At the (near) halfway point of the season, the NY Jets sit at 6-3 going into their bye week. This is a better outcome than any Jets fan could've expected when thinking about the 2022 season before things started.
There is credit to go around for this success but the 2022 rookie group is high on the list as to why this turnaround has begun. Let's take a look through some of the stats and narratives from an already special draft class.
Sauce Gardner, CB, NY Jets ($SAUCE)
- Stats: 14 tackles, 13 passes defended, 2 interceptions, 9 games played
When a team drafts a cornerback in the top five, the expectation is for them to eventually become one of the best at their position. No. 4 overall pick Sauce Gardner has already established himself as one of the best in the league through his first nine games of the season.
Gardner leads the entire NFL in passes defended and has been making stops in key moments to decide the outcome of games. None bigger than his most recent pass defended against the Bills to seal the victory.
Gardner has been everything and more the Jets could have hoped for. He changes how the team plays on the field and the attitude of the team off of it.
In the same way that Darrelle Revis was the identity of a winning Jets team, it feels as though Gardner will be the next to hold that torch for this organization.
If he continues to play at this level for the second half of the season, many accolades could follow in the form of Defensive Rookie of the Year, Pro Bowl, and perhaps even an All-Pro nomination.
The scariest part is that he will only get better from here.
Garrett Wilson, WR, NY Jets ($GDUB)
- Stats: 42 receptions, 521 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns, 9 games played
The second pick in the first round for the New York Jets is the receiver that the team envisioned to be their number one target.
With a number of flashy performances and a steady couple of weeks being the highest-targeted receiver, Garrett Wilson is well on his way to turning WR1 potential into WR1 production.
Wilson had a game-winning performance in Week 3 against the Cleveland Browns that showed just how could he could be.
With Zach Wilson coming back into the fold, it took a bit of time for them to establish chemistry. If this past week against Buffalo is any indication, it looks like the Wilson-to-Wilson connection has been found.
The rookie receiver led the team with eight catches for 92 yards, establishing himself as not only the number one target, but also the most dynamic offense playmaker for the team.
The team could lean on Wilson that much more as the season goes on considering his versatility to play in the slot, outside, and even using him in the running game every so often.
The last time a Jets receiver had 1,000 yards in a season was in 2015. Garrett Wilson could look to be the first to do so since that point with a consistent back half of the year. If he doesn't get it done in 2022, the mark will likely be reached next year with ease.
Jermaine Johnson, DE, NY Jets ($JJ)
- Stats: 13 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 6 games played
The pass rusher that the Jets traded up in the first round to get has shown his ability to change the game in the limited amount of action that he's had thus far.
Johnson has missed a couple of games due to an ankle injury, plus he is dealing with a stacked rotation of pass rushers that he has had to beat out climbing up the depth chart as a rookie.
With that being said, he still has been one of it not the most reliable edge players on the team in terms of stopping the run. In addition to his ability against the run, he has made big plays on the quarterback like the open-field sack he registered against Josh Allen in Week 9.
With the defensive line room getting shuffled around midseason via the Jacob Martin trade, Johnson is likely to see more time on the field where he can make his presence felt.
The vision for Johnson for the remainder of this season should be to have him establish himself as the edge rusher opposite of Carl Lawson that will be able to head into the next season as a dynamic one-two punch for opposing offenses.
Breece Hall, RB, NY Jets ($BREECE)
- Stats: 463 rushing yards, 218 receiving yards, 5 total touchdowns, 7 games played
While Hall's talent is certainly missed following his season-ending injury, it's worth highlighting what a run he had in such a short time during his rookie year. Additionally, the promise he showed is a great sign for when he returns.
The Jets kept using the term 'home-run hitter' when it came to Hall and as he began to take the role of lead back on the team, those big plays came often.
Hall was electric as a runner and in the passing game, his play showed why investing an early pick in a running back could be worth it in order to establish an identity on offense.
In what would be his final game of the 2022 season, his big play ability on the 62-yard touchdown run was the difference in the outcome of the game. The ceiling of his talent was so high this season that he could be the deciding factor in a game that he played only a handful of snaps.
Through the depth building of general manager Joe Douglas, the team is in a great position even with Hall out to maintain a strong run game with Michael Carter and James Robinson.
This deep running back room will also give Breece Hall the ability to come back next season at a pace that is not rushed in order to get him back to the type of level of play he was having once he returns to the field.
The likely favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year prior to his injury will perhaps have his goal set for the Comeback Play of the Year award to make up for missed hardware opportunity.
The Rest of the Bunch: Max Mitchell, OT, NY Jets ($MM), Micheal Clemons, DE, NY Jets ($DEEBO), Jeremy Ruckert, TE, NY Jets ($LIJR)
One of the things that makes the 2022 draft class so special is the production that the organization has been able to get out of the later picks.
The Jets stockpiled a lot of picks for this class with the goal of it being a franchise-changing influx of talent (it looks like they stuck to their plan thus far). While it is not easy to hit on even first-round picks, it is much tougher to get starting-caliber talent out of the middle rounds of the draft.
In Max Mitchell and Micheal Clemons, the Jets have found two players that are capable of starting and making the most out of their opportunities on the field.
While Mitchell is currently injured, he stepped in admirably at the beginning of the season at right tackle and punches above his weight considering that he was a fourth-round pick.
As he returns from injury soon, the Jets will have to make a decision about whether he gets back on the field in a starting role or is a depth piece while continuing his development.
It is nice for the player and the organization to already have the confidence to know that he can play at a high level on Sundays, for that reason it might make the most sense to put him out there when he is healthy.
Clemons has been a very solid rotational piece for the Jets' defense and special teams. With a sack and a blocked punt on the season already, like other rookies he has made the most of his opportunities when he is out on the field.
Clemons has also rightfully become a fan favorite based on his demeanor. As the Jets evaluate the future of their defensive line, he should see more room for growth as a core member of the defensive unit.
The final player is the one who has had the least amount of production thus far, but even when he was selected it was the pick that made the most sense for a developmental role. Jeremy Ruckert is in a depth chart behind two established veteran tight ends who got paid a lot of money this offseason.
It is actually a pretty good spot to be in considering he is getting a nice glimpse into how both a pass-focused (Tyler Conklin) and blocking-focused (C.J. Uzomah) tight end functions in the offense.
Ruckert could make some more appearances in the offense this year, but expect him to make his presence felt more in the 2023 season as he could end up taking more of the work from Uzomah sooner than later.