The NFL draft is a tremendous opportunity for upstart teams to make significant roster upgrades entering the following season. This year was different, however. Teams who overachieved, such as the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions, along with the defending NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles, have multiple first round picks. While it is still months before football, it is never too early to make judgements on whether some of these teams improved their chances of winning for the upcoming season.
Teams Who Improved
1. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks were one of the league's most surprising teams, due to the resurgence of Geno Smith and a bevy of young talent. Thanks to their decision to trade Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos, they possessed multiple first round picks for the second straight year which were used on cornerback Devon Witherspoon and receiver Jaxon Smith-Njiba. Witherspoon may not be imposing at 180 lbs, but he's an aggressive cornerback with ball skills, and is not afraid to make a big hit. He and Tariq Woolen could be a formidable cornerback duo in the future.
As for Smith-Njiba, he's arguably the best receiver in the draft. With his fundamentally sound route running, terrific hands, and the ability to create after the catch, he gives Smith another target to throw to alongside DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. While the Seahawks certainly have talent at both cornerback and receiver, they are valuable positions that can be built upon in the draft
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Although the Jaguars didn't have multiple first round picks, they still managed to upgrade a roster that reached the divisional round despite being 4-8 at one point in the season. They traded down twice in the first round to select offensive tackle Anton Harrison. He might not have so many eye-opening plays, but he's a very patient blocker who does a great job staying in front of his opponents in pass protection. This was particularly a good pick because the Jaguars had to address the tackle position after the departure of Jawaan Taylor and a recent suspension for Cam Robinson. Harrison could give Trevor Lawrence even more protection from the blindside which would go a long way to a solid passing attack.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have already solidified themselves as contenders following a Super Bowl appearance, but given they weren't expected to have a such dominant year, I felt it was still appropriate to put them on this list. With multiple picks in the first round thanks to last year's draft day trade with the Saints, they went all in on defense with Georgia standouts Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith.
Smith is a very instinctive player whose relentless pursuit allows him to make numerous plays in the backfield. Carter might be a defensive tackle, but his strength and quickness allow him to be just as effective as a pass rusher along with a run stopper. This is the second straight year Philadelphia drafted defensive starters from Georgia, as last year saw them get Jordan Davis in the first round and Nakobe Dean in the third round. The only difference is that Smith and Carter have more upside, which will be essential toward maintaining a very good front seven.
Teams That Missed Out
1. Detroit Lions
After finishing the season 8-2, the Lions had a solid free agency and an even better opportunity to make improvements in the draft having owned the Rams' pick. It would've made sense to use their picks on a cornerback or defensive tackle. Instead, they made two questionable decisions by drafting running back Jahmyr Gibbs and linebacker Jack Campbell. What's head-scratching about these moves is that running backs and linebackers are positions that can be addressed later in the draft. Detroit is still a strong candidate to make the playoffs this upcoming year, but this was a spectacular chance to establish a roster that could seriously contend.
2. New York Jets
The Jets already checked their biggest need at quarterback by acquiring Aaron Rodgers before the draft. To boost his protection, they were eyeing offensive tackles (Broderick Jones, Paris Johnson Jr., or Peter Skoronski). But after seeing each one taken, they selected edge rusher Will McDonald. To be fair, McDonald is a solid player who will line up outside opposing tackles much more than at Iowa St. This will allow him to utilize his speed and finesse off the ball. However, the Jets have plenty of edge rushers. While his playing time in 2024 will likely increase assuming Carl Lawson leaves in free agency, it's a bit of a letdown to see the Jets miss out on a bigger need even if it wasn't their fault.
Grading My AFC and NFC Predictions
Before the regular season, I decided to make three bold predictions for each conference. In a season filled with plenty of dramatic developments, I felt that it was only fitting to go back and evaluate each prediction. While a couple didn't age well, the majority were pretty respectable. Here are the final grades.
