Key Jets to watch in tonight’s preseason game vs. the Falcons

In my opinion preseason games are really about evaluating individual players more than the team as a whole. The last digit doesn’t matter. Teams typically don’t game plan or adapt their lineups. However, players may show glimpses of future success or worrisome signs.

There are many reasons why an exhibition game can be important to a player. Ahead of tonight’s game against the Falcons, I want to give you some Jets to look at and give them a preseason cliche role.

Top pick who looks like a rising star: Sauce Gardner

Robert Saleh was non-committal in a recent press conference about whether his starters would take the field tonight. One would imagine that Zach Wilson’s injury in a non-contact game in the preseason opener and the forecast for potentially inclement weather at the Meadowlands might make it appropriate for the coach to sit on the first string.

If the starters play, Gardner will be a player to watch. He had a strong preseason debut against the Eagles and has all the tools to be a cover man who changes defenses. We’ll only get a glimpse of him until Week 1, but any glimpse could be worth remembering.

Young player looking to take the next step: Quincy Williams

By any measure, Williams had a wildly successful waiver claim last year. You don’t expect a player waived by the Jaguars to provide any kind of value. Williams played his way into the starting lineup and had several strong games.

However, he was very inconsistent. Aggression that led to bone-rattling hits also got him out of position.

For their part, the Jets have high hopes for the former Alabama linebacker. The question is whether he can channel his aggression better. The first game of the preseason was disappointing on this front as Quincy committed a bad penalty on a late hit and took a bad angle on the next play that led to a failed tackle attempt.

Again it depends on the starters who see the field, but it would be nice to see a more controlled but still aggressive Quincy Williams tonight.

Mid-round pick who looks like the player he could be: Michael Clemons

Clemons popped up in his preseason debut, settling into the Eagles backfield. Now this is to be expected on some level. Clemons is old for a rookie and has an advantage against fringe roster players.

That said, he did get some quality snaps early in the game when the Eagles had players higher on the depth chart on the field.

It’s easy to live up to expectations for Clemons, but at least he looked like a player who could provide value in the rotation. We’ll see if that continues tonight.

Rookie who received his only meaningful playing time in the preseason: Jeremy Ruckert

An injury or two at tight end could certainly change things, but it looks like Ruckert’s plan this year is to learn on the practice field and develop there. The Jets have big plans for him in the future, but he is a developing player.

That makes these preseason reps especially valuable to Ruckert. He has the opportunity to receive live game snaps to help his development.

His first game was strong when he scored a touchdown. Can he build on it?

A disappointing early-round pick who may be in his last chance: Denzel Mims

A lot of digital ink has been spilled on Mims over the last couple of years so I’ll try to be brief.

Things look ominous for him now. It’s clear the coaching staff has been less than enamored with him since taking over a year ago. His game against the Eagles got off to an auspicious start as he delivered a pair of drive-extending receptions. However, after a drop.

It’s also worth noting that Mims was the seventh Jets receiver to take the field in the game. This is probably an indication of where he stands.

This low on the depth chart, Mims may need to play on both offense and special teams. His time to influence is over.

Possible odd man out in the numbers game: Jabari Zuniga

To be honest, you could title Zuniga as an early-round disappointment as Mims. After all, he’s already been cut and relegated to the practice squad.

Still, he made his case for a roster spot with a strong training camp and a sack in the preseason opener.

The problem is that the Jets are congested on the defensive end. No matter how well Zuniga plays, there may not be a place for him. Clemons’s drafting as the end of a new developmental middle may have guaranteed Zuniga’s demise.

All he can do is make as difficult a decision as possible for the product and the Jets.

The fourth-string quarterback who gets the most love from the fanbase: Chris Strevler

There is an old saying that the most popular player on the team is the backup quarterback. Like Matt Sims before him, Strevler’s work at the end of preseason games against practice squad talent shows the actual most popular player ranked low on the depth chart.

For his part, Strevler was the quarterback of record on the game-winning drive last week. He has shown ability as a runner in both the Jets and the CFL.

As a traveler, though?

He seems to be doing a great job. Going through his efforts last week, I’m not sure there was anything overly impressive about what he did. Most of the throws he completes are the type of throws that even a practice squad playing against fourth stringers should expect to hit.

At the end of the day, I don’t think Streveler has much of a chance to make the roster. Maybe he can show enough to earn a practice squad spot, though.

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