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Joe Douglas’s 2021-22 draft classes are powering Jets’ resurgence

Joe Douglas, NY Jets, GM, General Manager, Draft Class
Joe Douglas, New York Jets, Getty Images

Joe Douglas has hit on both premium and lesser picks in the last two drafts

The New York Jets are on a mission to silence their doubters.

A 3-2 start has started to shift the conversation surrounding the team. Though “Same Old Jets” is a long way from over, the Jets sit in fifth place in the AFC playoff picture.

The main reason for that change? The contributions of general manager Joe Douglas‘s last two drafts.

Immediately following the 2022 NFL draft, the Jets were widely considered to have the best draft across the league. Through five weeks, the team’s rookies have exceeded those high expectations.

Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Jermaine Johnson, Breece Hall, Max Mitchell, and Micheal Clemons have all done exactly as asked – and then some.

Not to be outshined, Zach Wilson and Alijah Vera-Tucker, the Jets’ two first-round picks in 2021, have been key players in the Jets’ first back-to-back wins since 2020. Elijah Moore, Michael Carter, and Michael Carter II, other 2021 picks, are all making important contributions as well.

These young players have been the engine behind the Jet’s resurgence. In this article, I’ll focus on Zach Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, and Breece Hall. Then, I’ll touch on the rest of the draft classes’ performance this season.

Breece Hall

After a slow start to his career, Breece Hall started to hit his stride in Week 5. On the season, Hall is tied for sixth among all running backs with 488 scrimmage yards. Hall is also second in receiving yards with 213, only one yard behind Chargers back Austin Ekeler.

Hall’s career day was one of the biggest reasons the Jets upset the Miami Dolphins in Week 5. On the ground, Hall churned out tough yards with 18 carries for 97 yards and one touchdown. In the air, Hall flashed his home run ability with two receptions for 100 yards, and he was inches away from adding two receiving touchdowns.

While the Hall pick may have been seen as a luxury, he’s shown that he can carry the load for the offense with his speed and agility.

Garrett Wilson

Garrett Wilson has flashed the potential to be a star receiver in the NFL with his combination of speed and explosiveness. After not playing much in Week 1, Wilson announced himself in Week 2 against the Cleveland Browns.

In his second career game, Wilson had eight receptions on 14 targets for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson was the Jets’ go-to guy and completed a historic comeback with his second touchdown catch.

Through five games, Wilson has 23 receptions for 282 yards and two touchdowns. It’s only a matter of time before he explodes again. His stat line undersells how good he’s been.

Wilson’s elite speed and agility have allowed him to get open at will against man coverage, where he leads the NFL in route success rate at 54%. With the wide perception that Jets’ receivers struggle against man coverage, it seems inevitable that Wilson will become the primary read against man-to-man looks. Once the offense gets in rhythm under Zach Wilson, Garrett Wilson will take off.

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Sauce Gardner

Sauce Gardner has been everything he’s been advertised to be and more this season.

Despite facing Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Amari Cooper, and Diontae Johnson, Sauce has only allowed 12 receptions on 24 targets for 127 yards while picking up four pass breakups and one interception.

In a matchup against arguably the best wide receiver duo in the NFL, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, Sauce allowed only 26 yards on five targets while adding his first career interception. Sauce set the tone for the game by hitting Teddy Bridgewater for a safety on the first play.

Gardner’s closing speed and arm length have consistently shown up in coverage. He’s wiped away several big plays with his ability to quickly close the distance and force an incompletion. He’s showing the coverage technique and smarts of a veteran corner after playing only five games. This kid is the real deal.

Alijah Vera-Tucker

There isn’t a single player on this team that has been asked to do more than Alijah Vera-Tucker. Vera-Tucker went from left guard in all of 2021, to right guard in Weeks 1-3, to left tackle in Week 4, and to right tackle in Week 5.

Since moving to tackle, Vera-Tucker has allowed three pressures and zero sacks across 70 pass-blocking snaps, while his run-blocking has been stellar. He has been outstanding in both phases of the game and is doing everything asked of him.

After the Jets lost four tackles to injury, Vera-Tucker’s versatility allowed the offense to keep moving forward. It’s fair to wonder if the Jets would’ve won the last two games with Conor McDermott playing tackle instead.

Zach Wilson

After missing over a month due to a knee injury, Zach Wilson is 2-0 and riding high in 2022. His return game got off to a rocky start, but Wilson was red-hot in the fourth quarter to lead a fourth-quarter comeback over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

This past week, Wilson calmly and consistently picked apart a depleted Miami Dolphins secondary. He completed 67% of his passes, rushed for a touchdown, and recorded no turnovers as he led the Jets’ offense to a 40-point outing.

