Grading the New York Jets 2021 Off-Season
Updated: Jul 5, 2021
Wow. A lot has happened since January. New coach. New quarterback. New hope? Let's jump in and review the New York Jets 2021 off-season to give some grades and preview the outlook for the upcoming season. Hint....this team will surprise people.
Head Coach Hire: A+
Few people around the league even mentioned Robert Saleh as a potential hire for the Jets, mainly due to how many head coaching options Saleh would likely have after years of success in different organizations. Yet somehow, the Jets did it. They secured arguably the top coach available on the open market. The minute Saleh began discussions with the Jets, fans in NY and NJ dropped everything they were doing to follow the news. There were even minute-by-minute reports on Twitter from a Jet fan who was hiding in the bushes outside the Jets facility in Florham Park, NJ. Talk about a fan-base desperate to win again.
Outside of "bush-guy," the potential to hire such a coveted coach who would bring a completely new energy and philosophy to an organization that so badly needs it, had fans holding their breath. Saleh eventually left the building without a deal and many Jets fans (including myself) went to bed that night believing hope was lost. Around 24 hours later, as many fans prepared for another night's sleep with the head coach situation unresolved, IT HAPPENED. The notification across everyone's phone's finally read:
"The New York Jets have agreed to terms with Robert Saleh to make him their next Head Coach."
What. A. Moment. I haven't seen the fanbase so jazzed up since the Jets beat the Pats in the 2010 playoffs in Foxboro. No joke. This hire has the potential to completely reinvigorate the franchise. Not only does Saleh change the culture, but he has a leadership and accountability philosophy the likes the Jets haven't seen since Bill Parcells. The impact and aftermath of the hire was huge. It even led to off-season free agent signings where the players cited the Saleh hire as the reason they chose the Jets. When's the last time you heard that? Answer: Never.
At this point, we as the fans looked at the checklist....We've got the GM. We've got the coach. Now, we need the quarterback....
Free Agency: B+
"The Jets have so many holes." I feel like I've heard this on repeat for the last 5 years. How do you fix holes? Great drafting (which is hard) + smart free agency moves to fill needs (somewhat easier, but expensive). In a perfect world, the NFL draft would occur before free agency. This would allow GMs to fill out the roster with low-cost draft picks and then complete the roster with the higher-cost, remaining needs in free agency. Because the draft is full of so many unknowns, GMs often have to overpay for free agents in the event a high-ranked rookie could potentially not fall to them when the draft comes around.
Bottom line: It's hard to judge a team's off-season until after the draft, but many make snap judgements after free agency.
This year, Joe Douglas was flush with cash to go after the guys this team needs. In other words:
So how'd he do?
WR Corey Davis - Young, high-potential player who is just reaching his ceiling. Davis posted 984 yards and 5 touchdowns for the Titans in 2020, a personal best. He adds contested-catch ability that the Jets haven't had since peak Brandon Marshall.
WR Keelan Cole - Another young, dynamic receiver who will add needed depth to a roster that never has any (see 2018, 2019, and 2020). Cole has excellent hands and can get over the top of the defense.
EDGE Carl Lawson - This is where the fun begins. Lawson is a true edge rusher in his prime. The man looks like Thanos for goodness sakes. Pairing him with Quinnen Wilson is almost too fun to imagine. Bring on the regular season.
DL Sheldon Rankins - Injuries in 2020 caused people to forget how good Rankins plays in the middle of the D-line. He will compete for the starting role next to Quinnen and will wreak havoc for running backs and quarterbacks alike. This group is going to be scary.
Corner....crickets: Douglas failed to land a high-profile corner in free agency, which left many predicting he'd target one in the 1st round of the 2021 NFL Draft. More on that later. Note: The Jets added CB Justin Hardee, but that's hardly a signing to get hyped about.
The Jets get a B+ here because Lawson and Davis are instant starters at positions of need, but failing to address corner is somewhat of a concern. However, the corner market was nothing special this year, so the value may just not have been there. The addition of Lawson and Rankins will reduce the need for elite corners. A great pass rush makes average corners look like good corners.
