It's been quite an eventful 12 months for the New York Jets.
After a tumultuous two-win season in 2020, New York brought in a new head coach to replace Adam Gase, drafted a quarterback to take over for Sam Darnold and addressed countless weaknesses with talent on both sides of the ball in free agency.
As much as Gang Green's additions have brought positivity and hope to a suffering fan base, and a new culture under general manager Joe Douglas, that doesn't mean the Jets will contend right away. This is still a young and inexperienced franchise, working through stages of a rebuild while patiently waiting to capitalize on more draft picks over the next few years.
That said, the 2021 season is poised to be a stepping stone for those in green and white. Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson will have an opportunity to prove himself right away, surrounded by more weapons than his predecessor. Robert Saleh can adjust to his new spot on the sideline, building something special with his scheme and "All Gas, No Brake" mantra. Youngsters should develop with plenty of reps while rising stars can shine.
New York might not be playoff bound in '21, but this time next year—if all goes according to plan—they'll be a whole lot closer to snapping the league's longest postseason drought.
During Sam Darnold's three-year stint under center in New York, the signal-caller was often placed in situations where it was virtually impossible for him to succeed. Injuries, his supporting cast and his coaching staff—mixed with his own underperformance—were the perfect storm to create one of the worst passing offenses in all of football.
With the changes New York made this offseason, it's clear this franchise is working to avoid making the same mistakes they made during the Darnold era. The Jets restarted the clock at quarterback, using the second overall pick to reel in a potential superstar in Zach Wilson. Considering how impressive the BYU product has been during the preseason, the flashes he's shown during camp and his unmatched dedication and desire to be the best, all signs point to Wilson transitioning quickly to the next level.
What about those around him? The Jets added a top wide receiver in Corey Davis this offseason, drafted Elijah Moore (an absolute steal in the second round), bolstered Wilson's protection by trading up to pick guard Alijah Vera-Tucker in the first while adding a veteran (Tevin Coleman) and a young stud (Michael Carter) in free agency and the draft respectively. The rookie signal-caller should have ample targets at his disposal—let's not forget Keelan Cole, Jamison Crowder or Denzel Mims—with a running game and offensive line to help foster his success.
Finally, under coach Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, Wilson is in a scheme where he can flourish. There will be growing pains and adjustments, as is the case with every rookie quarterback and fresh coaching staff, but if they can get this right, New York will take a huge step in the right direction on offense in 2021.
Similar to Jets’ offense, New York made some big changes on defense this offseason as well.
It's a youth movement under Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, especially in the secondary. Electing to focus on the position later in the draft, while steering clear from adding any veterans in free agency, the Jets are rolling with a group of inexperienced defensive backs. At cornerback, rookies Michael Carter II, Brandin Echols, Jason Pinnock and Isaiah Dunn (undrafted) are poised to be on the receiving end of quite a bit of playing time, mixed in with the likes of second-year corners Bryce Hall and Javelin Guidry. New York even parted ways with Bless Austin (their most experienced corner) less than two weeks before the regular season to open more opportunities for those aforementioned newbies.
Marcus Maye will anchor the secondary from the safety position, but who knows how long he'll stick around after some drama in the offseason with his contract. Maye is playing this season under the franchise tag.
The defensive line was supposed to be this group's biggest strength and deepest position group on this side of the ball. It still is for the most part, but two gut-wrenching injuries certainly change the outlook. Edge rusher Carl Lawson looked like he was due for a career year, wreaking havoc in the backfield. He won't play a single snap, however, after a season-ending Achilles injury. Same goes for another free-agent acquisition, Vinny Curry, who will miss this season with a rare blood disorder. That puts more of an emphasis on returners like Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers and Folorunso Fatukasi up front, flanked by Shaq Lawson who was brought in to help fill the void on the edge. Keep an eye on Bryce Huff this year, as well.
Again, this is a very young group. Quality offensive teams should be able to take care of business against them. But with Saleh's defensive-minded tutelage and some promising pieces, don't count this unit out.
Hey, it can’t be worse than last year, right? Look, this is a better team than the one that won two games a year ago. Better players in a better environment. But don't be surprised if New York struggles through the middle of the season when they take on a slew of formidable foes. Then again, there's some serious potential here to hang with better teams, showing flashes of what's being built in Florham Park. Split the difference and it's a step forward while securing a decent spot in the first round of the NFL draft.
Expected Depth Chart
QB: Zach Wilson, Mike White
RB: Tevin Coleman, Ty Johnson, Michael Carter, La’Mical Perine
WR: Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Jeff Smith
WR: Keelan Cole, Denzel Mims
WR: Jamison Crowder, Braxton Berrios
TE: Tyler Kroft, Ryan Griffin, Daniel Brown
FB: Trevon Wesco
LT: Mekhi Becton, Chuma Edoga
LG: Alijah Vera-Tucker, Dan Feeney
C: Connor McGovern
RG: Greg Van Roten
RT: Morgan Moses, George Fant
DE: John Franklin-Myers, Tim Ward
DT: Quinnen Williams, Nathan Shepherd,
DT: Foley Fatukasi, Sheldon Rankins, Jonathan Marshall
DE: Shaq Lawson, Bryce Huff
LB: Hamsah Nasirildeen, Blake Cashman
LB: C.J. Mosley, Quincy Williams
LB: Jamien Sherwood, Jarrad Davis (IR)
CB: Brandon Echols, Jason Pinnock
FS: Marcus Maye
SS: Lamarcus Joyner, Sharrod Neasman, Ashtyn Davis (IR)
CB: Bryce Hall, Isaiah Dunn, Justin Hardee
NCB: Javelin Guidry, Michael Carter II
K: Matt Ammendola
P: Braden Mann
LS: Thomas Hennessy