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Breaking down NY Jets’ strength of schedule by position group

D.J. Reed, NY Jets, Justin Jefferson, Schedule, Vikings
D.J. Reed, New York Jets, Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings, Getty Images

Strength of schedule can be broken down even more specifically

Strength of schedule is a key factor when evaluating an NFL team’s outlook. Usually, it’s evaluated in one of two ways: either the previous season’s win-loss records or Vegas’ projected win totals for the upcoming season. The latter method is more effective since it accounts for changes in the offseason.

According to a study from Sharp Football Analysis published earlier this week, the New York Jets have the NFL’s fourth-easiest schedule in 2024 based on projected win totals from oddsmakers. It’s also the second-easiest schedule in the AFC (behind the Chargers) and the easiest in the AFC East.

While this is a good method for getting a surface-level understanding of what a team’s schedule might look like, I wanted to take it a step further. At which specific position groups will the Jets draw the toughest and easiest slates in 2024?

This can give us a much more specific feel for the type of challenges that await New York. Will the Jets face a gauntlet of wide receivers but a cakewalk of secondaries? Could the Jets’ offensive line receive a walk in the park against measly defensive lines, while the defensive line will be tested against a brigade of elite offensive lines?

To answer these questions, I analyzed the 2024 NFL Unit Grades created by ESPN analytics writer Mike Clay, which he shared on April 23. While this was before the draft, just about every major veteran move of the offseason had already happened, and those moves are much more vital in projections than the draft, as veteran performance can be predicted somewhat accurately whereas the draft is a total crapshoot.

Based on the projected production of every player in the 2024 season, Clay assigns a grade from 0.0 to 4.0 for every unit in the NFL at 10 different position groups (5 on each side of the ball): QB, RB, WR, TE, OL, DI, ED, LB, CB, and S.

Jets’ 2024 opponents highlighted.

Mike-Clay-ESPN-NY-Jets-NFL-Schedule
via X/@MikeClayNFL

I took the average rating for each unit among the 17 teams on the Jets’ schedule (counting division opponents twice).

Based on this method, here is every unit on the Jets’ schedule ranked from worst to best.

10. Offensive line

  • Average score: 1.59
  • Would rank among 21st among OL

Offensive line is the weakest position on the Jets’ schedule by a significant margin. The gap between OL and the ninth-ranked position on the list is larger than the gap between the ninth-ranked position and the fourth-ranked position.

New York will play 12 of its 17 games against teams with an OL rating below 2.0. The only 2.0+ lines on the Jets’ schedule are the 49ers (Week 1), Broncos (Week 4), Vikings (Week 5), Colts (Week 11), and Rams (Week 16). So, the Jets will start the year facing solid lines in three of their first five games, but after that, they’ll only see two over their final 12 games.

The pillow-soft slate of opposing offensive lines is tremendous news for a New York pass rush that has a limitless ceiling but has undergone some significant changes. As second-year man Will McDonald seeks to step up and help the Jets recuperate from the loss of Bryce Huff, he’ll enjoy the luxury of facing numerous exploitable tackles, improving his odds of a breakout.

If McDonald can maximize his advantageous matchups on his way to a second-year leap, the Jets’ pass rush is poised to dominate. Quinnen Williams, Haason Reddick, and Jermaine Johnson will be more talented than their opponents in most of the Jets’ games this year. Add a fourth dynamic pass rusher to the mix, and this could be the league’s most productive pass rush in 2024.

9. Interior defensive line

  • Average score: 1.86
  • Would rank 19th among DI

The Jets’ interior offensive line trio of John Simpson, Joe Tippmann, and Alijah Vera-Tucker will dodge most of the league’s established superstars at defensive tackle.

New York won’t face any of the six defensive tackles who were named to either the AP or PFF All-Pro teams in 2023: Aaron Donald, Quinnen Williams, Chris Jones, Dexter Lawrence, Derrick Brown, and Justin Madubuike. They also won’t face Jalen Carter or Alim McNeill, who joined five of those players (sans Madubuike) among PFF’s top-seven graded defensive tackles with at least 500 snaps.

The highest-graded DTs the Jets will face are New England’s Christian Barmore and the Rams’ Kobie Turner, who tied for eighth in PFF’s overall grade. They are the only players from the top 10 and two of just five in the top 20. Barmore and Turner are followed by Jacksonville’s Arik Armstead (12th), Indy’s DeForest Buckner (13th), and Seattle’s Leonard Williams (17th).

All five of those players graded higher as pass rushers than run defenders. When you narrow it down to run defense, the Jets’ DT schedule looks especially easy. Ranked 12th at the position in PFF’s run defense grade, Kobie Turner is the highest-graded run defending DT on the Jets’ schedule. Leonard Williams joins Turner as the only other DT in the top 15. If you cut the snap qualifier down to 300 snaps, Indy’s Grover Stewart (5th) joins the picture, but even then, it’s only Stewart, Turner, and Williams in the top 20.

