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Key Special Teams Players Return for Encores

Top Returner Braxton Berrios, Top Tackler Justin Hardee Pack a Punch for Jets


This is one in a series of articles that will also appear in the New York Jets 2022 Yearbook, which will be published later this summer.

Two of the Jets' key special teams contributors last season are both preparing to return in 2022. All-Pro kick returner Braxton Berrios re-signed with the Green & White in free agency while Justin Hardee enters the second year of his three-year contract.

Berrios is back after being named first-team All-Pro by The Associated Press and a Pro Bowl alternate. He was the NFL's leading kickoff returner with an average of 30.4 yards/return — the league's best average by a qualifying returner since 2019 and the Jets' third-best all-time. Berrios also averaged 13.4 yards/punt return, second-highest in the NFL by a player with at least 15 returns.

"Braxton's made a huge impact and I think his preparation is huge," special teams coordinator Brant Boyer said. "He works harder than anybody, he studies a ton. I think he's done a great job running all the tracks that we ask him, and he's made people miss and he's accountable to his teammates every week and he plays his butt off every week."

Hardee, in his first season with the Jets after a four-year run in New Orleans, led the coverage unit with 12 total tackles and took 368 ST snaps, second on the Green & White behind Del'Shawn Phillilps' 374 snaps.

"He's been important to what we do," Boyer said of Hardee. "Just having a guy out there on the field like that makes a huge difference. He's taken a leadership role in the room as well. Him being voted captain by his teammates was a big honor for him. I think that he's done a really nice job."

While Hardee and Berrios will be core performers again, there will be competition at kicker after GM Joe Douglas signed veteran Greg Zuerlein and re-signed Eddy Piñeiro in the offseason. After initially signing last December, Piñeiro became only the second kicker to convert his first eight field goal tries in green and white. Zuerlein most recently played with the Cowboys in 2020-21, connecting on 63 of his 76 field goal attempts (82.9%).

"Signing Zuerlein, bringing Eddy back, it's going to be a nice competition there," Douglas said. "Hopefully, they can be a big factor for us in some of these tighter games that we play next year."

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