York Jets’ best players get even better?

To become a star in any sport, you can never be satisfied. Until you’re indisputably the greatest player in the history of that sport, you need to find ways to get better. That’s the mindset of a champion.

Going into 2024, the New York Jets have one of the most star-studded rosters in franchise history. The Jets have 11 players (excluding special teamers) who have either made an AP All-Pro team in their career or received All-Pro votes in 2023.

Every single one of those 11 players can still improve – and they’ll have to if the Jets are going to outlast 31 other NFL teams this year.

Here is one area where each of the Jets’ 11 All-Pro-caliber players can improve.

Garrett Wilson: Contested catches

While Wilson has already mastered many aspects of the wide receiver position, he needs to become far more reliable in 50-50 situations to fulfill his sky-high potential. Yes, Wilson has quite a few memorable contested catches on his highlight reel, but highlights belie the fact that he’s come up short in those situations more often than he’s succeeded.

In 2023, Wilson caught just 11 of his 37 contested targets, per Pro Football Focus, giving him a 29.7% contested catch rate that ranked 66th out of 80 qualified wide receivers.

Surely, this abysmal rate can largely be blamed on the quarterbacking; Zach Wilson doesn’t exactly have the best ball placement in 50-50 situations. Aaron Rodgers’ elite placement on jump balls will naturally improve Wilson’s contested catch rate. But can you entirely blame quarterbacking for Wilson being all the way down at 29.7%? No.

Wilson definitely flubbed some tough grabs that you’d like your WR1 to secure.

If Wilson can get his contested catch rate to 50% or better in 2024, he’ll have a chance to establish himself as one of the five best wide receivers in football.

Quinnen Williams: Sack finishing

It’s really hard to poke holes in Williams’ game. He’s arguably the most dominant two-way defensive tackle in the NFL now that Aaron Donald is out of the picture. Outside of maybe Dexter Lawrence, nobody else can even enter the conversation against Williams when it comes to impacting the game against both the pass and the run.

Statistically, the only thing that you can really criticize is his sack production. Williams busted out with 12.0 sacks in 2022 but dropped to 5.5 in 2023. This might prompt box-score scouts to say he had a down year, but Williams actually had 18 more pressures than he did in 2022, jumping from 52 (8th among DT) to 70 (3rd behind Donald and Chris Jones). It was his second consecutive year adding exactly 18 pressures to his total (he had 34 in 2021).

Personally, I could not care less how many sacks Williams has if he racks up 70 pressures while manhandling people in the run game. The sack stat is fluky, so I place far more stock into pressures, which is something the player has more control over. Still, if you want to pick something Williams can get better at, you could say that he can improve at converting his pressures into sacks, and I’m sure it’s something Williams himself is focused on improving.

Again, though, this is nitpicking. Many of Williams’ pressures led to sacks for other Jets players, so he actually created far more than 5.5 sacks even if that’s all the box score says.

Williams is the most complete player on the Jets. More sacks would be nice just so he could gain more national recognition, but he shouldn’t be judged by that number as long as he keeps doing what he’s been doing.

Breece Hall: Short-yardage

We did a complete film breakdown on this part of Hall’s game, so check that out.

Statistically, Hall was terrible in short-yardage situations last year. He converted just 7-of-13 carries on third or fourth down with two or fewer yards to go. His 53.8% conversion rate in those situations ranked 28th out of 31 qualified running backs.

As we discussed in the breakdown, though, Hall’s short-yardage efficiency was largely affected by terrible offensive play. On three of his six failed carries, he was given absolutely no chance of converting the first down. Considering the blocking in front of him, it’s harsh to claim that Hall is as poor of a short-yardage runner as his 53.8% conversion rate suggests.

However, our film review also showed some plays where Hall was slightly at fault for a failed conversion, so he cannot be fully absolved. It’s fair to say that he has room for improvement here. In the breakdown, we concluded that Hall is probably an average short-yardage runner. With his size and power, he has the potential to be much better than average in short-yardage situations.

Haason Reddick: Down-to-down pressure consistency

Reddick has proven himself to be one of the NFL’s elite sack finishers, recording four consecutive seasons of double-digit sacks. He is fourth in the NFL with 50.5 sacks since 2020.

