Two years with Adam Gase as head coach and play-caller, and the Jets nosedived to the bottom of the standings and rankings. Despite having the 1.03 pick in 2018 with Sam Darnell, the Jets finished No. 32 in quarterback fantasy points on a team that lost 14 games and always had to throw. Despite spending the big bucks on acquiring Le’Veon Bell two years ago, they ended up dumping him during the season and ranked No. 31 in running back fantasy points. They ranked No. 30 in tight end fantasy points though they’ve been there for many years.
They even held a firm grasp on the No. 1 overall pick this year but ruined that with a late-season win. The beleaguered franchise hasn’t had a winning record in five years and ranked near the worst in all offensive categories almost every season.
Gase and his crew were sent packing, finally, in January and they tabbed one of the hotter candidates for the new head coach gig – Robert Saleh. He comes fresh from four years as the 49ers defensive coordinator, and the entirety of his 15 years coaching the NFL came from the defensive side of the ball. He inherits a team with a far better defense than offense. The Jets ranked roughly average in most defensive categories and was Top-10 against the run.
By contrast, the 49ers played through a nightmare season thanks to injuries and COVD-19 and yet his defense still ranked near the top in all categories and ended No. 1 in rushing touchdowns allowed (12), passing yards allowed (3,514) and overall yardage allowed (5,211).
Saleh brought the 49ers passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur along with him to run the Jets’ offense. Saleh’s forte has always been defense, so LaFleur will have considerable imprint on the offensive scheme. Like Saleh, LaFleur spent his last four years with the 49ers under offensive-minded Kyle Shanahan. LaFleur is 33 years old and has coached in the NFL only since 2014. This will be his first time as an offensive coordinator in the league, though he filled the role back during his three years at Saint Joseph’s. LaFleur is the little brother of the Packers head coach Matt LaFleur.
Jeff Ulbrich fills in as the defensive coordinator and had a ten-year career as a linebacker for the 49ers. After spending a few seasons coaching special teams in Seattle, and then linebackers /special teams at UCLA, he’s been in Atlanta where he coached linebackers and then served as the defensive coordinator starting mid-season 2020 during their coaching shake-up.
Head coach Robert Saleh – The Jets reverse course from their last foray into a hunt for a new head coach. Adam Gase brought in offensive credentials and the all-too-brief specter of a productive and innovative offense. Saleh is a player-friendly and intense teacher that coached alongside the offenses of the Seahawks and 49ers. He’s considered a prime catch for the Jets and someone who should be better up to the task of returning the franchise back into respectability. Considering that he ran the defense in San Francisco for four years and brought along Mike LaFleur from there, the Jets will attempt to import the 49ers style and scheme on both sides of the ball.
Given that the 49ers did as well despite dealing with rampant injuries last year bodes well for the Jets and their lackluster roster. And Saleh and both of his coordinators are in their first NFL season in their roles. Couple that with a roster in transition and a rebuild won’t happen over night. Then again, the Jets were 2-14 last year so the bar is not that high to consider his first season as a success.
Saleh will have a hand in the defense but he’s there to create a winning culture and get the franchise back on track. One of the criticisms of Adam Gase was that he was too involved with the offense to the detriment of running an entire team.
He’ll install that aggressive, “All Gas, No Brakes” defensive scheme but allow Jeff Ulbrich to direct the defensive plays. Saleh’s job is to motivate and coach up players on both sides of the ball and to import the 49ers-style culture. The Jets ranked No. 30 in penalty yards last season and that’s also a focus for the team.
Saleh will run the same 4-3 that he had with the 49ers and the Jets already used that scheme last year, though officially they were a 3-4. The transition shouldn’t be a problem.
Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur – LaFleur spent the last three seasons as the passing game coordinator with the 49ers and they tied an NFL record with 13 different players catching a touchdown in 2019. He brings in a scheme that uses all receivers including tight ends. George Kittle’s breakout came with LaFleur handling the passing. The offense will always seek to establish the run first to set up the pass.
This is a complicated and diverse attack that will take time to install. The 49ers ranked in the Top 6 in rushing for each of the last three years and yet never featured a running back with more than 153 carries in a season. Injuries had an obvious impact, but this is not the sort of offense that relies on one primary back to any large extent. The backfield totaled in the Top-5 in fantasy points for the last two years and yet never featured any back.
Under LaFleur, the passing offense was average at best thanks mostly to Jimmy Garoppolo’s inability to stay healthy. And while the 49ers spent high draft picks on wide receivers for the last two seasons, they haven’t produced any wideout with more than 802 yards in the last three years. Again – most of them were injured at some point each year.
The offensive scheme that LaFleur will import will employ a committee backfield. The offensive line isn’t nearly as good as he had in San Francisco, so the results are not likely to produce any top running back at least initially. But this is a scheme that threw 80 to 90 completions to running backs.
Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich – With only six years experience as a linebackers coach, Ulbrich helps to install and run the defense for Saleh. He’ll bring an energetic presence to accompany his experience with both coaching and playing. Ulbrich played with Saleh for one year in Seattle when he was a special teams assistant back in 2011.
Ulbrich is in a great situation being given the rebuilding job with the Jets defense while working under Saleh’s direction. He’ll call the defensive plays and is another high-energy, player-friendly coach looking to install a better culture.
There could be significant and wide-ranging player moves for 2021, while installing new offensive and defensive schemes. First and foremost, there’s no certainty who the quarterback will be. Sam Darnell hasn’t remotely lived up to his 1.03 draft selection though there’s diversity in how the blame gets assigned. The Jets appeared to be a lock to win the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes but then fell to 1.02 with a late-season win. There’s plenty of speculation as to what happens with Darnell, but the Jets are playing it very close to the vest and there may not be any clarity until that 1.02 pick is announced.
The Jets backfield has no primary back with Le’Veon Bell gone during last season and Frank Gore becoming a free agent yet again. The Jets have to acquire new blood to carry the ball.
The receivers are a marginal grouping of Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman (free agent), and Denzel Mims. Chris Herndon is the top tight end but only managed 31 catches in 2020. The shelves are pretty bare for the offense but a total rebuild is on the way.
The Jets have $71 million in cap space, so they can jump into the free agent arena armed with cash. The also own the 1.02, 1.23, 2.02, 3.02, and 3.23 picks in the draft over the first two days. That’s three of the top 34 players and all should be year-one contributors. This is likely to be the most changed roster in all of the NFL in terms of offensive skill players.
Fantasy football takeaway
The Jets lacked fantasy-relevant players under Adam Gase. And he left behind arguably less than when he took over in 2019 despite higher draft picks and trades. The defense was already better than most but has been saddled with an ineffective offense that did them no favors.
The reality is that the Jets do not look to be dramatically better for fantasy football for at least this initial season under Saleh. There’s an unsettled quarterback situation that is likely to end up relying on a rookie learning a new scheme along with the rest of the offense.
There are currently no running backs with any fantasy value and even after they add one or more backs to upgrade, the scheme is not one that will just hand the ball off to the same guy 24 times every week. It will be a committee backfield with rushers, third-down backs and receiving backs.
The passing scheme under LaFleur is likely to be just as diverse as the 49ers used. That means the mediocre crew of wideouts are even less likely to see one player step up and dominate short of drafting a first-round wideout. Even then – the passing game will be a work in progress.
There’s value in a dynasty vein this year, but the league’s worst offense in 2020 doesn’t project to make much progress in their first season.