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State of the 2023 New York Jets: Can Aaron Rodgers power a return to postseason glory?

Where does your squad stand in 2023? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.

Members of the Jets organization, Jets fans around the world and those who are ready to try the whole former Packers quarterback thing again ...

You don't need me to tell you history is repeating itself with Aaron Rodgers heading to New York after playing in Green Bay. It's not the first time a quarterback has made that move -- Matt Flynn spent time in camp with the Jets in 2015. Oh, right; Brett Favre did it, too. At any rate, we can't blame the Jets for wanting to move on from Zach Wilson as the starter and bring in Rodgers, given New York seemed like it was a quarterback away from competing in 2022.

Can the Jets get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the AFL-NFL merger? Good question. But before we look forward, it's important to look back.

2022 rewind

One high from last season: Beating the Bills in Week 9. The Jets improved their record to 6-3 heading into a Week 10 bye. Zach Wilson out-dueled -- OK, that might be a stretch; maybe we could go with played better than -- Josh Allen, who was frustrated by this team in 2022. And that was great. But ...

One low from last season: Going 1-7 the rest of the way. The worst was the loss to New England in Week 11, which served as a reminder that Bill Belichick will just take apart quarterbacks, man. Wilson completed nine of 22 passes for 77 yards.

2023 VIPs

Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers. We've already talked about the Favre-Rodgers parallel, but it's not that strange -- unless Rodgers also ends up spending the next two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. Setting aside the quirk of the Packers-to-Jets pipeline, we've seen a number of great quarterbacks log stints with a new franchise late in their careers. Thirty years ago, ex-49er Joe Montana led the Chiefs to the playoffs. After ex-Colt Peyton Manning joined the Broncos in 2012, he set records and won another ring. After ex-Patriot Tom Brady joined the Buccaneers in 2020, he captured his seventh Super Bowl. After ex-Seahawk Russell Wilson joined the Broncos -- well, let's not really dive into how Wilson's first Broncos season went.

As a Bears fan, I've seen what Aaron Rodgers can do over the years, including "owning" Chicago, and I'm going to tell you this: Expect Rodgers to once again be one of the best quarterbacks in the game. Last season (3,695 passing yards, 26:12 TD-to-INT ratio) marked a definite step down from his performance in consecutive MVP-winning campaigns in 2020 and '21. But he dealt with thumb and rib injuries, and the season got away from him. I would guess he'll be more like the best version of Manning on the Broncos than Wilson on the Broncos. Anyone who remains dubious of what the 39-year-old can accomplish should let their doubts go.

Projected 2023 MVP: Rodgers. It's all about Rodgers at this point. The Jets were one of the best defensive teams in the NFL in 2022, ranking fourth in both yards and points allowed; if they'd had any sort of competent quarterback play after Mike White suffered a late-season rib injury, they would have been a playoff team instead of finishing fourth in the division at 7-10.

New face to know: Rodgers. Kidding. It's actually Allen Lazard, receiver. Lazard (who spent the first five seasons of his career catching passes from Rodgers in Green Bay) and Randall Cobb (who worked with Rodgers from 2011 to 2018 and again in 2021-22) joined the Jets this offseason and will provide Rodgers with at least two targets with whom he has developed chemistry. Although I thought it was kind of funny that Lazard agreed to join the team before Rodgers announced he wanted to play for the Jets in 2023. It's kind of like your friend telling you to meet him at Chili's. And you're like, "Hey you're going to be there, right?" And he's all, "Yeah, sure," and then you find yourself wondering if you'll actually be dining at Chili's alone. It all worked out for Lazard, however.

2023 breakout star: Michael Carter II, cornerback. With his play in 2022 (two picks, nine passes defensed, 62 tackles), Carter II showed good ability and that he can contribute at nickel corner -- he also continued to establish himself as more than just the other Michael Carter on the Jets' roster. With 2022 Defensive Rookie of the Year Sauce Gardner out there taking over one half of the field, a lot of targets are likely to be funneled in Carter II's direction. Between Gardner, D.J. Reed and Carter II, this is a strong secondary (though, sadly, offseason trade acquisition Chuck Clark will be missing the regular season after tearing an ACL in June). Can Carter II become the best nickel corner in the NFL? He certainly thinks so.

2023 braintrust

Table inside Article
Head coach Robert Saleh
General manager Joe Douglas
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett
Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich
Special teams coordinator Brant Boyer
  • In his final two seasons as 49ers defensive coordinator (2019 and 2020), Saleh pushed San Francisco to consecutive top-five finishes in yards allowed, so it's no surprise he coaxed the Jets into that same territory by the end of his second year on the job. Defense has not been the issue for Saleh; the problem has been at the quarterback position. Those excuses are now gone with Aaron Rodgers under center. 
  • Hackett being on the coaching staff (as the replacement for Mike LaFleur, the younger brother of Packers coach Matt LaFleur) reminds me of when Hulk Hogan jumped to WCW in the early 1990s, and he was joined by all of his friends, like Ed Leslie (Brutus Beefcake). Like Lazard and Cobb, Hackett worked with Rodgers (and Matt LaFleur) in Green Bay, serving as offensive coordinator for three seasons -- including Rodgers' two most recent MVP campaigns. I think it will help to have a coordinator who is familiar with Rodgers.
  • Douglas drafted Zach Wilson second overall in 2021, and then, this offseason, he moved picks (including a conditional pick that could become a first-rounder in 2024) for Aaron Rodgers. Yes, Douglas' draft record (including multiple nice finds in 2021 and both the Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year in 2022) is strong. But now would be a nice time for the Jets to post their first winning season with Douglas as GM.

Roster reshuffling

Below is a rundown of the Jets' most notable roster developments for the 2023 season, including this year's draft class, as well as key acquisitions and departures via free agency and trade.

