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How good are Jets skill players?

New York Jets Offseason Workout Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

How good are the Jets skill players? ESPN’s Bill Barnwell did a ranking of each team’s collective group of wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends across the league. In this rating the Jets are squarely in the bottom half.

22. New York Jets

For the Jets, it’s all about the class of 2022. Garrett Wilson won Offensive Rookie of the Year and produced upper-echelon wideout numbers with replacement-level quarterback play. His 1.92 yards per route run were in line with DK Metcalf and DJ Moore a year ago. Drops were a concern — Wilson put five balls on the ground — but he’s already a No. 1 receiver with the potential to be a superstar.

Things begin to get dicier from there. Breece Hall was averaging nearly 6.0 yards per carry to start his career when he tore an ACL in October. There are questions about whether he will be ready for the start of training camp. While Hall’s long-term outlook is still exciting, there are plenty of backs who need a full season to get back to their old selves after an ACL injury. Michael Carter and rookie fifth-round pick Israel Abanikanda would have to pick up the pieces if Hall misses time.

The organization traded wide receiver Elijah Moore, cut Braxton Berrios after the season and cleared a path in the process for two certified friends of Aaron Rodgers. I’m not sure those were positive moves. Wideouts Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb afford Rodgers some level of familiarity within the offense, but they weren’t helping the Packers last season. Rodgers posted a 62.2 QBR when Cobb and Lazard were on the sideline, but when one or both of those wideouts were on the field, his QBR dropped by 23 points (39.2). In other words, with those guys off the field, Rodgers was the fifth-best quarterback in football. With one or both involved, he ranked 26th.

I’m not sure there’s a ton behind them on the wide receiver depth chart, either. Mecole Hardman has his role as a useful gadget player, but he was never able to turn into much more in Kansas City. Corey Davis has just narrowly topped his 2020 totals (65 receptions for 984 yards and five scores) across two combined seasons with the Jets (66 receptions for 1,028 yards and six scores) and might be a cap casualty before the season once the team restructures Rodgers’ deal. Denzel Mims, a second-round pick by general manager Joe Douglas in 2020, is facing a challenge to make the Week 1 roster.

Tyler Conklin played ahead of C.J. Uzomah a year ago, as the former Bengals tight end missed two games and finished with only 232 receiving yards. Whether it’s Conklin, Lazard or somebody else, the Jets desperately need a second receiver to step up behind Wilson.

There’s a lot to digest from this ranking.

The more I think about the Jets’ skill players, the more I feel Breece Hall’s health will be critical to determining the outcome of the season. Hall, of course, is coming off a serious knee injury. While it is always dangerous to transpose one player onto a team outcome, it is difficult to not look at his injury as a turning point of last season. When he went down, the Jets were 5-2. They went 2-8 the rest of the way.

It isn’t hard to see why Hall was critical. The Jets were able to win games despite not getting much from their passing game and suspect quarterback play the first half of the season. An erratic passing performance was consistent through the whole year, but Hall’s increasingly dominant running made up for it.

Barnwell correctly puts more weight on wide receivers than running backs for his ranking. Still I think for the purposes of this exercise, it makes sense to view players at the three positions as part of the same group.

One fundamental question for a skill player is, “Could he be the go to guy on a Super Bowl offense?” For a healthy Hall the answer is undeniably yes based on what we saw last season. I don’t think there are many running backs who are good enough to be that sort of focal point in today’s NFL, but Hall’s talent puts him in that rare air. It is a passing league, yes, but a great back allows a team to make a dynamic run game a bigger component of the offense. This in turn means less is required from the receivers.

I think it should also be considered that the Jets have a 39 year old quarterback. If you look at the non-Brady quarterbacks who have been able to defy Father Time, there in many cases has been a great running game spearheaded by a dominant lead back to help ease some of the pressure. It was true of late career John Elway with Terrell Davis. It was true of Brett Favre in Minnesota with Adrain Peterson. It can be true of Aaron Rodgers if Hall is healthy.

The Jets will need to find the right balance with Hall because rushing him back too soon has plenty of pitfalls. In the early part of the season, they might want to keep his load lighter and give him an easy recovery. This might be some of the motivation behind Dalvin Cook rumors. Cook probably can’t carry the full load himself these days but still has enough speed to be a net positive. A scenario where Cook takes the lead early and gradually cedes to Hall later in the season could make sense.

Behind Hall is Garrett Wilson. If Hall succeeds my test for being the go to guy on a Super Bowl offense, Wilson would pass the test of being the sidekick for a Super Bowl offense with flying colors. In fact, Wilson doesn’t need much improvement to pass the go to guy test himself.

Once we get past Wilson there is a big dropoff, and we can see how critical Hall’s health is. A Hall-Wilson 1-2 punch is quite formidable. Sprinkle in role players behind them, and you’ve got an offense ready to go with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.

Without Hall or with a diminished Hall, this looks far less dynamic. I can’t say I agree with Barnwell’s criticisms of trading Elijah Moore or (especially) cutting Braxton Berrios. Moore had been a disappointment, and frequently a team is better off selling a disappointing young player while he still retains value rather than waiting for it to collapse. Berrios, meanwhile, was overpaid for a role player.

Still, behind Hall and Wilson are what project as role players. I’m not sure it’s realistic to expect Conklin, Lazard, Hardman, or somebody else to blossom into a quality second option. With a healthy Hall, they would not need to as the Jets could lean more on the run game. Maybe if Corey Davis finds his Tennessee form, he could be a viable sidekick, but I think a healthy Breece Hall will be a critical component in making the Jets an offense that can make noise the way it needs to.