Here's the first of two installments of another epic guest post from a JetsFix regular Sacks are Friends, not Food...
Please be advised that this article is, for all intents and purposes, meant to be an exercise in frustration and relative futility. For background purposes, my father has always described me as a dreamer when it comes to the NY Jets and the level of fandom he instilled in me from birth. Every year we compete against each other for familial pride every week on all games with spreads. Every year we also go through the Jets schedule and he asks me, game by game, how the Jets will fare. Without fail, I always have them going undefeated.
With that in mind and for the purposes of this article/exercise, I will highlight the areas I believe to be key for Jets success this year, and will subsequently temper the optimism that I have with those areas by pointing out the things that I believe will, assuming something does, go wrong.
The first thing Joe Douglas basically promised all Jets fans, simply by being hired, is that he would fix our offensive line, which has struggled pretty mightily since the Nick Mangold/DBrickashaw Ferguson era.
In strengthening the line, we have seen the additions of Connor McGovern at Center, Greg Van Roten at Guard, Josh Andrews at Guard, George Fant at Tackle, along with the additions via the draft of Mekhi Becton at Tackle and Cameron Clark at Guard/Tackle.
Obviously, on the roster they still presently have Brian Winters and Alex Lewis at Guard, Chuma Edoga at Tackle, Jonotthan Harrison at Center/Guard, along with Ben Braden, Corbin Kaufusi, Leo Koloamatangi, Conor McDermott, James Murray, Brad Lundblade and undrafted free agent Jared Hilbers as possible backups at any number of the OL spots.
The best combination for Jet Success will likely include a starting lineup of Becton at LT, GVR/Lewis/Winters at the Guard spots, McGovern at Center, and Edoga/Fant at RT. While this line appears on paper to be lightyears better than last year, and even the year prior, let us temper our expectations.
Becton, while massive and powerful and lithe - a rare combination - is still raw. Based on the limited footage of him that I have watched, he is at his best when he can get his man blocked with his arms extended, rather than allowing the rusher into his body on a bull or speed rush. However, and despite his massiveness and sheer strength, I can completely see a guy (like James Harrison, but not him as he is retired), plowing through Becton and putting him on his behind en route to a jaw-gaped Sam. Additionally, it is the rawness to his game that scares me, as well as the fact that OL picks at the top of the draft can be somewhat of a crapshoot. In 2019, the only OT taken at the top of the first round was Jonah Williams, OT to Cinci at number 11. Williams did not play a snap in 2019 due to injury. In 2018, the 49ers took Mike McGlinchey at 9, and the Raiders took Kolton Miller at 15. McGlinchey played all 16 regular season games in 2018, giving up 5 sacks along with 5 penalties, and only 12 regular season games in 2019 due to injury, where he again gave up 5 sacks and had 6 penalties. Miller started all 16 games in 2018 where he gave up a league leading 16 sacks to go along with 8 penalties, and followed up the next year by playing all 16 games, and reducing his sacks given up to 7 to go along with 4 penalties. 2017 saw the earliest OT taken at number 20 by the Broncos, in the form of Garett Bolles. He has played in every game since being drafted, and gave up the most sacks of his career in his rookie year at 8, with his most penalties last year at 17. In a corollary to the 2020 draft, the last time 4 or more tackles were taken in the top 20 was 2016 (Ronnie Stanley, Jack Conklin, Laremy Tunsil, and Taylor Decker), with only Stanley and Tunsil having made a pro bowl. Of course, the last time an NY team took at tackle as high as we took Becton was 2015 when the Giants took Ereck Flowers with the number 9 pick. We all know how that worked out… Oddly enough, looking at draft profiles, Flowers and Becton share a lot of similarities, primarily in the strength department. Naturally, such comparisons, while only in a vacuum as Becton has not practiced a down with the Jets yet, have me terrified.
Van Roten, while solid for Carolina last year, has a bit of an inexperience factor that is somewhat concerning. He came into the league in 2012, barely played, and was gone by 2014. He was able to make a comeback in 2017 and then landed with Carolina, but he has really only been a significant contributor at the NFL level in 2018 and 2019, which may have been a result of scheme dependent success. In terms of injury, he missed a week in 2017 with a shoulder injury but was back the next week. Last year he was shut down and required surgery for a dislocated toe, causing him to miss the last 5 games. As always, injuries concern me despite his limited injury history, but moreso his lack of experience is concerning.
