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ESPN rates Jets in the middle of the pack on young talent, but the future might be brighter

NFL: DEC 29 Jets at Bills Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

ESPN ranked each roster in the NFL by talent 25 years old and younger.

The Jets ranked near the middle of the pack at 14 of 32.

Much of the positive was based on belief in Sam Darnold’s future.

Like all of the teams that drafted a quarterback in the top 10 of the 2018 draft, the Jets had to have hoped their franchise passer — Sam Darnold — would have progressed more than he has in two seasons. Darnold’s minus-20.4% DVOA and 43.6 QBR were third and seventh worst of the 34 quarterbacks who threw 200 or more passes last season. But Darnold also has the most reasonable excuses for his poor production. He missed a month at the start of the season with mononucleosis, and saw his replacement Luke Falk fare markedly worse on a team bereft of quality pass protection and skill position talent. At 23 years old, Darnold is two years younger than Baker Mayfield and one year younger than both Josh Allen and 2020 No. 1 pick Joe Burrow. This might be a make-or-break season for Darnold, but he still demands the value credit this ranking is giving him.

The article also addresses some of the other young pieces on the roster with potential.

No one will mistake the Jets’ supporting cast for that of the Ravens or Cardinals, but the team has collected the best set of talent that Darnold has had around him in his three NFL seasons. Mekhi Becton might have been the third offensive tackle taken in the 2020 draft, but he is a legitimate top-10 talent the Jets landed at the 11th pick thanks to a deep class and teams in front of them that needed quarterbacks and cornerbacks. He and right tackle Chuma Edoga — who started half of his rookie games in 2019 and encouragingly blew just 3.6% of his blocks — could make over an offensive line that had the third-worst adjusted sack rate (9.2%) and second-worst adjusted line yards (3.80) last season. Additional time to throw and offensive balance would help Darnold more than upgrades to the skill positions, but the Jets made those as well, in particular in second-round receiver Denzel Mims whose exceptional 40-yard dash (4.38 seconds) and three-cone drill times (6.66 seconds) and vertical (38.5 inches) and broad jump distances (131 inches) had many analysts expecting a first-round selection.

Apart from Williams — and after the team traded star 24-year-old safety Jamal Adams — it’s unclear how many young defenders will earn regular playing time on a strong, veteran defense. But the Jets do have a number of promising if not blue-chip young defenders. With his exceptional athleticism, third-round rookie Ashtyn Davis could replace Adams at safety in time. But as a scholarship track star at Cal, Davis is a latecomer to football who might graduate from these rankings before he becomes a full-time starter. Cornerback Blessuan Austin and linebacker Blake Cashman have better chances for short-term impacts. Austin proved he could be a permanent starter with his 54% coverage success rate and 6.7 allowed yards per attempt as a six-start fill-in in 2019, and Cashman allowed just a 14.3% broken tackle rate in one fewer start.

Most of the young players mentioned on the Jets roster are unproven. Their careers could go either way.

But for Jets fans the excitement shouldn’t be based solely on the young players currently on the roster. The Jets have four first round picks in the next two Drafts. They also have an extra third round pick in 2021. These are the kind of assets that can help the Jets rise up the ranking of young talent.

More importantly, these are the kind of assets that can help the team turn into a winner. Of course, the most important part is hitting on the picks.