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NFL Draft

New York Jets 2021 NFL Draft Class Breakdown

  • The Draft Network
  • May 4, 2021
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I loved what general manager Joe Douglas was able to accomplish in his first draft with the New York Jets in 2020 and was excited to see what his second haul would look like. While I have a few questions about the class, it mostly did not disappoint. There was a deliberate attempt to find certain skill sets to build around top pick Zach Wilson early in the draft with some intriguing swings late in the draft on the defense side of the ball. 

Let’s take a look back at the Jets’ 2021 NFL Draft class:

Round 1: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

The NFL draft is often full of surprises, but the Jets’ selection of Wilson at No. 2 overall was not one of them. It was the quarterback New York was expected to select and Wilson represents an exciting reset at the position.

After two pedestrian seasons at BYU in 2018 and 2019, Wilson put everything together in 2020 and delivered an elite season where his arm talent, creativity, ability to extend plays and function off-script shined. Wilson’s skill set and approach to the game resemble that of the most dynamic young quarterbacks in the NFL today. The concern with Wilson resides in two things. First, how he transitions to the NFL going from BYU to the bright lights of New York. Secondly, Wilson was able to operate comfortably behind an elite BYU offensive line against middling competition. At the next level, he will need to find the balance between taking what the defense gives him and showing off his ability to create. He will need to learn what he can and cannot get away with at the next level. 

Wilson should be the day-one starter in New York and it could be argued that the Jets lack a veteran quarterback on the roster to assist with his transition to the NFL. The Jets have to be thrilled with their talented new franchise quarterback and the timing of his selection as the Joe Douglas/Robert Saleh era of Jets football gets underway. 

Round 1: Alijah Vera-Tucker, IOL, USC

Vera-Tucker was my top-rated interior offensive linemen in the class and a sure-fire first-round talent. He is a polished technician that is powerful with refined hand usage and always stays square to blocks. He has the makings of a high-quality guard for a long time in the NFL. The question that I have with the selection was the decision to trade up for him and part with two third-round selections to do so. 

While the Jets still made 10 selections in the draft, the roster could surely handle those additional draft picks as there are still plenty of holes to fill at cornerback, tight end, and edge rusher. With that said, I do love the player selected and the value he represents to Wilson as an anchor for the interior offensive line who will be responsible for maintaining the depth of the pocket and allowing Wilson to go to work. 

Round 2: Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss

After finding offensive line help with its second first-round selection, Douglas continued building around Wilson by adding a dynamic weapon in Moore. An exceptional route-runner, Moore’s speed, ball skills, and ability to create after the catch make him a threat to produce at every level of the field. He’s best suited to play in the slot and how he wins meshes wonderfully with the skill set that Wilson brings to the table. 

While Moore is undersized, he’s an alpha competitor that plays above his weight class. His presence gives New York more options with receiver pairings for 11-personnel sets and he can easily replace Jamison Crowder as the team’s featured slot receiver after the 2021 season. 

Round 4: Michael Carter, RB, North Carolina 

Carter is an elusive back that is sudden, twitchy, quick, and outstanding as a receiving threat out of the backfield. He should quickly provide Wilson with a reliable receiving back, which was a smart decision given the style Wilson plays. 

As stated previously, a big part of Wilson’s transition to the NFL is learning what he can and cannot get away with. The throws he was able to slot against the likes of Texas State, UTSA, and North Alabama are different from what is going to work against NFL defenses. Having a reliable check-down option like Carter is a helpful addition to the offense. 

Carter complements La’Mical Perine well and forms a one-two punch in the backfield made up of fourth-round picks to give the Jets an economic but serviceable running back tandem. Carter should factor into the mix right away for the Jets’ offense. 

Round 5: Jamien Sherwood, S, Auburn

With Ashtyn Davis, Marcus Maye, and Lamarcus Joyner in the mix, the Jets safety room is fairly set but it was lacking a skill set like Sherwood’s. He profiles more as a box player that provides excellent contributions on special teams. The makeup of the Bills, Patriots, and Dolphins offenses within the division could be a reason why Sherwood was a target of the Jets given his ability to serve as a QB spy, play downhill in subpackages, and be physical with tight ends. Sherwood doesn’t have a high ceiling, but his path to a role is quite clear. 

