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My goal with the Offseason Preview series is to get caught up with each team’s 53-man roster, offensive and defensive schemes, team needs, and offseason capital within a 10-minute read. The basics will be at the top -- cap space, draft picks, cut candidates, notable departures -- and the film and analytics takes will be at the bottom. I hope to write these in a way that they’re referenceable throughout not just free agency and the NFL Draft, but also the 2021 season as we look into weekly matchups. The offseason is the time for me to get outside of our fantasy football bubble and learn more about what’s going on at the other positions. You can read the rest of my 2021 Offseason Previews here and can follow me on Twitter (@HaydenWinks).
2020 Jets Recap
The New York Jets were the laughing stock of 2020, and they didn’t even walk away with the first overall pick due to two meaningless wins at the end of the season. Coach Adam Gase was fired after “leading” a team that ranked 32nd in point differential, 32nd in points, 32nd in passing EPA, and 30th in rushing EPA. Nothing was working, particularly his 28th-ranked neutral pass rate. Sam Darnold didn’t take a third-year leap and remains a total question mark moving forward. The positives: 2020 first-round LT Mekhi Becton looks like a franchise cornerstone and they have a ton of capital, both in cap space and free agency, to retool this offseason.
2021 Jets Offseason
Jets Cap Space
$65.6 million (2nd)
Jets Draft Picks
1.02, 1.23, 2.34, 3.66, 3.87, 4th, 5th, 5th, 6th, 7th, plus compensatory picks
Jets Cut Candidates
Jets Depth Chart
% of Passes
RB (Early Down)
RB (Third Down)
Offensive Coordinator: Under coach Adam Gase, the Jets were 28th in neutral pass rate and were as predictable as anyone when they did pass. They used 11-personnel on 79% of their pass attempts, but only used play action on 22% of their passes (27th). With Saleh bringing 49ers’ passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur with him, the Jets’ 2021 offense should look different. San Francisco went under center often, utilizing play action at the 12th-highest rate in the NFL with tons of pre-snap and at-snap motion. The run game will be far more creative, too, likely using the outside zone concepts Kyle Shanahan has run to perfection. It’s impossible to know exactly what LaFleur will bring -- this is his first NFL team he’ll be calling plays for -- but he’s at least been hanging out with the right offensive minds.
Passing Offense: The only argument for Sam Darnold right now is “what if he’s good under a new coaching staff”. That’s typically an optimistic approach, but there’s no question Darnold will be better in 2021 simply because of the new coaching staff if he hangs around for another season. How big of a jump he can make is unknown and will likely depend on who the Jets can bring in on the offensive line this offseason to pair with franchise LT Mekhi Becton. At receiver, the Jets enter the offseason with a quality slot man and an unknown second-year outside receiver. That’s it with Breshad Perriman headed for free agency. A big second-year leap from Denzel Mims is absolutely needed here. New York was 32nd in passing EPA per dropback and 30th in completion percentage over expected last season.
Rushing Offense: The Jets offensive line has one long-term starter and four potential spots to upgrade. It’s partially why New York ranked 30th in rushing EPA and 32nd in red zone trips ending in a touchdown last season. Until the offensive line adds more talent, the Jets’ rushing offense will be stuck in the mud. With that said, reinforcements are coming. The Jets are likely to find their franchise running back this offseason -- hopefully on Day 2 of the NFL Draft -- and will have a more explosive scheme under OC Mike LaFleur. Expect more outside zone runs, which means speed will be the priority at the running back position. La’Mical Perine maxes out as a backup running back, and Frank Gore is a free agent on the brink of retirement.
% of Plays
Defensive Coordinator: Coach Robert Saleh is taking on a CEO-type role and will allow DC Jeff Ulbrich to call plays on defense. With the Jets lacking depth at all three levels of the defense, there really is a blank slate for how the defense can be molded. Saleh primarily played zone defense in San Francisco but switched up his coverages, using both two-high and single-high safety looks. Ulbrich primarily played Cover 3 with the Falcons, a single-high safety defense that requires a true free safety. I’m unsure how it will look overall because there are so many pieces to add, but the Jets will be more disciplined, more prepared, and will likely call fewer Cover 0 blitzes in Hail Mary situations. That’s a step in the right direction.
Passing Defense: It was a total disaster in 2020, and it will take multiple offseasons to fully address the secondary. The checklist includes at least one safety to pair with 2020 third-round FS Ashytn Davis, one slot corner to replace free agent Brian Poole, and at least two outside corners to upgrade their league-worst cornerback depth chart. Unfortunately, New York’s edge rush group is in just as bad of shape. Among currently signed players, only DT Quinnen Williams had more than 3.0 sacks in 2020 with their top edge rusher, Tarell Basham (3.5 sacks), set for free agency. Transforming the Jets’ No. 29 passing EPA defense will take multiple seasons, even if DC Gregg Williams was holding the unit back last year.
Running Defense: Star LB C.J. Mosley should return in 2021 after opting out last season. He’ll be a massive upgrade over fill-in LB Neville Hewitt, who gutted out 1,071 defensive snaps. The Jets can use another linebacker alongside Moseley, but their run defense arguably is their biggest team strength. Quinnen Williams was a top-10 defensive tackle in his second NFL season, DE Henry Anderson graded well against the run, and NT Foley Fatukasi played well in his limited reps. The Jets’ priority on defense certainly needs to be in the secondary this offseason.
