The winds whistled through Highmark Stadium on a frigid Sunday afternoon in Buffalo, sweeping away what was left of the hapless New York Jets. And there wasn’t much. The Bills picked apart the remains of a team whose season was mercifully crawling toward the finish line.
New York mustered just 53 yards of offense to Buffalo’s 424. They averaged just 1.2 yards per play, picking up just four first downs en route to a 27-10 loss that wasn’t half as close as the score suggests.
With it, the Jets fell to 4-13 on the season. It marked their sixth straight losing season and their 11th consecutive year in which they failed to reach the playoffs, the longest drought in the league by a wide margin. Of course, none of that comes as a surprise. For Joe Douglas, Robert Saleh and the rest on One Jets Drive, this season existed as a building block toward future success, a development year for several parts of this team, the sum of which would ideally be a playoff contender for years to come.
So how well have the Jets done in terms of talent development? What can they take away from a four-win season riddled with youth and inexperience? Where does this team stand moving forward?
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of New York's offense to answer those questions and more:
The verdict on this season was always going to start and end with Zach Wilson, and at the end of a full season, the jury is still very much out on the rookie signal-caller. For much of the season, he struggled with both his decision-making and accuracy, boldly launching off-balanced throws into double coverage and bouncing screens to his receivers.
Upon returning from a knee injury, however, Wilson’s play matured. After throwing nine interceptions in his first six games, he threw just two in his last seven. His improved play came despite a complete dearth of talent around him, as the Jets finished the season without their top four receivers and three of their five starting offensive linemen. Eventually, in Buffalo, those losses became too much to overcome.
Wilson finished the year completing 55.6% of his passes for 2,334 yards, 13 total touchdowns and 11 interceptions with a 69.7 quarterback rating. He looked undoubtedly better down the stretch than he did out of the gate. For the Jets to be competitive, he’ll need to take a much greater leap next season and give this offense the aerial attack it hasn’t seen in several years.
The Jets found their RB1 in Michael Carter. The rookie fourth-round draft pick split carries throughout the season with Ty Johnson and Tevin Coleman, but emerged as the best option of the three when healthy. He finished the season with 147 carries for 639 yards and four touchdowns. Carter is still on the smaller side, and doesn’t possess elite speed, but he profiled as one of the more elusive running backs in the NFL. He ranked third in the league in missed tackles forced per carry and fifth in yards per carry after contact, per Pro Football Focus.
Coleman, undoubtedly the fastest back of the group, is a free agent at the end of the year. The Jets would be wise to re-sign him. Either way, New York could use another back in the room, either through free agency or the draft. This is likely to be a committee going forward with Carter leading the way, one that could thrive behind an improved offensive line.
A weak point for the Jets since Brandon Marshall left the building, the wide receiver position was a point of emphasis last offseason, when the Jets signed Corey Davis to a three-year, $37.5M deal. Unfortunately, Davis didn’t look the part of a WR1 for most of the season, struggling with drops and ultimately missing the final month with a core muscle injury. Still, Wilson exhibited chemistry with both Davis and rookie Elijah Moore, who showcased his potential over a stellar six-game stretch before joining Davis on IR.
Their injuries forced the Jets to turn to guys like Braxton Berrios, Keelan Cole and Denzel Mims, with varied levels of success. Berrios looked the part of a formidable slot receiver, catching eight passes against Tampa Bay to go along with two touchdowns. His presence as a slot receiver, a return man and a guy the Jets can design gadget plays around makes him a target to re-sign this offseason. Cole and Mims are both likely gone this offseason, the latter of which had trouble finding the field and even more trouble playing mistake-free football when he was on it.
The Jets need a WR1. They’ll lose Jamison Crowder, who led the team in catches, and would be wise to draft an upgrade in the first round. That player, and the health of the unit as a whole, will dictate success in the passing game.
It’s still baffling that a head coach and offensive coordinator from the 49ers didn’t prioritize the tight end position heading into the 2021 season. After all, San Francisco’s offense has revolved around George Kittle in recent years. Still, the Jets trudged into September with Tyler Kroft and Ryan Griffin leading the way. Unsurprisingly, New York got no production out of this position group. Absolutely none. The best thing any Jets tight end did all year was when Chris Herndon packed his bags for Minnesota and gave New York a fourth-rounder in return.
This has to be a major priority in the offseason. Guys like Dalton Schultz in free agency or Trey McBride out of Colorado State on Day Two of the draft could be targets.
Joe Douglas has spent the better part of his tenure trying to fix the line. For a time this year, the fruits of his labor showed. This wasn’t a great line by any stretch, but when fully healthy, they were good enough to keep their quarterback upright and open holes in the run game. Health was a major issue, though.
Mekhi Becton missed the rest of the year after a knee injury in the season opener. The rest of the unit cycled in and out of the lineup throughout the final couple months. By the time Week 18 rolled around, the rag-tag group up front couldn’t keep the Bills’ pass rushers away from Wilson, resulting in nine total sacks.
The Jets will need to beef up the interior this offseason. Alijah Vera-Tucker was a great start and looked worthy of the 14th overall selection. New York looked much better with Laurent Duvernay-Tardif at right guard, so maybe they have something there. Still, New York would be wise to upgrade with multiple guys here. This was consistently the downfall throughout the year. Pundits who project Gang Green to draft a tackle in the top ten, however, completely overlook the breakout year George Fant had in place of Becton. Fant gave up just one sack in 889 snaps at left tackle. He and Becton have to be the starting tackles a year from now. It’s just a matter of who plays on which side.
Stay tuned for a breakdown of the Jets' defense in the coming days, right here at Jets Country.
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