Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, who recently wrote an article ranking his top-10 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates, which included Jets WR Garrett Wilson and RB Breee Hall, ranked his top-10 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Candidates, which includes Jets CB Sauce Gardner at No. 7 and DE Jermaine Johnson at No. 6.
"History tells us that interceptions are key when it comes to providing rookie cornerbacks a chance to win DROY," he wrote. "Gardner pulled three interceptions in each of his three seasons at Cincinnati, which is impressive considering how infrequently quarterbacks challenged him and how often he played tight, press coverage. He has take-it-away talent, a catchy nickname and bravado for days, which should all work in his favor."
Gardner, the No. 4 overall pick in 2022, did not allow any touchdowns at Cincinnati in 2021 and saw only 11% of the Bearcats' defensive targets. He allowed 13 catches for 117 yards. A three-year starter, he totaled 99 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 9 interceptions and 16 pass defenses.
Johnson (6-4, 254) played at three schools in five seasons, wrapping up at Florida State in 2021 where he was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, leading the conference with 12 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss to go with 2 forced fumbles and 2 pass defenses.
"You have to go all the way back to 2013 to find the last Jets edge rusher to post double-digit sacks in a season [Calvin Pace, 10]," Zierlein wrote. "Fast forward to 2022 and Johnson will be lining up with a fairly deep defensive line that should fare much better than it did in 2021. He's a plus run defender with good strength at the point of attack and the athleticism to put together some highlight-reel tackles for loss. His hands and spin moves got better and better throughout last season at Florida State, but the key for Johnson will be his continued growth as a pass rusher. He might be ready to make early noise as a rookie."