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

From my perspective, preseason games are really about evaluating individual players rather than the team as a whole. The final score doesn’t matter. Usually, teams don’t game plan or optimize their lineups. However, players may show hints of future success or worrisome signs.

There are numerous reasons why an exhibition game can be important to a player. Before tonight’s game against the Falcons, I want to give you some Jets to watch and assign them a preseason cliché role.

Top pick who looks like a rising star: Sauce Gardner

Robert Saleh was noncommittal in a recent press conference about whether his starters will take the field tonight. One would imagine that Zach Wilson’s injury on a non-contact play early in the preseason and a forecast of possible inclement weather at the Meadowlands could make the coach fit to sit the first string.

If the starters play, Gardner will be a player worth watching. He had a strong preseason debut against the Eagles and has all the tools to be a defense-changing cover man. We’ll only get a glimpse of him until Week 1, but it might be worth remembering.

The young player who wants to take the next step: Quincy Williams

By any measure, Williams was a very successful waiver claim last year. Don’t expect a player waived by the Jaguars to bring any kind of value. Williams stepped into the starting lineup and had several strong games.

It was pretty inconsistent, though. Aggressiveness that led to bone-rattling blows also led him out of position.

For their part, the Jets have expressed high hopes for the former Alabama linebacker. The question is whether he can channel his aggression better. The first preseason game was disappointing in that regard, as Quincy committed a bad penalty on a late drive and took a bad angle on another play that led to a missed field goal attempt.

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

The mid-round pick that looks like it could be a player: Michael Clemons

Clemons appeared in his preseason debut living in the Eagles’ backfield. Now this should be expected on some level. Clemons is old for a rookie and has upside against fringe roster players.

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

It’s easy to get carried away by Clemons’ expectations, but at the very least he looked like a player who could provide value in a rotation. We’ll see if that continues tonight.

The rookie who will likely get his only significant playing time in the preseason: Jeremy Ruckert

An injury or two at tight end could certainly change things, but Ruckert’s plan this year seems to be to learn in training camp and develop there. The Jets have bigger plans for him in the future, but he’s a developmental player.

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

His first game was solid as he scored a touchdown. Can you build on it?

The disappointing first-round pick who might 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 bleak for him right now. It’s clear the coaching staff has been less than enamored with him since he took over a year ago. His game against the Eagles got off to a favorable start as he made a pair of drive-stretching receptions. However, a fall followed.

It’s also worth noting that Mims was the seventh Jets receiver to take the field in the game. This is possibly a sign of where it is.

This low on the depth chart, Mims may have to make plays on both offense and special teams to stick. Time is running out to make an impact.

The possible odd man out in a numbers game: Jabari Zuniga

To be honest, you could probably give Zuniga the same title of early disappointment as Mims. After all, he’s already been cut and relegated to the practice squad.

Still, he’s made his case for a roster spot with a strong training camp and early preseason layoff.

The problem is that the Jets have a crowd at defensive end. There may not be room for Zuniga, no matter how much he plays. Drafting Clemons as the new middle development tight end could have guaranteed Zuniga’s demise.

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

The fourth string quarterback who gets too much love from the fan base: Chris Streveler

There’s an old saying that the most popular player on the team is the backup quarterback. Like Matt Simms before him, Streveler’s work late in preseason games against practice squad talent shows that the true hottest player resides further down the depth chart.

Meanwhile, Streveler was the quarterback with a game-winning record last week. He has shown ability as a running back both with the Jets and in the CFL.

By the way, though?

It looks like a major work in progress. Going by his attempts last week, I’m not sure there was anything overly impressive about what he did. Most of the pitches he has completed are the types of pitches you should expect even a practice squad facing flabby quarters.

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 spot on the practice squad, though.

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