Checking in on the progress of New York Jets guard Alijah Vera-Tucker
New York Jets right guard Alijah Vera-Tucker is the subject of some high expectations. Not only was he the 14th overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, but the Jets traded a hefty sum of draft picks to acquire the rights to select him, sending a first-round pick (23rd overall) and two third-round picks (68th and 86th overall) to the Minnesota Vikings in a deal that favored Minnesota according to trade valuation charts.
The USC product’s rookie year was a roller-coaster ride. But his star-caliber potential was apparent. He just didn’t quite have the necessary level of consistency just yet.
Vera-Tucker is starting to put everything together in Year 2.
Through the first two games of his second season, Vera-Tucker has been an enforcer on a down-to-down basis. Not only is he quickly becoming the best player on New York’s offensive line, but he is establishing himself as one of the best guards in football.
With an overall grade of 76.0, Vera-Tucker is ranked as Pro Football Focus’s fourth-best guard through Week 2:
- Joe Thuney, KC (81.6)
- Wyatt Teller, CLE (81.3)
- Nate Davis, TEN (78.3)
- Alijah Vera-Tucker, NYJ (76.0)
- Michael Onwenu, NE (75.8)
This is a highly encouraging start for the 23-year-old, especially considering that he is playing his first NFL snaps at right guard after switching over from left guard in the offseason.
However, Vera-Tucker’s production in one phase is far ahead of his production in the other.
Vera-Tucker currently ranks as PFF’s No. 1 run-blocking guard in the NFL with a 84.2 run-blocking grade. That’s stellar! But he only ranks 39th out of 72 qualified guards with a 57.9 pass-blocking grade. While that isn’t terrible, it leaves a lot to be desired.
After watching Vera-Tucker’s film to see if the numbers are accurate, I came away with some interesting takeaways.
I agree with PFF that Vera-Tucker’s run-blocking has been outstanding. Even if it might be slightly optimistic to say he is the best run-blocking guard in the league, it’s inarguable that he has been sensational.
On the other side of the coin, I think PFF is significantly off the mark regarding Vera-Tucker’s pass protection. My argument is that he has been excellent in both phases. I watched every single one of his 115 pass-blocking snaps (a massive total for only two games) and was taken aback by how consistently well he played. By my count, he only lost his rep six times.
I do think PFF’s elite overall grade for Vera-Tucker is accurate. But I would argue he is playing at that level in both phases, contrary to PFF’s suggestion that it’s solely Vera-Tucker’s run-blocking that has him up there.
Let’s dig into Vera-Tucker’s impressive film from his first two games of the 2022 season.
In all clips within this article, you can spot Vera-Tucker at the RG position wearing No. 75.
Vera-Tucker’s run-blocking has been excellent. I have rarely noticed him lose a rep in the run game; certainly not frequently enough to identify any particular negative trends. So, all of the run plays in this breakdown will be positive.
Jets center Connor McGovern leaves the nose tackle unblocked for Vera-Tucker (we’ll call him AVT throughout this piece) to pick up. AVT plows him out of the play-side A-gap and Breece Hall runs behind him for a big gain.
There are so many good blocks on this 19-yard Braxton Berrios run. McGovern, Corey Davis, and Elijah Moore all do a great job pinning their blockers inside so Berrios can get to the edge. Max Mitchell doesn’t necessarily block his man, but he takes a good angle to remove him from the lane. As for AVT, he shows good awareness as he scans for threats and finds the linebacker inside. AVT flips his hips and pushes the LB out of the lane.
AVT crosses the 2i-tech’s face and uses his outside arm to pass him off to Mitchell. AVT then climbs to the second level and gets some nice vertical push on the safety.
AVT pulls to the back side and stalls Myles Garrett, preventing him from pursuing this end-around to Garrett Wilson.
This is an elite play for a guard. AVT crosses the 1-technique’s entire body and then flips his hips to seal the 1-tech to the back side. All the while, he creates vertical movement. AVT then pancakes the defender. Also give credit here to McGovern, who helps AVT make the play with a good pass-off.
While AVT is unable to work his hips around this defensive end, he gets his hands into the DE’s chest and works him to the inside, opening up the outside lane for Hall.
AVT pulls to the play side, climbs to the second level, and picks up the LB to clear a lane for Michael Carter.
AVT does a nice job of helping Mitchell pick up the 3-technique. He then climbs to the second level and dominates the LB. Great framing by AVT as he enters the block with an accurate angle that allows him to take control.