Lewis has been in the league from 2016, primarily as a backup, but has been relatively solid, especially last year. His problem and my thematic concern is his injury history, which does date back to college. He did not play one year in college due to a shoulder injury. In his rookie year, he missed 2 starts with a neck injury and sat out the last 6 games due to a sprained ankle. He then missed all of 2017 with a shoulder injury. He missed 6 more games in 2018 due to neck and shoulder injuries. He then missed only the final game last year with an ankle injury. Of interesting note, he has very distant ties to new Jets Center Connor McGovern, in that in 2015 the Broncos traded their 2016 4th round pick (Lewis) for the Ravens 2016 5th round pick (McGovern) and Gino Gradkowski. For the record, the pick we traded for Lewis was subsequently traded by the Ravens and resulted in Edge Kenny Willekes. Injury risk is the primary concern here.
I have been calling for the head of old man Winters for a few years now, at first because he was always falling down like some melted version of humpty dumpty, but which evolved into him being unable to avoid the injury bug and stay on the field. When on the field, he is a veteran presence with at least some nastiness, but which can never be fully shown as he tends to spend a lot of time off the field. Winters has been in the league since 2013, in which he played in all 16 games. In 2014, he played in only 6 games after suffering a torn ACL. In 2015 he again played in all 16 games. In 2016 and 2017 he played in 13 games each year, suffering a concussion causing him to miss the last 3 games of 2016, and missing the last 3 games of 2017 after playing through an abdominal injury he suffered in week 2. 2018 saw him play and start in all 16 games but 2019 resulted in 9 games played after re-dislocating his shoulder ending his year. I have never considered Winters an elite Guard, nor have I considered him anywhere other than a middling, serviceable player. Unfortunately, I really do not see any instance in which he again makes it through a 16-game season as he is another year older, with more injuries under his belt.
McGovern broke onto the scene as a top 10 Center last year with the Broncos, who drafted him in the 2016 draft. He did not play at all in 2016, but did see the field in 2017 at RG where he started the last 5 games and only gave up 1 sack in a total of 15 games played. 2018 saw McGovern play half the year at RG and half at Center, where he allowed 2 sacks. In 2019, while playing and starting in every game, he allowed only 1 sack and gave up ZERO penalties. McGovern has a very clear injury history (except for a torn pec which somehow resulted in no missed time for him in college), but my concern is that his rise at Center last year was a one hit wonder and/or the result of being propped up by his linemates. This is what I call the ol’ hope that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, with the parts working well together. Also, his experience level at this point does concern me as he is relatively new to Center (did not play the position prior to 2018).
Edoga – a holdover from the Mike Maccagnan era - joined the Jets as a 3rd round pick in the 2019 draft. He played in and started a total of 8 games, as the coaching staff felt he was a better player to put in at RT over the likes of Brandon Shell, a veteran. Edoga gave up 6 sacks to go with 6 penalties in those 8 games, and then suffered an MCL issue that resulted in his being placed on IR. Aside from the fact that he was outclassed as a rookie, his injury concerns me as it could be the beginning of an injury-laden career. His lack of experience is obviously concerning when coupled with his growth being stunted by injury in year 1, but the hope is that he learned watching Shell et al over the rest of the year, and that he will continue to learn if beaten out in training camp by a veteran presence, which leads me to…
Fant leads my Fear Fantasy draft, as he has the rare combination of both lack of experience and potentially injury prone-ness. He played exactly 2 games of football in college as a Tight End. He was then an undrafted FA gobbled up by the Seahawks due to, in large part, his athletic ability, which I admit is pretty tantalizing. He started his last 10 games of his rookie 2016 season (thrust in due to injuries above him), and gave up 7 sacks along with 8 penalties on the year. His entire 2017 season was lost due to injury, specifically a torn ACL. In 2018 and 2019 he was primarily a 6th lineman, although he did receive some starts at LT. However, in 2019 he was slowed by an ankle injury and a groin injury in the playoffs. JD threw quite a bit of money, on the surface, at Fant to bring him here. My understanding is that he can be cut after year one for little dead money, but I do not believe that will actually help the line consistency and camaraderie. I pause and am concerned both regarding his injury history as a pro thus far, as well as his lack of experience.
