Happy New Year: #BringBraxtonBack
As the calendar flips to 2022, I want to say thank you.
Good morning Jets fans. Welcome to the last day of 2021, in many ways this year has sucked. It was supposed to be the year we got back to normal, but that didn’t happen, and while the Jets did a lot of losing, 2022 is shaping up to be a very exciting year for Gang Green. We’ve seen a light, and while it’s still a fair distance away, at least it’s a glimmer in the darkness of Jets fandom. Let’s be honest, following the Jets has been tough over the last decade, but we’re still here and as I say to friends and family who question why I put so much energy into this franchise, all that suffering will make the success all the sweeter…and I firmly believe that success is on the way.
* Today I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you all. I’ve published work across numerous publications dating back to 2009, and 'I’ve never done anything on my own. This year I decided to take a chance to start up this newsletter. Committing to producing content 5 times a week with a full-time job and a young family was daunting and quite frankly…dangerous. But we’re over 50 editions down, the subscriber list grows by the day and the views on the newsletters continue to climb. For everyone who reads, for everyone who subscribes, for everyone who shares it with friends or family, and for everyone who sends me a tweet, an email, or leaves a comment…thank you*
So what to talk about for the final newsletter of 2021? How about a long list of random thoughts. Sound good? Let’s just dive straight in, if you make it to the end…well you deserve a medal.
Why I think it’s important that we #BringBraxtonBack
Remember in 2018 when we had Andre Roberts, the First-Team All-Pro and first-time pro-bowler. We decided to move on for many reasons. Roberts went on to make the Pro-Bowl again in 2019 and 2020, a second-team All-Pro in 2020 all while leading the league with 30 yards per return. It was a mistake to let Roberts go, and I’m fond of not letting history repeat itself.
Braxton has been a top-5 returner in the league this year in almost every statistical category. He’s 4th with 30.7 yards per return, his 102-yard return is the joint longest this year, he has 0 muffs on either kicks or punts and his 13.4 yards average per punt return is the 2nd best in the league for players with at least 15 attempts.
Then you have to factor in that he is an extremely reliable receiver. So far this year he’s caught 79.2% of passes thrown his way (38/48) which is the highest mark on the Jets, he has just one drop all season and leads the Jets with 207 yards after the catch, not to mention he’s completing 80% of his contested catches. You don’t take this kind of guy away from a QB developing in the pros, if anything you make sure he sees the field more.
Why do I still think we need to invest in the cornerback position?
Coming into the season, the position group that I was most nervous about was the cornerbacks. They really have been a pleasant surprise, Bryce Hall has really stepped up and we’ve got more production from Brandin Echols and Michael Carter II than I ever thought possible. Saying that, I still feel as though there is a spot on this roster for a true ball-hawking cornerback.
I’m not going to sit here and say that Hall can’t become a #1, he has a way to go to get there but he’s already made a noticeable improvement from year one to year two, who knows what the improvement will look like in year three. There is a world where the Jets trust their development of Hall and Echols and prioritize other areas of the defense, I can live with that. But this is a passing league and while Hall’s 12 pass break-ups are excellent, we have just one interception all season from our CB group. Flipping the field for your offense is a great attribute for a good team, and at the moment we’re just not doing that.
As good as Echols has been and he’s been very good, bringing in a true CB1 while having Hall as your CB2, Echols as your depth outside, and Guidry and MC2 inside would make a lot of sense. The Jets are allowing 250 passing yards per game which is 28th in the league, and while some of that can be attributed to the lack of pass rush and a very dodgy safety tandem, we have an opportunity to improve there.
I’m not saying I’d be for taking Derek Stingley, as good as he was in 2019, his 2020 tape and injury history concern me. I’m not sure we’d have a shot at JC Jackson, who’s set to be a free agent, but if he shakes free I’d love to see us be aggressive. He’s allowing just a 51.1% completion into his coverage.
