The start of the 2021 NFL Draft season could probably be tracked to late September for most Jets fans. After a brutal, uninspiring and just outright horrendous start of the 2020 season, the offseason couldn’t come fast enough. So for over a half a year, Jets fans became more familiar with this draft class than any other, despite the fact that the pandemic tried everything in its power to take that away (cancelling conferences, delayed starts, opt-outs and no Combine). Regardless of everything that stood in the way, we persisted and tried to learn what we could about this impending rookie class. Now that it is officially in the past, it feels odd, but how did the team do in comparison to standards that the fan base had set months prior?
1.2 QB Zach Wilson, BYU
The name connected to the Jets the entire real draft process is now officially a member of the organization. Every person affiliated with the Jets in some way, shape or form has talked about Wilson at nauseam but that is just the new found hope taking over. Obviously Wilson was not on many radars before the 2020 season. His sophomore season took a bit of a hit after an impressive freshman campaign in 2018, but a lot of that can be blamed on the rehab of the surgery on his torn labrum, not to mention also dealing with a thumb fracture, which caused him to miss a month of that season. Because of this, Wilson has been considered a “one hit wonder” in the eyes of some, but the tape tells a different story.
With everything clicking and getting back to normal, physically, this past season, Wilson looked every part of a top two selection. Regardless of the schedule he had to go against, his traits looked elite. His arm is next level and accuracy to all levels of the field looked better than most entering the draft. Not to mention his athleticism out of structure, a lightning quick release and playing in an offense that was similar to what they would run in New York, which will only help. By no means is Wilson a bust-free prospect, he has a smaller build, he can escape from clean pockets and a gunslinger mentality can potentially hurt him just as much as hit helps him, but the upside he brings to the table is among the best. If he is a football junkie, like those close to him have said, and he has the demeanor to get through the turbulence that is the New York media, he should be more than okay because his physical skill will take him a long way in and of itself.
For those that wanted the team to stick with Darnold and to use this selection on Pitts or Sewell or a trade down, I get it. Building a team is often the right way to go about having continued success and after what had happened to the last several quarterbacks this team has selected in the first two rounds over the last 15 years, it’s understandable. However, Wilson will be stepping into a much different and better situation than those of the past, minus Sanchez. The offense is looking immensely better, on paper, than in 2018. The General Manager actually wants to put assets into the offensive line, which is a huge change of pace from the last couple regimes. Robert Saleh is not just an offensive or defensive coordinator, he legitimately feels like a head coach that wants the best for both sides of the ball. Last but not least, the draft capital this team has in the future does not compare to what they have ever had, since the 2000 draft. Whether or not you liked Wilson it should not matter, while his talent and potential are great he is not being looked at as the savior from inside the building; this organization is going to lift him up, not the other way around.
1.14 OG Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
If you have been following me on here, twitter or on Play LIke a Jet Live, you should know by now how much love there is for Vera-Tucker coming from this direction. The hope was for him to somehow fall to 23 but it did not look like it was going to be possible with how the draft board was falling. The top two tackles were off the board by 13, Teven Jenkins was obviously seen to be a lower prospect than anticipated after falling to the 39th pick, leaving just Christian Darrisaw as the only other offensive line prospect expected to go between 14 and 23. With how it was looking, Joe Douglas decided to be bold and show conviction, grabbing a top 10 player on his board by trading up with the Vikings. With this move, they moved on from 23, 66 and 86 to receive the 14th pick along with a fourth rounder (pick 143).
Regardless of what anybody says, this was a great move by Douglas and company. Not only do they get a top player in their mind, but likely the best player at his position and a vital piece in rebuilding the offensive line for the new rookie quarterback; all while keeping all five selections they possessed in the first two rounds of this and next year’s draft. Obviously only time will tell whether or not it worked out for the Jets, but on paper there is not a single person that can call this a poor trade, unless they really just did not like the player.
It’s tough not to like what you can get from Vera-Tucker. He is a versatile lineman who has shown the talent to play either tackle or guard position and in today’s NFL that is massive. He will line up at left guard for the time being, but there is no telling how the team will view him 12-plus months from now. On top of the versatility the former Trojan brings, his athleticism and attitude that matches his new partner in crime, Mekhi Becton, just in a much smaller body. That will help him in the run game but Vera-Tucker is very sound in pass protection too. He continuously shows good hand work, foot quickness and a strong lower body to not collapse the pocket on his quarterback.
With Zach Wilson coming into town as the second quarterback the team has taken in the top three since 2018, getting assurance on the offensive line by taking the safest lineman available was the smartest thing to do, even if it did mean missing out on a couple round three picks.
