The New York Jets were one of the most closely observed teams heading into the 2021 edition of the NFL Draft. Clubs that have early picks in the first round rarely turn in surprising high-end selections. However, not only did the inaugural draft day witness some unexpected moves on the Jets side but they also had second-most picks on Saturday, giving them huge control over the low-end portion of the prospect list. That combination promised to make the recap for the Jets 2021 NFL Draft highly anticipated and deserving of detailed analysis.
New York started by drafting another asset sold as “the quarterback of the future”. Regardless of the long-term outcome of that gamble, it is certain to bring one thing to 1 Jets Drive – a new era of NYJ football. If it is going to be dedicated to justified hope or the “Same Ol’ Jets” chants, only time will time. Furthermore, general manager Joe Douglas followed that up a deal for the 14th overall pick and a huge addition with his only selection on Day Two. The third day saw NY draft seven players – including two Michael Carter’s and three safeties.
This year’s edition of the Jets draft wreck train was not a complete dumpster fire but rather had its highs and lows. Nonetheless, Douglas’s draft was neither boring nor uneventful, with fruit for thought as a vital leftover.
Jets 2021 NFL Draft Recap | Day One
1.02 | Zach Wilson | QB | BYU
This one was never in doubt. When the Jets “snatched” the second overall pick in early January, it was apparent that the race for the runner-up position behind Trevor Lawrence was down to Zach Wilson and Justin Fields, quarterbacks of Brigham Young and Ohio State, respectively. That was despite the alternative opinion that the Jets’ primary issue wasn’t this post at all. Moreover, as time passed, the Jets made their decision in favor of the second-most accurate passer in 2020. They even reportedly had multiple interviews with Wilson, way before the Panthers acquired Darnold in mid-April.
The quality of the prospect and his talent ceiling remains the same. The impact remains the same. And, most importantly, the sour trade-off remains the same. In other words, nothing more to add to what we wrote in our Jets Mock Draft, a part of OTH’s “32 NFL Mock Drafts in 32 Days”:
“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 shockingly 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.”
Grade | A-
(TRADE: Jets trade picks No.23, No.66, No.86 to Minnesota for picks No.14 and No.143)
1.14 | Alijah Vera-Tucker | G | USC
Joe Douglas and his staff had to do much maneuvering to get to the 14th spot. Firstly, prioritizing the guard position makes a lot of sense amidst the struggles of both Alex Lewis and Greg Van Roten this past campaign. Their new backup racked up lengthy experience as a left tackle against his name for the 2020 USC Trojans and was previously utilized as a left and right guard. Secondly, moving up is also the right move – just one offensive lineman was drafted after that point on Day One. Therefore, the class wasn’t awfully deep and Douglas took advantage of the best he could have.
On the other hand, this deal leaves concerns as regards what had to be given up to receive that 14th pick. New York sent both of its third-round selections to the Vikings. That effectively kept just a single second-rounder (No.34) for the Jets on the second day. They would go on to use that to acquire wide receiver Elijah Moore, who is going to be a subject of a deeper breakdown later. Also, the 143rd pick, a part of the trade with Minnesota, was further sent to Las Vegas.
The main problem is the tools that were used to take care of secondary issues. Holes in the team’s roster, such as cornerback, safety, and defensive interior, were all addressed in the last three rounds of the third day. Had the Jets kept the 66th and 86th picks, they would have got much better players to fill those holes. Instead, such acquisitions usually end up as untalented and rather difficult to rely on, which is self-explanatory by their place on the draft board.
One would argue that our Mock Draft balanced out this arrangement to a much more satisfying outcome. It featured a corner, a tight end (not even touched on this past weekend), and a guard drafted with three consecutive selections in the third and fourth rounds.
Nevertheless, should we get rid of the hypotheticals and the utopias, the scenario Joe Douglas put into action wasn’t dramatically worse. It did a great job to give the Jets offensive line, which still lacks stability, a noticeable boost. “When the numbers speak, even the gods keep silence” – New York’s OL allowed 43 sacks across sixteen 2020 games, the ninth-most in the league.