Some may say the system doesn’t need those high-caliber corners, but I’d say every system needs to adapt. If the Jets see enough from Echols to run it back with Hall and Echols as the outside corners next year, I’d get it and understand. But, from an outsider looking in, it sure looks like this team could do with a premier CB1.
Coming around to the first-round receiver
Earlier in the off-season, I was dead against taking a receiver in the first round. We have the 32nd ranked defense I cried, we just gave Corey Davis a bag of money and took Elijah Moore I protested, I would debate the point until I was blue in the face. Then I started watching more college football, seeing the likes of Jameson Williams put seven 100 yard+ games on tape…and it was hard to ignore what Ja’Marr Chase, Devonte Smith, and Jaylen Waddle were doing in the league.
Now…I’m firmly on board the wide receiver in round one argument.
I’ve only just started looking at receivers in-depth, but so far you could throw Jameson Williams, Trey Burks, Garrett Wilson, or Chris Olave in the mix and I’d be perfectly happy, Drake London and Jahan Dotson too. History would indicate that you can find top-quality receivers in the later rounds, Tyreek Hill in the 5th, Cooper Kupp in the 3rd, Antonio Brown in the 6th, Stefon Diggs in the 5th…you get my point, but I think your odds of hitting are greater in the first, just like any position.
I have a ton of faith in Elijah Moore and who he can become, but I’m all in favor of surrounding Zach Wilson with as much talent as possible. That’s why I’m now on board with the first-round receiver and often bang the drum for signing someone like Dalton Schultz in free agency. Don’t make the same mistakes twice, we didn’t do enough to support Sam, with Wilson it needs to be different.
Faith In Zach
In many ways Zach’s season has been the kind of season you’d expect from a rookie QB…well it was before Justin Herbert came along and ensured that rookie expectations would never be the same again. Herbert was the exception to the rule, it’s not very often that a rookie QB comes in and throws for 4000+ yards and 30+ TD’s, which is historically good.
Throughout the draft process I always said I liked Zach but that some of the comparisons to Mahomes and Rodgers were wide of the mark, and while I believed in Zach and his ability to play in the league, I made no secret of the fact that I believed Justin Fields to be the superior prospect. In truth, they’ve both struggled throughout 2021, but both have shown flashes of brilliance.
I’m not going to lie, I’ve wavered on Zach this year. At points, his short accuracy and speed of progressions have worried me, and that nagging doubt about any high-profile Jets move started creeping in…what if the Jets have made another mistake at the top of the draft with a QB.
While I’m not all the way back to my pre-draft confidence in Zach, he’s made steady improvements over the past few weeks, enough to make me believe that we’ve still got a QB capable of making great strides in the NFL and taking the team to the playoffs. His accuracy has improved, his progressions have improved, his internal clock has improved, all while the team around him were chopping and changing.
I’m not going to say I’m 100% confident in Zach, he hasn’t shown enough and only his true die-hard fanbase will counter that point. What I will say is that he’s shown just about enough to excite me to the possibility that he’s the answer. I often say on the Jets UK Podcast that I don’t believe we’ll see the big jump in Zach until 2022…and I can’t wait to see if that turns out to be the case or not.
Linebacker help desperately needed
I don’t want to say there was some arrogance to the construction of the linebacking unit for 2021, but I do feel as though this coaching staff thinks they can coach up someone off the streets to be a serviceable guy…and maybe they can. But, the Jets went into the 2021 season with a player who hadn’t really played in two years (C.J Mosley), a player who the Lions weren’t too worried about letting go (Davis), and two converted rookie safeties (Sherwood & Nasrilideen). The Jets did manage to find Quincy Williams on waivers and he has been a pleasant surprise, but there is a lot of improvement needed.
I would argue that the linebacking core has been the weakest unit so far this year.