Other additions included RB Tevin Coleman, TE Tyler Kroft, S Lamarcus Joyner, OL Dan Feeney, and LB Jarrad Davis (potential starter).
The Draft: A++
I was going to give Joe Douglas an A+ for the draft, but I forgot about A++. Yeah...it was that good. After free agency, the Jets had improved, but most agreed the team was still devoid of offensive talent and O-Line help. Not anymore. In rounds 1-4, it was all offense for the Jets. A refreshing sight for a team who has prioritized defense in the early rounds for as long as I can remember. In recent years, this is how the Jets have drafted in Round 1:
2013: CB & D-Line
2020: O-Line (The year Douglas took over)
Typing that out actually hurt. 9 out of 11 of those picks were defensive players. And you wonder why this team has been one of the worst offenses in football for years.
Thankfully, the times are a-changin.
I can't tell you how much I cheered the first 4 picks this year. Offense, offense, offense, offense. We may have finally learned our lesson and it will make it that much more fun to cover this team. Here are the picks:
Round 1: QB Zach Wilson - Personally, I ranked Justin Fields ahead of Wilson going into the draft, but you can't argue with this selection. Wilson has the arm. He has the IQ. He can make pocket throws and off-platform throws on the move. And he has something Sam Darnold never had...moxy. When it comes to personality, I see a dialed-down Baker Mayfield with this guy, which is a good thing. This team needs some energy. The system Wilson played in at BYU translates directly to new OC Mike Lafleur's offense, which likely had a big impact on the selection. The ceiling is high for this young man. Take us home Zach.
Round 1: OG Alijah Vera-Tucker - If I hear another casual fan or analyst say the Jets gave up too much to move up and select AVT, I'm going to lose it. All we've heard from analysts, commentators, and experts around the league for the past 5 years is how bad the Jets O-Line is. So what do they do? They draft a man in 2020 the size of Godzilla with Mekhi Becton, and then trade up to get the best guard in the 2021 draft in Vera-Tucker. Give me a break with these lazy takes. Would you rather protect your quarterback for the next decade or get a role player in the 3rd round who has a 50/50 shot at starting. No brainer folks. You build the cement wall.
Round 2: WR Elijah Moore - His routes are so crisp, he may sign an endorsement with Kellogg's Rice Crispy cereal. Moore is a 1st-round talent who many ranked above Kadarius Toney, who went in Round 1 to the Giants. After he was drafted, a practice video leaked where Moore was toasting every DB he lined up against like they were stale white bread in need of some cooking (see below). My goodness, this kid could be special. At Ole Miss in 2020, Moore racked up 1,193 yards and 8 TDs and will have a chance to start immediately in the slot. Many have argued the team should cut Jamison Crowder to save some money. Reminder: The last thing this team needs is to reduce depth with all the injuries the past few years.
Round 4: RB Michael Carter - The lightning to Javonte Williams's thunder, Carter racked up some crazy stats for UNC with back-to-back 1000+ yard rushing seasons, while also adding 9 rushing TDs and 2 receiving TDs in 2020. While the Jets' new offense favors a running-back-by-committee approach, Carter will immediately compete for the RB1 role and will get every opportunity to be "the guy" in the Jets backfield.
Rounds 5-7: A lot of corners, another Michael Carter, and a kicker - This is the "throw a dart at the wall blindfolded" approach. However, many believe the Jets got a steal in DB Hamsah Nasirildeen. In 2019 before his injury, he recorded 101 tackles. He also impressed at the Senior Bowl and is big at 6'3, 213 lbs. Can anyone say "budget Jamal Adams?" Okay, let's not get ahead of ourselves. The team also selected Michael Carter II, a DB out of Duke. Yes, another player named Michael Carter. Leave it to the Jets. The word is that he is a solid player who could earn a role. We shall see.
Cumulative Off-Season Grade: A+
It's hard to remember an off-season this positive for the New York Jets franchise in the past decade. Douglas is building the right way through the draft and now has the coach to lead this team into the next era of Jets football. The team is young, but full of potential, and is finally focusing on the offensive side of the ball. Hang on tight Jets fans....the future is bright.