1. Von Miller will be the Final Piece Buffalo Needs: A-
Buffalo might have not made the Super Bowl, but that certainly didn't have anything to do with Von Miller's performance. The future Hall of Fame pass rusher was playing like the difference maker Buffalo paid him to be before tearing his ACL in week 12. While Buffalo's defense still played well without him, they clearly missed his presence in the playoffs as the Bengals' offense gashed them en route to a 27-10 victory. While it's not a guarantee Miller would've changed the outcome, it's a safe bet that the Bills would've been a much different team with him on the field.
2. The Raiders Won't Make the Playoffs: A+
This was one of my most accurate predictions as the Las Vegas Raiders would indeed finish with a disappointing 6-11 record. Even though wide receiver Davante Adams proved to be a terrific acquisition, it wasn't enough to overcome their inability to prevail in tight contests. It's worth noting that I stated teams who win a bunch of nail biters one year usually take a step back the following season, which is exactly what happened. The Raiders lost five games when leading at halftime, with four of those leads being by double digits.
3. Jets Will Have Two Rookie of the Year Winners: B
While the Jets did sweep the Rookie of the Year awards, I'm giving this a B because of who I predicted to win. On the defensive side, I correctly had Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner winning the award. He performed at an all-pro level and already has a legitimate case as the best cornerback in football. However, I had running back Breece Hall winning for offense, and while he was looking like the frontrunner in October, an ACL tear ended any hopes. The award instead went to fellow receiver Garrett Wilson who tallied over 80 receptions and 1,100 yards. Nonetheless this is a high honor given that the Jets became only the third team in NFL history to have two rookies win the award.
1. The Saints Will Have a Better Record Than the Buccaneers: D+
This prediction gets a D+ and rightfully so. I thought that the Saints will come back healthier and regain their status as division champions but I was certainly wrong. If anything, the Saints' championship window looks all but closed after having such a promising future. It's always difficult to replace a legend, and Dennis Allen got first hand experience after succeeding Sean Payton as head coach. The only reason why I'm not giving this an F is because I did mention that the Buccaneers will have a disappointing season, which was the case. They won their division despite finishing 8-9 and were later trounced by the Cowboys.
2. Justin Jefferson Will Win Offensive Player of the Year: A+
I believe this was my best prediction as Jefferson won an award that's difficult for receivers to win. From a statistical standpoint, Jefferson happened the exact way I said he could: by raising his numbers and leading the league in two out of three major receiving categories. Jefferson's touchdowns dropped slightly but his career highs in receptions and receiving yards were both good enough to lead the league. It also helped that Jefferson was the most important player on a Vikings team that won a bunch of close games on their way to a 13-4 record.
3. Trey Lance Will Outperform Jalen Hurts: F-
There is nothing whatsoever that was accurate about this prediction. Trey Lance was expected to be the future quarterback of the 49ers, but played poorly in the season opener before suffering a season ending ankle injury. To make matters worse, the 49ers looked a lot better whether it was Jimmy Garoppolo or Brock Purdy - the likely candidate to start next season - under center. In Philadelphia, Jalen Hurts had a terrific year showing dramatic improvement as a passer while maintaining his skills as a rusher. His play is major reason why the Eagles punched their ticket to the Super Bowl.
In 2022, the Jets actually gave their fans some reasons to be optimistic. They had plenty of young players such as Garrett Wilson, Quinnen Williams, Sauce Gardner, and Breece Hall (when healthy) who emerged as difference makers and helped lead the Jets to a 7-4 record. Unfortunately, none of the players are quarterbacks. In a league where that position is so vital, the Jets couldn't find an answer at the position, whether it was Zach Wilson (right), Mike White (center), and Joe Flacco (left). This ultimately led to a six game losing streak and a 12th year out of the playoffs.
Now that the season is over, fans are already making their wishlists of possible quarterbacks. There will be many quarterbacks available this offseason and while any of them will be an upgrade, there are a variety of factors to consider. Some are easy to evaluate such as their stats, while others like their mental toughness will require more thought. With that being said, here are my preferred options for Jets quarterback.
