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Something NY Jets’ stars can learn from other NFL stars

NY Jets, Garrett Wilson, Stefon Diggs, WR Rankings
Garrett Wilson, Stefon Diggs, New York Jets, Getty Images, Jet X Graphic

It’s never a bad thing to try and emulate your peers

As great as the New York Jets’ young stars are, each still has plenty of airspace that lies between them and their ceilings. In their quests for perfection, they would be wise to study the games of other stars around the NFL and try to emulate a few things.

Here are some specific skills that each of the Jets’ young stars could look to emulate from another star in the NFL.

Sauce Gardner: Jalen Ramsey’s hands

Gardner is the best cornerback in football. However, as we discussed recently, one of the biggest ways Sauce Gardner can become even more dominant is to improve his consistency at catching interceptions. While he shouldn’t compromise his coverage to gamble for more interception chances, he can rack up respectable interception numbers if he simply catches more of the opportunities that are presented to him.

Jalen Ramsey is a perfect player to learn from.

Through two seasons, Gardner has two interceptions compared to four dropped interceptions. This gives him a 33.3% catch rate on interception opportunities (2-of-6).

Like Gardner, Ramsey is a shutdown cornerback who excels at limiting throws in his direction. He is targeted at a similarly low rate to Gardner and is presented with a similar rate of interceptable passes. However, Ramsey is significantly better at catching these interceptions, which allows him to post noticeably better interception numbers than Gardner without necessarily being more aggressive than him.

Over the past five seasons (2019-23), Ramsey has 13 interceptions in 70 games, or about 3.2 per 17 games. This is substantially better than Gardner’s two picks in 33 games, which is 1.0 per 17 games.

Yet, their rates of targets and interceptable targets are similar.

Ramsey has seen 4.9 targets per game over the past five seasons while Gardner is facing 3.8 targets per game in his career. This shows that both players are largely avoided by QBs.

Out of 343 targets over this span, Ramsey has a combined total of 17 interceptions-plus-dropped interceptions, a 5.0% rate. Gardner is at 6-of-124, a very similar 4.8% rate. This tells us that they are almost equally likely to generate an interception opportunity when QBs challenge them.

The difference lies in their ability to convert these chances. Since 2019, Ramsey has 13 interceptions against four dropped interceptions, giving him a 76.5% catch rate. As we mentioned previously, Gardner has two picks against four drops for a 33.3% catch rate.

Gardner should seek to emulate the Ramsey model. Gambling for more interceptions isn’t necessary for Gardner to become more impactful in the takeaway department. He’s just got to be more consistent at capitalizing. Hit that JUGS machine.

Garrett Wilson: Stefon Diggs’ contested catches at a slight frame

As shown on film by Rivka Boord, contested catching is an area where Garrett Wilson has a lot of room for improvement. This weakness was exacerbated by poor quarterbacking and will naturally improve with Aaron Rodgers, but Wilson still flubs a few more 50-50 balls than you would like. He is not as elite in this area as he is in nearly every other aspect of the position.

While Wilson’s relatively slight frame (6-foot-0, 192 pounds) is a hindrance in this area, there are plenty of receivers with similar frames who prove that you can still be an elite contested catcher with a smaller catch radius.

Look no further than Stefon Diggs, who is listed at nearly the exact same size (6-foot-0, 191 pounds). Diggs has a career contested catch rate of 53.9%, per PFF, far ahead of Wilson’s 32.9%.

Wilson can learn a lot from watching Diggs’ ball tracking and ability to high-point the ball.

There is no doubt that Wilson is fully capable of making this catch or any other catch in the book, but it’s his consistency in 50-50 situations that must improve. Diggs has shown that it can be achieved no matter your frame.

Jermaine Johnson: Khalil Mack’s pass rush development

Khalil Mack is one of the rare superstar edge defenders who is equally as elite against the run as he is against the pass. On top of his 101.5 career sacks, he is consistently one of the league’s highest-graded run defenders.

While it’s a little hyperbolic to say that Jermaine Johnson is a similar caliber of prospect (given that Mack was a top-five pick), it’s not a stretch to say that Johnson’s early-career trajectory gives him the ceiling of becoming a similar type of player – even if he’s not quite as dominant as Mack.

Johnson already established himself as a great run defender in his rookie year and affirmed that status in his second season. However, he got off to a quiet start in the passing game, collecting only 14 pressures in a limited role. With a larger role in year two, Johnson skyrocketed to 56 pressures on a 12.6% pressure rate with 7.5 sacks.

