Joe Douglas has officially put his stamp on this iteration of the New York Jets. With Woody Johnson realizing that the Adam Gase era was perhaps the worst the franchise has seen since the turn of the 21st century. Also understanding that the Darnold experiment failure was as much on the Jets as it was the young QB, he was determined to ensure that the supporting cast was solid. He hired a defensive-minded coach whose scheme was the main reason for the 49ers dominance in 2019, then injected the defense with talent, specifically along the defensive line. Douglas moved quickly to add names like Carl Lawson, Sheldon Rankins, and Vinny Curry. Giving the Jets, and more specifically Robert Saleh, a plethora of talented defensive lineman to get after the QB.
Couple this with an equally aggressive approach on offense, the Jets quietly have built a solid foundation around their new heir apparent. There was some risk to their acquisitions, Corey Davis was pedestrian until AJ Brown arrived, Keelan Cole’s production has never matched his talent, Morgan Moses is past his prime, and Tevin Coleman was a talent 5 years ago. Perhaps solid QB play and a strong supporting cast around these additions will help to mask their deficiencies, but it will take something that the Jets have been searching for the last 60 years, a viable signal caller. Let’s start our Jets draft grade analysis.
BYU QB Zach Wilson (Round 1, Pick 2)Embed from Getty Images
Any doubt that New York would be taking Wilson was removed when Sam Darnold was shipped off, so the only question leading up to the Draft was whether he would be worth the 2nd overall selection. We’re not too far removed from the anointment of Sam Darnold, where he exhibited many of the same attributes as the guy taken this year. They both came out a year early (Darnold as a sophomore, Wilson as a junior), both of them had a very good season sandwiched between more average ones, and both exhibited elite-level physical tools.
Were there better guys that could have helped New York at some weak-spots? Absolutely, this would have been an intriguing landing spot for a guy like Kyle Pitts or Penei Sewell. However, the Jets are trying to build a new identity and you can’t do that without a franchise QB. This isn’t without some risk though, Zach Wilson was a 1-year wonder at BYU, his freshman and sophomore years totaled less touchdowns and equal amount of yards than his breakout season. If he is an elite talent, shouldn’t he have dominated at BYU all 3 years? It’s not like they were in a powerhouse conference, they play in the Independent League and didn’t face the more notable schools in college.
With that said, it’s not like he’s walking into the same situation Darnold did 3 years ago, New York has a defensive-minded HC who came from a system that emphasized running the football, he has talent and depth at the skill positions, a defense that was pretty good at stopping the run, and he actually has some talent in front of him to block. He’s not going to burst onto the scene like Justin Herbert did for LA, instead his path to success will be similar to “the Sanchise”. He’ll be asked to not make mistakes while the defense and running game will be asked to bear the brunt of the workload. A solid start to our Jets draft grade.
USC IOL Alijah Vera-Tucker (Round 1, Pick 14)
This was a necessity, the Jets struck gold with Mekhi Becton at the top of last year’s draft, but they had little around him. Vera-Tucker offers them a physical, high-upside lineman that can play inside or outside, which became a great asset after the Jets brought in Morgan Moses. In fact, I found this to be a great value pick, Vera-Tucker was clearly the top IOL in this year’s class and most definitely would not have been available to them at 23.
They had to give up two additional 3rds to get him, but there was a steep drop-off at the position after him, so the ends justified the means. Vera-Tucker will offer the Jets a valuable player who has the physicality and power to move guys in the running game, with the athleticism to handle stunts and twists in the passing game. The left side of that offensive line is going to be very difficult to deal with on outside zone runs, something that Robert Saleh was very familiar with in San Francisco. It was imperative to improve the guys in the trenches, otherwise Wilson would have been coerced to make the same mistakes that doomed Darnold.
In fact, three of the top defenses in the AFC are within their division, so having someone that can hold their own will be key to the Jets turning it around. I would even go as far as to say that I would expect Vera-Tucker to have more of an impact on the 2021 Jets season than Zach Wilson. He may not get the accolades, what offensive lineman ever does? However, Wilson and New York’s success will be impacted greatly on whether Vera-Tucker is a hit or miss.
His success will allow the Jets to slide protection (i.e. double teams, tight ends, etc) towards the defense’s left. Which will help immensely on play-action bootlegs and roll-outs, giving Wilson ample time to find his targets open down the field. Really great pick and a boost to our Jets draft grade.
Ole Miss WR Elijah Moore (Round 2, Pick 2)
I absolutely loved this pick and value for the Jets, in a loaded WR class, Moore slipped out of the 1st round because of the caliber of players that could be had later in the draft. Instead, the Jets pounced on him immediately to provide Zach Wilson with two players underneath who can create instant separation and make the tough catches over the middle. Does this make Jamison Crowder expendable? Yes, but why not give Moore someone to learn from who has carved out a nice career in the slot.
Moore is electric with the ball in his hands and offers the Jets an element that they currently do not employ on their roster, explosiveness. Corey Davis, Keelan Cole, and Denzel Mims make their money on the outside. YAC isn’t really their forte. Jamison Crowder is a lightning bug over the middle and has the ability to make guy miss, but he’s built more in the likes of Wes Welker, a chain mover. So having a guy like Moore on the roster who can take a 5 yard slant and turn on the jets (no pun intended) to go 30+ yards is great starting point for Zach Wilson.
Now, Wilson doesn’t have to feel like he has to make the plays for his teammates, he can be patient and let Moore do his thing in the open field. This will cut down on mistakes and force defenses to play up near the LOS rather than sitting two safeties back to cover the deep boundaries. The amount of possibilities that Moore unlocks for this offense is endless, he’s a great talent who landed on a team that has a solid foundation being built. The less you ask out of a rookie, the more you get in return.
Could this finally be the foundation that the Jets finally build a perennial contender with? Or are we looking at a repeat of history where the anticipation almost always eclipses the on-field product. The value is there, Zach Wilson was the 2nd rated QB in a very good class, Vera-Tucker was the top interior offensive lineman, and Elijah Moore would most certainly be a 1st rounder any other year. The Jets did well to add impactful talent while addressing needs on the offense, hopefully it translates to the football field.