1. Jimmy Garoppolo
Out of all the four quarterbacks I mention here, Garoppolo is certainly not the flashiest quarterback. He hasn't posted eye-popping stats and can be injury prone, as seen this year. Even with some of these question marks, he is still a productive quarterback who can be consistently relied upon. With a quick release, he is able to utilize the many skill positions the 49ers have. In addition, Garoppolo has climbed into a tie for fifth place for the most victories by a 49er quarterback, despite starting only 55 games since 2017. The 49ers may not need him as of now, but those numbers can't be ignored.
Perhaps Garoppolo's biggest attribute is his resilience. He's had to live up to a record $137 million contract extension in 2018, come back from multiple injuries, and face competition following their selection of Trey Lance in 2021. Despite these obstacles, Garoppolo has continued to perform at an exceptional level and has elevated his teammates in the process. Those qualities in particular make him a perfect fit to play in a big market like New York. The cherry on top is that Garoppolo is one of the cheapest options in free agency, which will make it easy for the Jets to sign him.
2. Aaron Rodgers
When it comes to throwing a football, few can do it better than Aaron Rodgers. He is a lock for Canton thanks to his ability to effortlessly locate the football wherever he wants. Time and time again, Rodgers has the impossible look routine from game winning drives to 70 yard bombs. His resume includes four MVP awards, and a Super Bowl championship. As for his status, the future Hall of Famer could be shipped this off-season and the Jets have been listed as one potential destination. The hiring of his former offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to run the Jets' offense has only added more fuel to the possibility.
So with all that greatness, what could possibly draw the Jets back?
For one, Rodgers is on the older side. At 39 years old, Rodgers experienced some decline in his play. This year, he threw the most interceptions in his career since 2008, while his touchdowns took a deep dive. Although Rodgers' season would've been strong for any other quarterback, it is hard to ignore this drastic decline given his age. He also has the reputation of being a jerk who only cares about himself. Rodgers can be thin-skinned, which may not fly with the New York media. If Rodgers got away with throwing shade at the Packers' organization, New York would persecute him for those actions.
3. Lamar Jackson
Lamar Jackson is another talented quarterback on this list who's a possible option for the Jets. Unlike Rodgers, the 2019 NFL MVP is a dual threat QB whose legs are just as a dangerous as his arm. He has yet to throw for 4,000 yards, but Jackson's mobility has allowed him to make plays, whether it's throwing or running. Since being named the starter midway in his rookie season, Jackson has helped lead the Baltimore Ravens to the playoffs in four of the last five years. In addition, the Jets have had the best odds to land Jackson if he decides to leave in free agency.
However, getting him could come at a steep price regardless of how it's done. Before the season, Jackson bet on himself by denying a $250 million contract offer by the Ravens and although it didn't work, the Jets may still have to break the bank to get him in free agency. There's also the possibility the Ravens could franchise tag him, which would require a bevy of assets to acquire him. As talented as Lamar may be, it is always risky to invest most of your future in a quarterback who hasn't fully replicated his MVP year.
4. Derek Carr
While there's still a chance Jackson remains a Raven, it is certain that Derek Carr will not remain a Raider after he was shockingly benched in their last two games. What made this move so surprising was that he had a productive nine seasons with the Raiders. Carr can perfectly place any throw regardless of how short or long it may be. In addition, he has completed over 300 passes every year while throwing for over 4,000 yards in four of them. While many quarterbacks have done this, it is particularly impressive given the revolving door of coaches during his tenure.
There are some downsides to Carr however. While he has often put the Raiders in a position to make the playoffs, he also plays a role in their downfall. Carr has lost more games and thrown more interceptions in December than any other month in his career. Considering that December was when the Jets unraveled, they may have to think twice about getting a quarterback who can be erratic down the stretch.
Three Bold AFC Predictions for 2022
Every NFL season has seen some huge surprises, from injuries to unexpected turnarounds. Going into last year, no one thought the Cincinnati Bengals would narrowly miss out on a Super Bowl victory or that the Seattle Seahawks wouldn't come close to the playoffs. With this season getting closer by the day, here are my three hot takes for the AFC.
Note: This article is part of a doubleheader that will also include NFC Predictions.
