Ready, set, rookie: New York Jets' prized draft class must provide fast help

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:

1. The unveiling: Five months ago, the Jets were the talk of the NFL. General manager Joe Douglas received widespread praise for his draft, which included three first-round picks. Those draft report cards are long gone, and now it's time for the highly anticipated unveiling.

While the depth chart shows only two starters, including injury-replacement Max Mitchell at right tackle, the reality is that four, maybe five picks are expected to have significant roles in the season opener against the Baltimore Ravens. Coach Robert Saleh said they have "a full set of draft picks rolling out on Sunday," meaning all seven will be active for the game.

This is a big moment for the franchise. "Like opening a new box of golf clubs," said Saleh, a golfing enthusiast. They need more than participation snaps out of their top picks; they need production.

"There will be rookie moments," Saleh said, "but the one thing I will tell you is they will play their absolute tails off."

A closer look:

• CB Sauce Gardner: He has top-notch cover skills, using his length to envelop receivers in press coverage, but can he tackle? We'll find out quickly, as the Ravens employ a physical rushing attack that likes to attack the perimeter. The Jets expect the Ravens to go after him. Gardner, a starter from the moment he was drafted fourth overall (even though it didn't become official until Aug. 28), will be challenged mentally more than physically -- i.e., route and formation recognition. Typical rookie stuff.

Gardner famously didn't allow a touchdown pass in college. You can bet quarterback Lamar Jackson might have something to say about that.

• WR Garrett Wilson: He will be part of a four-man rotation at receiver, capable of playing inside or outside. Drafted 10th overall, Wilson is ideal for the Jets' West Coast offense because of his run-after-catch ability. Scouts say his lower-body skill is dynamic, allowing him to change direction and accelerate quickly. He did have a handful of drops in training camp, something to keep an eye on.

"Personally, I know I can impact the game," Wilson said of the opener.

• DE Jermaine Johnson: It was a quiet preseason for the 26th overall pick. He played well against second- and third-teamers but struggled against the better offensive linemen. He's a backup, that much we know, but his exact role is unclear. Where does he fit with eight veteran defensive linemen on the roster?

It's conceivable they could dress nine, even 10 for this game. That would be a departure from last year, when they went with eight in 16 out of 17 games. Because of his length and speed, Johnson is "built for this" particular opponent, according to defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. Johnson was a top-10 player on the Jets' draft board; something is wrong if he's not an immediate contributor.

• RB Breece Hall: The second-rounder already is regarded as one of the most physically gifted players on the team. He's smooth and graceful, capable of being a three-down back. Everybody wants to know if he will be the RB1 ahead of incumbent Michael Carter, whom offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur calls the "heartbeat of the offense." Look for a 50-50 split, but that will eventually shift in Hall's favor if he lives up to the Jets' scouting reports.

As for the rest of the picks, Mitchell (fourth round) is forced to play because of Duane Brown's shoulder injury. The plan was to "redshirt" Mitchell for a year, but that got junked. This could be a long day for him. TE Jeremy Ruckert (third) and DE Micheal Clemons (fourth) are backups. Ruckert still is in catchup mode after missing time with a foot injury. Clemons has exceeded expectations, but he's buried in a deep rotation.

2. Sad starts: The Jets are due to win a game in September -- and that's an understatement. They've lost 12 straight since winning their 2018 opener (Sam Darnold's first game), one shy of the league's longest losing streak for August/September games. The New Orleans Saints (1994-1997) and St. Louis Rams (2007-2010) both lost 13 in a row, according to Elias Sports.

"Everyone is aware of the old narrative that surrounds the Jets, not having won a game in September in so long and not being a winning organization," DT Sheldon Rankins said. "Guys are excited to go out and not necessarily prove naysayers wrong, but to show everyone to a man in here that we're right about what we expect ourselves to be."

3. This one's for dad: DE Carl Lawson will experience a lot of emotions Sunday. For one, it's his Jets debut, one year later than expected because of his Achilles injury. The best part, he said, will be having his father in the crowd. Carl Sr., a kidney-transplant survivor, nearly died last year because of COVID-19 complications. He spent nine weeks in the hospital.

"I thought I was going to lose him a while ago, right when I signed my contract," Lawson said. "I thought, 'Dang, he might not get to see me play as a Jet.'"

This will be Lawson's first regular-season game in 617 days.

4. Hard lesson: Like it or not, Zach Wilson will be tagged with the "injury prone" label until he proves he can stay healthy. By the time he returns from his knee scope, he will have missed at least three games for the third time in the past four years. He missed four games last season (knee sprain) and four games at BYU in 2019 (thumb fracture). He also had shoulder surgery before the 2019 season, but that didn't cost him any games.

The Jets like to chalk it up to bad luck. Wilson can help by playing smarter, but he scoffed at the notion that his most recent knee injury was caused by reckless play. That contradicted Saleh, who said Wilson "100%" should've run out of bounds on the fateful play. Wilson should listen to his coach.

5. King of the North? The Jets open with four straight games against the AFC North. No quarterback knows that division better than Joe Flacco. The former Raven made 61 starts against the AFC North from 2008 to 2018, more than any quarterback over that span.

6. Revolving QBs: Flacco will be the Jets' seventh different opening-day starter in the past 11 seasons. Wow. Just wow.

7. Lamar Streveler? Practice-squad QB Chris Streveler, preseason legend, played a key role in Ravens prep: Because of his running ability, he was the scout-team quarterback and simulated Lamar Jackson for the starting defense. "A fun week," said Streveler, who's had a fun few weeks in helping the Jets to an undefeated preseason record.

8. Just for kicks: When it comes to kickers, the Jets and Ravens are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Ravens are the model of consistency with Justin Tucker, their kicker since 2012 and one of the best in history. He was featured last week on the CBS news magazine "60 Minutes," which is about how long a couple of the Jets' recent kickers lasted on the team. Where have you gone, Kaare Vedvik and Alex Kessman? They were one-gamers in 2019 and 2021, respectively.

All told, the Jets have gone through seven kickers since 2019. Next leg up: Greg Zuerlein, who is with his third team after entering the league the same year as Tucker.

9. Season prediction: The Jets will be a fun team to watch later in the season, when the schedule is more favorable and their promising young players mature, but there will be growing pains early on, especially on offense. This feels like a 6-11 year, which won't be as bad as it looks if Zach Wilson shows significant improvement upon his return.

10. The final word: "He's kind of like Bill Nye the Science Guy. He's just very calm." -- Saleh on Flacco