In his latest NFL draft Q&A, Sam Crnic delves into the draft’s deepest position groups and the New York Jets’ options with the 23rd pick.
Following the conclusion of the Senior Bowl and Super Bowl 55, all 32 teams are starting to finalize their positions of need and big board for the 2021 NFL draft. This year’s draft will put an unprecedented amount of emphasis on the film. In addition to numerous players and teams opting out of the 2020 season, many pre-draft events such as the NFL Combine have been canceled due to the health uncertainties surrounding COVID-19.
While the primary point of discussion amongst most draft experts has been the talented quarterback class, the 2021 draft class features a variety of talented prospects across the board. That’s good news for the New York Jets, who are seemingly in need of help at almost every position.
Going off of a few great questions I was given on Twitter, this Q&A digs deep into some of the options for the Jets in various potential scenarios throughout the draft. I’ll be doing plenty more Q&A sessions throughout the next few months, so make sure to shoot me your questions on Twitter.
Let’s hop right into it.
What position has the most depth in the 2021 draft class?
Just like last year, the 2021 NFL draft’s deepest position is wide receiver.
However, I would like to elaborate that it is not just the wide receiver position but the skill positions in general that have a lot of depth. This year’s running back class offers so much upside in all seven rounds, and at the top, it’s led by a couple of star-caliber prospects in Alabama’s Najee Harris and Clemson’s Travis Etienne.
For WRs, you can argue the 2021 class is even deeper than 2020 which featured the likes of Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb and Chase Claypool. Talented playmakers in this year’s class like Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle are only a few of the best names in what could be a WR-heavy draft.
Going beyond the obvious names and touching on the depth of these two positions, let’s discuss two unheralded RB and WR prospects who I believe can provide high value in the middle rounds.
Buffalo RB Jaret Patterson
The Maryland native is best known for his eight-touchdown performance against Kent State in which he also totaled 409 yards on the ground. Measured at 5-foot-9, 195-pounds, Patterson has a low center of gravity paired with impressive hip drop when cutting. It was rather hard for defenders to catch up to Patterson in the open field.
While I don’t see Jaret as a workhorse or three-down type back, he could be sufficiently used in the passing game where he’s given the opportunity to showcase his impressive footwork and agility. Even as a committee back, Jaret has the skillset to be an effective change-of-pace shifty runner that has become so popular in the NFL. Using his lack of size to his advantage, Patterson is one of the more elusive RBs in the draft and was a challenge to bring down at Buffalo.
Sheesh, vicious cut in a phone booth!! Jaret Patterson possesses some of the best footwork in the class!!
— Damian Parson 🏈 (@DP_NFL) November 20, 2020
Louisville RB Javian Hawkins
When scouting high school prospects, Louisville is one of the best at bringing in pure speed playmakers. Hawkins is a perfect example of that.
Only a redshirt sophomore, Hawkins is an electric player in the backfield and has the blazing speed to make any run a house call. Like Patterson, Hawkins is another undersized back who lacks the physical traits to be an every-down RB in the NFL. Ideally, Hawkins’ NFL team would utilize his quick change-of-direction in a horizontal-style offense that uses jet motion and outside zone. I love how quick and elusive Javian is with every step.
— ACC Football (@ACCFootball) October 24, 2020
To get more value out of selecting him, I would love to see Hawkins more involved in the passing game, especially with route running. He averaged only 2.0 catches per game in 2020. We’ve seen UCLA RB Demetric Felton tear up the Senior Bowl by translating his short-area quickness into impressive route-running ability, and I believe Javian has that same potential. The NFL values versatility more than anything in RBs, which should favor Hawkins in the long run if his new team is smart enough to give him the chance to shine as a pass-catcher.
UAB WR Austin Watkins
After watching his film at the Senior Bowl, I had to include Watkins as one of my favorite mid-round WRs of the draft. His practice reps in Mobile reminded me a lot of Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley. Originally from the JUCO ranks, Austin transferred over to UAB where he quickly became a star. There’s just a lot to love about this guy from a technical point of view.
Looking at the clip below, Austin is such a smooth route runner when transitioning from his breaks. Even with sub-par QB performance at UAB, I loved his ball-tracking and catch adjustment in relation to his defender.
UAB WR Austin Watkins runs the Post-Corner route. Chops through the jam, sells the first break on multiple steps with his eyes. Quick/flexible enough to pull off the double move. Really like how he plucks the ball out of the air and ticks. Good habits #SeniorBowl pic.twitter.com/ODZC40ED4q
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) January 28, 2021
Watkins has excellent agility and vertical separation ability. His knack for seamlessly dropping his hips and accelerating off his break-foot is what makes the Florida native such an intriguing under-the-radar prospect heading into April.
Wake Forest WR Sage Surratt
A 2020 opt-out, Surratt showed more than enough in 2019 to become a potential late Day 2/early Day 3 pick. Nothing in his athletic profile will “wow” you, but how he uses his body structure to his advantage translates very well to the NFL. The former high school basketball star is one of the more physical receivers in the draft, frequently boxing out defenders to win positioning for the ball. Fair to say, he learned that from all those years of boxing out defenders for rebounds. Not only is he a highly physical player, but he showcases impressive hands, rarely dropping contested balls.
