Jets’ moves already paying big dividends in areas of need

It’s satisfying when a plan comes to fruition, when goals are set and met.

The Jets, coming off a 4-13 season with much to improve upon, targeted areas of weakness and attacked them in what appeared — on paper, at least — as a productive offseason.

This, of course, guarantees nothing in the way of improvement. But, through four games, there’s evidence that the Jets hit on a key number of areas for improvement, that the moves are paying dividends.

A quarter of a season does not make an entire season, but the sample has been impressive as the Jets (2-2) enter Sunday’s game against the Dolphins at MetLife Stadium with a chance to climb over .500 for the first time since they were 3-2 in 2017.

The Jets, first and foremost, needed to improve the back end of their defense, which last season employed some players who probably should not have been on any NFL roster.

They used their top draft pick (No. 4 overall) to select cornerback Sauce Gardner. They, too, signed cornerback D.J. Reed, who’d played for two winning organizations before coming to the Jets after stints in San Francisco and Seattle.

That cornerback tandem has become a centerpiece of a Jets defense that’s ranked 10th overall in the NFL — months after finishing the 2021 season ranked last in the league.

Sauce Gardner breaks up a pass.
Bill Kostroun

You can already see Gardner has star quality, possessing what looks like lock-down ability — a skill that will be tested in a big way Sunday against Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill, perhaps the best game-breaker in the league with 31 receptions for 477 yards and two touchdowns.

Through four games, according to Pro Football Focus, Gardner has been targeted 19 times and yielded nine receptions for 101 yards and no TDs. He has five pass breakups and a quarterback rating of 81.3 on passes thrown his way.

Reed’s numbers are even more impressive, with 18 targets and eight completions for 73 yards and no TDs allowed. He has one interception, two pass breakups and a quarterback rating of just 37.9 against him.

The Jets, too, needed better safety play, so they signed Jordan Whitehead, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Buccaneers, and brought back Lamarcus Joyner, who missed almost all of 2021 with an injury.

Those two got off to slow starts, responsible for some miscommunication in the secondary on scoring plays, but in Sunday’s 24-20 win in Pittsburgh, they combined to pick off three passes.

Interestingly, the Jets’ strength defensively entering the season was in their deep defensive line, and that group hasn’t even been the best of the defense this season.

“I said it last week that we’re much better than we were a year ago, I do believe that,’’ head coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “I think it does show on the football field. The back end, our corners are doing a nice job on the outside and our safeties … those safeties showed up big [against the Steelers]. They took a lot of shots on our safeties and those two guys came down with three interceptions.’’

Garrett Wilson makes a catch against the Steelers.
Getty Images

Another area that desperately needed improvement was at offensive skill positions, particularly receiver.

The Jets used another first-round draft pick (No. 10 overall) on receiver Garrett Wilson, who at the very least has inserted himself in the conversation for NFL Rookie of the Year. Wilson has 20 receptions for 255 yards and two TDs, which has him on pace to finish with 85 catches for 1,084 and nine TDs.

He’s been as dynamic as he’s been dependable and is anything but a diva at a position often dominated by them.

Wilson gives the Jets a player on offense they haven’t had in a while — someone who concerns opposing defensive coordinators.

Tight end Tyler Conklin, a free-agent addition, also has given the Jets something they haven’t had in a long time — a pass-catching tight end. While Conklin has had his hiccups with some drops and fumbles, he’s caught 21 passes for 192 yards and a TD, numbers the project to 89 catches for 816 yards at season’s end.

For context, the Jets’ entire tight end group in 2021 combined to catch 46 passes for 469 yards.

The Jets are far from a finished product, but they’re a far-improved team from a year ago in the key areas in which they targeted in the offseason.

Now, with their new toys, the Jets have a chance to make a case for themselves as possibly the second-best team in the AFC East (after Buffalo) with a win over the Dolphins on Sunday.

Indeed, much has changed for the Jets since last season. Much good.