The New York Jets had a strong offseason, at least on paper. How much they improve on a 4-13 record will be the true test of how successful the Jets really were since the end of an ugly 2021 campaign.
Adding Pro Bowl guard Laken Tomlinson to fortify an improving offensive line appears to be a solid move. And providing quarterback Zach Wilson two more playmakers in wide receiver Garrett Wilson and running back Breece Hall is wise decision making by general manager Joe Douglas.
The defensive line should be bolstered with the additions of Solomon Thomas, Jermaine Johnson and Micheal Clemons, and the return to health of Carl Lawson.
But there are two areas the Jets seemingly solidified during the offseason that stand out the most, one on each side of the ball.
Jets Best Offseason Moves
Rebuilding the Secondary
The Jets are expected to have three new starters in their secondary this season. And starting safety Lamarcus Joyner is back after he played only one game last season because of a torn triceps sustained in the opener against the Carolina Panthers.
That’s pretty much a complete overhaul for a unit that ranked 30th in the NFL against the pass last season.
The Jets selected Sauce Gardner in the first round (No. 5 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft to be their shutdown corner for years to come. He is tall, rangy, athletic, smart and fearless. He carries himself with the confident swagger that the great corners have and has drawn comparisons to Jalen Ramsey.
Sauce Gardner in action at Jets OTAs. pic.twitter.com/J9Q9eqHUPx
— Dan Leberfeld (@jetswhispers) June 1, 2022
It’ll be a challenge for Gardner to be a star right off the bat as he’ll often be on an island by himself covering some of the league’s top receivers as a rookie, but he provides a massive upgrade at the position.
Gardner will be opposite fifth-year pro D.J. Reed, who was signed as a free agent after two solid seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. Reed already has emerged in offseason workouts as a leader in the secondary and could be a vocal team leader this season. He’s a skilled corner who provides valuable experience and is heading into his prime years.
Adding Gardner and Reed means the Jets will move Bryce Hall and Brandin Echols into backup roles. This provides them quality depth at the corner position. Hall started all 17 games last season, and seven as a rookie in 2020, and played reasonably well, though he has just one interception in 25 NFL games. The Jets have high hopes for Echols, who started 14 games as a rookie last season and had two interceptions including one for a touchdown, 63 tackles and a 79.8 rating.
🏈🚨 Brandin Echols jumps the route perfectly to tie the game with a Pick-6! @matayo_echols #TakeFlight
🏈🚨 Brandin Echols consigue el Pick six para el Touchdown en la INT a Tua #NFL
: #NYJvsMIA @andreaahn @gonzdb21 @Ivan_Herce
— 🏈 NFL AmericanScreenSports NBA🏀)🇺🇸🇪🇸🇲🇽🎤 (@Americanscreen1) December 19, 2021
Michael Carter II had a solid rookie season in 2021 playing the nickel. He likely will return to that spot unless the Jets move Hall or Echols there, another testament to their newfound depth.
Jordan Whitehead was signed as a free agent to replace Marcus Maye at safety. Maye sustained an Achilles injury in Week 7 last season, finished the year on IR and signed with the New Orleans Saints.
Leader in the back end.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) June 8, 2022
Whitehead is a veteran who won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and does most things well, though perhaps not one thing great. He and Joyner should get most of the reps, allowing youngsters Ashtyn Davis and Jason Pinnock to develop as depth pieces instead of being forced back into starting roles.
With their reconstructed secondary and improved defensive line, the Jets should be vastly improved against the pass this season.
Filling the Tight End Void
Zach Wilson had all kinds of issues as a rookie last season, many of his own doing. But the Jets did him no favors by failing to have a reliable tight end on the roster.
Quite often, a tight end can be a safety blanket for a young quarterback. The Jets didn’t have that player for Wilson to count on for the safe intermediate throws that can help build his confidence.
Douglas clearly made filling the void at tight end a priority this offseason. The Jets signed veterans C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin and selected Jeremy Ruckert in the fourth round of the draft.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) March 25, 2022
Though Ruckert was placed on the non-football injury list heading into training camp because of a foot issue, the Jets are still much better stocked at the position than last season.
Uzomah and Conklin are reliable big targets, each coming off a career season. Conklin tied for ninth among NFL tight ends with 61 catches for the Minnesota Vikings in 2021 and Uzomah was tied for 18th with 49 receptions for the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Jets top two tight ends last season, Ryan Griffin and Tyler Kroft, combined for 43 catches. Griffin failed to build chemistry with Wilson and Kroft was injured half the season.
Uzomah is a monster at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds and Conklin is 6-foot-3, 248 pounds and just reaching his prime at 27 years old. Each caught better than 70 percent of his targets last season and they combined for eight touchdowns. Jets tight ends scored three touchdowns.
Wilson should benefit with Uzomah and Conklin in the lineup. The Jets rushing attack should receive a boost, as well, since each is a solid run blocker.
Ruckert will be worked into the mix when healthy. Lawrence Cager, a converted wide receiver, is an intriguing prospect who had an impressive OTA and mini camp. And Trevon Wesco, a solid run blocker, remains in the mix.
Clearly, tight end is no longer a black hole on the Jets roster.