Throughout the regular season, NewYorkJets.com reporters Eric Allen, Ethan Greenberg, Randy Lange, Caroline Hendershot and John Pullano will give their responses to a series of questions regarding this year's Jets.
Today's question: Which young Jets could receive more playing time in the final three games?
EA: I've got my eyes a handful of young players down the stretch. Will McDonald, the team's first round pick last spring, received a career-high 18 defensive snaps against the Dolphins. He shared a sack with Quinnen Williams and continues to show electric pass-rushing promise. The Jets are stacked at DE but John Franklin-Myers is dealing with a hip injury, so McDonald could see an uptick in reps. I'm also keying in on Jeremy Ruckert. Quietly, Tyler Conklin has had a strong season and I like Ruckert's development on offense as well. He is a staple on special teams and received only 22 offensive reps last week because the Jets totaled just 55 plays. Of Ruck's 16 catches, 11 of have come over the past five games. In the backfield, Israel "Izzy" Abanikanda is coming off a career-high 22 offensive snaps against the 'Fins as he totaled 6 touches. Breece Hall will continue to be the bell cow and Dalvin Cook is a proven vet, but the speedy Abanikanda could get valuable time to close the regular season. While S Tony Adams and rookie C Joe Tippman are starters, I'm excited to see how they finish the season with the potential to carry some momentum in the offseason.
EG: The three that instantly come to mind are TE Jeremy Ruckert, RB Israel Abanikanda and DE Will McDonald. Of those three, my eyes go to Abanikanda, the fifth-round pick out of Pitt. He's explosive, had a career-high 22 snaps last week at Miami and has fresh legs. He flashed in the preseason with a touchdown in the Hall of Fame Game and a highlight-reel spin move where he came inches short of a score the following week at Carolina. The Jets know what they have in starting RB Breece Hall, who eclipsed 1,000 scrimmage yards last Sunday. It wouldn't surprise me if the Jets increase Abanikanda's snap count in the final three weeks. Undrafted WR Jason Brownlee could also be in the mix for more snaps. He's missed the last two games with an ankle injury, but started Week 12 and Week 13 games. Perhaps the Green & White will want to elevate one of their rookies from the practice squad like Trey Dean or Zack Kuntz for one (or more) of the final three games. Both Kuntz, a seventh-round pick, and Dean, an undrafted free agent, have been with the team since the spring and signed with the P-squad in September.
RL: The youngest Jets on the roster are in the 2023 rookie class and that's where I'd like to see the playing time get distributed. First-round pick Will McDonald has shown flashes in his limited defensive exposure (144 snaps) with parts of 3 sacks (1 whole, 2 halves) and also a tackle for a 6-yard loss at Buffalo. The already very good pass rush can get better still if WMcD proves out. Carter Warren had three straight games of extended action but only one of his two starts was at RT before suffering a hip injury. He could return soon and get some precious late-season action. Israel Abanikanda hasn't gotten a chance to cut loose like his college résumé suggested he could, so I could see Izzy's profile increasing. And rookie free agent Xavier Gipson has been around a lot on returns but also averaging 40 offensive snaps a game for a while. And who leads the team in 20-yards-plus catches over the past six games? Gipson has four, from three different QBs, while Garrett Wilson and Tyler Conklin have three each. Can X play even a little more on offense and still keep improving his punt-return dimension? Something to watch during the time remaining in the '23 season.
CH: In these next three games, I see Izzy Abanikanda, Jeremy Ruckert, and Xavier Gipson getting more playing time. Ruckert has been seeing more time since C.J. Uzomah was placed on IR, but through his last 5 games he has had double-digit receiving yards. That only happened once through his first 18 games of his NFL career, so I could see the Jets continuing to give him more reps and see what he does with them. Although Gipson has been getting a lot of time as the Jets kick returner, he has only had 15 receptions as a WR. However, in those 15 receptions he has had 191 yards for 12.7 yards per reception. Finally, I think Izzy Abanikanda will start to see more reps at running back, too. While he was inactive for the first nine games, he has started to play more the last two weeks. Since Week 10, he has only had 8 attempts for just 18 yards. I could see him taking more of veteran Dalvin Cook's reps.
JP: I think DE Will McDonald, the Jets' first-round selection (No. 15) in April's NFL Draft, will continue to see his snap count grow over the final three weeks of the season. The Iowa State product was buried in the Jets' deep defensive line group to start the season. He averaged 10.7 snaps per game over the first 10 weeks and was inactive twice. But since Week 11, the Jets have upped McDonald's snap count to 13.8 per game and it has coincided with more production. In the last three games, he has registered 1.5 sacks and 6 pressures. The Jets young pass rusher (6-4, 245) has all the physical tools to be an elite edge defender. At the NFL Combine, in the 3-cone drill, he ran a top-10 time for defensive ends since 1999 and a 4.7 second 40-yard dash. In the last month, since McDonald's number of reps have grown, he said he's had a better grasp of the mental side of the game. With more playing time over the final month of the season, expect McDonald to continue to take a leap.