Jets 2024 Position Breakdown: Brant Boyer’s special teams units should remain strong

Heading into the 2024 season, the Jets have made a series of moves to improve the state of their roster and overall depth, but are they ready to compete for a playoff spot?

In this series, we’ll break down the depth chart for every position group. This time, we’ll go in-depth at the special teams positions…

Projected depth chart

Starters: Kicker Greg Zuerlein, Punter Thomas Morstead, Long Snapper Thomas Hennessy

Other key contributors: Xavier Gipson, Ashtyn Davis, Jamien Sherwood, Irv Charles

Key additions/losses: Re-signed Zuerlein and Morstead. Captain Justin Hardee signed for the Browns in free agency.

Top Performers in 2023: Zuerlein made 92 percent of field goals and 94 percent of extra point attempts

2023 ranking via PFF: Zuerlein 5th out of 34 qualifying kickers

What Jets’ special teams have going for them

The Jets’ kicking game is enjoying a period of stability after several years of constant changes at the placekicker and punter positions. Re-signing both Zuerlein and Morstead, each of whom showed no signs of slowing down in their late thirties, means that this is one position the Jets won’t need to worry about – unless one of them gets injured.

The other special teams units have been strong over the past few seasons and that should continue with special teams coordinator Brant Boyer returning for an eighth season in the role.

Something to watch this year will be the new kickoff rules, which teams around the NFL believe will increase the importance of the return game in 2024.

Key concern for 2024: How will they replace Hardee’s contributions?

One move that could have wider-reaching implications for the Jets is the departure of their special teams captain Hardee. Over the past three years, he’s been the team’s best punt gunner but also made important contributions covering kickoffs and blocking on the return units.

Hardee was named as an All-Pro after the 2022 season, as he was among the league leaders in terms of special teams tackles. While his statistical production was down in 2023, it’s concerning that their opponents posted significantly better return numbers during the six games he spent on injured reserve.

Davis, who was just two behind the league leader in special teams tackles in 2023, is one candidate to take on a leadership role. However, if he wins a starting safety role, then they may need to find someone else who can step up.

Sep 11, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Xavier Gipson (82) scores a touchdown in overtime on a punt return against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Player who must step up in 2024: Charles

Charles, who head coach Robert Saleh called “an absolute wolf” on special teams, is the most likely candidate to take over as the primary punt gunner in 2024. He undertook that role when Hardee was out last year but had mixed results. While he was impressive at getting downfield and blew up a number of returns, Charles also overpursued and missed tackles at times, including on Derius Davis’ punt return touchdown in the loss to the Chargers.

Clearly, Charles is a player with some natural talent and potential, but he will need to play with better gap discipline and break down better in space in 2023, otherwise, the Jets’ coverage units could take a step backward.

Biggest camp battle: Gipson vs. Tarik Cohen vs. Brandon Codrington

With the incoming kickoff return rule changes, some NFL teams believe you will need two return man to field kickoffs. While the Jets may opt to just put a backup running back out there along with the incumbent Gipson, this could instead be a chance for a second return specialist such as Cohen or Codrington to make the roster.

The veteran Cohen hasn’t played for three years due to injuries but he’s a former all-pro return specialist and may have something left in the tank as he’s still only 28. Codrington could also get in the mix, though. He is an undrafted rookie who impressed the team enough at rookie minicamp to earn a contract.

Gipson looks set to make the roster again after a rookie season where he had some big moments, including the winning touchdown against the Bills in the season opener, but his overall production was underwhelming so he’s not a lock to win the primary returner role.

Overall 2024 outlook

You can never underestimate the importance of special teams contributions and the Jets have several player who make solid contributions in this area, along with one of the league’s better kicking games.

If it transpires that the new rules make kickoffs more important this year, then more games could be won or lost with a big return this season, which could prove critical for teams in the postseason mix. The Jets may need to find some new leaders and develop additional contributors from their roster depth, otherwise allowing Hardee to leave could backfire.