Don’t underestimate the New York Jets’ rushing attack
The New York Jets have everything in place to have one of the best rushing offenses in the NFL. We saw it in the final seven weeks of the 2021 season when the Jets rushed for 125 yards per game. In 2021, that would rank ninth in the NFL and just two yards per game behind the San Francisco 49ers.
Heading into 2022, Jets fans may need to keep their rally hats on the ground and the pound as their team made several moves that should elevate the running game even further.
The first moves were the re-signing of wide receiver Braxton Berrios and fullback Nick Bawden. While Berrios certainly helps in many ways, Bawden really helped spark the Jets’ late-season emergence.
Next moves were signature tight ends CJ Uzomah and Tyler Conklin. After tossing a waiver request and an undrafted free agent in Week 18 of 2021, the Jets have two legitimate starting tight ends. This will allow the Jets to field two more blockers on running plays and open up play-action.
After struggling to emulate Shanahan’s scheme in 2021, Mike LaFleur has all the pieces he needs — two capable tight ends, a good fullback and a gimmicky wide receiver that helps stretch the defense from east to west.
General manager Joe Douglas took the running game from good to elite by recruiting running back Breece Hall in the 2022 NFL Draft. Hall has the athletic profile and dominant college career to have a shot at advancing to the NFL’s premier status.
However, a good rushing offense still comes down to having an elite offensive line. No scheme or running back can defeat multiple defenders in the backfield.
Fortunately, the Jets offensive line has the potential to be one of the best units in the NFL. I’ve written extensively about Zach Wilson and the Jets’ offensive weapons before. Today I will focus on the offensive line. Douglas added the final piece through free agency and it has an extremely high ceiling in 2022.
New players complete the offensive line
The Jets’ offensive guards have been some of the worst in the NFL in recent years. Greg Van Roten, Alex Lewis, Pat Elfein and Brian Winters constantly struggled and held down the entire line.
However, in 2022, the Jets will instead field one of the best guarding duos in the NFL with the addition of Laken Tomlinson.
Tomlinson has been one of the best guards in the NFL in recent years with the 49ers. Not only has he been dominant on the field, but he also rarely leaves it – a trait the Jets desperately need.
Tomlinson has been incredibly durable throughout his career, missing just one game due to his trade. His game and leadership will not only elevate the entire unit, but the murderous blunders of his predecessors will also be erased. (How different could the 2021 season have been if tackle Mekhi Becton had remained healthy?)
Tomlinson’s signing rounds out the starting five, but injuries can rapidly derail a unit. That’s why the Jets added two key depth plays that can win roles going forward.
The first was offensive lineman Max Mitchell in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Division II player has dominated his competition and has the love of intangible coaches. He performed poorly at the combine and the Senior Bowl, but his strip was too good to pass up. He also offers excellent versatility as he has played both tackles and left guard.
After him, the Jets claimed offensive guard Nate Herbig from the Philadelphia Eagles. It was a great addition from Douglas as the 24-year-old has played well for the past three years.
Herbig played all three inside spots and was competent in both phases of the game. The undrafted former free agent has an opportunity to earn a long-term role behind aging Tomlinson and McGovern.
Tackles Max Mitchell, Connor McDermott, Chuma Edoga and guards Nate Herbig and Dan Feeney give the Jets versatile depth. Tackle depth still has a lot to prove, but Feeney and Herbig are borderline starters.
Douglas has done his best to rebuild the offensive line and heading into 2022, it looks complete. All five starters have top-10 potential at their respective positions, to go along with respectable floors.
Behind them, Douglas has finally built up depth where losing a starter won’t cripple the unit. The overall potential is exciting, but I can say with confidence that the Jets will have one of the best running blocking units in the NFL.
The offensive line has elite potential in the running game
I’ve written many times about my high expectations for the offensive line and I won’t stop. The Jets offensive line has legitimate top-10 potential and a good floor. It’s in the running game that the Jets will likely be most impressive at the start of the season.
Four of the Jets’ five offensive linemen are above-average run blockers, as Mekhi Becton, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Connor McGovern and Laken Tomlinson all have block ratings above 72.
Vera-Tucker had the lowest rating at 72.5 and she still ranked 58th among 191 offensive linemen with over 400 snaps. There were many plays that he cleared a massive path for Michael Carter or others to go through.
Becton is coming off a serious injury, but his ability to block the run has never been an issue. Few people have Becton’s size and that allows him to easily move NFL players. As long as he’s healthy, I expect him to be as good if not better than he was as a rookie.
After originally thriving as a pass protector, McGovern has been one of the best running blocking centers the past two years. His athleticism allowed him to thrive in the Jets’ wide zone scheme. Now, surrounded by Tomlinson and Vera-Tucker, McGovern’s life has never been easier.
Together, the Jets offensive line will impose its will on other teams. If Becton and Vera-Tucker build on their rookie years, I think this can be a top-five unit in 2022. Both have the talent to be among the best in their positions and can give the Jets a good run. offensive line for a decade.
Statistically speaking, the only player holding returning from the game for the Jets is tackle George Fant. He was fantastic as a pass protector, but struggled a lot as a run blocker. However, the Jets probably don’t care considering he allowed the sixth-lowest rushing percentage in 2021.
Either way, the Jets are set to dominate. Seven of the top ten rushing offenses in 2021 had at least three offensive linemen with a rating of at least 72.5. The Jets have four. That doesn’t include the impact of their scheme or the running back and tight end talent.
The sky really is the limit for the Jets in 2022.
Competent racing game will make life easier for Zach Wilson
Nothing makes a quarterback’s life easier than a good running game. Good situations on second and third down allow the offense to be unpredictable.
Play attacks lifted quarterbacks like Jimmy Garoppolo and Kirk Cousins to top 10-15 levels. Easing the load will also prevent mistakes from an over-exuberant Zach Wilson trying to do too much.
With two good blocking tight ends, a full back and multiple gadget-type wide receivers who can stretch the defense horizontally via jet-sweep and the like, the Jets will be able to run the ball in any situation. Mix Wilson’s development as a rusher and two quality running backs, and the New York Jets should to be among the best rushing attacks in the NFL.