Jets Team Needs
1. Quarterback - In the NFL, you either have a great quarterback or you’re on the look for one. It’s too early to completely write off Sam Darnold, but he hasn’t shown enough to prevent the Jets from looking for an upgrade. His -0.05 EPA per dropback ranks 39th out of 41 qualifying quarterbacks since 2019, even behind the Jets’ own Joe Flacco. Luckily, the Jets are in a position to go in a couple different directions. Perhaps Deshaun Watson or another veteran is available via trade. Perhaps Justin Fields or another prospect is the answer at No. 2 overall. Perhaps they give Darnold another season now that Gase is out of the building. Personally, I’d trade Darnold for a top-50 pick and go after Watson or draft Fields. The upside seems so much higher with those two.
2. Corner(s) - The Jets need more than one. Slot CB Brian Poole is set for free agency, and the outside corners on the roster simply aren’t it. New York’s 29th-ranked passing EPA defense shows just how far away the secondary is from even average play. Saleh is likely to view this position as a priority. Corners with Cover 3 experience or traits will be in demand.
3. Edge Rusher(s) - New York has the bodies on the interior to give them inside push, but the Jets still don’t have a speed rusher off the edge. They’ve ranked 20th, 26th, and 21st in adjusted sack rate over the last three seasons. 2020 third-rounder Jabari Zuniga didn’t record a sack as a rookie across eight games, and their top edge rusher from last season, Tarell Basham, is headed for free agency.
4. Outside Receiver - The Jets should keep slot man Jamison Crowder on the last year of his contract and do have a potential long-term No. 2 receiver in Denzel Mims, but New York is still in need of an alpha receiver. And they need one now. Breshad Perriman is a free agent and projects only as a deep threat even if he’s re-signed. The Jets were 32nd in CPOE on passes with at least 15 air yards in 2020.
5. Strong Safety - Marcus Maye and Bradley McDougal are free agents, leaving second-year FS Ashtyn Davis as the lone projected starter. Davis is a versatile player, so the Jets could go with a free safety instead if that’s how the pieces fall. Even though he primarily played zone, Saleh’s defense in San Francisco was versatile at safety. He used Cover 4 (4th), Cover 2 (15th), and Cover 3 (16th) at above-average rates.
6. Running Back - La’Mical Perine (3.6 YPC) is the only running back still signed from the Jets’ 2020 running back depth chart. The Jets are as likely to find a three-down bellcow as any team in the NFL this offseason. Expect speed to be the sought-after trait in LaFleur’s outside zone rushing scheme. New York should wait until at least Day 2 of the NFL Draft to find their guy.
2021 Fantasy Football Rankings
Consider these my way-too-early 2021 fantasy football ranking ranges ahead of free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft, and here’s where each player ranked in PPR points, expected PPR points, and PPR points over expected last year.
Jamison Crowder (WR3/4) - Injuries derailed his 2020 season, but Crowder finished as the WR24 per game on WR30 fantasy usage in PPR formats. He’s a top-10 slot receiver on tape when healthy and is the best fit with slot-feeder Darnold at quarterback. Crowder averaged 15.5 PPR points in healthy games with Darnold last season. If the Jets upgrade at quarterback, even better. An improved passing offense under a new regime keeps Crowder’s floor high and could unlock his WR2 ceiling. He’s under contract through the 2021 season, assuming the Jets don’t take $10 million cap savings by releasing him this summer. Crowder, 28, is worth the $11.5 million he’s owed, particularly with the Jets sitting pretty in terms of cap space (3rd).
Denzel Mims (WR5) - There were 105 qualifying receivers last year, and Mims ranked 99th in PPR points over expected. He was one of the most inefficient receivers as a rookie, mostly because his catchable target rate sat at 59% (96th out of 99 WRs with 40 targets per PFF). Mims isn’t a polished route runner and separator right now but has the physical tools to reach a ceiling as soon as 2021. The new coaching staff will help his odds of paying off as a dart throw, but I’m proceeding with caution after a very tough rookie season. He seems more like an NFL team’s No. 2 or No. 3 receiver than a true No. 1.
Sam Darnold (QB3) - 36 quarterbacks have at least 1,000 dropbacks since 2017. Nobody has a worse EPA per dropback (-0.03) than Darnold. Getting away from Adam Gase will improve his numbers, but the Jets reasonably can find an upgrade this offseason between the trade market, free agency, or the NFL Draft. In most scenarios, Darnold starts most 2021 games as a trading team would likely let him start the entire season. If he remains with the Jets, Darnold likely hangs in the QB3 range after averaging just 11.2 fantasy points per game last season (QB35).
FA Breshad Perriman (WR7) - A veteran deep threat, Perriman will likely be playing for his fifth team in five seasons following free agency. He maxes out as a low-ceiling No. 3 receiver. Last season, Perriman was the WR70 on WR72 fantasy usage.
Chris Herndon (TE3) - Herndon has done nothing in each of the last two seasons, so the only things to hold onto are his efficient rookie season (9.0 YPT) in 2018 and possibly the new coaching staff unlocking his potential. Last year, Herndon averaged 3.9 PPR points.