Sage’s lack of athletic prowess will definitely limit his draft stock and overall prospect upside, but I feel as though there’s more to him as an overall prospect than people think. Think Minnesota Vikings WR Adam Theilen’s journey to the league. While Thielen lacks in athleticism, he’s one of the best route-runners in the league regarding separation off the line of scrimmage, and because of that, he has still been
Beautiful Sluggo Sight Adjustment from Wake Forest WR Sage Surratt
⚡️ Three Step Slant & Go
🛑 If the Corner Bails – Sit It Down! pic.twitter.com/kAkg0p5M2u
— Coach Dan Casey (@CoachDanCasey) April 13, 2020
Would you rather have a quick separator on your offense or a WR who can only use his athleticism to beat defenders over the top? Ideally, you want both of these to spread a defense out. This is why a WR like Surratt is still a valuable piece in a league that’s begun to heavily favor WRs with elite athletic traits.
I’m really high on Sage because of not what he may occasionally do deep down the field, but because of the consistency he can bring to an offense down the stretch when the team needs someone to get open.
How would you rank the Jets’ positions of need at the 23rd selection?
Generally speaking, there are six positions of need (not including QB) I could see the Jets addressing at the 23rd spot. There are certainly some positions with more depth than others at this point in the first round, but I’ll go off who I think has a good chance of dropping.
Here are my six possible positions for the Jets to target at No. 23, ranked from “of most importance” to “of least importance”.
No. 1: Cornerback
I’m putting defensive end at No. 1 if South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn doesn’t drop to the 23rd selection. If he does, it’s a no-brainer pick despite whoever’s left on the board. Horn is my third and final first-round grade CB after Alabama’s Patrick Surtain and Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley and would be a steal if somehow dropping out of the top 20. He would be the perfect Cover 1/Cover 3 corner in Jets’ head coach Robert Saleh’s 4-3 defense. In addition, he fits the physical build and play-style of Joe Douglas’ past history of signing or drafting CBs.
Away from outlandish trades that probably won't happen, Jaycee Horn's tape continues to be fun. Rarely nice play here v Devonta Smith
Really smooth out of his backpedal, steadies himself and doesn't get to catch point early, uses his long arms to punch the ball out. pic.twitter.com/BZCZUJhBWS
— Nicholas McGee (@nicholasmcgee24) January 8, 2021
The Georgia native is known for his length, size, and overall aggressive nature. What I love about Horn is his non-stop competitive motor that allows him to match up with anyone on the field. Jaycee’s unique physical build is best displayed in press coverage, where he uses his length to his advantage in stunning opposing WRs at the line of scrimmage.
If the South Carolina product is not available at the 23rd spot, it would be a reach to take a CB here, and I would put off the position until the 34th selection (second round).
No. 2: Defensive End
Unlike CB, there are many options regarding edge rushers at the 23rd pick.
If the Jets switch to a 4-3 defensive alignment, I would immediately look to Miami DE Jaelan Phillips or Miami DE Gregory Rousseau if either is still available. Both offer fantastic physical upside and can be developed into dynamic pass rushers. While intriguing options persist in the second round such as Wake Forest DE Carlos Basham Jr. and Pittsburgh DE Patrick Jones, the Jets haven’t had a consistent edge threat in 15 years and need to attack the position as soon as possible if they like a specific prospect.
Unlike years before, there’s no clear-cut standout edge rusher(s) in the 2021 class. The value, in my opinion, lies in the overall depth, where a lot of stylistically-different prospects are grouped in the later rounds.
Despite the position’s depth, the Jets can’t make the mistake of missing out on yet another great edge threat in the draft and have to strike as soon as they can. Pairing a rookie DE with a proven 5-tech like the Saints’ Trey Hendrickson or the Bengals’ Carl Lawson could create a dangerous front four come 2021.
No. 3: Offensive Line
If it wasn’t for the talent-deprived Jets defense, the need at offensive line would be at No. 1. Whether that be offensive tackle, offensive guard, or even center, anything would help in protecting a new rookie QB in a year one of an offensive structure.
As for tackles, my personal favorite choices at the 23rd selection would be Oklahoma State OT Teven Jenkins or Michigan OT Jalen Mayfield. Those tackles would be the best two options with Penei Sewell, Rashawn Slater and Christian Darrisaw going top 20. If the Jets still like George Fant entering 2021, Teven or Mayfield can be put at guard as well with their athletic and powerful body types.
RT Teven Jenkins pic.twitter.com/NTDjBTD4mP
— Erik Turner (@ErikJTurner) February 3, 2021
As for offensive linemen I’d take in the first round, with the intention of playing them at guard in year one, USC OT Alijah Vera-Tucker and Ohio State OG Wyatt Davis come to mind. Vera-Tucker has played every tackle or guard role besides RT in college which would shy me away from starting him there in his rookie season. With Mekhi Becton already solidifying himself as the franchise’s star LT for years to come, Vera-Tucker’s best role on the Jets would be at guard early on.
