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The mixed legacy of NY Jets’ 2021 draft class

Alijah Vera-Tucker
Alijah Vera-Tucker

The New York Jets’ 2021 draft class yielded mixed results

The New York Jets’ 2021 draft class looks a lot worse than it did after Year 1.

Somehow, Joe Douglas’ draft classes have a habit of turning out that way. His 2020 class looks much the same.

Ultimately, the class will go down in history as a disaster because of one miss. Still, after their rookie year, the other 2021 picks could well have been a deodorant for that disaster. In 2022, though, two sophomore players went backward from their promising rookie seasons, and by mid-2023, neither player was on the team anymore. That took away most of the remaining luster from the class, leaving a second consecutive highly questionable group in its wake.

Round 1, No. 2 overall: QB Zach Wilson

What more is there to say about Zach Wilson‘s Jets tenure? The No. 2 overall pick came into the league with immense hype. Many scouts saw shades of Patrick Mahomes, especially in his ability to make off-platform throws into narrow windows. Instead, Wilson’s first two years in the NFL were among the worst in league history, and he holds a career 23:25 TD:INT ratio.

The Jets will seek to trade Wilson this offseason; unlike Sam Darnold’s hefty return, they’ll be lucky to receive anything more than a late-round pick for the former top pick.

Round 1, No. 14: OL Alijah Vera-Tucker

Alijah Vera-Tucker could add some credibility to Douglas’ drafting — if not for two factors: Douglas traded up to draft him, and Vera-Tucker has struggled to remain on the field. In 2022 and 2023, Vera-Tucker was in many ways the Jets’ best offensive player, as their offense completely fell apart after he went down for the season due to injury.

Here are the Jets’ running stats with and without Vera-Tucker.

  • With Vera-Tucker, 2022-23: 250 carries, 4.78 yards per carry, 10 TD, -0.02 EPA per rush, 39.2% success rate
  • Without Vera-Tucker, 2022-23: 465 carries, 3.85 yards per carry, 7 TD, -0.18 EPA per rush, 32.9% success rate

With Vera-Tucker, the Jets’ rushing ranks were near the top of the league. Without him, they were at the very bottom. Just having him on the field made the offense competent even with the other struggling pieces around him, regardless of whether he was at tackle or guard.

The price Douglas paid to move up from No. 23 to No. 14 was steep. He gave up the No. 66 and No. 86 picks, both third-rounders. With that No. 23 pick, the Vikings selected tackle Christian Darrisaw, who has been one of the league’s premier tackles when healthy. In 2022-23, he posted pressure rates that were 2% and 1.6% better than the league average for the position, respectively.

Of course, the production of the two third-rounders lessens the sting of the trade. The Vikings selected QB Kellen Mond with the No. 66 pick and OG Wyatt Davis with the No. 86. Neither player is with the team anymore, and both have been jumping around practice squads.

The main upshot of this trade is Vera-Tucker’s inability to remain healthy. If he had stayed on the field, the Jets would be more than happy with the trade. It could be that another year will age this move much better if Vera-Tucker can remain healthy and lives up to his All-Pro potential.

Round 2, No. 34: WR Elijah Moore

This pick looks far worse now than it did at the time. Elijah Moore was considered a first-rounder in many circles and was thought to have been a steal at No. 34. As a rookie, he posted a six-game stretch in which he caught 34 balls for 459 yards and 5 touchdowns, which would translate to 96 catches for 1,301 yards and 14 touchdowns over a 17-game season. He struggled with injuries that year, playing in only 11 games. However, his tape seemed to indicate a budding star.

Then, it all went downhill in 2022. He disappeared from the Jets’ game plan, seeing just six targets from Weeks 4-6. It all came to a head that week, as Moore got into a shouting match with offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, made a crude statement to him, and then left practice before demanding a trade.

The Jets patched things over temporarily before trading Moore in the offseason. He finished his second season with 37 catches for 446 yards and one touchdown in 16 games.

In Cleveland, despite having a fresh start as the No. 2 receiver, Moore once again posted underwhelming numbers. He put up 59 catches for 640 yards and two scores with just 1.14 yards per route run, ranked 60th out of 70 receivers with at least 60 targets.

The improved pick the Jets netted with the Moore trade netted them Joe Tippmann, which looks promising. However, with the Jets’ track record on second-round offensive draft picks, perhaps another year is needed before definitively calling the trade a salvaging of the Moore pick.

Round 4, No. 107: RB Michael Carter

Like Moore, Michael Carter had a promising rookie season before falling off a cliff. Carter’s rookie season was good enough to make most prognosticators question the Jets’ selection of Breece Hall in the second round. His most promising trait was his ability to break tackles, as he led all backs in missed tackles forced per touch.

In his second year, though, Carter tumbled, no longer able to gain yards after contact or make any impact as a receiver. He averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and showcased no more power.

In 2023, Carter was relegated to third-down duties and was eventually released.

Round 5, No. 146: S Jamien Sherwood

Jamien Sherwood missed most of his rookie season due to injury and was almost exclusively a special teamer in his second season. He transitioned from safety to linebacker in Robert Saleh’s defensive scheme. In 2023, many expected him to take over for Kwon Alexander as the Jets’ third base linebacker, but the team instead chose to go with a lot more nickel packages than the year before, using Adrian Amos and Ashtyn Davis in that role.

Sherwood once again struggled in coverage when he was on the field. He allowed 8 of 8 receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown on just 45 cover snaps.

Sherwood has gained Pro Football Focus special teams grades of 76.9, 77.4, and 74.7 in his three years in the league. The fact that he’s still on a team after his selection in the fifth round is a win.

Round 5, No. 154: CB Michael Carter II

Perhaps the best value pick Douglas has made with the Jets, Michael Carter II stepped into the Jets’ starting slot corner role and never gave it back. Over the last two seasons, he’s been one of the best in the NFL, ranking in the top 10 among slot defenders in EPA per target, touchdowns per cover snap, coverage success rate, yards per target, receptions over expected, tight-window rate, and targeted passer rating. Carter is due for an extension this offseason.

Round 5, No. 175: CB Jason Pinnock

While the Jets released Jason Pinnock in favor of Tony Adams in the 2021 offseason, they developed Pinnock into a decent safety. The Giants snapped him up, and he won their starting free safety job almost immediately in 2023 training camp. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Pinnock led all 68 qualified safeties (min. 275 cover snaps) with a 22.9% open rate, and his 60% coverage success rate ranked seventh-best.

Though the Jets like Adams, Pinnock was still a very solid pick, especially with the team’s track record of developing defensive talent.

Round 6, No. 186: S Hamsah Nasirildeen

Hamsah Nasirildeen is one of the defensive players who didn’t develop, never becoming more than a special teamer. He reverted to the Jets’ injured reserve list during 2023 training camp.

Round 6, No. 200: CB Brandin Echols

Getting a No. 4 corner in the sixth round of the draft is also good value. Brandin Echols had his struggles in 2023, allowing 14 of 17 receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown, and he was also called for three penalties on just 143 defensive snaps. He was injured when the Jets needed him most, as first D.J. Reed and then also Sauce Gardner missed games in the middle of the season when Echols was injured. Still, overall, teams can do far worse than Echols as a backup outside cornerback.

Round 6, No. 207: DT Jonathan Marshall

Marshall was a Relative Athletic Score freak, although he never translated that athleticism to production. The Steelers poached him from the Jets’ practice squad toward the end of the 2022 season, but he has not played a snap in the NFL since.

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