The 2021 NFL Draft is now complete. While we will not know the true value of the players the Jets chose for years, that inconvenient fact won’t stop pundits from weighing in with immediate Draft grades.
As always, understand that these projections seldom age well. Thus they are stupid…unless they praise the Jets.
New York Jets: A-
Top needs: CB, OL, RB
The Jets are another team in the early stages of a rebuild, and with two first-round picks and an extra third-round pick, they had the capital this weekend to find a few immediate starters. Let’s start with the quarterback: I’ve been open about how much I still believe Sam Darnold can be a good player — I would have ranked the 23-year-old as the No. 2 quarterback in this class, ahead of new Jets pick Zach Wilson (2). Darnold got a raw deal in New York, which surrounded him with a poor offensive line and some of the worst pass-catchers in the league. That can’t happen again if Wilson is to succeed.
Give general manager Joe Douglas credit for getting three picks for Darnold, and now this class is going to be defined by Wilson’s career. Wilson took a monumental leap in 2020. He has a rocket for a right arm. Some of the off-platform throws he made last season were special. He also played a cupcake schedule, though, and I wouldn’t throw him into the fire immediately next season. He needs some time, and I hope he’s not rushed. I do think he can become a great player in time.
Douglas & Co. prioritized help for Wilson with their next two picks, taking my top-ranked guard, Alijah Vera-Tucker (16), and No. 4 wide receiver Elijah Moore (34). As I noted after Day 2, that means the Jets ended up with three prospects inside my top 16 overall. That’s tremendous and is part of the reason this grade is so high, though they did have to surrender a third-round pick in the Round 1 trade up to get Vera-Tucker. Wilson already has better weapons to throw to and a better offensive line than Darnold ever had in New York.
Fourth-round pick Michael Carter (107) was my best available prospect headed into Round 3, so I love that pick. The 5-foot-8 back carried the ball 514 times in four years for the Tar Heels and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. He should be in the rotation as a rookie. The Jets went with five total defensive backs on Day 3, and safeties Michael Carter II (154) and Hamsah Nasirildeen (186) are the guys who stick out for me. Get them on special teams early and see if they can carve out a role on defense. They had a nice Day 3, one of the best in the league.
Just looking at the roster again, I was surprised Douglas didn’t target a corner before Round 5, but he also lost a pick moving up for Vera-Tucker, so that probably keeps this from being a solid A. Jets fans are not going to remember this class for the front office’s inability to take a Day 2 corner, though, so if Wilson turns into a star, all will be forgiven. I really like what they did overall.
New York Jets
Total Grade: B
Day 1 grade: B+
Day 2 grade: A-
Day 3 grade: C
Analysis: Wilson has an outstanding physical skill set that could translate into an outstanding career, though he will always be compared to fellow draft classmates Justin Fields and Trey Lance. The Jets traded up to the middle of Round 1 for Vera-Tucker, a very good lineman who will have to prove he was worth the price they ultimately paid the Vikings. Moore could be a playmaker in 2021 and beyond, but Javonte Williams would’ve been an excellent pick at No. 34. Although they passed over Williams, they did snag his former UNC teammate in the fourth round. They got solid value on the RB, who could’ve been a late-second-round, early-third-round pick.
Sherwood is a tough-minded safety who will plant ball-carriers, even if his athleticism is not exceptional for the position. Cornerback became a priority on Day 3, with the team picking up Duke’s Michael Carter and Pinnock. More secondary picks (at the expense of other needs) came with Nasirildeen, whose medicals (knee) caused his draft stock to drop, and Echols. The Jets failed to draft a pass rusher this weekend, however, which could be an issue, unless they find real value among the undrafted free agents.
New York Jets
It’s hard to not like what the Jets did this weekend. Wilson has a dynamic skill set that both raises the floor for this team’s offense in 2021 and gives that unit the chance to reach an elite level in the future. Vera-Tucker is a plug-and-play guard who can line up next to Mekhi Becton and solidify the left side of the line. Moore is one of my absolute favorite players in this class, a receiver with sure hands, high-end athleticism, and natural instincts after the catch. And Carter represents great value in the fifth round, as he’s an elusive back with jitterbug quickness. New York has its quarterback of the future―and the makings of a strong offensive nucleus to surround him.
Day 1: One year ago, no one could have foreseen Zach Wilson being the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. But here we are. The BYU quarterback had a breakout 2020 campaign that saw his PFF grade shoot up from 80.5 as a freshman and 76.2 as a sophomore in 2018 and 2019, respectively, to a stunning 95.4 mark.
The Jets have thrown a lot of resources at their offensive line already, but they haven’t come close to completing the rebuild yet. And they were smart to acknowledge that with another first-round pick. Trading up to make it happen harms the grade on this pick, but Vera-Tucker is an excellent player, ranking 21st on PFF’s Big Board. He was an excellent tackle at USC, earning an 89.2 PFF pass-blocking grade on true pass sets last year. He could potentially play right tackle or guard for the Jets.
Day 2: The New York Jets take Elijah Moore, who ranked 22nd on the PFF Big Board heading into the draft. Moore is a prototypical super-slot receiver. His floor will likely allow the Jets to replace Jamison Crowder for a lot less money, and his ceiling is an ability to succeed on the outside in a similar manner to other small receivers, such as Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin in Seattle. Moore helps revamp New York’s receiving corps for new quarterback Zach Wilson.
Day 3: Instead of reaching for a running back on Days 1 or 2, the Jets addressed the position in the proper way by waiting until Day 3 to take Michael Carter here at Pick 107. He’s an incredibly small player, but his cuts, balance and overall athleticism helped him put up monster numbers. Since 2018, Carter ranks second to only former teammate Javonte Williams among FBS running backs in percentage of runs picking up a 10-plus yard gain (21%). In 2020, Carter joined Alabama’s Najee Harris as the only back to rank inside the top 10 in both rushing and receiving grades.
Draft Grade: A
Are the New York Jets back!? It sure looks like it. Maybe not in 2021, but general manager Joe Douglas had a heck of a weekend. Zach Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore, and Michael Carter form an exciting offensive core for the future.