There are high expectations for the Jets.
And why shouldn’t there be?
This team is on the verge of a legitimate improvement after general manager Joe Douglas bolstered the receiving corps, pass rush, secondary, and interior offensive line this offseason. But regardless of the various roster upgrades, there are still three position groups whose 2022 production could decide whether the Jets make the playoffs or take another early vacation.
Defensive tackle. Barring injuries or unexpected poor play, the Jets have the necessary pass rush weapons in place. Defensive end Carl Lawson is returning from an Achilles tear and should provide a major boost alongside John Franklin-Myers (tied for the team lead with 6.0 sacks last year) and first-round pick Jermaine Johnson. It’s Christmas morning for Robert Saleh, who wishes to build a dominant defensive line like the one he coached in San Francisco.
But a concern will be the interior of the defensive line, and how it’ll be able to defend the run and force opposing teams into 3rd-and-long situations. Quinnen Williams is a reliable option who could be playing for a significant payday. But after him, the depth chart doesn’t carry great potential. Sheldon Rankins returns to the Jets after a so-so first year in New York. Solomon Thomas, on the other hand, has started just five games in three years. Jonathan Marshall is also in the mix but the 2021 sixth-round draft pick has yet to prove himself.
This group of defensive tackles must stuff the gaps on run downs so the pass rush and secondary can thrive. A repeat of last year (when the Jets allowed 138.3 rushing yards per game) could diminish the defense’s overall potential.
Offensive tackle. There are various reasons to be excited about the 2022 Jets offense. Zach Wilson will hopefully improve in his second year under offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s watch. The young quarterback also has a two-headed monster at running back (Michael Carter and Breece Hall), a reliable trio of receivers (Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, and Garrett Wilson), and a nice tight end duo (C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin).
But this offense will remain irrelevant if the line doesn’t protect Wilson or open up holes for the run game. And at the most important spot of the line, there are definite question marks.
Mekhi Becton starting at left tackle is not etched in stone. He missed virtually all of last year after dislocating his knee cap in the season opener. There are also lingering weight- and commitment-related concerns regarding the 2020 first-rounder.
The Jets could move Becton to the right side and plug George Fant at left tackle after he performed well there last season. However, the veteran is also recovering from knee surgery.
Whether it be Becton or Fant lining up on Wilson’s blindside, the Jets need strong left tackle play to maximize the talent they employ in the weapons department.
Quarterback. But regardless of the offensive line’s success (or lack thereof), all eyes will still be on the young quarterback.
Wilson must improve after earning a pass last year. It was going to be impossible for him to immediately thrive as a rookie, but the organization has made sure to put him in the best position possible ahead of year two.
Douglas drafted Garrett Wilson, Hall, and tight end Jeremy Ruckert. He signed Uzomah, Conklin, and starting left guard Laken Tomlinson, too.
Combine those moves with the fact Wilson is entering his second year in LaFleur’s system, and you realize the signal-caller’s excuses are dwindling.
In a quarterback-driven league, in a conference that includes Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, and Russell Wilson, the former No. 2 pick must deliver. Or else the Jets will be headed in the absolute wrong direction.