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NY Jets 2021 re-draft: If not a quarterback, then who at No. 2?

Sauce Gardner, Ja'Marr Chase, NFL Draft, 2021 NY Jets
Sauce Gardner, Ja'Marr Chase, New York Jets, Getty Images

The 2021 NFL Draft didn’t go well for the New York Jets

Hindsight is 20/20 for the New York Jets — or is it?

The Jets’ selection of Zach Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2021 NFL draft was essentially a no-brainer. In a survey of 23 NFL front offices by Charley Casserley, all 23 said they would have taken Wilson at No. 2. In fact, he’s become the cautionary tale for drafting quarterbacks, albeit with various different conclusions of why he failed.

Ultimately, though, the pick didn’t work out — and it wouldn’t have if they took any quarterback. Their other options, primarily Trey Lance and Justin Fields but also Mac Jones, also haven’t worked out. While some hold out hope for Fields, his performance as a passer has not been promising thus far.

Therefore, let’s go back to that draft and suppose that the Jets had not traded Sam Darnold. Knowing what we know now, who would they take at No. 2 overall?

Trade back

The Jets would have almost certainly sought to trade back in the draft had they not selected Wilson. For one thing, the 49ers traded with Miami at No. 3 to take Lance, but their preferred target was reportedly Wilson. Had the Jets been open for business, San Francisco would have jumped. However, it would have moved the Jets down to No. 12 overall, which might have been too low for the kind of player the Jets wanted.

Since Fields did not go until No. 11 (and it took a trade up by the Bears from No. 20 to get him), I doubt the Jets would have been able to trade out and still stay within the top 10. Therefore, let’s suppose the Jets stood pat at No. 2 and took the best non-quarterback available.

Here are some players they could have drafted instead of Wilson.

WR Ja’Marr Chase (Original pick: R1, P6, Cincinnati)

Chase was the consensus top receiver in the draft, and he would have made a great weapon to pair along with Corey Davis. That would have likely pushed Davis to the Z position rather than the X he was forced to play. The Bengals ultimately shocked the world and took Chase over tackle Penei Sewell with the fifth pick.

The Jets likely wouldn’t have Garrett Wilson now if they had selected Chase, but Chase is undoubtedly the better player at this point. He was the 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year and a second-team All-Pro and has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons. He would have been far-and-away the best weapon Darnold had ever played with.

Had Chase not been on the board, Jaylen Waddle (R1, P5, Miami) and DeVonta Smith (R1, P10, Philadelphia) would have also been good options. Still, Chase was projected to go in the top five, and his career has so far been the best of the three.

T Penei Sewell (Original pick: R1, P7, Detroit)

The Jets could not have foreseen how miserable their tackle situation would become, but there were injury warning signs from Mekhi Becton in his rookie season. Even though they had George Fant, he was a mid-level starter at best. Penei Sewell was the consensus best tackle in the draft, considered a plug-and-play stalwart. Knowing what we know now, the Jets would love to have Sewell, whom Pro Football Focus named the best player under 25 in the NFL.

Sewell just earned a massive four-year, $112 million extension with the Lions after a first-team All-Pro selection. He posted a 3% pressure rate in 2023, the second-best mark among all tackles, and he allowed just one sack. He coupled that with an elite and top-ranked 93.1 PFF run-blocking grade.

Sewell would have saved the Jets a lot of future angst. Rashawn Slater and Christian Darrisaw are also solid tackles, but Sewell is in a different class.

EDGE Micah Parsons (Original pick: R1, P12, Dallas)

This is a tough sell, as there’s no way the Jets would have taken Parsons at the time. They’ve also had a strong pass rush over the past two seasons. Still, after Carl Lawson tore his ACL during training camp, the Jets had a barren edge rusher room that season. They then spent first-round picks on the edge position in back-to-back drafts, showcasing the need they’ve had at the position.

Parsons was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2021 after posting 13 sacks as a rookie. His 19.9% pressure rate over his first three seasons dwarfs any other edge rusher’s. He finished no lower than third in the Defensive Player of the Year voting in all three seasons. He’s a two-time first-team All-Pro and a one-time second-teamer.

Parsons is on a Hall of Fame trajectory. The Jets could always use those kinds of players.

The verdict

Considering that the offensive line has been the Jets’ biggest struggle over the past few seasons, Sewell is seemingly a no-brainer at this spot. If the Jets had him over the past two years, they’re likely coming off back-to-back playoff berths. Sewell would have slotted in at right tackle immediately, then moved over to left tackle once Becton went down. From there, the Jets wouldn’t have been forced to rely on the aging Duane Brown as their starting left tackle in 2022, and they would have had one side of the line solved heading into 2023.

It’s a close call with Chase, though. The way he elevated Joe Burrow’s play in Cincinnati was akin to how Stefon Diggs brought Josh Allen to a different level. Having a true X receiver who can beat any coverage at any time is a tremendous boon for a quarterback. Just ask Aaron Rodgers about playing with and without Davante Adams. The only reason I’m taking Sewell is that the Jets did draft Garrett Wilson in 2022, and while he’s not Chase, he’s an excellent player in his own right.

I’m not blaming the Jets for taking a quarterback in 2021. I admit that I was one of the few people who believed they should have traded out of the No. 2 spot, picked up a haul, and built the team around Darnold or whatever quarterback would come next. Outside of a few elite quarterbacks, almost all NFL passers are dependent on the situation around them. Look at Jared Goff’s career resurrection in Detroit — with Sewell blocking for him — as a classic example. I was far from a believer in Darnold, but I thought that any quarterback they would bring in was set up to fail.

Ultimately, though, NFL teams are in a catch-22. If they take the quarterback first, they’re potentially setting him up in a miserable situation. If they build the team first, though, they likely won’t have a high enough pick to take the quarterback. This is why the Atlanta Falcons drafted Michael Penix Jr., and it’s also why Green Bay took Jordan Love.

Wilson was thrown to the wolves rather like Bryce Young was last season. The results were similar for both quarterbacks. C.J. Stroud’s success would seemingly contradict this conclusion, but the Texans had a pretty decent offensive infrastructure around him, with players like Laremy Tunsil, Nico Collins, Tank Dell, and Dalton Schultz buoying his success.

Therefore, either Sewell or Chase would have been a great non-quarterback pick for the Jets at that spot. I lean Sewell because of the struggles the Jets have had at the position.

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Noam
Noam
8 days ago

Great article. Easy to say it was a bad pick but every other team would have taken Wilson in that situation. I would also add it was a COVID year where contact with draftees was minimal. Wilson’s problem was and still is mental. That when things go bad he falls apart.He can’t handle the pressure and relax and just play the game. Certainly the Jets throwing him to the wolves, Gregg Knapp dying, the Jets OL woes and the spotlight of NY made things much worse for him. The COVID restrictions made it even tougher to understand who Wilson was. The trade haul would have been quite substantial.

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