Throughout the offseason, NewYorkJets.com reporters Eric Allen, Ethan Greenberg and Randy Lange will each give their predictions to a series of questions regarding this year's Jets.
Today's question: Who could be an X-factor on the Jets in 2021?
EA: The strength of this defense should be its line with Quinnen Williams, Sheldon Rankins and Folorunso Fatukasi creating havoc on the interior while explosive DE Carl Lawson could give the Jets something off the edge they haven't had in more than a decade. Williams, who recently had successful foot surgery, came into his own last season. Rankins, will provide another pass-rushing threat from the interior and the Jets, who added DE Vinny Curry in free agency, have depth all along the front.
So the "4" in the 4-3 will be formidable, but one of the key questions heading into the season is what to make of the "3" on the second level? The Jets love Jarrad Davis' athleticism and pop, and the former first-round pick will step into a starting role on Day 1. We got insight on the Jets' philosophy on the position on Day 3 of the draft when the club took Jamien Sherwood (Round 5; Auburn) and Hamsah Nasirildeen (Round 6; FSU). Head Coach Robert Saleh talked about the chaos up front and the need for the 'backers in the system to be run-and-hit players who can move quickly laterally.
C.J. Mosley, who was limited to parts of two games in 2019 and opted out in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, is a four-time Pro Bowler who could potentially change not only the landscape on defense but the dynamic of the entire team.
"C.J., I think he's one of those players that it really doesn't matter what the scheme is, he's going to fit," Saleh said. "He's been a fantastic player his entire life, and that's not going to change just because a new coaching staff has come in.
"He's a tremendous leader. He's a tremendous football player. He hasn't played in a couple of years, so you know he's just champing at the bit to get back on the football field. And so we're excited to get a chance to work with him to help him get back to playing every day and being the star that he's been."
EG: I agree with EA on C.J. Mosley, but I'll go with Chris Herndon. Herndon's three-year career has been up and down, starting when he showed a lot of promise as a rookie in 2018. He ranked second on the team that season in receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns. Then he lost essentially his entire season in 2019 due to suspension and injury, and took 10 snaps. He had a slow start in 2020 and was asked to primarily block before closing the season on a high note with 14 receptions, 145 yards and 2 TDs in the final three games.
There's no question Herndon is a good athlete with strong hands and he should benefit in this Shanahan system coordinated by Mike LaFleur. San Fran's George Kittle is the obvious example of tight ends who have had success in this system, but others include Green Bay's Rob Tonyan (52 rec, 586 yards, 11 TDs in 2020) and New England's Jonnu Smith (41 rec, 448 yards, 8 TD with the Titans in 2020).
In this system, the players are frequently "schemed open," meaning the playcalls will result in open receivers. That means Herndon should have more opportunities to showcase his athleticism and capitalize on the potential he flashed as a rookie in 2018. If he's able to do so, he would add another dynamic to an offense that already has a revamped receiving corps (PFF named the Jets WRs the most improved in the NFL) and an upgraded offensive line. Plus, if Zach Wilson starts, there's a saying tight ends are the security blankets for rookie QBs. The blueprint is there for Herndon to capitalize.
See the Jets on the Field During Phase 2 of the Offseason Program
RL: My choice for the Jets' 2021 X-man is TE Chris Herndon. The 2018 fourth-round pick from Miami has been alternately beguiling and frustrating, and I'm sure he feels the same way. But Herndon finished the 2020 season hot as a receiver and for his 3-year career (even though 2019 was pretty much a lost season for him), his "receiver rating" (NFL passer rating but using the receiver's numbers) is a sparkling 106.3.
His receiving skills can be used by Zach Wilson (who of course still has to win the QB job) when he runs the seam or pops open when defenses make mistakes in covering WRs Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims, Elijah Moore and Keelan Cole. And his big body will be helpful in getting the Tevin Coleman-La'Mical Perine-Michael Carter (I) running game up to speed. This is the year for Herndon to put it all together.