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Just like the rest of the roster, Gang Green’s special teams unit left a lot to be desired in 2020.
Robert Saleh opted to retain Brant Boyer, though, giving him a chance to prove he can once again produce an elite special teams unit in 2021. Thanks to improvements made across the board throughout the offseason and some additional in-house help, there is a good chance Boyer achieves just that this upcoming season.
Here are four reasons why the Jets could look a lot better on special teams in 2021 than they did in Adam Gase’s final season at One Jets Drive.
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The Jets were not terrible covering kick and punt returns last season, but they are primed to improve in that area thanks to a pair of moves Joe Douglas made this offseason. One of New York's first moves in free agency was signing veteran special teams ace Justin Hardee. The Jets also recently brought in Sharrod Neasman, who spent most of his career with the Falcons working on special teams. Hardee and Neasman give Boyer two reliable special teams cover pieces he can use in a multitude of ways -- something he has not really had since coming to New York. That alone will make Boyer's unit better than it was a year ago.
A healthy Sam Ficken
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Ficken missed more than half of 2020 with a nagging groin injury, forcing the Jets to turn elsewhere at kicker. With Ficken sidelined, New York struggled to find a consistent answer at the position, leaving the confidence in the kicking game nearly non-existent by the season's end. The good news for Boyer and the Jets is that Ficken is once again healthy entering training camp. The Penn State product has endured an up-and-down tenure with New York, but he did go 13-for-15 on field goal attempts last season. He also has the experience factor working in his favor over his summer competitor, undrafted free agent Chris Naggar. If Ficken beats Naggar out in training camp in the preseason -- which he is favored to do -- the Jets can take solace in the fact that their preferred choice at kicker is once again back at 100 percent. It's tough to win games in the NFL with a rotating door at kicker. Ficken, at the very least, gives New York the consistency it lacked in that regard throughout last season.
Braden Mann's second season
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Mann was one of New York's lone bright spots last season, proving on a weekly basis why Douglas deemed he was worth spending a draft pick on. Mann was consistent throughout his rookie season and only stands to improve in his second year with the Jets. The Texas A&M product has now had ample time to work directly with Boyer to improve his game and work out any kinks that may have prevented him from reaching his peak potential last season. That makes it likely that he will be even better in his sophomore season.
Syndication: North Jersey
Boyer did his best to maximize the talent he had at his disposal last season, but the fact remains that the Jets ran a rag-tag group of players out on kick and punt return coverage in 2020. That won't be the case in 2021 -- at least in terms of the newfound athleticism Boyer will have to work with. New York's rookie class is loaded with impressive athletes who can thrive on special teams. Cornerbacks like Brandin Echols and Jason Pinnock are speed demons who can flag down speedy return men, while the likes of Hamsah Nasirildeen and Jamien Sherwood have what it takes to wrap up those same return men in open-field situations. There's also a chance Elijah Moore does some return work. Playing special teams is an art Boyer will have to teach Gang Green's rookies throughout training camp and the preseason. Once he gets them pointed in the right direction, though, he could have multiple players ready to make a profound impact right off the bat.