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Jets rookie Garrett Wilson flashes ‘that Justin Jefferson vibe’

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:

1. Catch a rising star: As an underclassmen at Ohio State, Garrett Wilson watched from afar as two rookie wide receivers became instant NFL stars — the Minnesota VikingsJustin Jefferson (2020) and the Cincinnati BengalsJa’Marr Chase (2021). Wilson wanted to be them.

“That was my goal,” he said. “That’s what I planned on doing.”

Wilson still has a long way to go, which he acknowledges, but he’s off to such a good start that he’s drawing comparisons to Jefferson. Cornerback D.J. Reed said Wilson has “that Justin Jefferson vibe,” and tight end Tyler Conklin took it further. His words carry some weight because he was Jefferson’s teammate for two years in Minnesota.

“They move similar, the way they have those lanky strides, just slippery, kind of like euro stepping down the field,” Conklin said. “I see a lot of similarities there: His ability to go up and get the ball … after the catch … he’s just so dang slippery. I think it was only a matter of time before he broke out like he did [last Sunday].”

Wilson (eight catches for 102 yards) became the first rookie in franchise history to have 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns in a game. The Jets have a lousy track record when it comes to drafting receivers, evidenced by this eye-opening factoid:

He’s only the ninth Jets rookie since the merger (1970) to record a 100-yard receiving day. Elijah Moore did it once last year, but there was a 20-year gap before that. Laveranues Coles did it in 2000. The only player to do it twice was Al Toon (1985).

Wilson, drafted 10th overall, called the Jefferson comparison “a huge compliment. I want to be great. I’m nowhere near that.”

At 6-foot, 183 pounds, he’s smaller than Jefferson (6-foot-1, 195), but a little faster (4.38 to 4.43 seconds in the 40). Like Jefferson, he has the ability to play inside and outside. He ran most of his routes from the slot last week after playing predominantly on the outside in Week 1. In terms of overall production, he has seven catches outside (including two touchdowns) and five from the slot.

He will be a marked man after last week’s breakout. Let’s see how he responds.

2. Hungry for sacks: The Jets’ underperforming pass rush smells an opportunity Sunday against Bengals QB Joe Burrow, who has been sacked 13 times — tied with three other quarterbacks for the most through two games over the past 20 seasons.

Excited?

“On the surface, absolutely,” defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins told ESPN. “Obviously, they’re having some issues protecting — not necessarily all on the O-line, but at the end of the day, any time a team is giving up sacks at that rate, obviously you’re going to be licking your chops to add to that number. It’s on us to win those rushes and win those reps and make that number climb higher.”

The Bengals have talented linemen, according to Rankins, but they’re struggling for a variety of reasons. So are the Jets, who have only three sacks and rank 30th in pressure percentage. It’s too early to panic, but it’s worth noting because they have so much invested in their defensive line. Even coach Robert Saleh, who rarely criticizes, said of the pass rush, “It has to be better.”

The players know it.

“We hold ourselves in high esteem and truly expect ourselves to dominate each and every time we put our hand in the dirt,” Rankins said. “Obviously, we haven’t put that all together quite yet. There have been flashes of guys winning rushes, but collectively we haven’t put our pure dominance on tape yet.”

3. Early yips: Some of the Jets’ top free-agent acquisitions are off to slow starts, most notably Conklin, LG Laken Tomlinson and S Jordan Whitehead. Let’s focus on Conklin for a moment.

After a terrific training camp, Conklin already has two drops and two fumbles. He had only six drops and two fumbles in his first four seasons combined.

“I’m usually pretty damn good at [ball security],” he said. “I’ll get that s— straightened out.”

4. Go north, young man: The coaches would like to see rookie RB Breece Hall turn upfield quicker on outside zone plays. In other words, they want more north-south running and less east-west. At Iowa State, he was known for his patient running style, so this is an adjustment for him.

Hall said he feels like a freshman again, getting comfortable with the scheme and knowing when to step on the accelerator. At the same time, he doesn’t want to overthink it, lest he compromise his natural ability.

Statistically, Hall’s average time from handoff to line of scrimmage is 2.92 seconds, only fractionally higher than the NFL average, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

5. No dice for Bryce: Cornerback Bryce Hall‘s slide down the depth chart is rather stunning. In 2021, he played more defensive snaps (1,126) than all but three players in the league. Last Sunday, he was a healthy scratch. They dressed only four corners, and Hall was the odd-man out. In Week 1, he played only five defensive snaps.

Hall lost his starting job when Sauce Gardner was drafted fourth overall (even though the team conducted a charade competition in training camp), but he’s also behind Brandin Echols. Hall doesn’t play special teams, hurting his game-day value. He’s under contract through 2023, so there’s no urgency to trade him.

6. Good company: Jets quarterbacks with 300 yards, four touchdown passes and no interceptions in a game: Joe Namath (1967), Ken O’Brien (1986) and Joe Flacco (last week).

7. Did you know? Braden Mann said last week’s 17-yard completion on a fake punt was his first pass attempt — ever. He never threw the ball as a college punter. Before running on the field, he got some sage advice from special teams coach Brant Boyer:

“Step into it.”

Prior to Sunday, the last time the Jets tried a fake punt was 2018.

8a. Nick’s time: Former center Nick Mangold will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at halftime. A couple of thoughts:

With the 29th pick in 2006, general manager Mike Tannenbaum, running his first draft, narrowed the choices to Mangold and running back Joseph Addai. There was some sentiment in the draft room for Addai, who wound up going next to the Indianapolis Colts. Addai ended up having a solid career, but he wasn’t in Mangold’s league. We always criticize GMs for blowing picks; here’s one that worked out nicely.

From 1998 to 2016, the Jets had arguably the best centers in the NFL. It started with Kevin Mawae (Pro Football Hall of Famer), who passed the baton to Mangold. They haven’t been able to maintain that standard at the position, one of the many reasons for the team’s downturn.

8b. Eye-catching factoid: Mangold is only 38, only one year older than Flacco and injured left tackle Duane Brown.

9. Seize the snap: Safety Ashtyn Davis has been criticized for not living up to expectations, but he deserves credit for his game-clinching interception — his first and only defensive snap of the season. Those kind of plays are rare. The last time a Jets player made an interception in the final 30 seconds to secure a win in a one-score game was 2015. It’ll be interesting to see if the coaches reward him by finding a way to get him on the field in a sub package.

10. The last word: “[Assistant] Ricky Manning, Jr. does the ball [drill] on Thursday. He has all these quotes. One of them is, ‘Good things come to those who run.'” — Saleh on tackle Max Mitchell, who made a great hustle play last week to recover a fumble


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