1. Von Miller will be the Final Piece Buffalo Needs
The Buffalo Bills have established themselves as contenders during the last two years. With plenty of talent on both sides of ball, the Bills have gone 34-15 in the last three years, winning the AFC East twice in that span. However, they have yet to reach the Super Bowl, with a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Chiefs leaving a bitter taste. In free agency, the Bills successfully agreed to a six year $120 million contract with defensive end Von Miller.
While Miller is 33 years old, he still has plenty left in the tank after logging four sacks during the playoffs, en route to his second Super Bowl championship. What made his performance last year even more impressive was that he missed all of 2020 with a torn ACL. The Bills have a talented defense, but their pass rush lacks a difference maker which proved costly in their recent playoff losses. Miller will probably not play out his entire contract in Buffalo, but his experience and productivity is exactly what the Bills need to get over the hump to finally win it all.
2. The Raiders Won't Make the Playoffs
Last year's Raiders surprisingly made the playoffs with a 10-7 record before losing a tight contest to the Bengals. They then proceeded to make big offseason moves, signing defensive end Chandler Jones and trading for all pro wide receiver Davante Adams. These moves will make the Raiders competitive again this year, but in a stacked conference, it still might not be enough.
In their four game winning streak that propelled them to the playoffs at the end of the year, they beat two teams with backup quarterbacks and another whose quarterback didn't practice that week. That's not mentioning their four overtime wins as well. Teams who won a large portion of close games usually take a step back the next year which is why I'm not sold on the Raiders despite high expectations. I think that they simply won't be as lucky this year.
3. The Jets will have Two Rookie of the Year Winners
In the 55 year existence of the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year award, only two teams had players from both sides win the award. However, I believe there's a strong chance my Jets will become the third team to accomplish this feat. While some of this prediction has to do with my fandom, plenty of other people applauded this year's Jets' draft.
Their notable selections are cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson, defensive end Jermaine Johnson, and running back Breece Hall. Gardner has a strong chance to win Defensive Rookie of the Year thanks to his tall, athletic frame, that allows him to excel in man coverage. He's also likely to make an immediate impact compared to many of the pass rushers selected. Offensively. Hall has a pretty good chance at winning the award. He'll have plenty of opportunities to succeed in a run-first offense and with only one quarterback taken in the first round, the award is wide open. As a franchise notorious for missing out on young talent in the draft, this kind of feat could hopefully change their reputation.
Which Players Will Break Out in 2022?
Every NFL season has seen a few players experience a breakout season shortly after their rookie year. Often, they have shown promise before eventually playing to their full potential the following season. Prime examples of last year's breakout stars include running back Jonathan Taylor and cornerback Trevon Diggs. With training camp underway, many players are ready to showcase their full potential after showing upside last season. Here are my four breakout candidates, not including quarterbacks:
1. Devonta Smith
Last season, Devonta Smith was one of the top rookie receivers for the Philadelphia Eagles, tallying over 900 yards and five touchdowns. While those numbers sound decent on paper, they are very impressive for a rookie receiver who was the only bright spot on one of the league's weakest receiving groups last season. Smith managed to turn short completions into long runs with his speed, and caught a ton of contested passes despite his small frame. With the acquisition of fellow receiver AJ Brown this offseason, Smith should see a lot more single coverage which will increase his production.
2. Patrick Surtain II
Patrick Surtain II of the Denver Broncos was certainly the most impressive defensive back to come out of last year's draft class, given that a large number of rookie cornerbacks started last season. He intercepted four passes and returned one of them for a touchdown, but that's not all. Surtain II also surrendered only 545 yards along while allowing a 61 passer rating. Some of his best games came against pass-happy offenses where he made guys like Tyreek Hill and Ja'Marr Chase non-factors. Although Micah Parsons' historic rookie season kept Surtain II from winning Defensive Rookie of the Year, he still has plenty of upside going forward.
3. Javonte Williams
Denver gets another nod on this list with running back Javonte Williams coming in at three. Although Williams was part of a running back committee with Melvin Gordon, he still managed to total 903 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He was almost impossible to bring down as 31% of Williams' rushing attempts saw him break tackles - 63 to be exact. Williams will likely be the starting running back for Denver. With Russell Wilson now in town, Williams will be in an even better position to excel, since defenses will devote less attention to him.
