Joe Douglas handpicked the New York Jets’ early MVPs
Despite the gruesome record, Douglas’ draft classes are actually looking quite solid. A better-than-average number of his picks seem to be on their way to establishing themselves as long-term building blocks.
That includes the Jets’ arguable best player on each side of the ball through five games in 2021.
As things currently stand, a strong argument can be made that both the Jets’ best offensive player and best defensive player is a Douglas draft pick.
New York Jets’ Offensive MVP
Picking the Jets’ best offensive player this season is a difficult task considering how much of an eyesore the unit has been. The Jets are 32nd in scoring (13.4 points per game).
Zach Wilson is obviously not the answer. Nobody at wide receiver or tight end has established any sort of consistency.
At running back, Michael Carter is a solid candidate – and he himself is a 2021 Douglas draft pick – but I think we have to look toward the offensive line for our answer.
George Fant has turned heads for his pristine pass protection at left tackle. A Douglas free-agent signing, Fant is a good option.
However, I don’t think Fant has had the stretches of dominance nor the two-way prowess that Alijah Vera-Tucker has had.
Many analysts criticized the Jets for trading the 23rd, 66th, and 86th overall picks to nab the 14th overall pick (and 143rd overall) from the Minnesota Vikings in order to grab Vera-Tucker. Critics asserted that the Vikings dominated the deal from a trade-chart value standpoint and claimed that trading up for a “non-premium” position like offensive guard was foolish.
It is too early to take victory laps, but Vera-Tucker has the doubters eating their words.
Vera-Tucker has been an elite run-blocker from the get-go, looking like a phenomenal fit in Mike LaFleur‘s wide-zone running scheme. The fluid, smooth athlete has been moving defenders at all levels of the field with great consistency. He hits his spots quickly and takes strong angles to wall off defenders.
Through five weeks, Vera-Tucker’s run-blocking grade of 81.3 at Pro Football Focus ranks fifth-best in the NFL among left guards.
The Jets have prioritized rushing in Vera-Tucker’s direction. Their two most commonly attacked gaps are the left-side A-gap (21 carries) and left-side B-gap (17 carries), the two gaps on either side of Vera-Tucker. They have had solid success running that way, averaging 4.1 yards per carry into those two gaps. When attacking any other gap, they have gained only 3.2 yards per carry.
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In pass protection, Vera-Tucker struggled mightily to begin the season as he allowed 12 pressures through three games. He has progressed quickly, though. Vera-Tucker has been unbeatable over the past two games, yielding zero pressures over 77 pass-protection snaps.
Vera-Tucker’s improved pass-blocking has been the driving force behind the Jets offensive line turning things around and putting up back-to-back strong performances in pass protection. Over the last two games, the Jets’ offensive line has allowed Zach Wilson to be knocked down (sacked or hit) on just 8.7% of his dropbacks (6 of 69). That’s barely more than half of the 2021 league average (15.6%).
We need to see Vera-Tucker maintain his pass-blocking success for more than two games and his run-blocking success more than five, but I think it is fair to say he has been the Jets’ best offensive player through five games.
The early returns for Douglas’ most aggressive trade as a general manager have been highly positive.
New York Jets’ Defensive MVP
You can make a great argument for C.J. Mosley as the Jets’ defensive MVP. I think it is a very close toss-up between him and one other player. Either is a fine choice.
The other candidate is Bryce Hall.
Hall is the leader of a secondary that is holding up extremely well through five games when considering the unit’s youth and the rash of injuries it has faced. Playing 98.1% of the Jets’ defensive snaps this season – just a smidgen behind Mosley’s unit-leading 98.9% portion – Hall is on the path to claiming the Jets’ long-term CB1 role.
The Jets’ cornerback unit is the only one in the NFL that has yet to allow a touchdown pass this season. That’s primarily thanks to Hall. He has dropped into coverage on 209 snaps without allowing a touchdown, ranking as the third-most touchdown-free coverage snaps among cornerbacks behind Tre’Davious White (213) and Trevon Diggs (219).
It is quite staggering how little Hall has given up relative to his playing time. His total of 209 coverage snaps ranks as the 13th-most among cornerbacks, yet he ranks 54th in yards allowed with just 171 (34.2 per game over 41.8 coverage snaps per game).
Hall’s total of five “forced incompletions” (any play on the ball to force an incomplete pass) is tied for third-most among cornerbacks, according to PFF. He has forced an incompletion on 21.7% of the targets in his direction, tying him with Jaylon Johnson for fourth-best among cornerbacks to face at least 10 targets.
Despite missing starting safeties Lamarcus Joyner and Marcus Maye for the majority of the season and entering the year with no cornerbacks who had more than seven starts of NFL experience, New York’s defense has allowed a league-low four touchdown passes and ranks 12th-best with only 6.3 net yards per pass attempt allowed.
Hall has been the primary driving force behind this success story.
Take your pick between Mosley and Hall for the Jets’ prestigious title of Pre-Bye Week Defensive MVP. Either way, the fact that Hall is even in this discussion just 12 starts into his career is a bright spot on Joe Douglas’ resume as things currently stand.
Hall was seen by many scouts as a potential first-round prospect before a serious ankle injury in his senior season ended his Virginia career.
The question marks surrounding Hall’s health dropped him into the fifth round, where the Jets ended his fall by selecting him 158th overall. His recovery ended up sidelining him for over a year, as he missed the first eight games of his rookie season and did not debut until Week 9 (Nov. 9).
Hall played in the Jets’ final eight games and started the latter seven, showing promise along the way as he played at a fairly league-average level despite being a rookie who got little-to-no practice time before being tossed into the fray.
In 2020, Hall had great games against the top-tier weaponry of the Chargers (Keenan Allen and Mike Williams) and Rams (Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods) but had rookie moments against the stars of the Raiders (Darren Waller) and Seahawks (D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett).
One year later, Hall has turned his rookie-year flashes into the norm whereas his rookie moments have mostly vanished (through this early point of the season, at least).
If Hall keeps it up, he should be able to lock up a starting cornerback job for the foreseeable future.
Alijah Vera-Tucker and Bryce Hall are showing early signs of becoming slam-dunk picks
It is much too early to declare Vera-Tucker or Hall a success story, but they are on the right track. Should they continue to develop at the level they are developing, it will not be long before they are cemented as stellar draft-day acquisitions by Douglas.
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