FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Rookie show: One of the reasons for hope in 2022 is the 2021 draft class, which might be the best group of offensive rookies in franchise history. Just follow the touchdowns.
Wide receiver Elijah Moore (six), running back Michael Carter (four) and quarterback Zach Wilson (four) have combined for 14 rushing and receiving touchdowns, more than every Jets rookie class in the common-draft era (since 1967), according to ESPN Stats & Information. If you count the pick-six by cornerback Brandin Echols, it’s a total of 15 touchdowns, second only to the 2021 class of the Pittsburgh Steelers (16).
The Jets’ previous high was 13 touchdowns in 1984 — eight by fullback Tony Paige, two by wide receiver Bobby Humphery and running back Cedric Minter and one by tight end Glenn Dennison.
A couple of disclaimers: The Jets haven’t produced many star offensive rookies over the last 55 years. It’s also obvious, but worth noting that early success doesn’t guarantee a bright future, as illustrated by the ’84 class. Not one of them became a household name. Ultimately, Wilson’s development as a passer — not as a runner — will be the biggest factor in determining the success of the 2021 draft, but there’s certainly reason for optimism.
Consider that Wilson, Moore and Carter still haven’t had much of a chance to play together. Each one has missed time due to injuries (11 games combined), so they have been on the field at the same time for only 68 of the team’s 930 offensive snaps. Wild, right?
Moore (quadriceps) remains out Sunday for a fourth straight game. If the three-man reunion doesn’t happen next week, there’s always 2022.
“They’ve got a chance (to be special), especially the way Zach has been playing since he’s gotten back from injury, the way he’s improving,” coach Robert Saleh said. “To get those three back, it’s going to be a fun little trio to watch.”
2. Give him a GPS: The Jets haven’t stopped too many teams this season, but they play great defense when it comes to receiver Denzel Mims, offering plenty of alibis when it comes to his performance. What they can’t camouflage is the bottom line. After all, the NFL is a production business, and right now his production is … well, consider this:
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Over the last two seasons, Mims has run more pass routes (386) without a touchdown than any wide receiver in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Let’s explain.
In 2020 and 2021, a total of 110 wide receivers have run at least 340 routes — and Mims is the only one who hasn’t scored. He was targeted in the end zone last week, but he stepped out of bounds during his route, making himself ineligible.
The 2021 calendar year wasn’t kind to Mims, who battled food poisoning and COVID-19, but he should be beyond the adversity. Because of injuries at receiver, he’s getting a terrific opportunity to quiet his critics. But he’s not; he has gone three straight games without a reception.
3. Four! Right now, the Jets have four picks in the top 38 of the 2022 NFL draft. Historically, this sort of scenario has happened to them only twice — 2000 (four in the top 27) and 1984 (four in the top 39). It’s a rare opportunity to get better fast.
4. Sweet home, Alabama? There’s an outside chance the Jets’ staff could be asked to coach one of the teams in the Senior Bowl, Feb. 5, in Mobile, Alabama. The league invites two NFL teams to coach, based on draft position. Three teams are ahead of the Jets in the current order, and one of them — the Jacksonville Jaguars — is off the board because they will have a new coaching staff. Teams have the option to decline.
This is hard to believe, but the Jets haven’t coached the Senior Bowl since 1979, when Walt Michaels was the head coach. That year, in Mobile, they fell in love with an unheralded pass-rusher named Mark Gastineau.
5. Revolving door: The Jets have used 84 different players, four more than their 2020 total, according to the NFL. Chalk it up to COVID-19 and a lot of injuries. The most fluid position is safety, where they have started nine players — astounding.
6. Big offseason for ‘Big Ticket’: It seems weird saying this about a 22-year-old, but 2022 is a critical year for Mekhi Becton, whose star has faded after a washout 2021 season due to knee surgery. This week, Saleh essentially challenged the 6-foot-7 left tackle to crush the offseason as he prepares for Year 3.
“This is going to be a big offseason for him in terms of getting his body right, getting his mind right, getting himself ready to play as quickly as possible so he can have a full set of OTAs, which he’s never had, a full training camp, which he really has never had, and get himself into the season so he can dominate the way we all know he can,” Saleh said.
The Jets aren’t going to give up on Becton after only two years even though he will have missed 18 out of 33 games — nor should they. The big man has talent, but he has to get into the best shape of his life and stay healthy. He was a durable player in college (only one missed start in three years), but he’s quickly earning the injury-prone label in the NFL.
The left-tackle situation will get real interesting if they draft a tackle (Alabama’s Evan Neal?) with one of their two first-round picks. Could they move Becton to right tackle? Saleh declined to address that possibility.
7. Revenge game? Ex-Jets coach Todd Bowles faces his previous team for the first time since being fired after the 2018 season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator returns to MetLife Stadium with a Super Bowl ring on his finger and his reputation restored. He’s already being mentioned as a head-coaching candidate in the upcoming hiring cycle.
The roster has changed since Bowles left (only four holdover players), but the losing hasn’t stopped. The team’s winning percentage post-Bowles (.277) is actually lower than Bowles’ four-year run (.375), which indicates he wasn’t the problem. It’s bigger than any single coach.
8. Did you know? Bucs star Tom Brady has 23 wins against rookie quarterbacks, the second-most in NFL history, including 11 straight. His last loss — and this will shock you — was to the Jets’ Geno Smith in 2013.
9. Running QB: Wilson certainly showed off his wheels last week. If he scores against the Bucs, it’ll be three straight games with a rushing touchdown, something no Jets’ quarterback has done.
10. The last word: Two quick John Madden/Jets stories, courtesy of former longtime Jets public relations director Frank Ramos:
Before a 1969 game at windy Shea Stadium, Madden, a first-year coach with the Oakland Raiders, noticed small, white flags behind the goal posts. He asked Jets coach Weeb Ewbank about them. Some coaches would’ve given a bogus explanation, but Ewbank said the purpose of the flags was to help kicker Jim Turner gauge the wind direction. Madden later remarked he was impressed by Ewbank’s transparency, his willingness to help a young coach. (By the way, Madden was 4-0 lifetime against the Jets.)
In 1994, Ramos was sitting near Madden in the audience at the announcement of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary team. Ramos recalled, “After the quarterbacks were revealed, Madden turned to me and said, ‘Damn, they left (Joe) Namath off. He made a whole league!’ I’ll always remember that line.” A reference, of course, to the old AFL.
We will always remember John Madden. Rest in peace, coach.