What the New York Jets’ Plan of Attack Must Be for the 2022 NFL Offseason
Despite spending the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on a quarterback, it’s fair to wonder whether New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas found the long-term answer at the position.
After all, Zach Wilson’s rookie season left much to be desired.
Still, it’s equally fair to point out the lack of talent around the physically gifted passer out of BYU. Needless to say, fellow rookie Mac Jones landed in a much different situation by falling to the New England Patriots.
Ultimately, though, the Jets have to find a way to give Wilson a chance to justify his draft pedigree. And based on how poorly the team performed on both sides of the ball in 2021, which resulted in a 4-13 record and a last-place finish in the AFC East, it’s clear Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh have a lot of work to do.
Here’s the plan of attack that duo should follow during the 2022 NFL offseason.
Biggest offseason questions
It’s scary to think the Jets may actually be further behind in their rebuilding plan than they were a year ago. In some ways, though, that’s simply the truth.
Is Zach Wilson actually a franchise quarterback? Or did the front office miss on yet another highly touted prospect?
Coming off a challenging rookie season that included some ugly turnovers, poor decisions, and many frustrating moments, it’s clear the No. 2 overall pick faces an uphill battle to make Jets fans forget about 2021. Despite his draft status, don’t be surprised if he has to battle it out to retaining the QB1 role.
Meanwhile, can Douglas and Saleh find the right pieces to help Wilson succeed?
The offensive line clearly lacks enough starting-caliber players, and 2020 first-rounder Mekhi Becton has to prove he can stay healthy and lock down the left tackle spot. And there’s no doubt the Jets need better weapons at wide receiver, tight end, and running back.
Top free-agency decisions
Key free agents: FS Marcus Maye (S), Jamison Crowder (WR), Keelan Cole (WR), Morgan Moses (OT)
Several veteran starters will have a chance to go ring hunting if they want to get out of New York. And while it would seem logical for the Jets to move on from Jamison Crowder, Keelan Cole, and Morgan Moses, will they let Marcus Maye walk?
The 2017 second-round pick has developed into a rock-solid free safety, but he faces an uncertain NFL future. Unfortunately for the former Florida Gators star, his season came to an abrupt end in Week 9 due to a torn Achilles.
Set to turn 29 in March, Maye might have one chance to cash in. But it’s fair to wonder how much his injury will impact his leverage at the negotiating table. Plus, perhaps the Jets will want to get younger (and cheaper) at the position since they’re not close to contending for a Super Bowl title.
2022 NFL Draft needs and potential targets
Top picks: First round (own), first round (Seattle Seahawks via Jamal Adams trade), second round (own), second round (Carolina Panthers via Sam Darnold trade)
Draft needs: OT, CB, DE, TE
No team is set up for a substantial leap forward quite like the Jets. After all, they have multiple picks in the first and second rounds of the 2022 draft. Of course, they own extra selections because they traded away 2017 first-rounder Jamal Adams and 2018 first-rounder Sam Darnold, which speaks volumes about the state of the franchise.
The Jets have to improve the offensive tackle position, and they could easily use one of their top selections on Alabama’s Evan Neal or North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu. Sticking on that side of the ball, Colorado State tight end Trey McBride would give Wilson a big-bodied target who can also help out as a blocker. He could be a potential target in the second round.
While Carl Lawson should provide a boost to the pass rush, the Jets shouldn’t put all of their eggs into that basket. Coming off a torn Achilles, he could take some time to get back to prime form. Plus, the team simply needs more talent on the edge, which makes the idea of Aiden Hutchinson particularly intriguing. He would be a picture-perfect fit for Saleh’s defense, and his intensity and physicality would instantly make the Jets better.
In addition, the cornerback room needs work. Although 2021 fifth-rounder Michael Carter boasts upside as a slot option, Saleh needs a true No. 1 on the outside who can handle No. 1 receivers. The Jets should have an opportunity to select their highest-graded player at the position, which could be LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. or Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr.
1 player on each side of the ball who must step up in 2022
Let’s be honest: The Jets will be in full-on disaster mode if Zach Wilson doesn’t step up in 2022. After swinging and missing on Darnold, they can’t afford to get it wrong again. Obviously, improving the talent around him will help, but the athletic signal-caller must make strides individually, too.
Wilson has a strong arm, excellent athleticism, and the creativity to make plays on the move. But after tossing picks, committing fumbles, and missing throws far too often, can he cut down on making mistakes and start scoring touchdowns on a consistent basis?
Of course, the Jets were equally ineffective on both sides of the ball in 2021. So, who needs to step up the most for Saleh’s disappointing defense?
To no surprise, the spotlight should be on another recent top-five pick. And even though Quinnen Williams isn’t in danger of earning the dreaded “draft bust” label, he needs to elevate his game next season.
Selected third overall in 2019, the former Alabama standout has provided some pass-rush pop while serving as a full-time starter at defensive tackle. However, based on his draft pedigree, Williams has to be much more than that. After earning an impressive 81.4 Pro Football Focus grade in 2020, he’s compiled a 65.3 mark through 13 games.
So, even if the Jets nail the draft and free agency, they need two of their top picks from recent years to make massive strides during the 2022 NFL offseason.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference