The New York Jets are preparing for an interesting Monday night preseason game
Only one game is in the books, but it’s already been an eventful preseason for the New York Jets. Their rookies have shown flashes of excellence, they have seen some unexpected roster-bubble players emerge with great performances, and above all, their starting quarterback suffered an injury that could cause him to miss at least one regular season game.
These events leave us with plenty of interesting storylines to track during the Jets’ second preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons (Monday, Aug. 22 at 8 pm ET).
How many starters will play?
Traditionally, NFL teams use the second-to-last preseason game as their dress rehearsal, giving more reps to their starters in this game than in any other preseason game.
But the Jets might be taking a different approach this year. After what happened with Zach Wilson last week, head coach Robert Saleh says he is “torn” on whether to play the team’s starters against Atlanta.
It will be fascinating to see how the Jets decide to handle their starters this week. I’m sure they were planning to give their starters some work, as most teams do in this game, but after dodging a bullet with Wilson, do they really want to take any more unnecessary risks with important players?
The Michael Clemons encore
Rookie defensive lineman Micheal Clemons was the star of the show in the preseason opener. He consistently popped off the screen in a stellar performance that featured seven pressures, four tackles, and a sack.
Clemons has quickly developed into a fan favorite. There is a lot of optimism in Florham Park about the type of impact that Clemons can make in year one.
However, as we all know, one good preseason game does not establish a player as a future star. Even Clemons himself was not satisfied with his performance in Philly. When asked whether he was pleased with his production, Clemons simply replied, “I wasn’t.”
Michael Clemons had a strong debut in his first preseason game as a Jet. How pleased was he with his production?
“I wasn’t” pic.twitter.com/T3FKV4CQzY
— Jets Videos (@snyjets) August 18, 2022
Can Clemons string together two more preseason games that are similarly impressive to his debut? If he can do that, then it will be justified to feel optimistic about his NFL readiness.
Clemons turned 25 years old today, so he is no youngster (relative to most NFL rookies). When you enter the NFL at that age, it is expected that you develop into a valuable contributor faster than young prospects. This will be especially true for Clemons if he heads into his rookie year coming off a dominant three-game preseason run.
Can Tanzel Smart and Jabari Zuniga take another step closer to a roster spot?
Clemons had two co-stars in the preseason opener: fellow defensive linemen Tanzel Smart and Jabari Zuniga. Recording five pressures apiece, Smart and Zuniga each improved their stock significantly.
Smart and Zuniga are currently on the outside looking in when it comes to the Jets’ 53-man roster outlook. But if they can keep playing as well as they did against the Eagles, the Jets might have a hard time cutting them.
It seems that Smart has a better shot of making the roster than Zuniga, as Smart has less competition at defensive tackle than Zuniga does at edge rusher.
However, it’s worth considering that Zuniga was a third-round pick of Joe Douglas’s, so that should earn him some points when the Jets are making their final cutdown decisions. Zuniga probably wouldn’t make the team if cutdowns were today, but, again, if he puts together three consecutive excellent preseason games, his draft status could sneak him onto the roster despite his struggles from 2020 to 2021. At worst, he should make the practice squad if he continues playing well.
As for Smart, I believe the Jets should already be giving serious consideration to keeping him. Beyond Quinnen Williams and John Franklin-Myers, the Jets do not have a defensive tackle on the roster who can be considered reliable. It’s a position group that is sorely lacking in depth beyond its two stars at the top. Why not take a shot at someone who is earning the opportunity?
Personally, I would keep Smart over someone like Nathan Shepherd or Jonathan Marshall. Smart played well in the 2021 preseason and is on the road to doing the same thing in 2022. Meanwhile, Shepherd and Marshall have been quiet. Plus, Smart brings impressive run-stopping ability, which no DT on the team offers outside of Williams.
We’ll have to wait and see if the Jets feel the same regarding Smart. Of course, though, before any of these decisions are made, Smart needs two more good performances to force the Jets into a tough decision.
Is Chris Streveler a keeper? And can Mike White have a bounce-back game?
Nobody was talking about Chris Streveler prior to the Philadelphia game, and that’s simply because there was nothing to talk about. Streveler did not even receive a single rep in team drills during training camp.
Despite his lack of practice reps, Streveler confidently trotted onto the field and enjoyed by far the best performance of the Jets’ three quarterbacks. He completed 6 of 9 passes for 62 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions while also gaining 31 rushing yards on two carries.
After Wilson’s injury, Streveler began to receive reps with the third-team offense, and he has been doing a nice job.
Some have discussed the possibility of New York trading Mike White since he is an impending free agent and would only be the Jets’ QB3 when Wilson is healthy. White had a rough preseason opener, completing 10 of 20 passes for 98 yards (only 4.9 per attempt) as he struggled with downfield accuracy. He completed only 3 of 9 passes that traveled at least 10 yards downfield.
White’s roster status was up in the air prior to Wilson’s injury, but with Wilson’s availability for Week 1 uncertain, White now seems like an essential lock to make the team as Joe Flacco’s backup to start the year.
However, if Streveler continues to significantly outplay White, could the Jets feel confident enough in Streveler to trade White and have Streveler back up Flacco to begin the season until Wilson returns?
That’s a best-case scenario, but at worst, Streveler could earn a spot on the Jets’ practice squad if he continues to impress.
Who’s making it as the fourth tight end?
The Jets have three tight ends who are a lock to make the team: CJ Uzomah, Tyler Conklin, and Jeremy Ruckert.
After that, New York has a quartet of contenders who are vying for a roster spot: Trevon Wesco, Kenny Yeboah, Lawrence Cager, and Nick Bawden (FB).
Wesco had a short-but-sweet appearance in the opener. He played only 9 snaps but still managed to record four very solid run-blocks by my count. Thanks to his tight end/fullback versatility and his quality as a blocker relative to his competitors, Wesco seems like the favorite to make the roster out of this bunch.
Yeboah played 20 snaps and was targeted only once, catching the pass for 2 yards. He also allowed a quarterback hit in pass protection.
Cager, who converted to tight end from wide receiver this offseason, put up some nice numbers but ultimately didn’t do anything that truly stood out.
While Cager caught two passes for 40 yards, picking up a first down on each catch, they were wide-open catches as a result of the play-call getting him open. Cager did not have to do anything of note either pre or post-catch. He just caught a couple of easy passes and ran into open space. Good on Cager for executing, but these plays do not move the needle all that much in a competition to make the team.
Bawden – who is more of a fullback than a tight end but is essentially competing for the same roster spot as the aforementioned tight ends – did not play in the opener and remained sidelined with an injury as recently as Friday. It’s unclear if he will even get a chance to play against Atlanta. The missed time certainly can’t be doing Bawden any favors.
Wesco seems to have the lead in this competition, but Yeboah and Cager are worth keeping an eye on due to their advantages over Wesco in athleticism and receiving upside. With that being said, this is an offensive scheme where blocking is essential at the tight end position, and Wesco is clearly the best blocker of these four players at the moment.
This TE4 spot is a sneakily important role for New York. With the Jets figuring to run plenty of two-tight end sets this year, the fourth tight end is only one injury away from being a primary backup. Keep an eye on this competition.