The NY Jets should give these four rookies more playing time down the stretch.
The NY Jets‘ 2020 season has been a lost cause almost since the opening kickoff. A sluggish 27-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 1 would prove to be the impetus for a downright abysmal season.
And going into Week 11, the Jets are still in search of their first win of the year. Safe to say, the playoffs are not and have never been in consideration. Instead, the Jets are focused on a different type of race.
The race for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Yes, the Jets clearly have their eyes on the future, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few things that could be accomplished this season. While they’re not exactly trying to win games, they could use the remainder of the schedule to evaluate the roster.
They won’t be evaluating players like Ryan Griffin or Henry Anderson — guys who don’t have much of a future with the team. Instead, they could use this time to get an expanded look at some of their younger players.
Because at the end of the day, these are the players who could prove their worth and establish future roles with the organization. The vast majority of the roster will be overhauled within the next two years, but these final seven games are nonetheless important.
The Jets need to figure out who could be a part of the future. And for that reason, they’d be best-served giving these four rookies more playing time down the stretch.
Next: 4. Jabari Zuniga
4. Jabari Zuniga, DE/OLB, NY Jets
Third-round pick Jabari Zuniga missed the first seven weeks of the 2020 season due to a quadriceps injury — an injury that kept him sidelined for most of training camp as well.
But now that he’s finally healthy, the Jets are eager to see what they have in the former Florida standout.
Zuniga made his debut in Week 8 playing just nine defensive snaps and recording his first career half-tackle. His snaps increased slightly in Week 9 as he played a grand total of 19 snaps, or 23 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.
It’s been a slow start for Zuniga, but the Jets are clearly easing him into the rotation after missing substantial time. That’s all fine, but it’s probably time to start giving him an increased workload.
The Jets drafted Zuniga 79th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft with the expectation that he could develop into a quality hybrid pass-rusher. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be playing 30-40 percent of defensive snaps at a bare minimum going forward.
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Henry Anderson doesn’t need to play 84 percent of defensive snaps as he did two weeks ago. Jordan Jenkins shouldn’t be playing 90 percent of defensive snaps as he did in the same game against the New England Patriots.
Zuniga is versatile enough to be used as either a stand-up outside linebacker or a down defensive lineman. Find ways to get him on the field and play him over players who don’t have a future with the team.
It’s that simple.
Next: 3. Cameron Clark
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3. Cameron Clark, OG, NY Jets
It’s a little surprising that Cameron Clark has yet to be active for a game this season. The fourth-round rookie missed the first two months or so of the season with a shoulder injury before being activated off injured reserve in late October.
But since he’s returned, the Jets have made him a healthy scratch in each week. Perhaps they feel he isn’t ready for in-game snaps just yet. That said, it certainly would be encouraging to not only see him active on game day but to see him in the starting lineup.
But Clark, on the other hand, has the upside to be a long-term starter at the position.
The Charlotte product is not only dealing with the effects of a COVID-19-shortened offseason made worse by an injury, but he’s also being forced to overcome obstacles that he would have regardless.
Clark is learning a new position after starting all four years at Charlotte at offensive tackle. Not to mention that he’s facing a significant upgrade in talent.
It’s understandable why the Jets haven’t tried Clark just yet, but it would be nice to get a look at him before the season ends.
Next: 2. Bryce Hall
2. Bryce Hall, CB, NY Jets
Much like Clark and Zuniga, Bryce Hall has missed the majority of this season due to an injury. A devastating ankle injury suffered in his senior year at Virginia kept him sidelined for all of training camp and the first half of the regular season.
But the 2020 fifth-round pick finally made his NFL debut in Week 9 playing 48 percent of defensive snaps in the Jets’ Monday night loss to the New England Patriots.
With Hall back in the fold, many expect him to see substantial playing time down the stretch. This notion was pretty much confirmed when the team opted to release veteran Pierre Desir earlier in the week.
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The Jets are high on Hall, a player who was once unanimously viewed as a possible early Day 2 pick before his injury caused him to slide in the draft. But there’s no denying his natural talent.
With Desir gone, Hall should slide right into a starting role opposite Blessuan Austin givng him somewhat of a seven-game audition to prove to the Jets that he should be a starter next year and moving forward.
Will he succeed? Who knows. But he should at least be given the opportunity.
And as a rookie in the NFL, an opportunity is sometimes all you can ask for.
Next: 1. La'Mical Perine
1. La’Mical Perine, RB, NY Jets
This one should be obvious.
The Jets’ top two running backs are a 37-year-old Frank Gore who might as well be 87 and a fourth-round rookie in La’Mical Perine who is fighting to prove that he’s part of the solution at the running back position.
Logic would dictate that an 0-9 team like the Jets would give Perine the majority of the workload. But “logic” and the Jets don’t seem to go hand in hand.
Instead, Gore continues to outpace Perine in touches and overall snaps. In Week 9, Gore played 50 percent of offensive snaps while Perine only played 46 percent.
Gore received 12 carries to Perine’s six. Both players were targeted twice in the passing game, catching the ball each time. Gore is clearly the top guy — Perine is playing second-fiddle.
There’s absolutely no justification for Gore still receiving the workload that he is. At 37-years-old, he’s playing at an acceptable level, but it’s unlikely he’s on the roster next season.
Perine, on the other hand, has shown promise — particularly in the passing game — and could be a part of the backfield rotation in 2021 and beyond.
Gore’s workload needs to be cut in half, at the very least. And Perine should be the guy to assume the majority of those reps.