4. Amon-Ra St. Brown
As a fourth round pick for the Detroit Lions, Amon-Ra St. Brown went into last season with the least hype out of all the players mentioned on this list. He had a few solid games, but it wasn't until the final six weeks of the season when St. Brown began to showcase his potential. In that stretch, St. Brown had 474 yards and five touchdowns which included a game winner against the Vikings. St. Brown's increased usage makes him a heavy favorite to be Detroit's starting receiver going into this season.
5. Elijah Moore
With high upside as a second round receiver, Elijah Moore recorded over 500 yards. These stats are decent at best, but considering that Moore was either injured or barely targeted in the early portion of the season, his progress in his final six games has given Jets fans plenty of optimism. From weeks 8-13, Moore had 459 yards and five touchdowns. Even more impressive, Moore posted these numbers while playing without fellow rookie Zach Wilson who was injured for four of those games. With a bigger role and more young talent, it's very likely Moore's play will take a huge jump in year two.
Every New Alternate Design Ranked
Fans who generally like alternate uniforms were certainly happy when the NFL gave teams the green light to create an additional helmet, allowing teams to become creative in the process. This rule change has also prompted teams such as the Giants and Falcons to create alternate uniforms to go along with their new helmet designs. Many teams are currently having fun with this rule change and while it won't be a surprise if more teams join in, here's my ranking of all the new designs we have seen thus far.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals alternate helmets and jerseys are one of the most anticipated color rush designs this upcoming season. Cincinnati already debuted new uniforms last season but these alternates are a perfect addition. With these all-white helmets and a young core that went all the way to the Super Bowl, everything about this team is new and fresh. As one of the more fun teams last year, fans will certainly enjoy Cincinnati's color rush design when they face the Dolphins in week four.
2. Atlanta Falcons
This might be controversial for Giant fans, but I'm a big fan of the Falcons' decision to bring back their classic red helmets. Their throwback jerseys also match up very well with their helmets. Although Atlanta will only be wearing their attire for one game, it's cool combination between old school and new school.
3. New York Giants
While the Giants technically brought back their helmets from the 80s and 90s for the 2016-18 seasons, this is a lot better. Not only did they bring back their classic helmets from the Lawrence Taylor and Bill Parcells era, but they also reintroduced their old time jerseys which were worn in the same era.
4. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers have always had solid uniforms with their teal jerseys standing out in particular. However, they've taken their attire to another level with these black helmet which perfectly complement their black uniforms. While their Thursday Night matchup against the Falcons is far from one of the most anticipated games, the black helmets and uniforms will be a bright spot.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
Like the Panthers, the Eagles' new dark helmets will be a great addition to their black uniforms. While fans are more excited to see their Kelly green uniforms in 2023, I look forward to seeing these helmets match up with the black uniforms.
6. Washington Commanders
Unlike most of these teams, I like how every element of the Commanders' new uniforms stick out. Their home, away, and alternate attire brings something different to the table whether it's the "W" in the center of the black helmets or the golden numbers on the away jerseys.
7. New York Jets
A white background also would've looked very good but I have no problem with the black background complementing their green logo and face mask. While watching the Jets can be challenging, they always seem to wear the right jersey combinations on game days which is why I look forward to seeing their new alternate helmets when they play the Patriots, Bears, and Jaguars at home. Hopefully they'll also win for a change.
8. Dallas Cowboys
With these new helmets, the Cowboys will pair them with their old alternate uniforms which they would wear on Thanksgiving in previous years. It isn't new, but it's one of the few things involving the Cowboys that I actually don't have a problem with.
9. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals' new helmets which consist of a black background is the cherry on top for their black color rush uniforms. While it's not good enough to be in the upper half, the matching color scheme of the helmets and uniforms keep this design in the top 10.
10. New Orleans Saints
I've always been a fan of the Saints' attire, with their white and gold jerseys (pictured above) standing out. Their new alternate helmets are solid but they would be a lot higher if they didn't have all those small fleur-de-lis forming a stripe.
