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Key Jets to Watch in Tonight’s Preseason Game vs. Falcons

NFL: New York Jets at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

In my view preseason games are really about evaluating individual players more than the team as a whole. The final score doesn’t matter. Teams typically aren’t gameplanning or optimizing their lineups. However, players can show glimpses of future success or troubling signs.

There are numerous reasons an exhibition game can matter for a player. Ahead of tonight’s game against the Falcons, I want to provide you with some Jets to watch and assign them a preseason cliche role.

The top pick who looks like a budding star: Sauce Gardner

Robert Saleh was noncommittal at a recent press conference whether his starters will actually take the field tonight. One might imagine that Zach Wilson’s injury on a noncontact play in the preseason opener and a forecast of potential bad weather at the Meadowlands might make the coach apt to sit the first string.

If the starters do play, Gardner will be a player worth watching. He had a strong preseason debut against the Eagles and has all of the tools to be a defense changing cover man. We will only get glimpses of him until Week 1, but any glimpse might be worth remembering.

The young player looking to take the next step: Quincy Williams

By any measure, Williams was a wildly successful waiver claim last year. You don’t expect a player waived by the Jaguars to provide any sort of value. Williams played his way into the starting lineup and had several strong games.

He was pretty inconsistent, however. The aggression that led to bone rattling hits also led him to run himself out of position.

For their part, the Jets have expressed high hopes for the former Alabama linebacker. The question is whether he can channel his aggression better. The first game of the preseason was disappointing on this front as Quincy committed a bad penalty on a late hit and took a bad angle on another play leading to a failed tackling attempt.

Again this depends on the starters seeing the field, but it would be nice to see a more under control but still aggressive Quincy Williams tonight.

The mid round pick who looks like he might be a player: Micheal Clemons

Clemons popped in his preseason debut living in the Eagles backfield. Now this should be expected on some level. Clemons is old for a rookie and has an advantage against fringe roster players.

That said, he had some quality snaps early in the game when the Eagles had players higher in the depth chart on the field.

It’s easy to get carried away with expectations for Clemons, but at the very least he looked like a player who could provide value in a rotation. We will see whether this continues tonight.

The rookie who is likely getting his only meaningful playing time in the preseason: Jeremy Ruckert

An injury or two at tight end could certainly change things, but it seems like the plan for Ruckert this year is to learn on the practice field and develop there. The Jets have bigger plans for him in the future, but he is a developmental player.

That makes these preseason reps particularly valuable for Ruckert. He has a chance to get live game snaps to help his development.

His first game was solid as he scored a touchdown. Can he build on it?

The disappointing early round pick who might be on his last chance: Denzel Mims

Much digital ink as been spilled on Mims the last two years so I’ll try to be brief.

Things seem ominous for him right now. It is clear the coaching staff has been less than enamored with him since taking over a year ago. His game against the Eagles got off to an auspicious start as he delivered a pair of drive-extending receptions. However, a drop followed.

It is also worth noting that Mims was the seventh Jets receiver to take the field in the game. That is possible a sign of where he stands.

This low on the depth chart, Mims might need to make plays on both offense and special teams to stick. He is running out of time to make an impact.

The possible odd man out in a numbers game: Jabari Zuniga

To be honest, you could probably give Zuniga the same early round disappointment title as Mims. After all, he has already been cut and relegated to the practice squad.

Still he has stated his case for a roster spot with a strong training camp and a sack in the preseason opener.

The problem is the Jets have a crowd at defensive end. There just might not be room for Zuniga no matter how well he plays. The drafting of Clemons as the new developmental midround end might have guaranteed Zuniga’s demise.

All he can do is produce and make the decision as difficult as possible for the Jets.

The fourth string quarterback who gets way too much love from the fanbase: Chris Streveler

There is an old saying that the most popular player on the team is the backup quarterback. Like Matt Simms before him, Streveler’s work at the end of preseason games against practice squad talent shows that the true most popular player resides lower on the depth chart.

For his part, Streveler was the quarterback of record on a game-winning drive last week. He has shown ability as a runner both with the Jets and in the CFL.

As a passer, though?

He seems like a major work in progress. Going through his attempts last week, I’m not sure there was anything inordinately impressive about what he did. Most of the throws he completed are the types of throws even a practice squader going up against fourth stringers should be expected to hit.

At the end of the day, I don’t think Streveler has much of a chance of making the roster. Maybe he can show enough to earn a practice squad spot, though.