Simpson, Tippmann, and Vera-Tucker will have a chance to set the tone in the run game on a weekly basis. As the Jets look to shift toward a downhill, power-running style, their weak schedule of interior run defenders is a major advantage.

8. Edge defender

  • Average score: 1.92
  • Would rank 18th among ED

Unlike on the interior, New York won’t avoid the league’s all-world superstars on the edge. Nick Bosa, T.J. Watt, Josh Allen, and Danielle Hunter await. Bradley Chubb, Boye Mafe, Travon Walker, Will Anderson, Jonathon Cooper, and Greg Rousseau are formidable threats, too, each posting at least 55 total pressures last season.

Despite this impressive list of names, the Jets’ overall EDGE schedule is dragged down by a handful of poor units. The Jets will play nine of their 17 games against teams with a bottom-12 EDGE unit, including six against teams in the bottom-eight.

After the season opener against San Francisco’s elite defensive line, seven of the Jets’ next 10 games are against teams with a bottom-12 EDGE unit. Tyron Smith and Morgan Moses will have a chance to settle in after a challenging start. If Olu Fashanu is forced into the fray earlier than hoped, he should have a relatively favorable opportunity to hit the ground running.

7. Quarterback

  • Average score: 1.96
  • Would rank 18th among QB

The Jets drew a favorable quarterback schedule outside of their division. They’ll have four tough games against Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa, but of the Jets’ 11 non-division games, only four feature a QB unit graded above 2.0 (good enough for top-16): Brock Purdy’s 49ers, C.J. Stroud’s Texans, Trevor Lawrence’s Jaguars, and Matthew Stafford’s Rams. Kyler Murray’s Cardinals just missed the cut, landing at 17th with a 2.0.

The QB slate is extremely lopsided. Only three of New York’s first 12 games are against top-16 QB units. After that, they’ll finish the year with five consecutive games against top-16 QB units.

In nine of the Jets’ first 12 games, Aaron Rodgers will indisputably be the best QB on the field. It’s crucial for the Jets to take advantage and get off to a fast start. Once they get to the stretch run, every game will be a duel between talented QBs. New York needs to feast in September and October against a string of teams whose QB position is in flux.

The majority of the Jets’ early opponents don’t even know who their QB1 will be yet. After facing Will Levis in Week 2, the next six weeks feature games against the Patriots (Jacoby Brissett/Drake Maye), Broncos (Zach Wilson/Bo Nix), Vikings (J.J. McCarthy/Sam Darnold), Steelers (Russell Wilson/Justin Fields), and the Patriots again.

6. Linebacker

  • Average score: 2.02
  • Would rank 17th among LB

The Jets will take on some great linebackers this year. Fred Warner awaits in Week 1, while the Bills are welcoming back Matt Milano after he missed much of the 2023 season. Jacksonville offers tackling machine Foyesade Oluokun, a former pupil of Jeff Ulbrich’s in Atlanta.

Like the EDGE position, though, the stars are balanced by a collection of poor units. Overall, the Jets’ LB slate is perfectly average.

5. Safety

  • Average score: 2.09
  • Would rank 17th among S

Another average slate without much to write home about.

The Jets’ top threats at safety lie in their own division. Miami’s Jevon Holland and New England’s Jabrill Peppers both ranked among PFF’s top-five graded safeties in 2023. The Jets will also face Arizona’s Budda Baker, Minnesota’s Harrison Smith, and Pittsburgh’s Minkah Fitzpatrick.

This is a position that could end up being easier than expected. Many of the highest-graded safety units on Clay’s list are powered by established players like Baker and Smith, who, while they have amassed plenty of accolades in their careers, were not as productive last year as they usually are. If these big-name veterans continue declining, perhaps Aaron Rodgers will have an opportunity to exploit the opposing safety duo more often than not.

4. Wide receiver

  • Average score: 2.11
  • Would rank 16th among WR

The league’s best cornerback trio will be tested by many of the top receivers from a year ago. Of the 27 wide receivers who caught for 1,000 yards, 12 are on the Jets’ schedule: Tyreek Hill, Puka Nacua, Brandon Aiyuk, Nico Collins, Stefon Diggs, Michael Pittman Jr., George Pickens, D.K. Metcalf, Justin Jefferson, DeAndre Hopkins, Calvin Ridley, and Jaylen Waddle. Don’t forget about Jordan Addison and Deebo Samuel.

Yet, in a league where WR talent is a dime a dozen, this list isn’t enough to make the Jets’ opposing WR slate significantly tougher than average.

The Jets’ opposing WR slate is extremely hot-and-cold. It features seven of the nine WR units with a 3.0+ grade, which includes the Dolphins, who they’ll face twice. At the same time, it features five of the eight teams with a grade of 1.0 or worse, including the Bills and Patriots, who they’ll face twice apiece.

Ultimately, the Jets have eight games against top-nine WR units and seven games against bottom-eight WR units. Only two of their games (Jaguars and Colts) are against WR units ranked 10-24.