11. Houston Texans
The Texans will be in for a rough go in 2022 but at least their first uniform/helmet change was a good one. They will pair their new "battle red" helmet with their alternate red uniforms. Personally, I think this is a cool combination as their red uniforms will look even better compared to the dark blue helmets.
12 New England Patriots
While many people like the Patriots' decision to bring back their throwback uniforms which were worn for three decades, I've never liked these uniforms. Some of that admittedly has to do with my Jets fandom, but the logo of the Patriot snapping a football is way too corny. The strips on the uniforms also make them look like Buffalo Bills' attire.
13. Chicago Bears
Chicago had the right idea of creating an alternate helmet to match up with one of their uniforms. The only problem is that orange isn't the right color to go about this idea. A different helmet background such as white would've looked a lot better.
14. San Fransisco 49ers
The 49ers made some minor changes to their uniforms by going back to three stripes along with a saloon font in the center. Bigger changes would make this ranking a lot higher however.
Before I start, I will state that the Jets were certainly not the only team to have a spectacular draft class. Other teams such as the Chiefs, Ravens, and Giants all deserve credit for their draft selections. And while it will be awhile until we can draw conclusions from this year's draft class, here's why I currently think the New York Jets' class is a game changer.
Whereas some teams might've filled two position needs with in the first round at best, the Jets managed to fill in three during the draft. Going into the draft, the biggest needs for the Jets were a cornerback, an edge rusher, and skill position, receiver or running back.
With the fourth pick, the Jets addressed the cornerback position by selecting Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner. In his three years playing for Cincinnati, Gardner became the best defensive back in the nation. His length and athleticism helped him excel in man coverage where he never allowed a touchdown during his collegiate career. Against Jameson Williams, the best receiver Gardner has faced so far, he only allowed one catch for negative yards, proving he can match up against the best. Jet fans have waited for someone to finally fill in the shoes of Darrelle Revis and Gardner might be that guy.
Due to a trade with the Seattle Seahawks back in 2020, the Jets also had the 10th pick which was used to select wide receiver Garrett Wilson. Wilson joins a receiver group of Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, and Braxton Berrios that was solid but ravaged by injuries. As high ranked receiver with no injury concerns, Wilson's availability is something the Jets could use given the injuries to their skill positions. In addition, Wilson is known for his contested catches during his career at Ohio State. This could be essential for the Jets as they haven't had someone with that ability since Brandon Marshall.
With a quantity of picks that the Jets previously traded for in the later rounds, they managed to move up to the 26th pick where they selected edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II. After two quiet seasons at Georgia, Johnson experienced a breakout season for Florida State recording 12 sacks and 18 tackles for loss, both in the top 10 nationally. He will also have some motivation going into the season as he surprisingly fell in the draft despite being projected to go within the top 10. For the Jets, they will have a potentially formidable duo of outside rushers in Johnson and Carl Lawson.
By selecting Wilson, and later running back Breece Hall in the second round, the Jets have drafted three skill positions, not named Zach Wilson, in the first two rounds of this year and last year's draft (Elijah Moore is the other one). Add in last year's fourth round selection of running back Michael Carter, and this year's third selection of tight end Jeremy Ruckert, and the Jets have already done more for Zach Wilson in the draft than they've ever done for Sam Darnold. This philosophy resembles the Cincinnati Bengals' strategy of surrounding Joe Burrow with homegrown players in Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase. They are currently fresh off a Super Bowl appearance and have a bright future ahead of them.
Perhaps the most important thing to come out of this draft class if that the Jets are really establishing a foundation through the draft. By building the majority of their roster through the draft, the coaching staff will have the chance to develop these players into valuable contributors given the Jets' system is the only one they're familiar with in the pros. When you also consider the upside of last year's draft with players such as Alijah Vera-Tucker, Moore, Carter, and hopefully Zach Wilson, the Jets could be ahead of schedule. Something that fans would give anything to witness.
For the first time in years, the New York Jets have seemed to hit on almost all of their draft picks. With their nine picks from last year's draft, fans have a reason to feel optimistic on most of their selections. Even for a skeptical fan such as myself, this is a draft class that offers plenty of hope.