Wyatt Davis is the draft’s best true guard based on his 2019 and 2020 tape. A highly physical yet laterally quick offensive lineman, Davis could be an immediate high-level starter in the NFL with how few holes there are in his game.
No. 4: Wide Receiver
If the Jets won more than just two games in 2020, I’d consider WR at 23 much more than I do right now, but being as talent-deprived as they are, the Jets have bigger, more premium needs to address before thinking about a wide receiver this early.
Additionally, this WR class is much too deep to even consider taking one in the first round unless the need for one is dire, and it is not for this team (especially if they spend big on a WR in free agency). While we’ve all heard of how talented guys like Kadarius Toney, Rashod Bateman, and Terrance Marshall Jr. are, the value lies in attacking WR in the later rounds. Intriguing mid-round options – including the already-discussed Sage Surratt and Austin Watkins – offer more bang for the buck.
Rodgers is one of my favorite WR prospects coming out of the draft this year based on how consistent he was at Clemson. In addition, I loved how strong his tape was in terms of his ability to make the most out of every opportunity he had with the ball in his hands.
When a specific position has a notably deep class, as WR does this year, it’s better to wait on attacking that position knowing you could grab a first-round-caliber player in the second or even third round. If you need an example of that, just look back to Denzel Mims last year.
No. 5: Linebacker
Look, a linebacker isn’t the prettiest option at the 23rd selection, but the Jets need a couple if transitioning to a 4-3. In a defense with multiple weak areas, off-ball linebackers are one of them. I would have had this position ranked higher if it wasn’t for the lack of first-round quality prospects. As of now, I see there being two different options at 23: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Zaven Collins.
Owusu-Koramoah had a phenomenal 2020 campaign and should be considered the second-best LB in this draft class behind Micah Parsons. One of the most versatile LBs you’ll see on tape, the Notre Dame product split his snaps in many different areas of the field. According to PFF, Owusu-Kormoah spent 47% of his snaps in the box or defensive line while spending 53% at slot corner, outside corner, or even free safety. Owusu-Koramoah is a multi-purpose weapon that Saleh could have a lot of fun with as a chess piece.
Speaking of multi-purpose, Collins can seamlessly fit into any LB role that’s asked of him. You can even line him up on the edge! The redshirt junior won both the Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik awards in 2020, making a mark as one of the nation’s best players on the defensive side. As in the video below, you see Collins making plays from all over the field including some impressive chase-down efforts. Zaven has a unique combination of speed, hip fluidity, twitch, and vision of the field which serves him well in coverage, run fits, and pass rushing.
A prospect I'm especially excited about?
Tulsa LB Zaven Collins (#23).
— Sam (@samcrnic) January 24, 2021
It’s hard to believe Owusu-Koramoah will be available at the 23rd pick, but Collins has a much better chance of getting there. If he does, it will make the conversation even more enticing.
No. 6: Running Back
Post-Le’Veon Bell, it’s time for more short-area and open-field speed at the RB position. It’s no secret that the Jets need more talent in the backfield which makes picking a RB in the first round even more intriguing.
Like WR, though, the value lies at attacking this position in the later rounds where plenty of talented options will still prevail. While both Najee Harris and Travis Etienne have star potential in NFL and should be considered to go late or even mid-first round, neither back should be of interest to the Jets at No. 23 based on how many premium positions are still in need of being addressed.
I’d like to go over one of my personal favorite RBs who could go as early as the second round. That prospect would be Michael Carter. The UNC product is among quite a few exciting prospects in the next tier of RBs after Harris and Etienne, which could be the Jets’ best bet in finding a talented post-round one RB if they do not want to wait all the way until Day 3.
Only standing at 5-foot-7 and 7/8 inches, Carter is known for his elusiveness and wiggle in tight spaces, especially in the open field. While watching his tape against Miami, I couldn’t help but notice how explosive and decisive he was in the backfield. Whether working on the inside or to the outside, Michael impresses with a non-stop motor which results in more contact balance than one would think for his size/weight combination. With 82 career catches – second-most in UNC history for a RB – Carter is versatile enough to be a day one threat in the passing game.
Check out the vision and breakaway speed from Carter on this explosive run against Miami.
You saw him in the Senior Bowl, but let me introduce you to UNC RB Michael Carter (#8) pic.twitter.com/DzyAzkPqIn
— Sam (@samcrnic) January 31, 2021
Overall, there are simply too many good options at running back after round one for the Jets to justify taking one in the first round given how many needs they have at more important positions. Carter is just one of many post-Day 1 backs in the draft who excel in zone-blocking schemes such as the one that will drive the Shanahan offense, making it clear that the Jets should wait on pursuing a running back until after the first round’s conclusion.
Stay tuned for more Q&A sessions throughout the draft season. Remember to send me your questions on Twitter and I will aim to address them in the next article!