The New York Jets plainly did not give Sam Darnold the resources he needed to become a quality NFL quarterback. They decided to start fresh under center, but the wisdom of their 2021 NFL Draft lay more in the decisions which followed the Zach Wilson pick.
Jets NFL draft chess moves:
3. Elijah Moore at pick No. 34
The Jets need playmakers. Elijah Moore of Ole Miss is a playmaker. New York general manager Joe Douglas recalled the 2019 NFL draft, in which another Ole Miss receiver fell a long way on the draft board. The Seattle Seahawks took D.K. Metcalf at No. 64. The Ole Miss product had a lot to prove, and became a dynamic receiver who has enabled Seattle to remain an annual playoff team despite an atrocious offensive line and an inconsistent defense.
Douglas didn’t wait to pick an Ole Miss receiver. Moore might not be as electric as Metcalf, but he is strong and fast. He might not win 50-50 balls in the air, and he might not be the home-run hitter other elite receivers are, but he is a terror in the open field. He can gain a lot of yards after the catch and can wreak havoc on opposing defenses on short and intermediate passes. He could easily become Zach Wilson’s security blanket with the Jets in third-and-medium situations. New offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur (the brother of Matt, who coaches the Green Bay Packers) will have fun using Moore in many different ways.
New York’s offense gave Wilson a lot of versatility with this pick.
2. Alijah Vera-Tucker at pick No. 14
The Jets could have listened to the people who said that with Mekhi Becton already on the offensive line, it was unwise to go for another offensive lineman with the team’s first pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
Joe Douglas ignored that line of thought… and wisely so. The Jets’ offensive line was bad last season, even with Becton there. New York faced the NFC West in its four games against NFC opponents. All four NFC West teams made Gang Green’s offensive line look like amateurs (even the Rams, who stumbled in that game; New York won that contest because Jared Goff was terrible).
The Jets needed to continue to upgrade their line. Getting Vera-Tucker — the second straight USC offensive lineman to go in the first round of the NFL draft (after Austin Jackson went to the Miami Dolphins at No. 18 last year) — represents a commitment to that area of need.
Austin Jackson wasn’t amazing with the Dolphins in his rookie season, but he held his own and showed he could develop into a decade-long anchor. The Jets feel the same about Vera-Tucker. It was an investment worth making. Douglas’s thought process was appropriate for the situation.
1. The Jet Set: New York sets its sights on offense
The Jets did on offense what the Dallas Cowboys did on defense in this NFL draft. They stayed with one side of the ball through the first 120 picks on the board. Dallas picked defensive players at 12, 44, 75, 84, 99, and 115. New York did something similar, but on offense.
The Jets picked at No. 2, No. 14, No. 34, and No. 107. They picked offensive players at all four spots before finally picking defensive players later on Day 3 of the draft (Saturday, May 1).
The Jets and Joe Douglas realized that they were taking a risk by picking Zach Wilson, a controversial selection given that Justin Fields and Trey Lance were available options. We can question the Wilson pick and yet note that if a team is going to start fresh at QB the way this team did, it is responsible and wise to surround that young signal-caller with an ample supply of weapons and pass protectors.
The Jets had a smart draft. The philosophy was exactly what the team needed. Now the picks — especially Wilson — need to pan out.