One role which is often overlooked is the primary gunner role on punt coverage. The Jets' gunners played well in 2022, but they gave up two return touchdowns, which arguably were the difference between the team ending up 7-10 instead of having a winning record.
Who's going to have this role in 2023?
Having been voted to the pro bowl and named as an all-pro, there's no question Justin Hardee will be back in this role in 2023. He's in the final year of a three-year contract despite some repeatedly suggesting he might be released to save some cap space. The very idea demonstrates a lack of understanding as to how important this role is and how well Hardee - who was tied for second in the league for solo tackles on special teams - performs it.
Jeff Smith's departure to the Giants clears the path for Brandin Echols to potentially take the other gunner role full time. He gradually got more and more reps as the season went along until Smith was ultimately a healthy scratch. Echols definitely seemed to outperform Smith, posting four tackles.
The only other players from last year's team to see action in this role were Tony Adams in weeks 15 and 16 and Bryce Hall in weeks 17 and 18. Adams was more impressive in this role, so could have the inside track if Echols fails to make the team.
Ashtyn Davis is someone who has extensive experience in this role in the past, but the Jets have usually used him in punt protection instead. He's a potential cap casualty anyway but could put himself in the frame for a gunner role if he makes the team and Adams does not.
Two major outside bets are wide receivers Malik Taylor and Irvin Charles. Each has experience within that role and has produced at the college level. Charles looked good getting downfield in preseason with the Jets in limited action.
It's not impossible to carry a receiver on the roster for a primary gunner role, like the Jets did with Wallace Wright over a decade ago. However, even without Odell Beckham signing, it seems unlikely there will be room for someone like this - especially with Hardee already occupying a specialist role. Either player would probably have to rack up some good preseason production to earn a spot.
Another outside bet could be defensive back Craig James. He's played as a gunner in the past and had nine special teams tackles in 2019. Again, though, he's going to have to show some value beyond special teams to make the roster.
Finally, Jimmy Moreland also has a reputation as a great special teamer, but he actually hasn't played much as a gunner and is more of a kick block threat.
Ultimately, Hardee and Echols will probably walk into camp with the inside track on these roles, but it's good to know there are other options, with more rookie options potentially to be added in.