The NFL off-season always seems to drag, it doesn’t help that it’s the longest off-season of any sport I pay attention to. For the first time in a long time, I genuinely feel as though the playoffs are a possibility, not a certainty, but a possibility. That’s certainly a significantly better outlook than in recent years.
Rookies reported to camp earlier this week and they’ll be joined by veterans next Tuesday. As reported yesterday, five Jets players will start the season on the physically unable to perform list. Mekhi Becton, George Fant, Carl Lawson, Dru Samia, and CJ Uzomah will be able to use all the facilities and attend meetings, but they won’t be able to practice until they’re removed from the PUP list. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long to see them on the field, especially as the first two players listed are set for the biggest battle in camp, literally.
Mekhi Becton vs George Fant - Starting Left Tackle
This is without question the biggest battle in camp, who will be protecting Zach’s blind side in 2022? After Becton’s early injury against Carolina, Fant moved from right to left tackle and put in his best pro season. He was one of the best pass-protecting left tackles in football, only allowed 1 sack and 18 total pressures over 594 pass-blocking snaps, that’s a pressure every 33 snaps. He doesn’t offer the kind of physicality in the run game that Becton does, but considering Becton allowed 7 sacks in 14 games during his rookie season, that may be a tradeoff worth taking.
With both players, it’s going to come down to health. Both will start on the PUP list, but both are expected to start practicing quite quickly. Becton looks fantastic in recent pictures, he certainly passes the eye test but how will he perform coming back from a season-ending injury. Fant was placed on injured reserve after the week 15 loss to Tampa Bay after suffering a knee injury, and he’s also looking for a new contract. If Fant wins the starting left tackle job the Jets will need to pony up the $$, it’s an interesting battle from several perspectives.
The highest-paid left tackle in football next season will be Garett Bolles of the Denver Broncos who’s set to earn $21 million in 2022. The Titans Taylor Lewan is set to be the 10th highest paid left tackle earning $14.6 million. By comparison, Lane Johnson of the Eagles will be the highest-paid right tackle earning $15.7 million, and the 10th highest-paid right tackle in 2022 is set to be Penei Sewell who will earn $5.4 million. So it matters what side of the line you play on.
A lot has been made about Becton’s recovery from injury and the timeline, even more was made as he appeared to show up to camp heavier than expected, but that’s all in the past. As mentioned earlier, recent images would suggest he’s dropped that weight and as I mentioned during OTA’s I care more about how he shows up for camp. If he comes in at a good playing weight, whatever that is for him, then it’s all systems go. Becton is naturally a big man, so his weight will always be higher than most tackles, but it’s about finding the perfect balance where his athleticism isn’t negatively impacted and he doesn’t wear down, that’s what the coaches will be looking for this training camp.
LaMarcus Joyner vs Ashtyn Davis vs Jason Pinnock - Starting Free Safety
This battle is going to be one of my personal favorites, mainly because I love watching safeties so much. Free safety is one of the few positions that doesn’t have a clear starter. LaMarcus Joyner suffered a season-ending injury after only a handful of plays in week one last season, but my understanding is the Jets love him and expect him to return to the kind of performances he was putting up with the Rams before Oakland moved him from free safety to slot corner...why they did that is anyone's guess.
Joyner’s two highest graded seasons were the last two seasons he played free safety, the problem there is that was in 2017 and 2018. He was graded at 73.1 in 2018 and 90.9 in 2017. During that 2017 season, he allowed just a 38.5% completion into his coverage with 3 interceptions and just one touchdown allowed. He also had a 6.3% missed tackle rate which is key for someone playing as a last line of defense.
Ashtyn Davis has flattered to deceive since being drafted in the 3rd round of the 2020 draft, but he’s also experienced some injury issues and 2022 represents the first time he’s been able to take part in all off-season activities and head into training camp healthy. He struggled last year with a 12.9% missed tackle rate, which was significantly higher than the 2.7% he posted as a rookie in 2020. He also allowed a 80% completion into his coverage and 3 touchdowns against 2 interceptions, often appearing a step late to get over. Few people realize how little football Davis has actually played and the athleticism is there, but are the instincts for the position? It’ll be an interesting one to watch.
Jason Pinnock is a good developmental player, a lot of people talk about him as a strong safety, but his highest graded games from 2021 came with him playing as a free safety. He still has very little experience at the position but if he can show those corner instincts at safety then he has a chance to get on the field this year and if Joyner/Davis disappoint in camp there is a possibility he could earn the starting role, although I still see it as a slight possibility based on how the Jets view Joyner.
Prediction: It’s hard to call any battle before they’ve even taken the field, but if I was forced to predict what will happen, I’d say that Fant wins the left tackle starting job and Joyner wins the free safety starting role.