Many Jets rookies have thrived in first four weeks of NFL careers

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Wilson hand off to Carter in training camp
Wilson hand off to Carter in training camp

As currently constituted, the Jets are a team that will need to continue to rely on their rookie class. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, they’ve been leading the league in total snaps from rookies. So far, most of the players getting a chance to play have been adjusting well to the jump to the pro level, even as they’re forced to learn on the fly.

Coach Robert Saleh outlined the challenge this process presents on Friday, when talking about rookie guard Alijah Vera-Tucker. Saleh said that every week, the defensive tackle Vera-Tucker faces is the best he’s ever played against in his life but that he’s getting better all the time.

Quarterback Zach Wilson has noticed the jump in talent level too, saying that there are no easy games and that everyone can play. However, it’s not the speed, strength and technique of pro level players that stands out to him but rather how smart everyone is. Wilson admitted he’s still adjusting to the speed of the game but Saleh continues to praise his process.

It’s not just their two first-rounders who are finding their feet at this level. For wide receiver Elijah Moore, it’s been a slow start, interrupted by the concussion that caused him to miss the Titans game. However, Wilson noted that Moore is adjusting to the league just as he is and that they’re confident they can build on the connection the pair formed in training camp.

One player Saleh is particularly thrilled with is cornerback Michael Carter II, who seems to have taken to the pro game like a duck to water. Saleh said Carter plays at 4.3 speed, an assertion he says is backed up by their in-game tracking data. He also singled out a hit Carter made on Noah Fant in the Denver game to stop him in his tracks short of the first down marker.

There are other rookies making contributions with this year’s team too. Running back Michael Carter has arguably been the team’s most impressive runner and just scored his first NFL touchdown on Sunday, Brandin Echols has held his own while in a starting cornerback role and linebackers Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen have been in the rotation. In addition, draft picks Jason Pinnock and Jonathan Marshall each made their NFL debut within the past few weeks and undrafted tight end Kenny Yeboah will be active for the first time on Sunday.

These rookies also have the benefit of seeing some of the other players on the team that have been through this process and are now taking their games to the next level. Quinnen Williams touched on this on Friday as he said that coming out of a major program like Alabama prepared him for the NFL because sometimes the practices were more competitive than the games. He also said they had so much talent it allowed him to face and line up alongside NFL-level players before he entered the league.

Even so, Williams is a player who perhaps got off to a slower start than expected having been the third overall pick, albeit that injuries slowed his initial progress. He’s healthy again now though and feels that he can really start to realize his full potential in Saleh’s system.

The Jets will continue to need their rookies to produce as the season progresses, but many of them are thriving within these roles so far. While the challenge of hitting the proverbial “rookie wall” may lie ahead for some of them, this coaching staff is already proving that the players can have confidence in them to guide them through any ups and downs.