*NOTE: The key to the Jets offensive line will be threefold, specifically regarding health, the ability to gel early, and the ability for players with less experience than I/we might like to learn and progress quickly. If the stars align for multiple injuries to key starters, the lack of consistency on the line and the new faces not being on the same page, and the younger/inexperienced players at their positions struggling, then Sam will have a tremendous regression and we could see ourselves in contention to draft one of the top QBs next, which I do not want because I love Sam and I want success now.
The Receiving Corps. (TEs included)
Right now the biggest concern for all Jets fans is the lack of talent, especially at the wide receiver position. As it stands, we are currently looking at a projection at starting WR of 1. Breshad Perriman; 2. Denzel Mims; 3. (Slot) Jamison Crowder; 4. Vyncint Smith/Jeff Smith/Josh Doctson. At TE, the options are much more tantalizing in that you have a projection of 1a. Chris Herndon; 1b. Ryan Griffin; 2. Daniel Brown/Trevon Wesco. Obviously Brown/Wesco are more of your inline blocker types. That being said, let us do a little deeper dive.
Regarding Perriman, we have heard almost all that needs to be heard and seen all that needs to be seen, especially thanks to Bent BGAs and other phenomenal writeups. When healthy, he has size, speed, and athleticism, as proven by his stats last year on a Tampa Bay Bucs team lead by Jameis Winston, the definition of a chucker, where it seemed to either be an INT or a long TD. In 3 years with Baltimore, where he was drafted, he had a combined 576 yards, where he had 43 receptions on 101 targets in 27 games total. The less than 50% catch rate is a bit scary. However, it did seem to improve after he left. With Cleveland in 2018, he had 340 yards on 16 catches in 25 targets, albeit in only 10 games. In 2019, with 14 games played, he regressed closer to his mean with 36 catches on 69 targets, with a career high of 645 yards. However, this regression, as mentioned above, may very well have been due to his quarterback. Oh, and he has also only ever started 10 games since he entered the league in 2015, which puts me ill at ease for his ability to be a number 1 target from day 1. The other major concern for Perriman is injury history, which while more prevalent when he was younger, is still cause for being wary. He suffered a grade 1 concussion in 2013 while in college. He missed his entire rookie year in 2015 due to a PCL tear. In 2016 he suffered a partial ACL tear, but returned near the end of preseason. In 2017 he first strained his right hamstring and missed the entire preseason and then suffered another grade 1 concussion in week 6 forcing him to miss week 7. However, he appears to have avoided the injury bug since 2017. Despite the possibility that he may have outgrown a body that was injury prone, obviously his legs injury history and concussion history are cause for concern, as they do not appear to be one-offs.
Honestly, my only concern with Mims is not in production at this point, but mainly in the jump to the next level. We have seen highly touted prospects (see Charles Rogers, DET) fall well short of their potential. Obviously Mims was not an early first round pick, but given our lovely track record of 2nd round receiver types, I refuse to anoint him a beast until we see things play out. More recent Jets 2nd round receiver types include Devin Smith, Jace Amaro, and Stephen Hill...yikes.
Crowder is basically your prototypical slot receiver – small, shifty, quick, and has an uncanny ability to just get open. Last year he and Sam sustained some pretty tremendous success despite a patchwork, substandard offensive line and a resulting weak running game, with Crowder nabbing 78 receptions for 833 yards. He did also, however, have Robby Anderson to spread the field and Ryan Griffin, at least for part of the year, to draw attention away from him. With Perriman/Mims effectively replacing Robby, the hope is that both or either will mirror production and draw attention close to as effectively as Robby, otherwise I imagine Crowder will get jammed, bumped, doubled, and will basically fade into obscurity. In terms of injury history, he has had a couple of lower body injuries, mostly relating to his hamstring. His worst injury came in 2018 when he sprained his ankle in week 5 and missed the next 7 games. My concern is not his health, but moreso his supporting cast.
