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New York Jets: 2022 Preseason Predictions and Preview

Zach Wilson, New York Jets

Zach Wilson and the Jets look to take a step forward this season after bolstering the roster through free agency and the draft.

The Jets believe their lowest moments are behind them — and that they're ready to start consistently winning and contending for a playoff spot in 2022.

And that is absolutely a reasonable expectation at this point in their rebuilding process, especially given what general manager Joe Douglas just did in free agency and the NFL Draft, as he continues to build around quarterback Zach Wilson.

Bottom line: The Jets, coming off a 4-13 record in head coach Robert Saleh's first season, should be in the playoff conversation — to some degree — come November and December.

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OFFENSE

Now Wilson needs to take the next step. That's what 2022 is all about for this team. Can he do it, after showing flashes of potential as a rookie?

His offensive line should be better, at least. And it needs to be, after the Jets finished last season 20th in Pro Football Focus' pass blocking ratings. The signing of Laken Tomlinson gives the Jets a nice guard pairing (with Alijah Vera-Tucker), though it'll be interesting to see how Vera-Tucker handles the move from left guard to right guard in 2022.

Left tackle — unless he plays right tackle — Mekhi Becton is the big wild card here. Can he stay healthy and in good shape and be a dominant pass blocker for Wilson? That's why the Jets drafted him 11th overall in 2020. But he hasn't lived up to expectations so far, in any of those areas. So George Fant could wind up starting at left tackle, with Becton moving to the right side.

Douglas prioritized adding weapons for Wilson this offseason. He better hope these additions work, or else the clock will be ticking on the GM, with his contract running through 2024. After big-money free agent Corey Davis didn't look like a No. 1 wide receiver last season, can No. 10 overall pick Garrett Wilson fill that role this season? Douglas essentially opted for drafting Wilson over making a huge trade offer for the 49ers' Deebo Samuel.

Another big question at receiver: Is Elijah Moore ready to take the next step as a star slot receiver? Like his quarterback, he showed flashes in 2021 but wasn't able to put it all together, partly due to injuries. If Davis, Moore and Wilson can deliver, that'll go a long way toward helping Zach Wilson's development this season.

The Jets should now have a nice one-two punch at running back, with second-round pick Breece Hall joining incumbent Michael Carter. Coordinator Mike LaFleur's Shanahan-style West Coast offense is at its best when it can use a committee approach at running back. And now, it can.

Ditto for skilled tight ends. Free agent signings C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin should let LaFleur run his scheme much more capably. That might make it hard for rookie third-round pick Jeremy Ruckert to find an early role, though. Plenty of competition there in the tight end room, which has given the Jets far too little in recent seasons.

So, yeah, Douglas really pushed over the past two offseasons to give his young quarterback more protection and playmakers — two things the Jets desperately needed, coming off the disastrous Mike Maccagnan/Adam Gase era.

Now, it's up to Wilson to take advantage of this opportunity. In 13 games last season, he had nine TDs, 11 interceptions and a 69.7 passer rating — the NFL's worst. He delivered a few improvisational highlights, and everybody knew that was a strength for him. But his consistency, decision making and bottom-line production must get better this season.

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DEFENSE

Saleh came to the Jets after building the 49ers defense into a successful group. Entering Year 2 as a head coach, he has nowhere to go but up with this Jets defense.

While the Jets were bad offensively in 2021 (26th in PFF's ratings), they were even worse on defense (31st). Their pass coverage was atrocious — also 31st, according to PFF.

Douglas didn't make a big-swing move in free agency to give Saleh a No. 1 cornerback. But he did draft Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner fourth overall. Gardner, who is 6'3", should give Saleh just the sort of long corner he needs to feel comfortable in man-to-man coverage. Gardner does not lack confidence, which could help him get through the inevitable rough patches that rookie corners encounter. Opposing quarterbacks will go right at him. He welcomes that.

The Jets' pass rush wasn't as terrible as their coverage last season, but it wasn't great — 23rd, according to PFF. The Jets badly missed high-profile free-agent addition Carl Lawson, who looked dominant in training camp but then tore his Achilles tendon in the preseason. The return of Lawson should make a huge difference for Saleh, who also got edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II late in the first round. The Jets haven't had a consistently dominant edge rusher since 2005 — John Abraham's final season with them.

Saleh has to still be concerned about his linebacker group. C.J. Mosley is steady in the middle, but other than that, there are a lot of question marks here, with Hamsah Nasirildeen and Quincy Williams. Saleh can't afford to have a defense that looks so brutal against the run again. The Jets finished last season 30th in PFF's run defense ratings.

Yes, Douglas upgraded Saleh's cornerback group by drafting Gardner and signing D.J. Reed, who is undersized but aggressive and physical. Those additions should ease the secondary's sting of the Jets letting safety Marcus Maye walk in free agency.

And, yes, Lawson and Johnson could wind up giving Saleh much-needed pass-rushing production. But even with Mosley anchoring things at linebacker, the Jets could still have issues against the run in 2022.

Of course, there's one big factor that could mitigate that damage — defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, Quincy's younger brother and a budding star. Through three seasons, he has shown why the Jets drafted him third overall in 2019. If he thrives again in 2022, he will wind up getting a massive contract extension from the Jets next offseason.

SPECIALISTS

The Jets haven't been able to find any consistency at kicker in recent seasons. Their latest attempt at doing that is signing 34-year-old Greg Zuerlein this offseason after the Cowboys cut him.

The Jets drafted punter Braden Mann in the sixth round in 2020. He finished 19th in the NFL in yards per punt last season, after finishing 30th in 2020. It's progress.

The Jets re-signed fan favorite Braxton Berrios, a slot receiver, in the offseason. While his action on offense could be limited — especially if Moore can stay healthy — he figures to be a high-impact returner. He was a first-team All-Pro kickoff returner last season.

FINAL ANALYSIS

So much comes down to Zach Wilson. While the roster around him isn't perfect, it at least appears a whole lot better than it was in 2021 — and a ton better than what Sam Darnold had to work with in 2020, his third and final season as the Jets' quarterback. Jets fans have long since moved on from Darnold, but his career arc with them is instructive. He was never able to take the next step in Year 2 and Year 3 with the organization, after showing flashes of potential near the end of his rookie season in 2018 that wound up being fool's gold.

So while Jets fans are plenty hopeful about Wilson — and liked the glimpses he showed them in 2021 — there is still a lot more he needs to show before anyone can start truly thinking about him as the next Joe Namath or even the next Mark Sanchez, the Jets' last playoff quarterback.

Prediction: 4th in AFC East