There are just two weeks to go before the 2021 NFL Draft and our latest edition of “32 NFL Mock Drafts in 32 Days” features the New York Jets. This year’s edition of US Sports’ oldest draft event, set to begin on April 29th in Cleveland, Ohio, will be marked by an overabundance of quarterbacks in the early stages of the first round. Apart from the consensus top pick, Trevor Lawrence, who is almost guaranteed to be the next Jaguars’ starting quarterback, there are at least five other playmakers that are projected to land a first-round deal. Furthermore, there might be even more teams seeking new a QB, with the Jets being one of them.
However, New York has a much clearer path than any other team not named the Jacksonville Jaguars. After a historically disappointing campaign that saw the Jets finish last in their division with a record of 2-14, the club’s lone consolation was the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The decision to settle on a quarterback was much more dramatic than it seems right now, though. The Jets’ roster has many shortcomings regarding a variety of positions and units different than the quarterback post. These include wide receiver, running back, cornerback, among others, while Sam Darnold turned in a fairly solid three-year stint in charge of the Jets air raid.
However, on April 5th, New York, headed by general manager Joe Douglas, traded their former starter to the Panthers, clearing the path for one of the draft’s five top quarterbacks. As of now, this is projected to be BYU’s Zach Wilson, a pocket passer that would have a high ceiling, although the team will remain drastically unbalanced.
Even though this decision is very questionable in hindsight, there’s no turning back from the inevitable path of new head coach Robert Saleh taking up the development of a rookie quarterback. Still, the Jets aren’t running out of needs and holes in their roster, even after a steady free-agency period. The better part of New York’s ten picks during the three draft days could turn out quite important. Therefore, the 2021 Jets draft performance could have notable repercussions beyond the first day of the event.
Jets 2021 NFL Mock Draft: Day One
1.02 | Zach Wilson | QB | BYU
It is important for this statement to not come across in the wrong way. The Jets will waste resources by trading Sam Darnold and replacing him with Zach Wilson. Wilson is highly unlikely to be marginally better than Darnold in the near future, especially as the now-Carolina Panther gets closer to his prime. Moreover, selecting Wilson is at the expense of a top player at a position of need for the club.
Getting Zach Wilson essentially means New York is giving up any efforts to stop the bleeding or even compete in the next one-two years due to the increased time that they’ll need to bring balance to their deprived roster. However, that definitely doesn’t mean that Zach Wilson is untalented, by any means.
During the first two seasons of his Brigham Young collegiate tenure, Wilson’s performance left a lot to be desired. Across eighteen combined games as the Cougars’ starting passer, the Utah native completed just 64 percent of his passing attempts. Furthermore, Zach Wilson posted an accuracy figure south of 65% in both campaigns. Considering the regression that his transition to the professional game will amount to, this would have been a red flag had it been a trend that spanned over the entirety of his college career. Perhaps he would have never been valued that highly by NFL front offices. The 2020 season changed that, however.
In 12 games with the Cougs, Zach Wilson’s numbers skyrocketed during the 2020 NCAA season. Over career-high workload and average throw distance, his completion percentage grew in a shocking fashion to 73 percent. Moreover, his interception percentage and his passer rating both improved significantly.
As accuracy is the clearest component when it comes to a passer’s efficiency, Zach Wilson’s statistical accomplishments, which ranked second in all of NCAA, have placed him as one of the best pocket passers in this year’s draft class, if not the best. That represents a welcome addition to a Jets air raid that consistently neared the bottom-three of the league in most major categories. Yet, as frequently noted, even if he has a historically productive inaugural campaign, he can only do so much better with the current state of the New York Jets’ receiving corps.
Joe Douglas’s philosophy of addressing an inexistent problem instead of filling in the holes of the Jets roster will always be counter-productive, holding the franchise back, and could be the highlight of the talk surrounding this selection for a long time. However, now that there are virtually no alternatives to this move, Zach Wilson is not only the best the Jets have on the table but a quarterback with great NFL potential.
1.23 | Azeez Ojulari | OLB | Georgia
Now that they have selected what’s likely to be sold as the “QB of the future”, the next move for the Jets in this NFL Mock Draft would be to finally get their severe issues under control. Let’s quickly summarize these: wide receiver, pass-rush, cornerback, safety, running back, tight end.
Depending on how high players like Jaylen Waddle and Greg Newsome II end up, the best option left for New York would be to choose from amongst a number of high-profile edge-rushers available at this point of Round One.
From the “Big Five” of pass-rushers in the first round, this draft order projects four of these prospects to be on the draft board as soon as the Jets hit the clock with the 23rd pick. The only exception happens to be Miami’s Jaelan Phillips, who learns his NFL destiny at No.18.
