Jets' Keys to Success in 2021 NFL Season
It's been more than a decade since the New York Jets last reached the playoffs, and they haven't experienced the postseason since losing in the AFC Championship Game at the end of the 2010 campaign.
The Jets are a long shot to end that drought this season after going 2-14 in 2020. However, they've overhauled their coaching staff and brought in a bunch of young players to help the franchise move in the right direction. So, this year could be a big step forward.
In order for that to be the case, though, New York will need some specific things to go right.
Here are three keys to success for the Jets entering the 2021 season.
Wilson's Development Will Need to Happen Quickly
Zach Wilson won't have the luxury of sitting on the bench for a year and picking the brain of a more experienced quarterback. His development is going to occur while immediately starting games for the Jets to open the season.
There will be some growing pains at first, for sure. The 22-year-old may have been selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, but it's a big jump from the college ranks, even for a signal-caller who threw for 3,692 yards and 33 touchdowns as a junior at BYU last season.
It was clear from the opening of training camp that Wilson would be New York's starting QB in 2021, considering James Morgan, Mike White and Josh Johnson are the others on its roster. And as you might expect, there have been some ups and downs for the rookie so far.
"It's a tough process and you can have a couple of good days and then have a bad day," Wilson said, per Eric Allen of the Jets' official site. "You have to keep stacking the days and understand that you got to bring it every single day."
If Wilson has more good Sundays than bad ones this fall, then it should be a strong and encouraging season for the Jets. If that's not the case, he'll at least be gaining valuable experience for the future.
However, much of New York's ability to generate sustained offense will rest on his shoulders.
The Right RB Mix Will Need to Be Found in Backfield
Wilson isn't going to power the Jets' offense by himself, and neither can their much-improved receiving corps. They'll need to find a way to have success on the ground, which was an issue in 2020 when they averaged 105.2 rushing yards per game (23rd in the NFL).
There's no clear-cut starting running back on New York's roster, so it will be getting more than one involved. Tevin Coleman, who signed with the team during free agency, seems to be the likely starter heading into the season, while Ty Johnson, La'Mical Perine and rookie Michael Carter are all in the mix.
While there isn't one specific back who will dominate the workload, that could work in the Jets' favor, as they'll give opposing defenses different looks. Carter, who was a fourth-round pick in the 2021 draft, has breakout potential, but he could be further down the depth chart to open the season as he looks to carve out a role on the offense.
If New York's top four running backs find ways to be effective as a group, it will open up the passing game for Wilson, who will need some playmakers to lean on as a rookie.
The Jets' rushing success could depend on whether they can identify the hot hand and feed that running back on a given day. It's a method that could work well, as long as one or two of these backs can provide consistent production.
Defensive Front Needs to Find Ways to Create Pressure
After tying for 20th in the NFL with 31 sacks last season, the Jets upgraded their pass rush in a big way by signing defensive end Carl Lawson in free agency. That seemed to be an immediate boost that would help New York put much more pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2021.
Then, the 26-year-old ruptured his left Achilles tendon in training camp on Aug. 19. It's a huge hit to the Jets' defensive front, one that will leave them trying to figure out how they can improve their pass rush from a year ago without one of their biggest offseason acquisitions.
According to Brian Costello of the New York Post, New York is trading for Houston Texans defensive end Shaq Lawson in exchange for a sixth-round draft pick, so that will help. But the Jets are going to need some youngsters to step up, too, such as 23-year-old Bryce Huff, who will be looking to take a step forward in his second NFL season.
New York got beat too often through the air in 2020, averaging 275.6 passing yards allowed per game (28th in the NFL). If it can excel up front, it can take some pressure off its secondary, and that number could improve substantially.
With head coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich now running the show, the Jets may quickly see better results on defense. And how swiftly their players, especially up front, learn the system could impact their level of success this season.