Table inside Article
Draft class (round-pick) Key additions Key departures
Will McDonald IV, Edge, Iowa State (1-15) Aaron Rodgers, QB Joe Flacco, QB
Joe Tippmann, C, Wisconsin (2-43) Tim Boyle, QB Mike White, QB
Carter Warren, OT, Pittsburgh (4-120) Randall Cobb, WR James Robinson, RB
Israel Abanikanda, RB, Pittsburgh (5-143) Mecole Hardman, WR Braxton Berrios, WR
Zaire Barnes, LB, Western Michigan (6-184) Allen Lazard, WR Elijah Moore, WR
Jarrick Bernard-Converse, CB, LSU (6-204) Billy Turner, OT George Fant, OT
Zack Kuntz, TE, Old Dominion (7-220) Wes Schweitzer, OG Nate Herbig, OG
Quinton Jefferson, DL Vinny Currey, Edge
Al Woods, DL Sheldon Rankins, DL
Chuck Clark, S Nathan Shepherd, DL
Adrian Amos, S Kwon Alexander, LB
Thomas Morstead, P Lamarcus Joyner, S
Braden Mann, P

2023 roadmap

Three key dates:

  • Week 1 vs. Buffalo Bills (Monday night). People will not want to hear it when I pick the Jets to win this game; they'll say Rodgers can't get up to speed that quickly. But remember, Peyton Manning won his first game with the Broncos against the Steelers. It's not unprecedented. 
  • Week 4 vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday night). This concludes quite the opening stretch for the Jets, with a trip to Dallas in Week 2 and a home date with New England in Week 3 sandwiched in there. Nobody is going to be out of the playoff race after four games, but the Jets will certainly be tested, like they're trying to make an 11-foot downhill putt at Augusta. 
  • Week 15 at Miami Dolphins. If you're asking me -- and you might not be, but you're reading my piece -- these are the two best teams in the AFC East.

Will the Jets be able to ...

... make Garrett Wilson a superstar? I guess this is up to Aaron Rodgers more than anything. A glance at the numbers posted by the 2022 Offensive Rookie of the Year might be underwhelming: Wilson barely cleared 1,000 yards (1,103) and snagged just four TD catches in 17 games despite ranking seventh in the NFL with 147 targets. But he was fielding all those targets from a group of quarterbacks who collectively posted the worst passer rating in the NFL (75.0) last season. This year, the quality of quarterback play for the Jets figures to be, uh, different. Wilson and Allen Lazard give Rodgers a pretty good duo to work with. (Wilson will also be helped by the presence of signee Mecole Hardman; I don't necessarily love Hardman as a replacement for Elijah Moore, who was traded to the Browns in March, but Hardman is a talented player.) I won't come out and just predict Wilson is going to become the next Davante Adams with Rodgers. That guy is pretty good. Wilson does have a chance to be one of the best in the league, however.

... count on Breece Hall to pick up where he left off? Breece looked pretty great for a few weeks as a rookie there last season. I was so thrilled with Breece last year, my fantasy team was named Breece Love and Understanding. (Shout out to all you Elvis Costello fans out there.) When Hall suffered a torn ACL last October, he was just getting started -- he was coming off a 100-yard game against the Packers the week before and scored a 62-yard TD against the Broncos on the day he was injured. With ample recovery time, he should be ready to go this season. One thing that seems to sometimes be overlooked about Rodgers is that his running backs can do really well; consider that since becoming a regular starter in 2019, Aaron Jones racked up 5,723 yards from scrimmage in Green Bay. Even if the Jets were to add Dalvin Cook, I wouldn't be too discouraged about Hall; such a move would actually make sense, in light of both Hall's status as a second-year pro returning from injury and the general wisdom of adding as much talent around Rodgers as possible. Plus, Nathaniel Hackett got plenty out of both Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon in Green Bay.

One storyline ...

... people shouldn't overlook: Just how deep the defensive line is. The Jets ranked seventh in the NFL last year with 45 sacks. They might be even better this season. Jermaine Johnson II could be considered another Jets player primed for a breakout. Though the 26th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft finished with 2.5 sacks, he showed as a rotational player last year that he's adept at getting to the quarterback, logging the 13th-best pressure rate (8.1%) among rookies with a minimum of 100 pass-rush snaps, per Next Gen Stats. Might Johnson move past John Franklin-Myers in the pass-rushing pecking order? Fellow end Carl Lawson racked up seven sacks in 17 starts after missing all of 2021 with a ruptured Achilles tendon. And then there's first-round pick Will McDonald IV, who was drawing plenty of praise from Saleh for his showing in OTAs. Another interesting pass rusher is Bryce Huff, a former undrafted free-agent who collected the fourth-most pressures on the team (33) despite appearing on just 17 percent of the Jets' defensive snaps last season. The key to the defensive line, of course, is Quinnen Williams. The former first-round pick earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors for a 12-sack effort in 2022. Headed into the final year of his contract, Williams missed voluntary workouts while he seeks an extension, but there seems to be a high degree of confidence on the Jets' part that he will be present for training camp.

EDITOR'S UPDATE: The Jets and Williams have agreed to terms on a four-year, $96 million extension, per NFL Network Insiders Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero.

For 2023 to be a success, the Jets MUST:

  • Make a deep playoff run. You don't trade for Aaron Rodgers to settle for more moral victories. You've had enough of those in the past few years. The current regime has put it all on the line for the four-time MVP. I'll stop short of saying they need to reach the Super Bowl, but let's be truthful: How many more chances will they get with Rodgers, who is turning 40 in December? Advancing to, say, the AFC title game would mean the Jets made a huge leap -- but it might not feel like it if they lose to the Chiefs, Bengals or Jaguars once there.

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