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Ranking the 10 worst NY Jets players of the Robert Saleh era

Zach Wilson, NY Jets, Dalvin Cook, Stats
Zach Wilson, New York Jets, Getty Images

Robert Saleh has presided over many inept New York Jets players

When Robert Saleh took over as the New York Jets’ head coach, the roster was largely bereft of talent. It showed in the 4-13 record the 2021 unit put forth. However, a magical 2022 draft quickly improved the roster, and the acquisition of Aaron Rodgers at quarterback was supposed to put the 2023 unit over the top. We know how that ended.

Throughout his three-year tenure as Jets head man, Saleh has presided over some pretty terrible players. Picking out the worst 10 can be challenging. Still, here are the 10 worst players from the Jets during the Saleh era. We’re looking specifically at players who were projected to be starters or at least close to it.

Dishonorable mentions

Solomon Thomas, Nathan Shepherd, and Ashtyn Davis get free passes here because they redeemed themselves with one decent season. Duane Brown could very well make the list, but his play in 2022 with a torn shoulder was not totally unacceptable, at least in pass-blocking. Michael Carter and Elijah Moore’s rookie seasons keep them off the list. Conor McDermott wasn’t supposed to be a starter. Corey Davis was better than Jets fans give him credit for. Braden Mann gets a free pass only because he’s a punter.

10. Greg Van Roten

Pro Football Focus somehow liked Greg Van Roten’s run-blocking, giving him a 75.0 grade in 2021. However, during that season, Van Roten allowed 37 pressures on 474 pass-blocking snaps, an astonishing 7.8% pressure rate that ranked 64th out of 68 qualified guards (min. 300 pass-blocking snaps). Oh, and he was the one who injured Mekhi Becton’s knee.

9. Lamarcus Joyner

In 2022, Lamarcus Joyner was a worse player than Whitehead. After missing virtually all of the 2021 campaign, Joyner was one of the Jets’ worst run defenders in 2022, placing 20th out of 23 qualified Jets players with a 0.45 stuff-to-liability ratio. He added a 14.5% missed tackle rate (27th percentile among safeties), 15.0 yards per reception (11th percentile), four touchdowns allowed (26th percentile), and 10.7 yards per target (7th percentile).

Joyner was out of the NFL in 2023 with good reason.

8. Mekhi Becton

If Saleh had been the Jets’ coach for Mekhi Becton’s rookie season, Becton likely wouldn’t be on this list. However, just during Saleh’s three years with the Jets, Becton was one of the worst players for the team. He missed virtually all of the 2021 season and then all of 2022 with back-to-back knee injuries, seemingly largely connected to his weight and conditioning.

Then, in 2023, after winning a starting tackle job almost by default, Becton proceeded to play as one of the worst tackles in the NFL. His 7.8% pressure rate ranked 57th out of 75 qualified tackles, and his 12 sacks allowed were tied for the worst. He added 18 penalties, second-worst only to Jawaan Taylor. His 50 pressures allowed were the fifth-worst. His 56.3 PFF run-blocking grade was marginally better.

7. Jordan Whitehead

Jordan Whitehead can mouth off on X all he wants, but his play with the Jets didn’t come close to matching his talk. Whitehead’s seven touchdowns allowed in 2023 were the most allowed by any safety. He coupled that with an 18% missed tackle rate that ranked 67th out of 74 qualified safeties (min. 500 defensive snaps). His 10.9 yards per target ranked in the eighth percentile among safeties, as did his 17.5 yards per reception allowed. Whitehead was a consistent liability in the run game, taking aggressive angles to plays and failing to wrap up rather than scraping over the top with good tackling technique.

Whitehead wasn’t quite as bad in 2022, but his 15.6% missed tackle rate ranked 62nd out of 74 qualifiers. He was also the Jets’ worst run defender in terms of responsibility for big runs compared to impact on run stuffs.

The Jets let Whitehead go back to Tampa for a reason.

6. Denzel Mims

In a way, Denzel Mims shouldn’t qualify for this list since he wasn’t necessarily a projected starter in 2021. He got off to a rough start with Mike LaFleur and never recovered.

Still, as a second-round pick merely one year before, he belongs on the list as a colossal failure. Following a rookie season in which he seemingly flashed some ability, Mims caught just 19 of 44 targets for 219 yards and no touchdowns over the next two seasons. A bout of Covid-19 supposedly sapped his weight and strength, but he never recovered from there. He posted 4 drops against those 19 catches for a 17.4% drop rate, a league-worst rate. Mims coupled his ineptitude with getting called for 6 penalties on just 548 offensive snaps.

