The 2023 NY Jets and the fallacy of guaranteed replication

The best things about the 2022 New York Jets are not guaranteed to carry over to 2023

Here on Divisional Saturday, fans from 24 franchises sit on their couches and stare jealously at the NFL playoff bracket as they meticulously craft the perfect offseason plan to ensure their team is one of the eight teams that remain on this day in 2024.

One of the biggest mistakes sports fans make when going into an offseason is believing that all of the positive aspects of their favorite team will carry over into the next season, meaning their team only needs to fix the negatives and keep them in great shape will be.

Unfortunately this is not the case. As soon as a new season starts, a team has to prove that it can repeat all the positive results from the previous season. Nothing is guaranteed to transfer – neither the good nor the bad. It’s a brand new year. Everything and everyone starts again from scratch.

For the New York Jets, this is an important thing to keep in mind as they prepare for the 2023 season. The Jets of 2022 were a team with very clear strengths (defense, young guns on offense) and very clear weaknesses (quarterback, offensive line, quarterback, safety, and quarterback). So it’s easy to look at the Jets and imagine how they would turn into a great team if they could just fix the weaknesses.

The general mantra about the Jets right now is something like this: “The defense and the guns are there – just get a quarterback, fix the offensive line, and they’ll be a contender!”

Even I’ve essentially made that statement a lot so far this offseason. While that could absolutely be true, it’s a statement we should be wary of, simply because we can never assume that the positive aspects of a team will be maintained in the following season.

With that in mind, let’s highlight some of the areas where the Jets have been successful in 2022 but may regress in 2023. Each trait/player listed below is something that was a major strength for the Jets in 2022, but is not fully guaranteed to be replicated in 2023.

defensive health

The Jets had a terrible streak of injuries on the offensive side of the ball in 2022. The offensive line suffered disaster, while the quarterback and running back positions also suffered devastating injuries at their worst.

However, the Jets had enormous injury luck in defense. That’s one of the main reasons why the device was so good.

The main components of the Jets’ defenses remained very healthy throughout the year. Take a look at the number of games played by the Jets’ main defenders:

  • CB DJ reeds: 17
  • CB Sauce Gardner: 17
  • CB Michael Carter II: 16
  • SJordan Whitehead: 17
  • S. Lamarcus Joyner: 14
  • LB CJ Mosley: 17
  • LB Quincy Williams: fifteen
  • LB Kwon Alexander: 17
  • DT Quinnen Williams: fifteen
  • DT Sheldon Rankins: fifteen
  • EN Carl Lawson: 17
  • EN John Franklin-Myers: 17

That’s an average of 16.2 games apiece. Seven of the 12 didn’t miss a single game and none missed more than three games. In total, they played 194 out of a possible 204 games (95.0%).

The Jets may have fielded the healthiest defense in the NFL. They had a league lead of nine defenders who started in at least 15 games. The average NFL team only had 5.7 defenders starting at least 15 games.

These are figures from another world. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed and hope that great health continues into 2023, but given how luck-related injuries tend to occur, there’s a very real chance for significant regression in this area. In this sport, it’s amazing that your defensive starting line-up plays 95% of the possible games.

On the plus side, there’s a good chance the Jets will have a lot more injury luck on offense as it’s hard to imagine them repeating the disaster they suffered on this side of the ball.

Keep a close eye on the health of this defense over the next year. In 2022 we saw the absolute best version of this defense as every key player was healthy for most of the year. There was zero “what ifs”. [player] never hurt?” hypotheses. This will probably not happen again next year. So in order for the Jets to maintain the same level of defensive performance, they need to improve their base talent level to counter the likely drop in overall health.

Quinnen Williams’ contract year

Quinnen Williams was a very good defensive tackle in his sophomore and third seasons, but he wasn’t a superstar until his fourth season. In 2022, Williams finally lived up to his potential, which made him the third overall winner in 2019. With 12.0 sacks, 28 quarterback hits, 4 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles, 55 tackles and a standout smash against the stat on the run, Williams was a spoilsport on all three downs. He received First-Team All-Pro honors.