2.34 WR Elijah Moore, Ole Miss
“With this draft, if you have the name Elijah, I like you.” Those were the wise words spoken by yours truly just a couple weeks ago on Play Like a Jet Live with Luke Grant. This was in reference to me wanting Elijah Moore on this Jets team after discussing that same thing about Vera-Tucker. It seems like my dream had come true, but not only mine, the Jets as well.
If you try to decipher what Douglas and Robert Saleh have said when speaking about Elijah Moore, it seems as if the former Rebel was the initial target at 23 if not for the trade up to 14. So still seeing him on the board at 34 made the decision fairly simple in the War Room in Florham Park, despite having multiple offers to move back in round two.
Moore brings more to the table as a receiver than any young Jets receiver has since the early 2000s. His speed, quickness, route running, hands, yards after the catch are all top notch. In hindsight, it is actually crazy that he did not get selected any higher than this. Sure, his height could have been an issue and the fact that he is not the strongest guy in terms of play strength, but Moore is one tough S.O.B. Showing that he will lay his body on the line over the middle of the field, which is scary but great to see out of a pass catcher. The comparison to Antonio Brown (on the field) has been used quite a bit these last few months and getting anything remotely close to that may be the biggest steal in the draft. But I would settle for prime Santana Moss, another player he’s often been compared to.
4.107 HB Michael Carter, North Carolina
After trading away Sam Darnold, Douglas understood he could not allow Wilson to go through the same situation as his last signal caller. After going offense, offense following the selection of the quarterback, it seemed like defense could be the next pick. Jabril Cox was there for the taking and we know how badly Saleh needs athletic linebackers in his system. However, getting another body in the backfield was even more important, especially considering that the widely considered “HB4” was somehow still on the board. Carter was expected to go sometime on day two, but luckily for the Jets, only two running backs came off the board in between Moore and 106.
No need to go into the depth at the position again, but it was not good, to say the least. Even though Carter comes in as a fourth round pick, he should instantly become the top running back on the roster. The two big things this offense is going to need is vision and explosiveness. Obviously there is more to being a good back than that but those are two of the more primary traits needed and Carter has both. His vision may have been the best in the entire class and he was considered the “lightning” to Javonte Williams’ “thunder” at North Carolina. Standing slightly under 5’8 is not ideal, especially in terms of pass protection, but what it also means is that he naturally keeps a low center of gravity allowing him to bounce off some tacklers, which he proved true over his time as a Tar Heel.
Adding someone of Carter’s caliber in the fourth round is an absolute win, especially when you now consider that this could be four long term starters on the offense in four picks. Despite not having 66 and 86, you could not ask for much better than this start.
5.146 LB Jamien Sherwood, Auburn
The run on defense starts here round five. With the deficiency at cornerback us fans had expected the first defensive pick to go in that direction but they threw us for a bit of a loop by going after a college safety who will be moving closer to the line of scrimmage at the next level. Saleh has already announced Sherwood as a linebacker and we can expect him to be competing for some legitimate playing time right away, considering that the depth is currently non-existent behind the “starting” three: CJ Mosley, Jarrad Davis, Blake Cashman.
Sherwood was a large safety standing at 6’2 220, but it remains to be seen how the coaching staff will want his body type transitioning to linebacker. With some added weight, you would expect his speed to subtract which takes away a little bit of what the staff liked about him, despite the fact that he only ran a 4.75 40 yard dash at his pro day. He may not be the greatest athlete but he is one heck of a tackler. Sherwood squares up his opponents and drives into them successfully taking them down far more often than not. Worst case scenario, he should be a big piece on the special teams, which will be a theme in this draft class. Off the field though, Sherwood has been spoken of very highly in terms of leadership and the quality of person he is, something Douglas is a very big advocate of.
5.154 CB Michael Carter II, Duke
There will be no lying here… I did not know Michael Carter II. I knew there was another player of the same name as our new running back, but that was it. In my mind this was the second “safety” they have taken in a row, according to NFL Network on Saturday. Initially this looked like a pick that made no sense on paper but after educating myself on “Tha Carter II” (work in progress), it may have been an absolute steal.
Despite being listed as a safety when he was drafted, it makes much more sense that Carter II plays nickel more so than any other position when looking at the current roster. Like myself, Saleh loves the versatility Carter II brings to the table, playing nickel, safety and outside corner but his size (5’10 184) may limit him a little bit. The speed and athleticism stands out right away but what was the most impressive was the stickiness in man coverage and ball production (28 PBUs in three years). In coverage he remained square and patient at the top of the route and was consistently able to flip his hips and keep up with his man.
With the team deciding not to pick up ANY new cornerback up to this point, Carter II should get every opportunity to get serious playing time. Considering Javelin Guidry, who was an undrafted free agent last season, is the only player slated to play inside, it is not a far fetched idea to potentially have five rookie starters within the first six selections.
