Pinpointing the primary areas of focus for the New York Jets’ 2021 rookie class
The New York Jets‘ 2021 draft class showed oodles of potential in its rookie season. General manager Joe Douglas’ 10-player class combined to generate a total of 30 AV (Approximate Value), which ranked third-best out of all NFL rookie classes in 2021.
Of course, one season does not make (or break) a draft class. These groups are not to be fully judged until they log four or five years in the league. We can’t declare a class as good or bad after one year.
If the 2021 Jets draft class is to build upon its rookie-year promise and establish itself as one of the best classes from that draft, it will need its players to develop greatly in 2022.
Here is the primary weakness that each offensive player from the Jets’ 2021 draft class must focus on improving in 2022 if they want to progress toward their full potential. (We’ll focus on the defensive players in an upcoming breakdown.)
QB Zach Wilson: Taking fewer sacks
There are a lot of things that Zach Wilson needs to improve on. That’s an article for another day.
If I had to choose one primary goal for him, it would probably be to take fewer unnecessary sacks.
Despite missing four games, Wilson ranked third in the NFL with 44 sacks taken. Those sacks resulted in a loss of 370 yards, which tied him with Joe Burrow for the worst mark of any quarterback.
An unusually high percentage of those sacks were Wilson’s fault.
Pro Football Focus tracks how many sacks each quarterback was primarily responsible for allowing to happen. Wilson was blamed for 17 sacks, three more than any other quarterback.
Just compare Wilson’s sack frequency to his elder peers who played in the same offense. Wilson took 44 sacks on 383 pass attempts (10.3% sack rate). His quarterback teammates – Mike White, Joe Flacco, and Josh Johnson – combined to take eight sacks on 219 pass attempts (3.5% sack rate). Not to mention, only two of those eight sacks were blamed on the quarterback.
Clearly, Wilson is to blame for his own high sack number. Sacks were rare when the Jets had someone else under center.
Learning when to throw the football into the stands will be paramount for Wilson’s development.
G Alijah Vera-Tucker: Pass protection vs. stunts and blitzes
Alijah Vera-Tucker was already an excellent player in the run game during his rookie year. His 72.5 run-blocking grade at PFF ranked 17th-best out of 70 qualified guards (77th percentile). It was the second-best mark among rookie guards.
It’s in the passing game where Vera-Tucker must improve. Vera-Tucker gave up 42 pressures on 693 pass-blocking snaps, a rate of 6.06% that ranked 53rd out of 66 qualified guards. The league average for guards was 4.94%.
Vera-Tucker wasn’t awful when it came to pass-blocking in one-on-one situations. On “true pass sets” (plays where the blocker engages in a true one-on-one battle with a rusher), Vera-Tucker allowed 26 pressures on 314 pass-blocking snaps, a rate of 8.28%. That placed 40th of 66. The league average for guards was 8.23%, so Vera-Tucker performed right around the league average in these scenarios.
Where Vera-Tucker had the most trouble was on pass plays that were not true pass sets.
On non-true-pass-set reps, Vera-Tucker allowed a position-leading 16 pressures on 379 pass-blocking snaps. His allowed pressure rate of 4.22% ranked fourth-worst out of 66 qualified guards. The league average for guards in these scenarios was only 2.43%.
This tells us that Vera-Tucker was frequently responsible for allowing pressure against things like stunts and blitzes. Awareness was a problem for the first-year guard.
As a 22-year-old rookie, it’s not surprising to see Vera-Tucker have some growing pains in the mental side of the game. The fact that he was solid in the physical aspects of the game is promising. His awareness can be solidified with time as he gets more comfortable at the professional level.
WR Elijah Moore: Contested catches
Elijah Moore was impressive in most areas during his rookie year – he could have put up star-caliber numbers with better quarterback play – but there are still some things he can improve on individually.
Grabbing more contested passes is one of those things. Moore was credited with catching 4-of-10 contested targets in 2021, per PFF.
Moore is listed at 5-foot-10 and 178 pounds, so nobody is expecting him to be the second coming of Brandon Marshall, but he has shown that he can use his athleticism and body control to be a great contested-catcher. In his final season at Ole Miss, Moore caught 11-of-15 contested targets (73.3%).
It seems likely that Moore is going to establish himself as one of the best separators in the league at his position. To boot, he offers excellent speed and elusiveness with the ball in his hands. Whether Moore becomes a beast at the catch point is the primary variable that will determine if he caps out at “good/great” or becomes a legitimate superstar.
RB Michael Carter: Sharpening passing-game fundamentals
Michael Carter showed off some intriguing potential as a pass-catcher in his rookie season. Carter was targeted 55 times and snagged 36 catches for 325 yards and 16 first downs.
Still, Carter has some work to do if he wants to become a complete player in passing situations.
Carter dropped five passes, per PFF, which tied him for the sixth-most among running backs. That number needs to come down.
In pass protection, Carter was credited with giving up five pressures on 52 pass-blocking snaps. That’s an allowed pressure rate of 9.62%, which ranked 34th out of 54 qualified running backs. It’s not a bad ranking, but it must be better if Carter wants to become a do-it-all weapon in the passing game.
Carter also had two penalties as a pass-blocker, tying him for the most among running backs. He was one of only three RBs who had more than one penalty in pass protection.
Now that Carter is part of a two-headed monster in the backfield with Breece Hall, mastering as many skills as possible will be important for him to earn playing time. Of course, he’ll certainly get his fair share of reps no matter what – he’s too talented of a ball carrier to be buried – but the more he can do, the more he’ll play.
This is especially true on third down. Improving his catching and blocking will help Carter stake his claim to consistent third-down reps in rotation with Hall.