Finding an answer so early in the draft to such a severe need is still a fairly positive development. Especially when it comes by virtue of the highest-ranked guard in the 2021 NFL Draft – and the only player considered as an inside lineman in the whole Round One. In 2020, Alijah Vera-Tucker was an honorable mention for All-American and a first-team all-Pac-12. This came just a year after the Oakland native was a third-team All-American and a second-team All-Pac-12 in his first season as a regular member of the Trojan O-Line. Lastly, his versatility is also great news to a Jets offensive line that isn’t immune to risks on the exterior with George Fant and Mekhi Becton.
Grade | A-
Jets 2021 NFL Draft Recap | Day Two
2.64 | Elijah Moore | WR | Ole Miss
From our preview of the Jets’ first draft day:
“If DeVonta Smith has the makings of a successful receiver and is highly thought of, Elijah Moore has a similar outlook at a contrastingly different position in the first round. Moore ranked second in receptions in NCAA in 2020 with 86 catches, did that in just eight games, and made a name as a consistent short-game threat (13.9 yards per reception).”
During the campaign that saw New York finish among the five worst teams in nearly every offensive passing metric of significance, receiving was a much bigger problem than both the quarterback post and even the coaching. This past offseason, Breshad Perriman, who turned in a horrible display in 2020, departed in free agency, leaving yet another opening. This couldn’t have been a more convincing sign to Joe Douglas that now is the time to invest in pass-catchers.
The Jets did just that in a very impressive manner when the free-agency period got underway across the league in mid-March. Douglas managed to acquire one of the most solid wide receivers last season and one of the most improved in the last three years. That was former Titan Corey Davis. Moreover, Keelan Cole was brought in to ensure depth.
The upgrades to the team’s receiving corps surely provide much better weaponry to their new passer, Zach Wilson. However, with Jamison Crowder and Davis leading the charge, the puzzle was missing its final pieces. Beyond them, there weren’t any greatly reliable pass-catchers with high ceilings. Denzel Mims was poor in his rookie campaign. Meanwhile, Cole has never posted more than 55 receptions and had a catch percentage north of 62% just once – across his least busy year (2019).
Despite the notable addition of Corey Davis, the options before the then-unknown leader of NY’s air raid weren’t nearly as deep as needed. That was until Elijah Moore became its newest member after being the only draft pick for the Jets on Day Two.
As already mentioned, Moore’s tremendous potential on the professional level has been widely discussed. In spite of his incredible figures with the Rebels, not only did he not stay in the mid-first round but dropped to the early goings of the second round. He has reliability comparable to great forces of this year’s draft class, such as Smith himself. Furthermore, he shares the same strengths and trends as other recent WRs who tend to succeed, at least early on in their careers.
Elijah Moore was second in receptions within the NCAA in 2020, trailing only the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. He accomplished that just a season after ranking within the top 50 in catches in his sophomore campaign. All signs point to Moore having been able to sustain that efficiency throughout more than just a single season – he turned it into a tendency and, to a certain extent, a characteristic. Therefore, his workload is what makes him reliable heading into the NFL level. It is difficult not to identify Elijah Moore as one of the most undervalued wide receivers in this year’s NFL Draft.
Grade | A+
Jets 2021 NFL Draft Recap | Day Three
4.107 | Michael Carter | RB | North Carolina
The Jets’ need for ground-game help cannot be exaggerated or overstated. Last winter, New York’s running unit gained just 4.1 yards per rush. That was the seventh-worst mark in the National Football League. Moreover, as they head into the 2021 season, their only asset in that department is newcomer Tevin Coleman, brought in on a one-year deal.
If Joe Douglas manages to turn the ruins of that unit into a solid and productive unit, this could represent huge support for Zach Wilson’s passing unit, easing the workload and keeping both groups efficient.
UNC’s Michael Carter does serve as an adequate answer to that problem. Carter has averaged 5.7 and 8.0 yards per carry, respectively, in his last two campaigns with over 150 carries in each. He split the workload with Javonte Williams for most of the time.