CJ Mosley has been better than I expected considering his time off and Quincy is a nice rotational piece, but outside of those guys, it doesn’t look too promising heading into 2021. Considering the money the Jets have tied up in CJ Mosley next year ($17.5 million), I’m not sure if the Jets would spend heavily in free agency. They may be interested in a guy like Anthony Walker from Cleveland, but there aren’t a lot of top-tier talents available.
Fortunately for the Jets, the 2022 NFL Draft is a good one for teams looking for linebackers. Whether that’s first-round talents like Devin Lloyd or Nakobe Dean, 2nd round talents like Christian Harris, or third-round talents like Brandon Smith and Chad Muma, the Jets should come out of that draft with at least one, if not two.
Jamien Sherwood is a bit of a mystery here, he’s only played 139 snaps before suffering a season-ending injury and in that limited window, he looked promising. So he’ll almost certainly be in the mix for next year.
Don’t sweat on Trey McBrides TD' numbers
I’ve shared this image recently on the top college tight-ends and how they compare:
There is always one question that comes up and to be honest it was a question I had when just looking at the raw numbers. For all his domination, why did Trey McBride only have one touchdown catch all season? I mean Jeremy Ruckert only caught 23 passes all season, but he still had 3 touchdowns. McBride is a 6’3 255lb tight end with great hands, it doesn’t seem logical that he just had one TD all season.
I reached out to someone who covered the team and heard from someone inside the college through a contact and both gave the same answers. There were 2 main reasons for McBride’s lack of TD production. He was often doubled in the red zone being the main threat, and Colorado State failed to throw the ball once they got inside the 20. There was obvious frustration with the coaching staff and earlier this month Head Coach Steve Adadazio was fired, so I wouldn’t be too concerned about that touchdown number.
More to it than just Sacks
Keeping on the theme above, I think a lot of people are getting caught up on George Karlaftis’s sack numbers for a reason they wouldn’t draft him in the top-10 and personally, I think that’s a mistake. Sack numbers are just part of the equation and one key metric that I always look at when focusing on edge players is their pass rush win %, which gives a better indication of how often they cleanly beat their man. A player can’t help if they roll the play away from him, or if they’re playing a team who has a short passing game with the ball coming out in less than 2 seconds, or if they have a poor secondary which leads to quick easy completions.
Karlaftis’s pass rush win % is 23.6, which is just slightly ahead of Kayvon Thibodeaux’s at 23.1% and not too far behind Aidan Hutchinson’s 26.0%. Don’t forget that Karlaftis had 7.5 sacks as a freshman and has 29 tackles for a loss in basically 2 years (he missed most of 2020).
If you don’t like Karlaftis’s game then that’s fair enough but I wouldn’t juse use one number to evaluate a prospect like George. I like his power, his hand usage is elite, he has great athleticism for a 275lb man and his motor is unquestionable.
We got the right guy for the job
Finally, this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and that’s Robert Saleh and how I still firmly believe that we’ve got the right man for the job.
2021 has been a tough season, and with a rookie HC, rookie OC and rookie QB we should have expected that, but at points, the season has been tenser than I would have presumed. Saleh understood quickly that the honeymoon period with the media was over pretty quickly. In the off-season, it’s all smiles and jokes, but they’re not there to be your friend, they’re there to ask tough questions, get headlines which in turn gets eyes on the articles.
There have been some ups and downs this year and some expected rookie clock management issues, but I’m more certain than ever that we have the right man leading the team. With the defense struggling, Saleh could have easily taken the reigns from Jeff Ulbrich but that would have been a mistake. Saleh doesn’t want to be a defensive coordinator and we don’t need him to be, we need him to be the head coach leading the entire unit through the tough times, and that’s what I’ve seen.
We’ll need to see improvements in 2022, which I’m confident we will but right now, we’ve got the right man.
That will do it for today. Hope you enjoyed my complete mash-up of thoughts. Have a great end to 2021 whatever you’re doing and I’ll see you in 2022, hopefully with a Monday victory post.
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