Who will be the Jets’ most improved player on offense in 2021?

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Chris Herndon avoids tackle vs 49ers close crop
Chris Herndon avoids tackle vs 49ers close crop

Since the draft, we’ve been considering how the players acquired will fit into the Jets’ new system on either side of the ball. However, for a group of returning players, there’s a good chance that these systems, or perhaps just the addition of other talent around them, could lead to them having a breakout or bounce-back year in 2021.

Who is the most likely to show the most improvement, though? Let’s review a selection of the main candidates on offense.

TE Chris Herndon

In 2020, no running back or tight end in the entire NFL stayed in to pass protect as often as Herndon did, a curious way to use a player who had previously been a productive pass catcher, but inconsistent as a blocker. The new coaching staff comes from San Francisco where George Kittle was such a key component, so you have to believe they’ll look to get Herndon involved more so he can produce like he did in his rookie season.

A reliable tight end can often be a rookie quarterback’s best friend as a valuable safety valve or on simple passes to the flat that serve as an extension of the running game. While the coaching staff will be under no illusions about Herndon being anything close to what Kittle brings to the 49ers offense, perhaps Herndon’s improved play down the stretch was a sign that his confidence has been restored.

OT George Fant

Fant has had plenty of playing time over the course of his career but 2020 was his first season as a full-time starter. He was generally solid but needs to become more consistent to take his game to the next level. Introducing a system that incorporates even more plays where Fant can showcase his athleticism might be a good way to ensure he takes that next step.

With the left side of the line fortified, you might expect the Jets to run to that side more than ever in 2021. However, rookie guard Alijah Vera-Tucker brings the ability to move to his right and make a reach block to seal the nose tackle on the inside. That should also make the Jets more effective running to the right, which will allow Fant to get out in front of running backs, or open cutback lanes by kicking his man to the outside.

Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Denzel Mims (11) goes up for a catch over New England Patriots cornerback Joejuan Williams (33) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Denzel Mims (11) goes up for a catch over New England Patriots cornerback Joejuan Williams (33) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

WR Denzel Mims

The easiest way for the promising Mims to boost his production in 2021 will be for him to stay on the field. If he can remain healthy, that will make a big difference, although there is a deeper receiving corps this season so he must perform well otherwise he could lose targets to other options.

When he was on the field, Mims had some impressive moments, but he had a tendency to disappear for long stretches. The blame for that could go down to the play calling, or perhaps the design and execution of the offense. Mims is excellent at making contested catches, which could make him an early favorite target for Zach Wilson, who is not afraid to throw into coverage and is adept at putting the ball in a place where the receiver can go and get it.

C Connor McGovern

McGovern’s 2020 season was widely viewed as slightly underwhelming. However, he was definitely trending upwards in the second half of the year and if he can play like that all season, he could potentially be one of the AFC’s most reliable centers. The Jets will need him to be, as part of his role will involve ensuring Wilson assimilates to the pro game as smoothly as possible.

Those early struggles could perhaps be attributed to him getting used to his new linemates – especially after a truncated offseason – which wasn’t helped by the fact there were multiple lineup changes due to injury. If the Jets can develop some continuity this year and gel earlier on in the season, McGovern should be another player that benefits from a system that will give him a chance to show off his athleticism.

RBs Ty Johnson or La’Mical Perine

Finally, we’ve grouped these two together because they’re probably going to battle each other to split reps with veteran Tevin Coleman and rookie Michael Carter. Whichever one of them can earn that role has a good chance to build on their 2020 campaign.

Of the two, Johnson had the most impressive season with a 100-yard game, 4.7 yards per carry average and 16 catches to his name. However, Perine doesn’t have a very high bar to clear to demonstrate some improvement and it’s not uncommon for backs who struggled as rookies to look good in their second season, much as Bilal Powell did several years ago.