There is very little mediocrity to be found on this slate. In most games, the Jets’ world-class CB trio will be expected to do one of two things: totally dominate an inferior opponent or rise to the challenge of a worthy competitor.

3. Tight end

  • Average score: 2.22
  • Would rank 16th among TE

The Jets will face three of the top four tight ends in receiving yards from a year ago: George Kittle, Evan Engram, and T.J. Hockenson. They also have to deal with seventh-ranked Trey McBride, 12th-ranked Dalton Schultz, and Buffalo’s duo of Dalton Kincaid and Dawson Knox.

With TE being one of the toughest positions on the schedule, the Jets must prioritize figuring out how to fix their issues against TEs from a year ago. New York allowed eight touchdown receptions to TEs, tied for the second-most.

Many of those were allowed by Jordan Whitehead, though. The hope is that Chuck Clark – who has a great reputation against TEs in coverage – can provide a significant upgrade in this area. The Jets will need it against a schedule that is loaded with TE talent.

2. Running back

  • Average score: 2.24
  • Would rank 16th among RB

The Jets open the year against league-best running back Christian McCaffrey, and they will also play two games against Miami’s dynamic duo of Raheem Mostert and De’Von Achane. James Cook, Kyren Williams, Jonathan Taylor, Travis Etienne, James Conner, and Najee Harris are also on the schedule, while Clay’s rankings are extremely high on Seattle’s RB unit for some reason (led by Kenneth Walker and Zach Charbonnet).

One interesting aspect of the Jets’ RB slate is the lack of poor units. New York will only face three of the bottom 10 RB units, including none of the bottom six. So, there will rarely be a week in which the opposing backfield is completely non-threatening, which might allow the Jets’ linebackers to tee off and play with extreme aggressiveness due to the lack of elusiveness on the other side. In just about every game, New York’s defenders will have to respect the threat of the opposing running backs, staying disciplined in their gap and coverage assignments.

1. Cornerback

  • Average score: 2.34
  • Would rank 15th among CB

The Jets are rarely going to catch a break at the cornerback position. Only four of their 17 games come against teams with a bottom-12 CB unit, including just one against the bottom five. They will play 11 of their 17 games against teams with a top-16 CB unit.

The problem is the AFC East. All three of the Jets’ division rivals have a highly-regarded CB room. Miami is second in Clay’s rankings at 3.9, Buffalo is eighth at 3.1, and New England is 13th at 2.5.

This is a concerning position to see at No. 1, as wide receiver is arguably the Jets’ most questionable unit on offense. Beyond Garrett Wilson, the Jets are dealing with a myriad of question marks, including Mike Williams’ health, the development of two unproven players in Malachi Corley and Xavier Gipson, and the uncertain future of Allen Lazard after a horrendous season. It’s not great news that this questionable WR unit will rarely receive an opportunity to build confidence against a weak CB unit.

The way these games are distributed makes this even more concerning. New York’s first game against a below-average CB unit won’t come until Week 5 against the Vikings. Each of their first four games is against a top-14 CB unit.

There won’t be time for the Jets’ WRs to work through growing pains. If they come out of the gates struggling, they will be exposed by the CB units of San Francisco, Tennessee, New England, and Denver. For all the faults of the latter three teams, their CB units are nothing to sneeze at, led by studs like L’Jarius Sneed (Tennessee), Christian Gonzalez (New England), and Patrick Surtain (Denver).

We all know that getting Mike Williams back to 100% for the beginning of the season is vital for the Jets. Now that we know the layout of their opposing CB schedule, it’s doubly vital.

Overall

Mike-Clay-ESPN-NY-Jets-NFL-Schedule
via X/@MikeClayNFL
  • OL: 1.59
  • DI: 1.86
  • ED: 1.92
  • QB: 1.96
  • LB: 2.02
  • S: 2.09
  • WR: 2.11
  • TE: 2.22
  • RB: 2.24
  • CB: 2.34

Altogether, the Jets have a very favorable schedule based on Clay’s projections. Based on his overall team ratings, the Jets have three games against top-10 teams (#1 San Francisco and #8 Miami twice) compared to six games against bottom-six teams (#27 New England twice, #28 Tennessee, #30 Denver, and #31 Arizona). Seven of their games are against top-16 teams and 10 are against bottom-16 teams. The average overall ranking of the Jets’ opponents is 18.2.

My main takeaway from this analysis is the tantalizing opportunity that lies ahead for the Jets’ defensive line. Whether weak or strong, none of the other nine positions came close to deviating as far from the mean as the opposing OLs did. Playing 12 of your 17 games against projected below-average OLs is an incredible advantage. However high you thought the Jets’ pass-rush ceiling was, you can kick it up another notch after seeing how weak their competition is expected to be.

I also think the Jets’ interior offensive line will have a fantastic chance to dominate on the ground against a weak slate of interior run defenders.

On the negative side, the strong slate of opposing cornerback units is a concerning sign for a Jets wide receiver unit that is in flux. This unit won’t be able to luck into success by beating up on scrubs. They must rise to the occasion every week, starting from the very first stretch of the season.

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