For starters, all of the Jets' draft picks played a combined 69 games this year, which is the most playing time any of their rookie classes have played since 2006. Quarterback Zach Wilson, wide reciever Elijah Moore, and offensive lineman Alijah-Vera Tucker were the only rookies to start going into the season, but more players saw an increase in their roles as the year went on. Offensively running back Michael Carter was one of the team's most skilled offensive players, tallying 945 yards from scrimmaging while possessing a knack to break multiple tackles almost every time he got the ball. twitter.com/nfl/status/1439669558797762564
On defense, cornerback Brandin Echolos became a force late in the season recording five pass deflections and two picks with one going for a pick six, while the other came off Tom Brady. He and his fellow rookie cornerback Michael Carter II combined to deflect 14 passes. Along with the progression of Bryce Hall, the Jets should have a solid cornerback trio for years to come. twitter.com/NFL/status/1472669413832683525?s=20
As for Wilson, Moore, and Vera-Tucker, they all made the most of the playing time they received from the start of the season. Wilson overcame a rocky start to finish the season on a strong not with nine total touchdowns while only throwing two picks since he returned from his week seven injury. His signature game was a 297 yard, two touchdown performance against a Titans team that finished number one in the AFC. Moore's play also improved throughout the season, as 459 of his team leading 538 yards came in his final six games, along with five receiving touchdowns. While he missed the final five games, there's lots of optimism surrounding his potential. Vera-Tucker was arguably the most consistent rookie as he was solid in pass protection while sparking a running game that was coming into its own. https://twitter.com/NFL/status/1444749314526367745?s=20
Going into last year's offseason, the only players that were considered cornerstones for Jets were their stud defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and offensive lineman Mekhi Becton. Now they have a true foundation of promising rookies, to go with Williams and linebacker C.J. Mosley, who had a nice bounce back year. By the season's end their rookies scored 15 touchdowns, which is more than any other draft class in franchise history. They also led the team in passing yards, rushing yards, receiving yards, and interceptions.
There's every reason to believe that Jets will be flirting with a playoff berth next season even if they don't make it. Their draft class was a major storyline for the team going into the season and they performed at an exceptional level for the most part. It's why they beat division winners such as the Titans and Bengals, while nearly upsetting the Buccaneers. Although they only won four games, they enter the offseason with the fourth most cap space in the league along with four selections within the top 50 draft picks. If they have a solid offseason and their rookies take huge leaps in their sophomore years, Jet fans can finally sleep happily after football Sundays.
Jets Draft Summary
On April 29th, the New York Jets entered the NFL needing to set themselves up for success in the short term and long term. After hiring Robert Saleh as their head coach, and trading their quarterback Sam Darnold, Joe Douglas set up himself for his most critical draft yet as a general manager. With the selection of quarterback Zach Wilson, trading up, and their commitment toward building around Wilson, this draft class is going to define Douglas' tenure with the Jets. With that being said, here's my opinion about their draft class.
1. Drafting Zach Wilson
Three years after, drafting Sam Darnold to be their franchise quarterback, the Jets are once again hitting the reset button on the quarterback position. Personally, I would've liked to see them keep Darnold and trade down to draft another skill position, such as Kyle Pitts. While Zach Wilson had an amazing season at BYU throwing for 33 touchdowns and only three picks, it was in a season affected by COVID-19 and he played against an easy schedule. However, Douglas still deserves to be trusted by fans since he has been a part of two organizations that have won Super Bowls in the Ravens and Eagles. He was very intrigued by Wilson throughout the offseason and was all in on drafting him following his pro day. Wilson is a talented quarterback who should succeed in the NFL, but in order to make that happen, the Jets must surround him in an environment with the right players and coaches. Something they can't do again after Darnold's tenure.
2. Trading Up
Although the Jets already had an extra first pick, Douglas wanted to move up. He traded the 23rd pick along with both third round picks to the Vikings for the 14th spot, which was used on offensive guard Alijah Vera-Tucker. Trading up to get an offensive lineman who plays on the interior is a risky move despite the fact that this position was their biggest need on the line entering the draft. On the other hand, Jets fans can get used to seeing Vera-Tucker playing on the left side next to last year's standout rookie and pancake machine Mekhi Becton. In addition, Vera-Tucker's ability to thrive in a zone blocking scheme, will be essential for their run game, which is based off the 49ers' system. It has been awhile since the Jets had stability at the offensive line, but Becton and Vera-Tucker can hopefully be cornerstones of that unit in the future.
