After spending heavily in free agency and walking away with one of the NFL’s best draft classes, the New York Jets are primed to take a step forward next year. With youthful players all over their roster, the Jets have several breakout candidates in 2022. Who is set to make the leap in New York?
New York Jets 2022 breakout candidates
Zach Wilson, QB
If you want a template for how to build an offense around a young quarterback, look no further than New York, where Jets general manager Joe Douglas has left no excuses for second-year quarterback Zach Wilson.
The effort started in 2020 — the year before Wilson was selected second overall — and continued through the 2021 NFL Draft. Gang Green is spending nearly $32 million annually on free agent OL additions George Fant, Laken Tomlinson, and Connor McGovern. Meanwhile, guard Alijah Vera-Tucker and tackle Mekhi Becton were top-14 picks.
Douglas has used a similar volume-based approach at the skill positions. Garrett Wilson was the 10th overall pick, while fellow WR Elijah Moore and RB Breece Hall were early-Day 2 choices. Veteran pass catcher Corey Davis earns $12 million per year, and tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin combine to make $7 million annually.
Wilson now has the best supporting cast among last year’s first-round quarterbacks. Entering his second year in Mike LaFleur’s offense, Wilson has already shown signs of mental and physical progression.
“There’s little things that he’s doing where you’re seeing a little more security,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh said, per the New York Post. “He’s not a rookie, so he’s being a little more vocal. He looks good. He’s getting more comfortable, obviously grasping the offense.”
Wilson completed just 55.6% of his passes for 2,334 yards, nine touchdowns, and 11 interceptions while taking 44 sacks last season. He finished dead last in EPA + CPOE composite. But after another year of maturation, Wilson appears to be on the precipice of a full-blown breakout — if he can take advantage of his ideal situation.
Elijah Moore, WR
Moore wasn’t able to complete his rookie season after a quad injury sent him to the injured reserve in December. Still, the Ole Miss alum was getting hot right before he went down. From Weeks 8-13, Moore scored five total touchdowns and averaged 5.7 receptions and 76.5 yards per game. Progression is rarely linear in the NFL, but Moore was clearly starting to figure out the pro game.
Can he continue that development into 2022? The Jets have added receiving competition, but it shouldn’t be a surprise if Moore ends up with the highest target share on the team next year. Sure, the additions of Wilson, Uzomah, and Conklin may reduce Moore’s piece of the pie. However, he should get better looks as defenses are forced to account for New York’s other options.
Moore displayed inside/outside flexibility in 2021, and the Jets will be able to deploy various formations with their new set of skill position players. Davis played some slot last year, while Wilson spent roughly a third of his college snaps inside. That versatility means the opposing defense will never be quite sure where each receiver will line up on any given play.
LaFleur is a fan of two-TE sets, and he’ll certainly use Uzomah and Conklin together at times. Which receiver will come off the field when the Jets shift to 12 personnel? It probably won’t be Moore, who should be viewed as New York’s WR1 unless/until Wilson claims that title.
Alijah Vera-Tucker, G
The Jets paid dearly to trade up for Vera-Tucker in the 2021 NFL Draft. Douglas and Co. sent pick Nos. 23, 66, and 86 to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for pick Nos. 14 and 114. It probably wasn’t the wisest move, as AVT needs to become one of the truly elite guards in the NFL to make the deal worth it.
That’s in the past, however, and now New York needs to figure out how to utilize their second-year offensive lineman properly. Vera-Tucker will move to right guard in 2022 to accommodate Tomlinson at left guard. That will represent a significant change, but it’s one AVT is likely ready to handle, given that he spent time at RG early in his career at USC.
Left guards are typically viewed as more important because they’re blocking right-handed quarterbacks’ blindsides. Yet, Vera-Tucker will have plenty of work to do on the right side. He’ll be especially critical as a mauler in the run game, where the Jets will use a 1-2 punch of Hall and Michael Carter. Vera-Tucker’s athleticism and strength at the point of attack will be crucial in New York’s wide-zone scheme.
Fant, Tomlinson, and McGovern are all at least 29 years old. Becton is still very young, but he’s rubbed Jets coaches the wrong way and could be on the outs in New York. Vera-Tucker is 23 years old and entering his second NFL campaign with an excellent pedigree. Not only is he a breakout candidate in 2022, but he’s likely the only Jets offensive lineman who will be around to grow alongside Wilson for the long haul.