Nonetheless, even when you add in Phillips, Georgia outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari remains the most productive edge-rusher of the five. After making a quiet start to his Bulldog career in 2018, Ojulari was one of the most dominant pass-rushers in the Southeastern Conference over the next two seasons. In 2019, the Austell native put on 5.5 sacks in eleven appearances for Georgia while making 33 total tackles. Azeez Ojulari followed that up with another steady increase, this time to 9.5 sacks and 31 tackles in one game fewer, mostly due to the shortened schedule SEC teams played in 2020.
Although this might not be their biggest need, the Jets’ problems in the pass-rushing department were avid during the 2020 NFL season. With just 31 sacks, New York finished the year as the 12th-worst team as regards putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The push to fix this unit is already underway with Carl Lawson‘s three-year, $45-million deal. If the Jets remain with a 3-4 formation upfront, Azeez Ojulari might be more suitable to be the edge-rusher from behind while Lawson stays as a part of the front three.
With the current roster, however, it seems likely that a change to 4-3 could come. In that case, Ojulari would be a defensive end on the edge alongside Lawson.
Moreover, Joe Douglas could also down another path and select a wide receiver with the 23rd overall pick. Some very impactful names are bound to be on the board at that point, with notable examples being Kadarius Toney, Elijah Moore, and Rashad Bateman. However, it seems like there is more receiving talent than pass-rushing for NY’s next pick, No.34. Therefore, that way they will be capable of addressing both woes in the most satisfying way possible.
Jets 2021 NFL Mock Draft: Day Two
1.34 | Rondale Moore | WR | Purdue
The receiving corps was one of the units most responsible for the historic downfall of the 2020 Jets. This offseason, the team got off to a fast start, acquiring not one but two pass-catchers that promise to be a regular part of the air raid. Corey Davis and Keelan Cole provide both quality and depth to the Jets’ shorthanded receiving core. However, the work isn’t done, with the group being in for a weak campaign in its current state. Moreover, the Jets would want the best support around rookie QB Zach Wilson, so upgrading the corps as early as possible is crucial in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Last winter, New York’s offense finished as the third-worst in the NFL in terms of passer rating and completion percentage. Also, the unit was second in fewest yards conceded through the air. A perfect candidate to improve that group is a pass-catcher some people refer to as “the steal of the draft”. That is Purdue wide receiver, Rondale Moore.
The reasons for the lack of positivity surrounding Moore are very avid and obvious. However, so are the indications that he was as productive when on the field as any collegiate WR in the past three years.
Moore turned in a terrific performance during the 2018 season, with NCAA-leading 114 catches over an average distance per reception of 11.7 yards. However, he struggled to stay healthy over the next two years, appearing in just seven games and racking up 64 receptions.
Rondale Moore hasn’t proved himself since that astonishing campaign back in 2018. However, college receivers’ track records have been indicative that a heavier workload translates to pro success, and Moore has had that going, giving credibility to his numbers, whether in a full year or over the limited playing time that followed. That makes him undervalued as a prospect projected to find a team in the second round.
3.66 | Paulson Adebo | CB | Stanford
Despite his expected position as a third-round pick, Paulson Adebo‘s numbers and evaluation set the bar high for him in the NFL. Again, like Moore, teams might have given up on him as an option earlier due to the 2020 season he missed with an injury. Nevertheless, he had already put on a very pleasant performance during the previous two seasons that could earn him suitors.
Back in 2018, Adebo had a very fruitful year, posting 17 defended passes (PD), the third-best in all of NCAA Division I, and four interceptions, the third-best number within the Pac-12. Furthermore, Adebo followed that up by putting on 10 PD and conference-leading four interceptions in 2019. The former achievement meant that he finished his career with the ninth-most passes defended in the Pac-12 since 2005, despite not playing in 2020.
It is very apparent that the Jets have a glaring need for secondary help and, particularly, for a new cornerback on the outside. This past season, the Jets secondary surrendered the fourth-highest team passer rating, as well as the third-highest completion percentage and the fifth-most air yards.
New York’s fifth-round pick last April, Bryce Hall, made some very encouraging appearances in 2020. Therefore, he and Blessuan Austin currently stand as the team’s two best options on the outside. Both were solid last year with allowed passer ratings in the 90.0-range. However, they lack any sufficient depth beyond newcomer Justin Hardee so Paulson Adebo could be what the unit needs on the outside.
3.85 | Hunter Long | TE | Boston College
Despite adding former Bills’ tight end Tyler Kroft in free agency, the Jets made it clear that they want more options behind Chris Herndon at the position in the depth chart. That will come via the middle, or late, rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Hunter Long spent three years with Boston College, providing a breakthrough performance in the last of those campaigns. With 57 receptions over 11 games in 2020, Long was the tight end with the most catches in Division I of the FBS this past winter. Compared to 2019, when he also appeared in eleven games, his workload marked a growth of 104%.
