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Jets' 2022 Rookies Are at the Top of the Class

From Sauce Gardner to Micheal Clemons, 7 Young Dudes Have Made Key Contributions


This is about the time in every NFL season when first-year players begin to hit the proverbial wall. But when it comes to most of the seven players selected by the Jets in the 2022 NFL Draft, they are not so much hitting the wall as they are blasting through it.

After the Green & White was off in Week 10 ahead of their Week 11 clash up in Foxborough against the Patriots, here are some rookie highlights, with comments from GM Joe Douglas, HC Robert Saleh and others as the Jets (6-3) get ready for the "second half" of the season and embark on an unanticipated run to the postseason.

Speaking about the rookie class in general, Saleh last week said: "They're making plays, they're opportunistic, they bring a lot of juice and energy, they're not jaded to the NFL yet, and so every first down is the biggest thing, every yard gain is the biggest thing and so young guys when you have that vibrant youth, they just bring a lot of juice, it's contagious, everybody gets it." He added: "They've been doing a great job and this bye week is perfect timing because it's about time when their college season usually ends, so hopefully, we can help them take care of this so they don't hit that rookie wall and we can keep ascending as the year goes on."

Player capsules are in the order of draft selection:

Round 1 -- CB Ahmad Sauce Gardner
Gardner, the No. 4 overall pick in the draft, is a rookie cornerback who simply bears no resemblance to a rookie CB in the NFL. He's wrangled with some of the top receivers, like Ja'Marr Chase, Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle and Stefon Diggs, and come away with high marks against them all. Teamed with the veteran D.J. Reed, the two players have given the Jets' defensive backfield renewed swagger. He leads the team with 13 passes defensed, has 2 interceptions (including a key pick of Buffalo QB Josh Allen) and is fourth on the team with 44 tackles (30 solo).

Douglas said: "Just from the minute you meet Sauce, you fall in love with the energy, the enthusiasm, the confidence, the authenticity that he brings and you see that carry over, and then when you add that to the field with his natural instincts, his length [6-3], his play speed, it's come together to be a really outstanding start to an NFL career. His competitiveness, his will to win, you see this, and I feel like he has a charisma and guys tend to gravitate toward him just because he's authentic. He's the real deal, there's nothing fake about his confidence, his toughness, his anything. He's a genuine article and I feel like we have quite a few guys on the team that are wired that way, and Sauce is definitely one of them."

Round 1A -- WR Garrett Wilson
Wilson, selected No. 10 overall, has been as electrifying as advertised and leads all rookies with three games of 90-plus yards receiving. He had 8 catches for 102 yards at Cleveland and his TD reception from Joe Flacco sealed the Jets' improbable comeback. After three relatively quiet games (vs. Miami, Green Bay and Denver), Wilson was back at it as he's settled in with QB Zach Wilson. He caught 6 for 115 against New England and followed that with a strong game against the Bills, 8 for 92. Overall, he's made 42 receptions for 521 yards and 2 TDs.

TE Tyler Conklin said: "Everybody is kind of saying it now, I was saying it since I first got here ... he has a bit of Justin Jefferson [a former teammate on the Vikings] in him. Just the way he moves, he has a kind of like Euros-stepping as he strides, in the wiggle and slipperiness he has to beat coverage. He has a special ability after the catch. He moves around in the slot playing Z [outside WR off the line] and X [weak side receiver on the line]. And just intricacies that go with that, outside man coverage, inside in the slot. He's just going to keep growing and get better."

Round 1B -- DE Jermaine Johnson
Johnson, taken No. 26 overall out of Florida State, was a bonus first-round selection when GM Joe Douglas traded back into the first round to take the speedy defensive end. Johnson missed three games with an ankle injury after recording 1.5 sacks through 5 games. Though he's taken limited snaps in a 10-man rotation on the DL, 1 of his 15 snaps against the Bills turned into a key play when he used his speed to run down Josh Allen for a sack in the fourth quarter, which led to a punt. After that punt, the Jets embarked on a 13-play, 86-yard drive to the game-winning field goal. Among 133 edge rushers with at least 50 pass-rush snaps, Johnson ranks first with a 5.3% sack rate and second with a 1.67 pressure-to-sack ratio.