Williams is likely to get a massive contract extension this offseason. During the Jets’ end-of-season interviews, Williams made it clear that if he doesn’t have a new contract by then, he will skip the team’s voluntary training sessions in April.

Anytime a player has a breakout season in their contract year, it’s fair to be skeptical about what they’ll do after they get paid.

This is never an indictment of that particular person himself – I have no doubt that Williams is an extremely hard worker and a world-class guy who will continue to do his best – it’s just a matter of history. There is a longstanding track record of players who gave their all during their contract year and then failed to repeat that feat after being rewarded with a new contract. The Jets just saw it in their own building with Sheeten Tomlinson.

Can Williams continue to dominate in 2023? Or will he be very good again but not a superstar?

We also need to see Williams maintain the improved durability he has shown in 2022. Williams missed a career-low one game total after missing eight games in his first three seasons (with at least two a year). Obviously, staying healthy is largely out of his control, but it’s still an important factor. Hopefully Williams will have healthier seasons ahead.

Williams is the heart and soul of the Jets defense. He’s the engine that drives everything the team hopes to achieve in both the pass game and the run game. For the defense to be dominant, Williams must be dominant.

Let’s see if Williams can start stringing those elite seasons together. He’s only been a superstar in one season out of four so far, so he has to prove he can maintain that level of play every year.

Breece Hall and Alijah Vera-Tucker’s post-injury performance

Breece Hall and Alijah Vera-Tucker are rising stars for the Jets offense. Their impact on the 2022 roster is easily summarized by the team’s 5-2 record with both healthy players and 2-8 record after each picking up a season-ending injury in Week 7 against Denver.

The Jets’ offense looked competent with Hall and Vera-Tucker in the lineup. The running game in particular worked at an elite level. While passing play was still held back by quarterback play and poor pass protection along most of the offensive line, even that unit was functional when Hall and Vera-Tucker were out there.

It’s exciting to think about what the Jets’ offensive line could look like in 2023 if they get healthy versions of Hall and Vera-Tucker back. At the same time, we always have to consider the unfortunate possibility that Hall and Vera-Tucker won’t be themselves after returning from injury.

Of the two players, Vera-Tucker has the better chance of getting back in top form. A torn tricep shouldn’t have any significant long-term consequences.

But Hall is coming back from a cruciate ligament tear. Hall is extremely young at just 21 and he will have plenty of time to recover before the 2023 opener having sustained an injury in October. Still, an ACL violation is no joke. Some players come back strong, some don’t. Even those who come back strong often take a year or two to fully regain their previous form.

There’s no guarantee that Hall and Vera-Tucker will deliver the instant team-lifting boost everyone is hoping for. They all might need some time to look like themselves again.

Hopefully both players come back as effective as ever.

It is important not to assume that strengths will remain strengths

In a perfect world, the Jets retain all of the wonderful strengths they built in 2022 and complement them by addressing weaknesses in QB and OL and building a strong team capable of making waves in the AFC.

However, as we all know, this is not a perfect world. It’s very possible that some of the Jets’ strengths won’t carry over into 2023. Good players fall behind. Players you expect to make progress remain stagnant. injuries happen. These things are part of the game.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I didn’t write this article to serve as a reality check for Jets fans. I wanted to share these thoughts for strategic reasons. Maintaining this brutally realistic perspective can be extremely helpful as we lay out our idealistic plans for the Jets off-season.

In terms of both the free hand and the draft, I think this all brings us back to the old adage of the “best player available.”

Since strengths cannot always be assumed to remain strengths, it is important not to ignore positions of perceived strength in your roster. You can never predict if a currently good player will get injured, fall behind, be traded or sign somewhere else. For this reason, teams should prioritize the accumulation of depth at each position. The goal should be to accumulate as much talent as possible, not to fill today’s gaps – because today’s strength could easily become a need tomorrow.

Things change fast in the NFL and teams need to be ready. In this cruel sport, it’s never wise to assume anything is set in stone.