Last week, we discussed how the Lions had changed since the Falcons last saw them, concluding the 2022 squad looked better than the one Atlanta narrowly defeated in 2021. Is the same thing true about this week’s preseason opponent, the New York Jets, who Atlanta also defeated last season?
The answer is much the same as it is for the Lions and for the Falcons themselves: It looks better on paper, but it remains to be seen. Let’s take a look at how the Jets have changed.
RB Breece Hall
WR Garrett Wilson
TE C.J. Uzomah
T Duane Brown
G Laken Tomlinson
EDGE Jermaine Johnson
DE Carl Lawson
DT Solomon Thomas
LB Marcell Harris
CB Sauce Gardner
CB D.J. Reed
S Jordan Whitehair
K Greg Zuerlein
This is a long list, and it’s full of interesting names.
First, let’s talk draft. Breece Hall was my favorite rookie back, and he and Michael Carter combine to give the Jets a formidable running back duo. Garrett Wilson was not my favorite of this crop of rookie receivers, but he is a talented player who should provide an immediate upgrade for New York. Jermaine Johnson is a potentially gifted pass rusher many Falcons fans, myself included, would have liked to see landing in Atlanta. Sauce Gardner is last but far from least, given that he has the potential to be a truly elite cornerback. The Jets added young talent across the roster, in other words, and all of these players could be part of the next great Jets team, should that team ever emerge.
Their free agent signings weren’t as impactful, but Carl Lawson was a solid rotational pass rusher a couple of years back and it’s hard not to like the addition of an underrated Laken Tomlinson to that offensive line. The loss of Mekhi Becton is pretty devastating, but at least Duane Brown is still a capable player after all this time.
All told, New York got at least a modest upgrade at guard, added some useful pieces to both sides of the ball, and got at least three very high upside rookies who should be immediately impactful, given the opportunities in front of them. That’s a pretty good offseason.
G Greg Van Roten
T Morgan Moses
WR Jamison Crowder
DT Foley Fatukasi
LB Jarrad Davis
S Marcus Maye
The biggest loss here is Fatukasi, a very good run defender the Jets didn’t really manage to replace. It’s difficult to argue the Jets got a real upgrade on Marcus Maye with Jordan Whitehair, who is coming off an unusually effective season in coverage and misses a lot of tackles, but Whitehair is just 25 years old and may yet prove last year was no fluke. Van Roten has been upgraded by Tomlinson, in my humble opinion.
The Jets didn’t get demonstrably worse, but I’d be a bit worried about the impact on their run defense and back half with the losses of Fatukasi and Maye. It’s a relatively minor concern.
Are the Jets better than the last time the Falcons faced them?
Yes, but with caveats.
The roster looks better overall, and is dotted with the kind of young talent that can help a team take a big step forward. I’d have a level of concern about the secondary, even with my sky-high expectations for Gardner, but the defense otherwise has the makings of a very good one. The offense, while far from elite and now missing the gifted Becton at left tackle, should bottom out at solid. The Jets aren’t going to make that much noise in the AFC East, in all likelihood, but they’re getting closer to doing so.
That said, these are the Jets, and their quarterback situation is among the least inspiring in football. No quarterback with 13 or more starts under their belt threw more interceptions than Zach Wilson, who was also 17th in the NFL in interceptions and ate 44 sacks. A better supporting cast should help, but it’s not clear whether the offensive line is truly upgraded in pass protection with Becton out and Tomlinson swapped in for Van Roten. Given that Wilson suffered an unfortunate injury and may not even be on the field Week 1, leaving Joe Flacco and Mike White to start, means the Jets may once again be hamstrung by quarterback play. They need Wilson to take a major step forward in 2022, which is not at all outside of the realm of possibility but is something I wouldn’t put a lot of money down on.
The Jets team the Falcons saw a year ago was very much a work in progress, and they gave us the gift of a Falcons victory in London and Kyle Pitts’ first NFL touchdown. They’re going to be a tougher out this year, but in a preseason game where Wilson won’t even play, Atlanta should pick up another (and much more meaningless) win on Monday night.