The Jets traded Mims to Detroit, who promptly released him after a blank look from Dan Campbell when asked about him. He spent part of the 2023 season on the Steelers’ practice squad but never made it to the league. Pittsburgh recently waived him, and although he was quickly picked up by Jacksonville, his NFL chances are beginning to shrink.

5. Jarrad Davis

This signing made little sense from the outset, and Jarrad Davis lived up to his billing. Injuries limited him to nine games in 2021, but he was so putrid in those games that the Jets were better off without him. His 28.0 PFF run defense grade ranked 99th out of 100 qualified linebackers (min. 200 defensive snaps). He added a 17.2% missed tackle rate (88th), a 120.8 targeted passer rating (95th), and 1.48 yards per cover snap (91st).

4. Laken Tomlinson

Laken Tomlinson certainly gets a boost here due to the three-year, $40 million contract he signed before the 2022 season. He was putrid in both 2022 and 2023, although only the 2023 statistics truly capture his performance. While he had a 46.9 run-blocking grade in 2022, ranking 61st out of 68 qualified guards (min. 400 block snaps), his 4.5% pressure rate managed to be just about average for the position (4.5%).

However, in 2023, his poor play showed up clearly in the numbers. His 49.6 run-blocking grade ranked 56th out of 67 qualifiers, and his 51 pressures were the most allowed by any guard in football. His 7% pressure rate also ranked 56th. His -13.1 pressures saved over expected was the third-worst.

The Jets released Tomlinson without a post-June 1 designation, taking a $10.7 million dead cap hit in the process. That just shows how desperate they were to be rid of him. Fittingly, he signed a one-year deal with the Seahawks for the league minimum.

3. Dalvin Cook

Jets X-Factor (especially Michael Nania) tried to warn Jets fans about Dalvin Cook. His Pro Bowl status and flashy highlights masked his terrible vision and underperformance in a cushy situation in Minnesota. Cook fulfilled our expectations, averaging 3.2 yards per carry with two fumbles. Among 60 running backs with at least 65 carries, Cook’s 37.7 PFF elusiveness rating ranked 51st. His 2.21 yards after contact per attempt ranked 59th.

Cook was cooked, as expected.

2. Allen Lazard

Even Joe Blewett, whose review of Allen Lazard was decidedly negative, likely could not have predicted just how bad Lazard would be in 2023. Among 81 receivers with at least 48 targets, Lazard ranked last in yards per route run (0.68), last in drop rate (17.9%), 75th in contested catch rate (23.5%), 75th in YAC per reception (2.5), and 75th in targeted passer rating (67.3). There were numerous examples of him quitting on routes, which is likely what led him to be benched two separate times.

Somehow, Lazard is still on the team — his $18.7 million dead cap charge pre-June 1 and $12.2 million post-June 1 is what did it, plus his relationship with Rodgers.

1. Zach Wilson

There’s no way to put anyone else except Zach Wilson here. The No. 2 overall pick from the 2021 draft will go down as one of the worst busts in NFL history. This graph says it all.

Wilson’s 57% career completion percentage, 6.3 yards per attempt, and 23:25 TD:INT ratio all rank near or at the bottom of a player’s first three seasons as a starter. The only consolation is that JaMarcus Rusell was worse (52.1%, 6.0 YPA, 18:23 TD:INT) — but not by much.

The website nflelo.app, in ranking all 66 quarterbacks who played in 2023, placed Wilson at No. 64, worth -3.3 points over an average starter. They also rank Wilson worse than Russell at their respective career points, adjusted for era.

If this ends up as Joe Douglas’ last season as Jets general manager, the core reason will still go back to Wilson.

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22 days ago

i’m not quite sure what the comment about becton with regard to saleh means? i think ms boord has forgotten that saleh is the guy responsible for putting the players on the field and his continued use of tomlinson was borderline criminal. as for zach, okay i’ve been beaten up by my opinions on this guy, but i think zach too was seriously degraded by having to deal with saleh and milfy. note that zach did improve significantly in his third season. sometimes it takes longer for players to develop into good players. clearly zach was not prepared mentally for the big leagues but he was thrown in by coaches who also weren’t ready.