Mack’s early career arc was similar, although he skipped the quiet rookie year. His 2014 rookie year was comparable to Johnson’s second year. In his first season, Mack had 4.0 sacks, 54 pressures, and an 11.3% pressure rate while thriving against the run. Then, in his 2015 sophomore season, Mack exploded to the tune of 15.0 sacks, 82 pressures, and a 14.1% pressure rate.

They were at similar ages, too. Both came into the league at 23 years old. So, Mack was 24 during his second-year rise to superstardom while Johnson will be 25 when he seeks to do it in 2024.

Johnson is one year behind Mack in his development curve, but his massive second-year leap put him on par with Mack’s rookie year. If he continues trending upward in the way that Mack did, he could become one of the league’s best two-way forces on the edge.

The two players both offer large frames for the edge – Mack weighs in at 269 pounds while Johnson is at 263. They are also nearly identically elite athletes, with Johnson posting a 9.22 Relative Athletic Score and Mack a 9.31.

Mack already used his tools to succeed in the run game as a rookie, just like Johnson did. But he needed to fine-tune his pass-rush package to take the next step from good to elite. Once he did that, Mack used his special tools to destroy tackles in the passing game.

Johnson will aim to do the same. Again, I’m not saying Johnson is on the level that Mack was coming out of college, nor am I saying they are similar players beyond the basic similarities I laid out. Still, if you’re in Johnson’s shoes, Mack is the perfect player to strive to emulate.

Breece Hall: Christian McCaffrey’s maximization of the 49ers’ supporting cast

Christian McCaffrey was elite in Carolina as well, but he’s reached a new level since joining the 49ers. His numbers are up across the board compared to his Panthers career.

McCaffrey has taken full advantage of the friendly surroundings in San Francisco. Presented with a successful scheme, good play-calling, and fantastic run-blocking, McCaffrey is in a very favorable situation, and he makes the most of it.

What makes McCaffrey special is that he doesn’t just take the ample space presented to him and call it a day. That’s what an average back does. Star backs add yardage on top of the expectations. So when you put a star running back in a situation where the expectations are already high, you get astronomical results.

Since arriving in the Bay Area, McCaffrey has consistently added bonus chunks of yardage on top of already well-blocked plays. It culminated in a wildly efficient 2023 season in which he joined Marshall Faulk as the second player in NFL history to eclipse 2,000 scrimmage yards and 20 total touchdowns on under 350 touches.

McCaffrey’s leap since joining San Francisco is precisely the model that Breece Hall will attempt to emulate as he (hopefully) gets the chance to play with a much-improved supporting cast in New York.

Hall has already shown he can significantly outperform expectations. He’s produced good-to-great efficiency in a situation where his efficiency is expected to be abysmal. If the Jets’ quarterback and offensive line can stay healthy, the expectations will rise immensely. And if Hall goes as far beyond those expectations as he has gone beyond the expectations laid for him so far, he will have a very good chance of matching McCaffrey’s 2023 season with the 49ers.

In my opinion, star running backs become more impactful the better their surroundings are. It’s tough for their impact to shine through when they’re consistently getting stuffed behind the line of scrimmage. Some plays are so poorly blocked that even the greatest runners can’t do anything about it.

The better the situation is, the less often the running back will be stuffed, and thus, the more chances he’ll get to make plays in space. It’s an exponential relationship. Give him more chances to make plays and he’ll make more plays. Simple as that.

This play encapsulates what I’m talking about.

This is fantastic blocking – McCaffrey runs through the line of scrimmage at full speed and isn’t touched until about 5-6 yards downfield. Yet, it’s still only 5-6 yards. The line did its job to ensure a good result and give the running back a chance to explode, but once contact is made, it’s up to the running back to maximize the blocking presented to him.

An average running back goes down on the first tackle attempt here. It would still be a good play for the offense, but that would be on the strength of the offensive line with the running back adding nothing. What McCaffrey does on this play is the separator between the beneficiaries and the difference-makers.

When you couple great blocking with a stud running back who can make multiple defenders miss, you get plays like these. And the better your offensive situation is (QB, OL, skill-position blocking, scheme), the more these plays will happen. That is why star running backs are at their most impactful in the friendliest situations. They don’t just benefit from the situation – they build upon the situation, turning good plays into great ones.

Hall is going to get a ton of these chances in 2024. I have no doubts that he’ll capitalize on them. To ensure he will, though, he should watch McCaffrey’s film to see masterful examples of how to maximize favorable situations.

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