However, Reddick’s gaudy sack totals hide the fact that, from down to down, his pass-rushing consistency is far from elite. In 2023, he had 67 pressures on 557 pass-rush snaps. That’s a pressure rate of 12.0%, which was barely above the league average for edge rushers (11.6%) and ranked 45th among the 95 edge rushers with at least 200 pass-rush snaps.

Reddick was much better in his 2022 All-Pro season, registering a 15.2% pressure rate, but that was an outlier. His 2023 performance is approximately the standard for him; over the past four seasons combined (2020-23), his pressure rate was 12.7%. Solid, yet far from great.

In between his sacks, Reddick is often much quieter than you would expect from a guy with his sack totals.

Luckily, the Jets provide an ideal situation for Reddick to improve in this area.

Reddick has been asked to handle a large workload of snaps each year, playing no fewer than 74% of his team’s defensive snaps in any of the past four seasons. In New York, this number is poised to decrease significantly. None of the Jets’ edge rushers played more than 65.8% of the snaps last year (Jermaine Johnson). And since the Jets’ trade compensation for Reddick will upgrade if he plays at least 67.5% of the snaps (and gets 10 sacks), they probably won’t allow him to even flirt with that rate.

The Jets utilize a rotation-heavy system to keep their defensive linemen well-rested. This will be a major change of pace for Reddick, who is used to playing a heavy workload throughout all four quarters. He will play fewer snaps than ever before, allowing him to provide more juice on each snap that he plays.

Another plus is that Reddick won’t have to worry about coverage responsibilities anymore. Each of Reddick’s previous three stops asked him to drop into coverage multiple times per game. That will almost never happen in New York, as the Jets rarely drop their linemen into coverage. This will allow Reddick to focus on going full-throttle as a pass-rusher on every snap, as he won’t have to think about a diverse set of responsibilities.

Tyron Smith: Staying healthy

On the field, it’s extremely difficult to critique Smith’s game. Joe Blewett just released his film review of Smith, and the ratio of strengths to weaknesses in his scouting report was mind-blowing to see. Blewett is meticulous in his analysis and can usually pinpoint a boatload of weaknesses for even the greatest of players, but he hardly found anything negative to say about Smith.

He’s just got to stay healthy. Let’s not overthink this one.

Michael Carter II: Tackling

Carter II isn’t bad at tackling, or even close to it. He’s just “pretty good.” Yet, since he’s great at most other things, “pretty good” makes it one of his lesser traits.

In 2023, Carter II missed six tackles, per PFF’s tracking. His 10.5% missed tackle rate was the 29th-lowest out of the 88 cornerbacks to play at least 500 snaps. That puts Carter II in the 68th percentile, which is solid, but it can catch up to his elite rankings in most coverage-related categories.

Carter II ranked sixth in All-Pro voting among slot cornerbacks. I think he was clearly snubbed, but as a player, if you want to earn these types of honors, you must strive to do whatever it takes to catch the voters’ attention. Looking at the All-Pro voting at the slot position, one thing stands out: Each of the five players who ranked ahead of Carter II had at least 74 tackles. Carter II had 50. Tackles are clearly what caught the voters’ attention for slot cornerbacks, so it would help Carter II’s case if he were more active in this area.

That’s some major nitpicking, though. While Carter II had fewer total tackles than three of the five players voted above him, he actually had a lower missed tackle rate than two of them, including first-team selection Trent McDuffie. Total tackles is a stat that often has more to do with a player’s role than his actual skill at tracking down ball carriers. Carter II plays a coverage-focused role in which he rarely blitzes or plays in the box. He’ll never get a ton of tackles. The voters need to wake up and pay attention to his elite coverage metrics instead of being lazy and looking at box scores.

Still, from the perfectionist viewpoint of an NFL athlete, you want to sharpen every aspect of your game until it’s pristine, and Carter II has room to cut some missed tackles out of his game. I don’t care how many total tackles he gets in 2024, but if he can get his missed tackle rate up to the same elite level as his coverage metrics, he will establish himself as one of the most complete defensive backs (not just cornerbacks) in the NFL – All-Pro voting be damned.