However, North Carolina’s offensive play selection was extremely lopsided, with the running unit being the second-most used in the ACC in 2020. Furthermore, Michael Carter’s numbers indicate he will have little difficulty being productive, as long as he is used in a stable. Of course, it would be wise for the Jets to inquire for another one of the remaining FA running backs to provide more options for candidates to be featured in such a faction.
5.146 | Jamien Sherwood | S | Auburn
With the second pick of the fifth round, the Jets get an asset to fill a severe hole at safety alongside Marcus Maye, who they have been rumored to be trying to lock into an extension. Perhaps it would have been wise to stop here. However, Joe Douglas and his staff would go on to draft not one but two other players at the same post.
As for Jamien Sherwood, he still seems like the best prospect out of the three. In 2019, he recorded 43 total tackles, following that up by an improvement to 75 the following year. That included 44 solo tackles – a number that led the SEC in 2020.
5.154 | Michael Carter II | S | Duke
Since his debut for the program four years ago, Michael Carter II has put on 23 passes defended. That places him 24th amongst all players in the Atlantic Coast Conference since the beginning of the 2005 season. Furthermore, he recorded more than forty tackles in each of his past two campaigns for the Blue Devils. Overall, he is a very solid safety both in passing coverage and playing in the box, though not as good as Sherwood. At least not as far as the former component goes.
However, it is hard to see the point of drafting another safety, let alone after you’ve just selected one eight picks prior. It’s very puzzling at that point.
5.175 | Jason Pinnock | CB | Pittsburgh
In four seasons for the Panthers, Jason Pinnock totaled 19 passes defended and ranked fourth within the ACC in interceptions with three during the 2020 season. He doesn’t seem to be a cornerback with aspirations much higher than just sticking on a roster for the immediate future. Starting games is almost completely out of the equation. However, Pinnock does still address the shortcomings in the Jets secondary behind starting outside corners Bryan Hall and Blessuan Austin.
Drafting a corner so low means one more important thing though. The team now has to either re-sign top nickel Brian Poole or get a replacement from the market.
6.186 | Hamsah Nasirildeen | S | Florida State
“In a true 2021 draft surprise, the Jets have selected their third safety on Saturday. Their struggles last year were avid, with Bradley McDougald and Ashtyn Davis putting on disappointing campaigns. Even now that the former Seahawk is gone, Joe Douglas already addressed this opening with Lamarcus Joyner. Therefore, it is confusing trying to find Douglas’s point in drafting three safeties on Day Three.
Hamsah Nasirildeen had three tremendous years in FSU before an inactive 2020. To be precise, he registered more than 90 tackles in two of those seasons. Moreover, Nasirildeen finished his Seminole career with nine passes defended.”
6.200 | Brandin Echols | CB | Kentucky
From “2021 NFL Draft Day 3 Recap: Sixth Round Pick-By-Pick Analysis”:
“Brandin Echols has played just two campaigns on the NCAA Division I level but the former of those was very satisfying. During the 2019 SEC season, Echols ranked sixth with nine passes defended. Moreover, he has posted 54 tackles in each of these two seasons.
New York’s need for depth in the cornerback department has been widely documented and perhaps cried for help earlier in this draft. The Jets allowed the fourth-highest passer rating in coverage, as well as the fifth-most total air yards and the third-highest completion percentage.”
6.207 | New York Jets | Jonathan Marshall | DT | Arkansas
From “2021 NFL Draft Day 3 Recap: Sixth Round Pick-By-Pick Analysis”:
“The Jets’ defensive ground against the run was one of the most adequate in the league for a long time. However, the exit of Steve McLendon in a mid-season trade challenged their status. Nonetheless, Marshall is unlikely to be a part of the battle for a starting spot for the jobs currently dedicated to Sheldon Rankins and Quinnen Williams in the heart of the Jets’ 4-3 defense.”
Day Grade | B+
Jets 2021 NFL Draft Recap | Overall Assessment
Grade | A-
The bitter start that was bound to occur really did occur. As everyone expected. Nevertheless, the rest of the Jets 2021 NFL Draft was very solid and assured top upgrades at many positions of need, such as guard, wide receiver, even safety, and running back. If you further disregard the selection of three different safeties on Day Three, the Jets accomplished a lot and made some noticeable progress, at least on paper.