These rest of the receiving corps furthers my surrounding cast concern in the Jamison Crowder section. Vyncint Smith had 225 receiving yards last year and showed some flashes, but obviously was not given a big workload. He does possess good size and speed, so the potential is perhaps there. Jeff Smith has only been in the league one year, last year, and had a solid line of 1 game played, 2 targets, 1 catch for 12 yards…and that was BEFORE going on IR for the rest of the year! His binary numbers do not translate to success unless he ends up with 112 catch for 2,121 yards, and we all pretty much know that will not happen. Now, he was an undrafted rookie who was on the practice squad and possesses decent size, but we have no idea whether he has staying power at the NFL level and whether he can physically hold up for long stretches of season. Doctson is the elder statesman as a four-year veteran (going into his 5th), but he has only played 15 or more games twice, while being on PUP/IR 4 times. He only played in 1 game last year and contributed no catches on no targets for Minnesota. The 2 years that he did play 15 or more games, he put up 752 yards and 846 yards. If he stays healthy, he could be a decent contributor, but I would not hedge on the side of the bet that says he STAYS healthy.
In year one, Herndon proved he has some solid pass catching and yards per catch ability if given the chance to be featured as a number 1 TE. Rookie year – 16 games, 39 receptions, 502 yards, 12.9 yards per catch. Naturally, however, I point out big BUTs and I cannot lie, his injury history last year is cause for concern, coupled with a four-game suspension at the beginning of the year for substance abuse. Now maybe the new rules on drug tests will help him and maybe it was a one and done, but last year was pure injury. He had 1 reception for 7 yards, injured his hamstring and broke a rib, which resulted in IR and barely having played last year at all. If he stays health, I likey. If he does not, we have issues.
Griffin has never really been a featured part of an offense, thanks in part to Gary Kubiak and Billy O’Brien. BUT, in 2016 he had 50 receptions for 442 yards where he only started in 5 of the 16 games he played in. Those are both his career highs for receptions and yards. However, he tends to have the injury bug, which we saw firsthand last year, and which is my main concern for him being consistently productive and on the field for the Sam. He was on IR in 2015 and 2017, and he played in 9 and 7 games respectively as a result. 2015 was due to a sprained MCL. 2017 was due to 2 concussions in the same season. He stayed pretty healthy until week 14 last year, where he suffered an ankle injury. Curiously, this took place just a few weeks after signing a decently chunky extension. Oh, he also had some brief legal issues due to alcohol related shenanigans in a hotel, but the charges were later dropped. Probably minor, but I need to point out as many negatives as possible in case they turn out to be more than one-time problems.
As for Brown and Wesco, please just block somebody for the love of all that is good and righteous in this world. I literally do not care about anything else you could do.
My optimism for Darnold is super high. He has the charisma. He has the playmaking ability. He has the arm. He has the accuracy. He has the brain. All for the QB position. What are my concerns? See…supporting cast, offensive line, injury history. THESE are my concerns. He had finally seemed to establish some solid rapport with Robby Anderson, and in a most Jetslike fashion, we effectively JETtisoned him off to another team. He established rapport with Herndon year 1, but Herndon has not been seen on the field pretty much since. He has had a turnstyle in front of him and probably could not name the specific rumps in front of him based on pictures if he tried. Oh, even he himself has had some injury problems. The good news is he has played 13 games each year and put up just under 3,000 yards year 1 and just over 3,000 yards year 2. The bad news is he has missed 3 games each year, once due to physical injuries and once due to mononucleosis. The other good news is that he really did not slump in his sophomore season as he added some additional yardage and seemed to make better decisions overall, despite always being under pressure. The other bad news is that the picks we traded to get him resulted in picks of All World Guard Quenton Nelson (Indi), Guard Braden Smith (Indi), a pick traded again by Indi that resulted in TE Dallas Goedert (Phi), and CB Rock Ya-Sin (Indi). Other than the fact that we could have truly established a solid O-Line a year earlier than the plan now calls for, we could have added another really good TE and a guy with one of the most enviable names ever. Could you imagine chants every time Rock got an interception of WE WILL, WE WILL, ROCK YA-SIN. I COULD have! Will I take my franchise quarterback over all of that? Of course. Will I anoint Sam the franchise quarterback we all so truly desire? Not yet. If he excels this season, absolutely, but that will depend on if he takes the jump, the cast around him is solid, and he stays healthy enough to make it through the whole season. My Flacco Faith-O-meter©* is unfortunately low.
*This is not actually copyrighted, not by me, anyways.
We'll have part two of this article, where Sacks turns his attention to the defense, later this week. If YOU want to write a guest post for JetsFix, we will accept almost anything, so send your pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org.