Since the Jets have led on the scoreboard for only 22 seconds this season, the offense has been forced to be incredibly pass-happy. Only 39 of Vera-Tucker’s 154 snaps have come in the run game. For him to have such a long reel of high-level run blocks over that small quantity of reps is quite impressive.
I’ll be completely honest – I went into this article planning to showcase a bunch of negative pass-blocking clips that reveal why AVT’s pass-blocking grade is mediocre. Instead, after watching all of his pass-blocking reps, I came away shocked that the metrics are telling the story they are. He’s been extremely consistent in protection. It just goes to show the imperfection of offensive line stats.
While I will showcase each of the six losses (out of his 115 pass-block plays) I saw on film that may contribute to why AVT ranks so low in protection, I will also show plenty of positive clips that help show what I’ve seen from him on a regular basis in protection. I cannot show every positive pass-blocking clip (we’d be looking at over 100 plays, as offensive linemen “win” the vast majority of their protection reps), but I think the positive clips included here provide a glimpse into what he’s been doing consistently well on a snap-to-snap basis.
In his rookie year, AVT’s awareness in pass protection was one of his greatest weaknesses. His inconsistency with recognizing and picking up unique pressure looks (such as stunts and blitzes) was the main reason he gave up so many pressures. Through two games this year, I have seen tremendous improvement from him in this area. On this play, AVT and McGovern fluidly handle a T-E (tackle-end) stunt. Keep an eye out for plenty of plays in this review where AVT successfully makes a pickup.
Nice work by AVT and Mitchell here, as they each slide their defenders outside and keep the pocket protected. AVT recognizes that Mitchell’s man has peeled off him and is working back inside, so he comes back inside and picks him up, plowing him into the MetLife turf.
AVT leans into his block in an attempt to sell the run fake, which leads to him getting beat with a swim move and allowing pressure. This is the first of the six losses I noticed from AVT in pass protection, including one of four against the Ravens.
However, considering the Jets’ enormous total of pass plays in these two games, that total is actually very impressive. Taking six losses out of 115 pass-blocking plays is fantastic. (Keep in mind that I’m saying losses, not pressures. A loss does not necessarily have to be a pressure that affects the QB. By losses, I mean any rep in which he messed up, regardless of whether it impacted the play. So, losses are far more common than pressures. I truly saw only six losses by AVT in the pass game.)
AVT has been fantastic in situations where he is left on an island. He jump-sets the 3-technique here and gets a clean win. While AVT is initially bulled back a couple hops, he anchors down and keeps the 3-tech far away from Joe Flacco.
A unique protection wrinkle that AVT can bring to the table thanks to his talent as a puller. AVT pulls to the left side to sell the run fake and then picks up the edge defender in protection.
A rare one-on-one loss by AVT. The 3-tech swipes away AVT’s hands to keep himself clean and then uses an outside rip to get around the corner and pressure Flacco. (Loss #2)
Nice save by AVT. After passing his man inside to McGovern, AVT works outside to see if Mitchell needs help – and he does, after getting beat inside. AVT arrives just in time to stop the edge rusher from getting home on Flacco.
Another loss by AVT as part of a run fake. AVT leans outside to pick up the 5-technique and gets beat with a club-rip combo, giving up pressure. (Loss #3)
Beautiful stunt pickup. AVT passes off the 3-tech and then gets aggressive in his pickup of the looping defender, going out and attacking him instead of waiting for him to come in.
A minor mistake by AVT for the fourth and final pass-game rep I thought he lost against the Ravens. After letting the A-gap LB go and turning his head outside, I would have liked to see AVT do a little bit better at picking up this rusher once Tyler Conklin lets him get inside. AVT strikes him but doesn’t get his body in front, so he easily comes in for pressure. Not a huge blunder but a rep that could’ve been better. (Loss #4)
And that does it for the “bad” pass plays I saw from AVT over his whopping 66 pass-blocking snaps against the Ravens. His consistency was quietly strong in this game despite the struggles of his line-mates. I kept watching play after play, waiting to see the ugly mistakes that killed his pass-blocking stats, but all he did was continue to stack positive reps. These four mistakes are the only ones I saw against Baltimore – and he proceeded to make only two (by my count) over 49 pass-blocking snaps against Cleveland.
More good one-on-one work from AVT as he completely shuts down this 2i-technique.
AVT and McGovern do a good job of splitting the 3-tech. While working on him, AVT stays ready for any threats through the B-gap (to his right). When AVT sees a late blitz from the safety, he passes off the 3-tech to McGovern and ranges over to pick up the blitzer.
