Jets undrafted rookie WR Xavier Gipson's NFL career got off to a rousing start.
The Stephen F. Austin product stole hearts and became a local fan favorite after the HBO's docuseries "Hard Knocks" captured his rise to the 53-man roster during training camp. Then he grabbed the national media's attention with a walk-off punt return TD in Week 1 to beat the Bills on Monday Night Football.
Gipson believes, however, that he really bloomed later in the season when he developed into a well-rounded young receiver and special teams weapon for the Green & White.
"I really began to realize as the year went along how detailed everything is," Gipson said. "I started to learn how to read the punters and read the kicks while they were in the air. There is a lot that goes into this. Special teams, offense and everything is just so detailed. I still have a lot to learn."
Gipson signed with the Jets in early May and began his rookie season primarily as a punt and kick returner, and also a long shot to make the team. After impressing during camp he finished on the roster but played just 55 snaps on offense and had a single reception for 4 yards over the first seven games.
"Early on as a rookie I would sometimes catch myself playing to not make mistakes instead of trying to go out and make plays," Gipson said. "I better know now that I am going to make mistakes. You are going to lose battles; it happens to even the top players. Towards the end of the season, I really started to realize that, and I started to play better."
After the Jets' offense went through a rough patch with four offensive touchdowns in seven games (Weeks 6-13), HC Robert Saleh and his staff decided to play their younger players, including Gipson, to try and spark the unit.
Over the last 10 games, Gipson averaged 44.1 snaps per game and finished the season having played the eighth-most snaps on offense, third-most of the WRs. He completed the season with 21 receptions, 297 all-purpose yards and 2 touchdowns.
"Week by week, I learned a little bit more of what worked for me," Gipson said. "Talking to the leaders in the locker room it helped me realize how to put myself in the best position to succeed."
On punt return duty, Gipson ended the season with the seventh-most return yards (319) in the league and fifth-highest average yards per return (9.67) for players with at least 25 returns. In addition, he was only one of eight players with a punt return TD in the regular season.
"I realized during the season that every punt return doesn't have to go for a touchdown," Gipson said. "Or every kick return doesn't need to go for a touchdown. It was a blessed to score a punt return touchdown in my first game, but I allowed for that to be the standard and that standard was a little too high. I bar was set high, and I felt like I had to maintain that the be successful. My teammates helped me realize that I need to just do the best that I can."
Special teams coordinator Brant Boyer said: "You can't help but root for a kid like that. He works so hard and is such a good kid and is willing to work his way into a position, and I think he's done a great job since he's been here. He has really settled in on it and done a great job."
Gipson did his best to make sure he didn't get swept up in the early-season success and leaned on WR Garrett Wilson, the 2022 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, for advice to remain level over 18 weeks.
"Garrett is crazy. He's a special player," Gipson said. "He taught me a lot on offense and just taught me how to calm down. He was always letting me know that I was good and to just let my talent take over. He was really a great role model."
Wilson said: "Getting to know him through this season and just the way he goes about his business, he is so deserving of everything that came his way. A lot more that came from with X."
Heading into his first professional offseason, Gipson has gotten feedback from Boyer, OC Nathaniel Hackett, Saleh and his other coaches on what to work on. If the regular season is any indication of how hard he is willing to work to get better, fans can except a strong offseason heading into Year 2.
"I am ready to get started working on my weaknesses," Gipson. "I am going to start by studying the film and evaluate myself. Of course, the coaches and everyone upstairs are going to evaluate me, but there is no better critic that yourself. They have been telling me just to get stronger. But also, there biggest tip for me was to just let loose. I have been playing football my whole life and they just want me to remember that it is the same game just on a bigger stage. Just be you."