Throughout the offseason, NewYorkJets.com reporters Eric Allen, Ethan Greenberg, Randy Lange and Caroline Hendershot will each give their predictions to a series of questions regarding this year's Jets.
Today's question: Which new Jet are you most excited to watch Friday vs. the Eagles?
EA: How can you not be excited about the Jets' top four picks in April's NFL Draft? They all could/should make significant contributions early in their careers. WR Garrett Wilson will be fun to watch whether it's extending for 50/50 balls or picking up yards after the catch. DE Jermaine Johnson has been on a tear in practice, a powerful pass rusher who plays with violence. RB Breece Hall is silky smooth, has impressive vision and sneaks up on people with his speed. But I'll take CB Ahmad 'Sauce' Gardner, who is expected to make the start at cornerback opposite Bryce Hall. Gardner and Hall are competing for a starting spot, but veteran D.J. Reed (hamstring) won't play and will likely return to action next week. Gardner, wearing No. 1, stands out like a 7-footer playing middle school basketball. Gardner (6-3, 200) is tall, long and physical. Corey Davis, who did catch a few balls on Gardner this week, said the Jets' rookie CB is different, possessing the long arms to recover plus the speed and the size. Veteran DT Solomon Thomas called Gardner "very technical" and raved about his talent and work ethic. Sauce has New York swagger too with the grills and the non-stop chatter. This is a unique young player who's got seemingly unlimited potential.
EG: I could make an argument for almost every new player, but I'm going with WR Garrett Wilson. Wilson has game-changing speed (4.38 40-yard dash), which you can't fully put on display in training camp when you're not tackling. He's flashed throughout camp, especially with his acrobatics and going up to get the ball. While his fellow rookies like Sauce Gardner, Breece Hall and Jermaine Johnson have also flashed, Wilson almost feels like he's flying under the radar. He was a big-time performer at Ohio State, which has recently become a pipeline for successful wideouts. Wilson had four plays of 50-plus yards (3 receptions, 1 rush) in 2021 and is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. I'm looking forward to seeing how he fares against players other than his teammates. Johnson is an honorable mention for me because it feels like he's really come on the last week in camp, but Friday poses a new challenge.
RL: I'm going to cheat by picking a position, and mentioning a player who didn't play virtually all last year (three defensive snaps in the PS opener vs. the Giants) as a first-year Jet. The position is, of course, edge, and the player is Carl Lawson, who as HC Robert Saleh said Wednesday, "Right now he's scheduled to play, so he's ready to go." Then after Carl, I'm most eager to see the pair of drafted rookies, Jermaine Johnson in Round 1 followed by Micheal Clemons in Round 4, and how they're maneuvering off the edge and into the Eagles' pocket. I'll even throw Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers and Sheldon Rankins into the mix and see how the revamped pass rush looks across the front four. For a gauge, I'm going with 2.8 sacks a game, not because summer team sacks are important to accumulate down to the decimal but because the 12 teams in franchise history that reached 40 regular-season sacks averaged around that number in their preseason games. So onward toward eight to 10 summer sacks, led by the edge men, and then let's see it continue in the regular season.
CH: I am by far most excited to see Jason Pinnock lineup against the Eagles, which is a bit of a stretch because he's not new. But he's relatively new to safety. Last season Pinnock made the transition from cornerback to safety and started at the position for the first time in Week 16. Even though he only trained at the position for a month, he was able to hold his own for the remainder of the season against the Jaguars, the Buccaneers and the Bills. "We just look at Pinnock — his size, length, speed, his athleticism — we're like, man, he'd be a really cool free safety, Jimmie Ward-type in our system," Saleh said last December when Pinnock made his debut. Pinnock also earned a Pro Football Focus rating of the fourth-best safety in the NFL in the final three weeks of the 2021 season. With a whole offseason to develop at the position, Pinnock has looked strong and consistent at safety throughout camp and has made significant plays in practice. I think he is going to be an asset this season and I can't wait to see Pinnock's first game in the 2022 season.