His stats through two weeks – 32-for-57 (56.1%), 462 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions – are hardly impressive. However, Wilson’s 8.1 yards per pass attempt is the sixth-best mark in the NFL.

Wilson has been at his best in the fourth quarter this season. In the final period, Wilson is 13-of-15 for 173 yards with five touchdown drives.

While Wilson still has a lot to improve, his accuracy, decision-making, time to throw, play-action fakes, and poise have all improved significantly. This team will only continue to improve as he settles into the offense.

The best of the rest

While the players mentioned above are the primary leaders in helping the Jets advance to 3-2, the rest of each draft class is still making their impacts felt.

Elijah Moore and Michael Carter have felt like forgotten players this season. After being the focal point of the offense in 2021, both players have taken a back seat. However, that doesn’t mean they’re any less impressive.

Michael Carter is 13th in the NFL in forced missed tackles despite being 33rd in attempts. Elijah Moore has been consistently winning his routes and delivering when targeted.

Michael Carter II is the starting slot corner for a significantly improved passing defense. Brandin Echols may have lost the starting job but he’s the primary backup and made two big plays against Cleveland (plus a downed punt inside the five against the Dolphins).

Jermaine Johnson would have been mentioned above if it wasn’t for an ankle injury sidelining him for the foreseeable future. Johnson has had a nose for the football, racking up defensive stops and sacks at a high rate. Meanwhile, Max Mitchell has been the Jets’ savior with his solid play at right tackle. The 111th pick was improving each week before a knee injury knocked him out in Week 4.

Even the Jets’ final pick, Micheal Clemons has been getting plenty of snaps. Clemons has been playing at a respectable level at both defensive end and tackle. Jeremy Ruckert is the only rookie not overly contributing. He’s flashed at times as a blocker, but a brutal drop leaves him behind C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin on the depth chart.

The Jets are built for the future

After four very long years, Joe Douglas has put together a competitive roster. The Jets are currently 3-2 and sit in the AFC’s fifth seed.

However, this team isn’t even close to its potential. Here is a list of New York’s key players that are 25 or younger:

  • RB Breece Hall (21)
  • WR Garrett Wilson (22)
  • WR Elijah Moore (22)
  • CB Sauce Gardner (22)
  • TE Jeremy Ruckert (22)
  • RB Michael Carter (23)
  • QB Zach Wilson (23)
  • OT Mekhi Becton (23)
  • OT Max Mitchell (23)
  • OG Alijah Vera-Tucker (23)
  • DE Jermaine Johnson (23)
  • OG Nate Herbig (24)
  • DT Quinnen Williams (24)
  • DE Micheal Clemons (25)
  • DE Bryce Huff (24)
  • CB D.J. Reed (25)
  • S Jordan Whitehead (25)

Questions remain for the Jets, but it is exciting to project the potential of what this team could be in the future.

Over the next 12 weeks, we will see if this team can defy expectations and make the playoffs ahead of schedule. Even if they fall short, Douglas has planted the seeds for this franchise to make it back to the promised land.

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Peter Buell
1 year ago

Imagine the difference a healthy Mechai Bechton would make. The right side was really effective early last week.
They went away from that for some reason and I don’t get why. Brown was a huge help playing hurt.
71, your right to give the brothers credit. The first time since Parcells was here I feel like we have an advantage in the front office.
What could really step this team up a level is a couple of space taking run stoppers.
A nose tackle and another run first defender would get the team off the field on 3rd and short and keep the other teams offense from getting ahead of schedule with 5-6 yard runs on first down.
We’re not flush with picks (amazing JD trades) this coming offseason but I strongly feel we are one more Joe Douglass offseason away from being a perriennel playoff team

1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Buell

I agree there are pieces still needed but it feels we have the right people in place to make it happen. Time will tell.

1 year ago

Let’s hope everybody keeps improving. This was the plan, I give Joe a ton of credit, but I think it’s time to give credit to Christopher and Woody too. Douglas was available and Christopher fired Cags at a very unconventional time but it was the right move. He took some heat for the timing but he did what needed to be done.

Also, give credit to Woody for the entire restructure of the franchise leadership when he returned. They put Joe in charge of the football operations, he calls the shots. They let him hire a coach he wanted, and Joe didn’t hire a buddy. He hired the guy he thought was best for the job. He never worked with Saleh before.

This entire thing now looks like a real football operation. Time will tell when it comes to results but it can no longer be said the Jets are a circus. Let’s turn it into wins on the field.