The Eagles prospect is by far the best tight end at that point of the 2021 NFL Draft, as well as one of the best players at TE in the whole event.
Jets 2021 NFL Mock Draft: Day Three
4.107 | Deonte Brown | G | Alabama
After the change that saw the Jets offensive line acquire a new look last summer, a weak campaign quickly brought the group back to reality. The most problematic assets of that unit – guards Alex Lewis and Greg Van Roten, could be shown the way out of 1 Jets Drive in favor of former Chargers guard Dan Feeney.
While Feeney is experienced and proven at the professional level with strong performances in recent years, these last-minute changes could lead to subpar decisions, especially if Joe Douglas releases both of last year’s starting guards for New York. However, even if one of them stays, the Jets could use some depth and development potential behind Feeney.
Deonte Brown perfectly fits that description. According to Pro Football Focus, he didn’t allow a single sack across 916 snaps with the Crimson Tide. He was incredibly reliable with Alabama and promises to have a high ceiling come NFL time.
5.146 | Javian Hawkins | RB | Louisville
In 2020, the Jets had the seventh-worst running unit, producing merely 4.1 yards per rushing attempt. This offseason was thought to be a fitting platform for an overhaul of the unit. However, Joe Douglas’s only upgrade in that department was Tevin Coleman on a one-year, $2-million contract.
Javian Hawkins could be a welcome addition to one of the league’s least productive ground-game units. Hawkins has been a regular part of the Louisville offense since 2019. That means a heavy workload but he has been able to stay efficient and put on prolific figures, with his success now being credible due to that workload. In 2019, the Titusville native averaged 5.8 yards across 264 runs, following that up with an average of 6.2 on 133 attempts the next campaign.
These are not only impressive figures but also very consistent on an annual basis. That will make for the team adding a very productive running back to its woeful rushing unit.
5.154 | Richard LeCounte III | S | Georgia
The acquisition of LaMarcus Joyner has settled the discussion on the opening at safety in the Jets secondary. However, it still lacks depth insofar that it could undergo the same suffering as last year. The only real alternative is former third-round pick Ashtyn Davis, who had an abysmal 2020 rookie campaign.
Richard LeCounte III played our seasons for the Bulldogs, with his peak occurring during his sophomore and junior years. In both campaigns, LeCounte made 14 appearances and had at least 60 total tackles. Furthermore, these seasons combined for 6 passes defended in that span while LeCounte intercepted four passing attempts in 2019.
Despite playing just five games in 2020, LeCounte established himself as wildly consistent during his collegiate tenure. Another advantage he possesses, per The Draft Network, is his ability to adapt to a variety of defensive schemes.
6.186 | Shi Smith | WR | South Carolina
The Jets could be looking to further strengthen their shorthanded air raid. That’s why the sixth round of this NFL Mock Draft sees their second selection at wide receiver in Gamecock standout Shi Smith.
During the 2020 NCAA season, Smith’s 57 catches placed him inside the top 25 of Division I. He also had at least 40 receptions in each of the previous two campaigns. Moreover, Smith has succeeded as a short-game weapon that has averaged a little over 11 yards per reception over his South Carolina stint. While the Jets already have the majority of their pieces to complete that transition to a more intermediate-distance focus in the air raid and could better use a downfield weapon, less risk is better in that instance than a WR with a lighter workload, therefore a lack of credibility to his role.
The concern is that, technically, Smith could wind up in the same situation as Denzel Mims, who shifted to a deep-threat role despite his intermediate post in Baylor and failed to deliver. Even then, however, Smith, as a sixth-rounder and a pass-catcher further down on the depth chart, will have fewer targets and, if he doesn’t succeed, these struggles will impact the Jets offense less in the big picture.
6.226 | Grant Stuard | MLB | Houston
The last pick of this Jets 2021 NFL Mock Draft is an inside linebacker, which New York would need if they elect to remain in a 3-4 defensive scheme.
The Houston prospect moved to linebacker from safety before the 2021 NCAA season and had another solid year. Grant Stuard posted a display of 61 total tackles, a year after recording 97 as a safety. Furthermore, TDN particularly notes that he would best fit a 3-4 formation, which could be the case if the Jets select an OLB type of edge-rusher like Azeez Ojulari earlier on in the event.
2021 Jets NFL Mock Draft: Recap
With ten picks over the three draft days, the New York Jets have enough draft capital to address all of their needs. That applies to quality and depth issues alike. Furthermore, while using a pick on a quarterback is fundamentally disappointing, Zach Wilson could very well turn out to be the best quarterback in that draft class, both in the short term and down the road. However, unless the Jets provide him receiving support and take care of their other woes, his addition will only amount to so much improvement, result-wise.
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