We’ve finally reached Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season. If you’re new to Buffalo Rumblings, five questions with the opposing blog allows fans to get a preview of the upcoming match-up from our fellow SB Nation NFL team experts and diehards. This week we kick it off with deputy manager MacGregor Wells from Gang Green Nation to preview the New York Jets ahead of their game against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
1) What do you feel are the biggest areas Sam Darnold needs to improve on in Year 3?
Darnold needs to improve on two major areas. If he can do so he can be a franchise quarterback, but of course the same can be said for many prospects who don’t pan out. The trick lies in actually improving, which ain’t so easy.
The first area Darnold needs to improve on is his throwing mechanics. Darnold does a great job throwing off platform. He is able to make some superb throws on the run, across his body, at odd angles, etc. Where Darnold could stand to improve is in his on platform throws. Too often when faced with minimal pressure, with no good reason, Darnold throws fading back, off his back foot, all arm, doesn’t step in, and his throws too often sail on him. His accuracy suffers, especially on deep balls, with predictably poor results. If Darnold can clean up his mechanics when facing little or no pressure, his accuracy should greatly improve, leading to better results.
The second area Darnold needs to improve on is his judgment. Too often Darnold goes for the spectacular throw and ignores the easy toss or run for a first down right in front of him. This occasionally leads to big plays for the Jets, but more often leads to incompletions or turnovers. As a quarterback this is a tightrope to walk. Take the safest play too much and you become a “Checkdown Charlie,” a guy who can move the chains a bit but will never be in the upper echelon of quarterbacks. Ignore the safest play and go for the kill too much and you become a turnover machine. Getting the balance right separates the men from the boys in the NFL. Great judgment is easy to talk about, very hard to do in the context of 2.5 seconds with multiple 300 pound men bearing down on you. Darnold needs to move the balance more to the side of safety, without losing his big play capabilities. Much easier said than done.
2) If these areas don’t improve, do you see the team possibly moving on from him via the 2021 draft?
Unless Darnold experiences major regression in 2020, I doubt the Jets will give up on him quite yet, if for no other reason than the Jets’ offensive talent surrounding Darnold is still subpar, and it would not be wise to place all the blame on the QB when his supporting cast is so poor. Give Jets GM Joe Douglas another offseason and I expect the Jets offensive line and weapons will be much improved, giving Darnold a better chance to prove whether he is or isn’t the guy. Could they draft a QB in 2021? Sure, absolutely. Are they likely to spend a first round pick on a QB and give up on Darnold? I doubt it. I expect 2022 to be the year the Jets seriously consider moving on if Darnold doesn’t show definite signs of being a franchise QB.
3) How will the loss of Jamal Adams in the offseason and C.J. Moseley opting out affect the defense?
On the face of it the Jets defense has lost the two best players on the team, which should be devastating. However, Mosley missed almost all of last year with a groin injury, and the Jets’ defense was fine without him. In addition, the Jets will be getting Avery Williamson back this year, after Williamson missed the entire 2019 season. So at least on paper, the Jets’ linebackers should actually be better than they were in 2019, though worse than they would be with Mosley.
Adams is a bigger loss, because he was an All-Pro last year with the Jets. The Jets got a perfectly competent safety back in the trade in the person of Bradley McDougald. McDougald can play both strong and free safety, and do either competently, but he is obviously no Adams. The Jets also drafted a safety in the third round, Ashtyn Davis. The Jets are high on Davis, and he had a good camp, but as a rookie expectations should be kept in check. The Jets should still have a good safety group in 2020, but the loss of Adams will not be insignificant. Adams brought a unique package of energy, versatility, coverage ability, and elite pass rush ability for a safety. That can’t be duplicated, only compensated for.
In the end, the Jets’ defense probably will be a little stronger than last year at linebacker and weaker at safety, so compared to last year the impact shouldn’t be huge. The pass rush will be weaker than last year, coverage in the secondary will be weaker than last year, but run defense should be as good as last year or better. However, compared to what might have been … with Mosley and Adams, the Jets had two stars and might have had an elite defense. Without them, there are no stars, and the path to elite seems closed.
4) Do fans still believe in Adam Gase and do you feel the players want to play for him?
Jets fans, like any fans, are not monolithic. There is a vocal minority that thinks Gase did a great job last year holding the team together after a 1-7 start to finish 6-2 for the second half of the season and 7-9 overall, given the weak Jets roster. The majority, however, never believed much in Gase in the first place, believe in him even less now after the so-called offensive guru led the Jets to the worst offense in the NFL last year, believe whatever limited success the Jets had last year is attributable to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams putting together a good defense from a bad roster, and want Gase gone yesterday. And then there are some who are in wait and see mode and want to reserve judgment depending on how things play out this year.
As for the players, despite constant media speculation, there don’t appear to be a lot of Jets players who don’t like Gase. The Jets seem to play hard for Gase, and the number of Jets players who have come out in strong support of Gase far exceed the number of Jets players who have run into problems with him. It’s always difficult to be sure of what goes on behind closed doors in the locker room, but on the surface I get no sense the players want Gase gone or won’t play hard for him.
5) Which draft pick did you love the most this year, and which do you see on paper capable of having a productive rookie season?
The draft pick I loved most this year was the Jets’ first round pick, Mekhi Becton. Becton is a mountain of a left tackle, with elite quickness to go with other-worldly strength. He is a bit raw on technique, and he’ll likely get beat by good pass rushers this year, but if he can clean up his technique, Becton has the skill set to become a perennial Pro Bowl left tackle, something the Jets sorely need after fielding a bad offensive line for years.
If you want a less obvious pick than the first round, I’ll go with Bryce Hall, a cornerback who has first- or second-round talent as a zone corner who fell to the Jets in the fifth round due to a severe leg injury last year. Hall is still not fully recovered, and will likely take what amounts to a redshirt season for most if not all of his rookie year, but if he can fully recover from his injury, the Jets may have found a good starting cornerback in the fifth round, which would be a big coup for a defense lacking in starting-caliber cornerbacks.