3. More Skill Positions
In the following rounds, the Jets arguably already gave Zach Wilson more weapons than they did during Darnold's entire tenure. With their second round pick, they selected wide receiver Elijha Moore. Even though cornerback was one of their needs, Moore is a skilled receiver who was expected to go into the first round. He could be a huge steal for the Jets in the years to come. Moore is also from Ole Miss, which has produced two other talented receivers in DK Metcalf and AJ Brown. As for Wilson, this selection gives him a promising receiving core of Moore, last year's rookie Denzil Mims, and free agent acquisition Corey Davis.
The Jets continued to add weapons for Wilson with the selection of running back Michael Carter in the fourth round. Despite sharing touches with Javonte Williams at UNC, Carter had a very productive college career, and could work his way up the team's depth chart at running back. It's very common nowadays for a team to improve their running game through finding a running back later in the draft, and the Jets could be one of those teams if Carter establishes himself as an every down back. He must also establish himself as the better "Michael Carter" since the Jets drafted a cornerback who happens to have the same name.
This draft by the Jets had many positives. They hopefully selected their franchise quarterback who Douglas really trusts, and have committed themselves toward building around Zach Wilson. My original hopes were for them to keep Darnold while trading down, and select a cornerback in the second or third round rather than the fifth round. However, Douglas has experience with Super Bowl winning teams, most notably with the Ravens whose front office is one of the best in football. Therefore he probably knows what he's doing and hopefully, this draft will finally change the team's fortunes.
Takes From the Jets' New Coaching Hire
On Thursday, the New York Jets announced Robert Saleh as their new head coach. Saleh was the defensive coordinator of the San Fransisco 49ers since 2017, where he inherited a defense that was historically bad, and turned it into one of the top units. His energy on the sidelines during games is noticeable and is something that the Jets need. Fans will be counting on him to turn the team around following one of the worst seasons in their history.
Jets fans have a lot to look forward to with the hiring of Robert Saleh. To begin with, he's a fresh start following the tenure of previous head coach Adam Gase, who set the franchise back during his last two seasons. On game days, he brings much-needed energy and passion to the sidelines, which has been demonstrated on numerous occasions when the 49ers would come up with a big stop. His motivational and player-friendly demeanor, was well appreciated by players on the defense such as Sherman and Warner. So far, he has already reached out to every Jets players and they seem to like him despite not having played a game under him yet. Even with his motivational tactics, Saleh also has a technical approach on Sundays. With the hiring of fellow offensive coordinator Mike LeFleur, the offense will likely be run-oriented with lots of receivers in motion and play action passes.
Robert Saleh is a protege of one of the league's top coaches, Pete Carroll. During Saleh's tenure with the 49ers, his first two years weren't the easiest and there were calls for him to be fired. In 2019 however, the defense was one of the best units. Running a cover three defense, he finally had the group of pass rushers to really make his system work in Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Erik Armstead, and Dee Ford. Fred Warner served as the perfect linebacker for that scheme, and Richard Sherman who he was with in Seattle, anchored the secondary. They were a big reason why San Fransisco made the number one seed and breezed through the playoffs en route to a Super Bowl. While they didn't win, it was still a successful turnaround for the defense. In 2020, many of the key players suffered injuries, but the defense still remained a productive unit. Saleh's last two years proved to be more than enough for the Jets to hire him.
Overall, this is a very good hire for the Jets. Saleh really knows how to bring a winning attitude. This is illustrated through his 10 lessons of coaching:
If there's someone who can really put all of the Jets' dreadful years behind them, Robert Saleh could be the answer. His energetic and technical approach on Sundays could be a critical factor to the team. It doesn't often happen that a team makes a hire that everyone seems to love, but the Jets have made it. Now the results must come next.