Round 5: Michael Carter, CB, Duke 

I perceived cornerback to be a major need for the Jets entering the draft and it took a while for New York to address it. With that said, it’s hard to be critical given the vast needs that existed on the roster and how four of the Jets’ first five selections directly help surround Wilson with meaningful pieces to aid in his transition to the NFL. 

Carter is a competitive and athletic cornerback but is undersized and likely to be a slot-only defender in the NFL. While New York does have a need in the slot, there were better targets available with this pick and earlier in the draft, which is a byproduct of the trade-up for Vera-Tucker that cost the Jets pick Nos. 66 and 86, where a bigger and better investment at the cornerback could have been made. 

Round 5: Jason Pinnock, CB, Pittsburgh

After passing on cornerback additions earlier in the draft and accepting that fate as a result of trading up for Vera-Tucker, Douglas made Pinnock the second cornerback addition. Pinnock has good size and is a sufficient athlete for the position that had good ball production in college. He’s an aggressive and physical defender but he’s also lacking natural coverage instincts. His understanding of route depth, route concepts, and when to transition while staying balanced is a work in progress. Pinnock should ultimately provide depth and quality special teams contributions to the Jets. 

Round 6: Hamsah Nasirildeen, S, Florida State 

Nasirildeen’s career was off to such a promising start, but a knee injury late in the 2019 season derailed things and it took him almost to the end of the 2020 season to get back on the field. I think Nasirildeen is a better player than what the Jets acquired earlier in the draft in Sherwood, a stylistic role New York clearly wants to fill. Nasirildeen profiles as a box safety/dime linebacker that brings good size, length, physicality, tackling ability, and ball skills to the table. I can see him overachieving his draft slot and at a minimum provide the Jets with a special teams ace and valuable subpackage defender. 

Round 6: Brandin Echols, CB, Kentucky 

While the Jets didn’t land top prospects to help the cornerback depth chart, New York did land a trio of later-round options with the last one coming in the form of Echols. A two-year starter at Kentucky, Echols started his career in the JUCO ranks where he was a standout. Like Carter, Echols is a good athlete but lacks size and likely only an option to play in the slot. Like Pinnock, Echols isn’t polished when it comes to coverage instincts and his feel for route depth and transitions are a work in progress. 

New York took the shotgun approach to the cornerback position in the 2021 draft, which is risky given the depth chart and importance of the position in today’s NFL. 

Round 6: Jonathan Marshall, IDL, Arkansas 

Late-round investments in players like Marshall are exactly what I like to see. Marshall only started 10 games across four seasons at Arkansas, but he does have great size, athleticism, and is lauded for his football character. Given his role as an odd front nose tackle for Arkansas in 2020, it wasn’t the best showcase of his ability to attack gaps, penetrate, and play on the other side of the line of scrimmage, which is something he will likely get the chance to do for the Jets. New York needed some developmental depth along the interior defensive line and Marshall was a worthwhile swing late in the draft. 

How Did The Jets Do? 

The move up the order for Vera-Tucker cost the Jets two assets that could have made New York’s 2021 class look even better in my eyes, but it’s hard to be critical of the players Douglas did land with his remaining draft capital. After landing his guy in Wilson, Douglas gave him an outstanding interior blocker, a perfect receiver, and the type of running back that can make life easier for him in the NFL. There is nothing more important than surrounding a young quarterback with what he needs to succeed and Douglas did just that. 

What the Jets draft is missing is more meaningful investments for the defense, where things remain thin at cornerback and edge rusher—the two most important spots for an NFL defense. Given the state of the Jets’ roster entering the draft, it was unfair to think everything could be addressed and fixed with one single draft class, but the collection of talent pairs nicely with what Douglas accomplished in 2020, and New York is staring at a 2022 draft which already has them picking twice in the first and second rounds with 13 selections overall. 

If the Jets don’t get things right under the direction of Douglas, it won’t be because he didn’t have an abundance of draft capital to get the pieces needed to compete. From a draft perspective, the Douglas era is off to a promising start.

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