Aaron Rodgers: Short passing

The last time we saw Rodgers for a full season, he had a disappointing year statistically. Rodgers’ 2022 numbers were some of the least impressive of his career.

There were many areas where Rodgers’ production declined in 2022. Perhaps the biggest – at least in comparison to his MVP seasons in 2020 and 2021 – was his short passing.

Rodgers was known as a gunslinger in his early years. But when he returned to MVP heights in 2020 and 2021, it was his short-range passing that made him so lethal.

On short passes (0-9 yards downfield) from 2020 to 2021, Rodgers completed 405-of-477 attempts for 3,340 yards, 40 touchdowns, and three interceptions. He led the NFL in passer rating (121.2) and completion percentage (84.9%) on short passes over this span. His 40 touchdown passes ranked second, trailing Tom Brady by one. No other quarterback had more than 32 touchdowns.

On short passes in 2022, Rodgers dropped to a 95.9 passer rating (19th of 32 qualifiers) and a 76.7% completion percentage (20th) while throwing just six touchdowns (15th).

To be an elite quarterback at this stage of his career, Rodgers must be surgical in the short range. Getting the ball out quickly with precise accuracy needs to be his bread-and-butter. It’s imperative for him to figure out how to recapture the short-range excellence he achieved in the first two years of this decade.

Quincy Williams: Tackling

Williams isn’t nearly as prone to missed tackles as he was when he arrived in New York. The former third-round pick has learned how to harness his aggressive athleticism and use it to make more plays than he gives back, culminating in first-team All-Pro honors.

As great as he’s become, Williams still has room to be more efficient. He missed 20 tackles in 2023, per PFF. His 13.2% missed tackle rate ranked 50th out of the 66 linebackers to play at least 500 snaps.

That’s a price the Jets will gladly accept for Williams’ gargantuan NFL-best total of 80 defensive stops – nine more than any other player and 19 more than the third-ranked player – but great players never stop striving to improve. Williams has only gotten better and better each year with the Jets. Why not seek to continue the trend?

C.J. Mosley: Catching interceptions

Mosley does a great job of finding the football in coverage; he’s tied for fifth among linebackers with 14 passes defended since 2022, recording seven in each of the past two seasons. Where he can improve is actually coming up with the ball. Mosley led linebackers with four dropped interceptions in 2023.

Morgan Moses: Maintain gap-blocking improvement

Moses was not a highly regarded gap blocker when he was last with the Jets. In 2021, his 55.7 gap-blocking grade at PFF ranked 51st out of 65 qualified tackles. It didn’t matter much, though, as the Jets were a zone-heavy team at the time.

However, Moses went to Baltimore’s gap-heavy offense and transformed into a road-grader on those concepts. He had a 79.4 gap-blocking grade in 2022, ranking sixth-best, and a 71.1 grade in 2023, ranking 17th. His performance in the Ravens’ run scheme helped him earn two All-Pro votes in 2023.

We have yet to hear official word from the Jets’ coaches confirming that they plan to overhaul the run scheme. But with the additions of three starting linemen who appear to be better in gap schemes than zone schemes (Moses, Smith, and John Simpson), along with the selection of two downhill-minded running backs, it seems likely the Jets are gearing up to become more of a gap/power-running team in 2024. Should that be the case, all the Jets need from Moses is to keep doing what he did in Baltimore.

Sauce Gardner: Tackling

Gardner had a great rookie year as a tackler, missing just six tackles. His 7.6% missed tackle rate ranked 11th-lowest out of 82 qualified cornerbacks.

In 2023, Gardner took a big step back, jumping to 11 misses. His 16.2% missed tackle was 68th out of 88 qualifiers at the position. Gardner struggled equally in both phases, posting a 15.9% miss rate in the passing game and a 16.7% rate in the run game.

Gardner’s tackling wasn’t a major problem since he faces such a low volume of tackling opportunities. He gets targeted at an extremely low rate, and as an outside cornerback, the ball finds him in the run game less often than any other player on the field. Nonetheless, to cement his status as the best cornerback in football, Gardner must return to his rookie-year heights in this category.

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1 month ago

Man, watching the Reddick segment is painful, I’m so glad Tyron is a Jet!