EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — On the New York Jets‘ first three plays of the game, their 35-year-old quarterback (Joe Flacco) handed off to their 37-year-old running back (Frank Gore), two of the oldest players in the NFL getting things started for a winless team. The TV folks could have gone to a freeze frame with a graphic that said: “What’s wrong with this picture?”
Fortunately for the Jets, it wasn’t the Monday night theme. The story — other than Loss No. 9 — was the future. The Jets played 10 rookies, only the fifth time this season that a team dressed 10 or more rookies in a game, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It’s all about the kids, and that won’t change for the remaining seven games of this historically bad season.
The organization’s No. 1 objective is player development, as it should be. Beleaguered coach Adam Gase is on board with that approach even though he knows it won’t help his record, an ugly 7-18 over two seasons. The Jets’ hope is that, by the end of the season, they can view the 2020 rookie class as the foundation for a massive rebuild.
“We need to simply do better, and that’s the focus right now, just seeing the progression of all of our young players, whether they’re a rookie, first- or second-year player,” general manager Joe Douglas said last week.
The rookies combined for 233 total offensive/defensive snaps in the 30-27 loss to the New England Patriots, which represents nearly 20% of the total playing time. Left tackle Mekhi Becton, wide receiver Denzel Mims and safety Ashtyn Davis played starting roles, with running back La’Mical Perine, defensive end Bryce Huff and cornerback Bryce Hall in key reserve positions.
Becton already has demonstrated the ability to be a long-term pillar at the most important position on the offensive line. All he has to do is stay healthy, but that’s becoming a problem. Their first-round pick, who missed two games earlier in the season with a bad shoulder, suffered a chest injury against the Patriots. He likely will have an MRI on Tuesday.
“I feel like when he is able to practice and play in games, he gets better each time,” Gase said after the game. “When any player misses time, it hurts in the aspect of experience. With younger players, you want to see as many looks as possible. You want to be in there and go through those experiences. That’s how you become a great player. You have to be out there. We’ll see the extent of this injury and adjust what we need to adjust.”
Finally healthy, Mims has impressed with his ball skills and tenacity. He made four catches for 62 yards, including 29 after the catch. Fellow receiver Breshad Perriman said of Mims, “His catch radius is crazy.” He’s just now rounding into shape after missing 10 weeks, including training camp, with two hamstring injuries. His job is to improve as a route runner, especially against press-man coverage. The coaches love his swagger and toughness.
Perine will get the ball a lot over the final seven games, as the organization tries to evaluate his future role. Can he be an RB1 or just a complementary piece? He has a nice burst — a running back who can actually get to the corner! — but he’s still developing his vision and patience. The Patriots limited him to 38 yards from scrimmage on eight “touches.” He continues to make mental and physical mistakes in pass protection; he won’t be an every-down back until he improves in that area. He spends a lot of time with Gore, including Wednesday-night film sessions — a great way to learn from someone who has seen it all.
Davis, thrust into a starting role because of Bradley McDougald‘s shoulder injury, made a big improvement. After a rough starting debut against the Kansas City Chiefs, Davis recorded five tackles, one pass break-up and at least one quarterback pressure. Deployed mainly as a box safety, he was active in the running game and as a blitzer. Unlike the previous week, the game didn’t look too big for him.
Hall, in his NFL debut, played 38 snaps on defense, as he rotated at corner with Pierre Desir. Get ready to see a lot of him; the Jets believe he could be a starter in 2021.
You also should see a lot of Huff and defensive end Jabari Zuniga the rest of the way. Huff gets overlooked because he’s not a draft pick — he’s an undrafted free agent — but he has played more snaps than every rookie except Becton. At 6-foot-3, 255 pounds, Huff is a tweener, so his future will be dictated by the scheme change in 2021 (assuming there’s a new coaching staff). He’s not a quick-twitch athlete, but he’s strong and knows how to play with leverage.