5.175 CB Jason Pinnock, Pittsburgh
Here is the first legitimate option to play an outside cornerback position. Not to say he will or should be in consideration for real playing time, but he fits on the outside better than Carter II and as we mentioned, there have been no new cornerbacks brought onto the roster so far, which means backup spots are available for the taking. Pinnock was another player I was not familiar with when the name was announced but just like with the last two, that changed quickly.
One takeaway is that he is another dog added on the defensive side of the ball. Pinnock, just like the last Pitt Panther corner the Jets drafted, was very physical in the run game, while being efficient at the same time. This screamed special teams to me, especially when you consider the fact that he runs a 40 yard dash in the 4.4s. Another reason special teams may be his path early on is the simple fact that he is not ready to play defense in this league. His man coverage needs some work or else fans will not like him very much, which nobody wants. The big defensive back tends to get worse the further away from the sidelines, allowing his opposition to take the inside with relative ease. Pinnock’s foot quickness is not on par with quicker receivers and he tends to fall a step behind very early on in the route because of it. However, if you want to throw him in cover three situations or just zone in general, that would be his best fit. But man coverage in year one, you are asking for disaster.
6.186 LB Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State
Entering 2019 and even pretty far into the 2019 season, Nasirildeen was seen as a potential first round pick and likely top 50 selection. However, his torn ACL at the end of that season put those dreams on hold. He decided to return to school in 2020, catching the last two games of the year against Duke and North Carolina State. People may not realize how incredible it was not just to come back, but to come back when it meant absolutely nothing for him. It speaks volumes about his work ethic and his character that it only made sense for the team to bring him along when he fell to this point in the draft.
Like Sherwood, Hamsah was a college safety who has been announced as a linebacker for this team by Coach Saleh. He too was a large defensive back standing at 6’3 215 who also has tremendous length with 34 and half inch arms, longer than many offensive linemen. Being a linebacker, the former Seminole will be expected to be around the ball more often than a safety, but he is no stranger to that, collecting over 100 total tackles in 2019, over 20 in one game alone. Not that he will be playing the MIKE position moving forward but more likely copying the role of Foyesade Oluokun, who Jeff Ulbrich coached in Atlanta. Having the whole offseason completely healed from his 2019 injury should hopefully get him back to his pre-injury form and show why he was a highly touted prospect before it happened.
6.200 CB Brandin Echols, Kentucky
The defense is getting a large infusion of youth in this draft, not like it was old in the first place. As I mentioned in my Post Draft Free Agent piece earlier this week, this cornerback group is only consisting of guys with two full years of service or less, not counting special teams ace Justin Hardee. Echols is likely at the bottom of the totem pole but he comes with a high upside and according to Dane Brugler from The Athletic, the highest of the entire rookie group.
Echols is maybe the best pure athlete in their incoming rookie class. His 4.35 40 stands out but it’s his 42.5 inch vertical and nearly 11.5 foot broad jump that shows how good of an athlete he really is. Unfortunately, Echols may not have room to make the roster in year one but if he can show the ability to provide immediately on special teams, it will be tough to allow him to hit the waiver wire to get to the practice squad. If he does stick with the team, he along with Pinnock will need to work on his man coverage skills. It did not seem to need as much work but it’s that he looks more comfortable with his eyes towards the quarterback. Hopefully that style would allow him to get back that ball production he left behind at his JUCO before joining Kentucky.
6.207 DT Jonathan Marshall, Arkansas
Would it be a New York Jets draft if they didn’t select a defensive tackle? Obviously the front office is completely different from when they normally did this type of thing but the point still stands. This selection, while not what was expected, is actually a very reasonable and a solid choice. Yes, they could have targeted defensive end, tight end, kicker, offensive line or another receiver and get more bang for their buck in the short term, but good teams draft with the bigger picture in mind.
John Franklin-Myers, Nathan Shepherd and Foley Fatukasi are all on the last year of their contracts. Sheldon Rankins signed a two year deal but could easily be cut following the season with less than one million in dead cap. With those four all being question marks after the year, the team is in need of some depth and Marshall is the perfect late round choice to take the chance on.
The one year starter from Arkansas was relatively unknown for most of his career but really took it to another gear with nearly 30 pressures this past season to go along with six and a half tackles for loss. Marshall has plenty of things to work on such as his play strength dealing with double teams, attacking with a plan and keeping his eyes on the football. But some of the traits he brings cannot be taught. His relative athletic score was a 9.99 out of 10, the second highest a DT has ever registered in over three decades. High end athleticism is extremely important at the position and now that he can be in a more attacking position in this four man front rather than being a block eater, it should really open things up for him. Unfortunately for him, unless one of those names above go down or if Shepherd gets the boot earlier than expected, Marshall will likely ride the pine or be a part of the practice squad in year one.