The Jets fake a handoff on this third-and-1 play to set up a Joe Flacco rollout. AVT does his part as he crunches the A-gap defender, completely removing him from the play.
AVT with another good stunt pickup. The 2-technique works inside immediately, so AVT passes him off with his inside arm and prepares for the looper. AVT again takes an aggressive approach to his pickup, and it works well.
One of two losses I tracked against the Browns. The 2i-technique works outside and disallows AVT from getting hands-on, appearing to catch AVT’s wrists. The 2i then forklifts AVT’s arms upwards and disengages to get some pressure. In fairness to AVT, this is an unconventional set point for the QB – there would have been no pressure if Flacco dropped directly behind the center instead of sliding outside – but I’m sure this was part of the play design, so AVT probably knew where Flacco was. It’s a loss, albeit not a horrible one. (Loss #5)
Dominant one-on-one rep against the 2i-technique as AVT jumps him and immediately gains control by getting his hands into the chest.
AVT handles his one-on-one rep and then peels off late to pick up a free runner on the QB. AVT lands a good shot (punishing the defender for going airborne) and sends him careening into Brownie The Elf.
AVT is left without an assignment. His head is on a swivel, rotating back and forth as he searches for work. AVT affirms there is no stunt or blitz coming, so he goes to help Mitchell against Myles Garrett. Garrett beats Mitchell and gains inside leverage but AVT arrives just in time to prevent him from hitting Flacco.
Another one-on-one win as AVT gets his hands inside and sets a good base. He finishes the play by striking the defender’s inside shoulder and sending him stumbling up the field. This win comes in a key spot, helping Flacco stay clean for the big touchdown pass to Corey Davis.
A loss by AVT as he sets outside and gets beat to the inside with a spin move. It forces a quick release by Flacco. (Loss #6)
That does it for the bad plays I have seen from AVT in pass protection this year.
This rep by AVT shows how good of an athlete he is. AVT slides outside to pick up the 4i-technique, and the 4i-tech is ready to expose AVT’s outside set by exploding inside toward the vacant B-gap, but AVT is able to mirror him as he comes back inside. Great hands by AVT, too. As he crosses AVT’s face, the 4i leaves his chest exposed while trying to throw a move, so AVT takes advantage by firing a two-hand strike into the open chest to shut him down.
AVT picks up a stunt during the Jets’ game-winning drive. He sees #96 turn his hips inside, alerting him of a stunt, so he turns his head inside and gets ready to pick up the penetrator from McGovern just as McGovern passes him off. The defender has inside leverage on AVT to create pressure through the A-gap, but AVT does a fantastic job of canceling out the leverage advantage and pushing him back outside. Since AVT is much lower than the defender (who is standing very upright), he is able to fire a two-hand punch into the defender’s core to take control. AVT flips his hips outside and shoves the defender away from the pocket.
Considering that Flacco was facing outside pressure from Myles Garrett (who beat Mitchell), it seems likely that if AVT allowed A-gap pressure here, Flacco would be sacked and the Jets may have never scored the game-winning touchdown. This happened on second-and-10 from the 15-yard line with 30 seconds on the game clock, so a sack would have been disastrous.
Alijah Vera-Tucker is becoming a star for the Jets
There has been plenty of turmoil with the Jets offensive line throughout the latter portion of the offseason and the first two games of the regular season. Injuries, position changes, and disappointing performances have been aplenty.
It hasn’t been all bad, though. Amidst the drama, the Jets’ highest-drafted guard in 33 years has been quietly honing his craft, mastering how to get the most out of his unique physical gifts.
We’re only two games in. Vera-Tucker needs to continue stacking these performances to show that his second-year breakout is for real.
But the early returns could hardly be more promising. In the run game, Vera-Tucker is a versatile weapon who uses his top-tier athleticism to execute difficult blocks within all different types of run concepts. In the pass game, Vera-Tucker’s awareness and fundamentals have improved dramatically, turning him into a consistently reliable interior protector.
Between Vera-Tucker and Garrett Wilson, the Jets may have gotten two offensive stars out of the Jamal Adams trade.
Audio Version available to members only: Learn more here
Want More NY Jets News & Jets X-Factor Content?
Download the free Jet X Mobile App to get customizable notifications directly to your iOS (App Store) or Google/Android (Google Play) device.
Add Jets X-Factor to your Google News feed to stay up to date with the New York Jets.
Join the official Jets Discord community to connect with likeminded fans.