Saleh said: "He was doing a really nice job, it's been very quiet for him because we have a deep defensive line, we've got a lot of different guys on the defensive line. I joke with him that he kind of fell into the perfect situation where there's not a lot of pressure for him to go produce and he was producing pretty well and then he got hurt [ankle], but I'm excited for him to get back on track, he's got this game, he's got the bye week, recharge and get going, I think he's going to have a really cool second half of the season, I think he'll play well this week. He's got great length, strength, power, he's got deceptive pass rush ability and the more reps he gets, I think he's going to be a really good football player."

Round 2 -- RB Breece Hall
Hall, selected No. 36 overall as the first running back in the draft after the Jets made a trade with the Giants, was on target to be considered for the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award before he sustained a season-ending knee injury in the Jets victory at Denver in Week 7. But before he left that game, Hall (whose nickname is Breece the Beast) rambled 62 yards on an impressive TD run. Though he's missed the past two games, he remains the Jets' leading rusher this season (463 yards, 5.8 a carry) and leads the team's RBs with 4 TDs. He went over 100 yards for the first time in his NFL career when the Jets went to Green Bay and came away with the victory.

C Conner McGovern said: "He's remarkable, an absolute playmaker. You can see why he's a two-time All-America [at Iowa State]. He makes plays happen. I feel terrible for him, and told him after the [Denver] game, that he will come back [from an ACL tear] better than ever. He took a lot of hits in college, and I think he was the only guy to touch the ball, and it's amazing for him to take that many reps and then come to the NFL. He's a freak athlete, young and healthy. He'll come back fast, and he'll be able to rest his body and next year will be even better than this year."

See top photos of the 2022 Jets rookie class during the first nine weeks of the season.

Round 3 -- TE Jeremy Ruckert
Ruckert, drafted No. 101 overall as the second target the Jets took from Ohio State, got a late start. He missed OTAs and part of camp because of an injury and has seen limited playing time behind two tight ends signed in free agency -- C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin. The Long Island native has dressed for five games so far this season

Saleh said: "Love his movement, love his athleticism, he is everything we thought he was going to be. Now it is just a matter of him catching up to the playbook so he can play without thought."

Round 4A -- OL Max Mitchell
Mitchell, drafted No. 111 overall, was a mystery to even the most devoted draftnik and was initially cast as a "project," coming from Louisiana. But he was pressed into duty when the Jets' two first-round picks on the offensive line -- Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker, and others -- sustained injuries. Mitchell slotted in at right tackle, playing in the first four games (100% of snaps in three of the four) before going down with a knee injury. He and George Fant are expected back in the second half of the season, which will give the OL some much-needed depth. Contrary to his coach's comment (below), Mitchell proved to be a quick and competent learner.

Saleh said (on draft day): "With a player like Mitchell you have to trust the tape, and when you watch the tape, you see a guy who loves to mix things up with hands and moves well. They needed him on the field immediately as a freshman [at Louisiana]. In the fourth round, I like that investment, low risk, some reward possible. I don't think he's NFL-ready, I think if we throw him out there will be some speed bumps. His core strength is not where it needs to be and if he's out there at any point in his rookie season, there'll be those speed bumps, but sometimes the best way to learn is on the job. He's a Day 3 developmental swing tackle who can really grow into being a steady pass blocker, a zone run blocker and fit exactly what the team is looking for. He might need a little bit of time in the crockpot, just to finish him a little bit."

Round 4B -- DE Micheal Clemons
Clemons, taken No. 117 overall, has shown his potential and relentlessness in limited snaps. He had a huge blocked punt against the Packers (that was returned for a TD by Will Parks) and has shown his speed and savvy on special teams. Clemons has registered 16 tackles, 2 TFL and 3 QB hits. Like Johnson, the other rookie D-lineman, Clemons is competing for time -- but when he hits the field, he is dangerous and imposing. As he matures, he won't get any less dangerous or imposing. Quite the opposite. He's just plain scary and has earned the nickname Deebo, after a character in the movie "Friday" because of his seriousness.

Saleh said: "When [he] puts the helmet on, he goes to a very dark place. And it reflects in his play in the effort and violence with which he does it." He added: "But at the same time, he is a pleasure to be around. Great conversations."

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