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Our Inflection point - The 2021 New York Jets draft

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Inflection point: An event that results in a significant change in the progress of a company, industry, sector, economy, or geopolitical situation and can be considered a turning point after which a dramatic change, with either positive or negative results, is expected to occur.

The New York Jets have reached a historical inflection point. Everything, except ownership, is about to change for the Green Machine in 2021. A major overhaul unlike no other is underway after a lost decade which has left the Jet fanbase (us) numb and indifferent. While we are no strangers to this act and the hope it, at least temporarily, inspires, we meet the new future with great reservation and doubt. Recent experience tells us that no matter how glossy the asset or solution, once the Jet sticker is attached, it can quickly deteriorate into chaos. Our history books are littered with stomach churning draft picks, a bevy of un-inspirational coaches and a amnesia inducing number of outright embarrassing games. 

In 2019, just as the last ray of hope was setting on the Jets future, they threw up a Hail Mary of sorts. AFTER the 2019 NFL draft they went out and hired a new GM. Joe Douglas came on board and, while the jury is somewhat still out, things at least have felt, organizationally, different. Initially overwhelmed by the disfunction he found at his new employer, Douglas didn't exactly light the lamp right out of the gate. He made some fundamental blunders like failing to sort out the kicking game by opening day and getting into player injury disputes, including high profile one's with Kelechi Osemele and fan favorite Quincy Enunwa. This was followed by the head scratching loss of Robby Anderson whom Douglas failed to re-sign. The peanut gallery wasn't happy..

Still, sitting in the captain's chair of his first Jet draft in 2020, Douglas appeared to get the crucial early couple of rounds right. Both Becton and Mims look like the real deal. More importantly while he nosed around in the trash can that is the NFL free agent market he at least recognized the deficiencies of the offensive line. The 2020 keystone cop approach was far from perfect but it was an improvement over 2019 52 sack debacle. The running game improved to over 4 ypc. Maybe the most important move Douglas made was shipping super-blitzer Jamal Adams to Seattle for a treasure trove of premium picks. At the end of his second year Adam Gase was predictably sent on his merry journey and a new staff led by uber alpha Robert Saleh and Kyle Shanahan's long time wing-boy Mike Lafleur was assembled. New names that made one pause from falling further into the futility coma.

It was such an un-Jet thing to do.

And here we sit. A GM with a plan. A new, seemingly well qualified coaching staff. A whitewashing of the old guard. Most importantly, combined with a war chest of free agent dollars and an abundance of draft picks, these changes truly place the Jets in a unique position. The dregs of the league are envious.

The perfect storm.

It all starts tonight at 8 PM and by the end of the evening the Jets may have anywhere from 1-3 new high profile players. 

The Quarterback conundrum
A few years back this letter was able to very accurately forecast how the Mayfield/Darnold/Allen/Rosen/Jackson performance dynamic would pan out. Despite the media ogling over Rosen's seemingly effortless throwing motion the Bruin was relegated to the bottom of our list. Darnold was given the lowest ceiling of the group but was turn key despite his youth, and at the top sat Allen and, surprisingly to many, Jackson. In any case these players littered the first round much as the five or six 2021 cadence barkers do.

This is certainly far from a clipboard year and that alone is unique. 

Over the last decade there have been eight drafts that I would define as clipboard years. In 2010 you had Bradford (1st overall) and Tebow go in the first round. The next year was fireworks with Cam followed by pencil warriors like Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder. Everything changed in the premium 2012, Luck, the what could have been RG III, Ryan Tannehill, Kirk Cousins and of course the overlooked Russell Wilson. It was an outlier. Year after year we saw premium picks implode on names like EJ Manuel, Geno Smith (ugh), Blake Bortles, Johnny Football, Jameis Winston and the list goes on and on. Finding a quarterback is a more miss than hit business, even in the first round. One truly needs the stars to line up and when they do you must get in the draft game and hit hard.
Enter the class of 2021.

Sitting atop the rankings and for obvious reasons is Trevor Lawrence, already spoken for like the best looking girl at the prom back in the day. 

Then the fun begins.

Justin Fields. Zach Wilson. Trey Lance. Mac Jones. According to the pundits, these four make up "the" list. I have Youtubed the crap out of them and the other 10 prospects below them. Watched every meaningless pro day which is akin to playing Nerf Football in the backyard. Tons of in game highlights and lowlights. In today's oversaturated information matrix, opinions are everywhere on the group with the consensus #2 being Wilson followed by the other three going into the mystery box.

We all know what matters most is what the BPJ lays out as law so here it goes. 

First things first; in any other year, without hesitation, I would make Kyle Pitts the Jets 1st round pick at #2. Much like Calvin Johnson back in 2007, Pitts is the one sure thing in this draft. He is going to be a game changer for someone and I just hope and pray it isn't Miami. I think enough of Pitts that I would be willing to part with our #23, our 2nd round pick (#34) and one of our two 2022 1st round picks from the Adams trade. In essence we would have turned Adams and a 2nd rounder into Pitts. What about O-line you ask? A new quarterback and all these weapons are useless without better guard play and potentially a new right tackle. Well, unless the Jets trade up from #23 anyway to go O-line, #23 and #34 are going defense to fortify the 4-3 cover 3 package Saleh is bringing in. Finally, understand that Pitts is not a tight end. He is a nuclear weapon pure and simple that can be used anywhere in the route tree. God help us if he is a Dolphin...

It's fantasyland I know, and sorry for the digression. Back to the four remaining quarterbacks. 

The four remaining quarterbacks after Lawrence are extremely different in way, shape and manner yet very little seems to differentiate them when analyzing where they will be selected.

Pretty much every mock has Wilson going to the Jets. He is the most improved candidate of the bunch from 2019 to 2020 that is for sure. The soft schedule concerns are everywhere but usually accuracy numbers (interception rate), regardless of opponents, somewhat carry over to the NFL. If there is one predictor of disaster in the NFL it is interceptions thrown in college. There are very few exceptions to this rule. 

My personal concerns with Wilson are as follows; he, much like Darnold, is still a kid. While he can grow into a leadership role he doesn't appear to be the type to lead his troops through a brick wall at the next level. That is the type of respect that you either have or don't and if you don't, it needs to be earned the hard way. We have all seen Wilson, much like Josh Allen at Wyoming, leapfrogging guys and diving head first for extra yards. He was that type of guy at BYU and that helped earn him his loyalty rewards. Physically, he doesn't look like he has the body type to endure the punishment that manner of on field behavior attracts in the NFL. He is a touch on the smaller side for me and certainly doesn't have the thickness or bulk that the other 3 have. Drew Brees survived being small because he is ripped. Zach Wilson is not. He may have a slingshot arm but man, you better have a back up plan if this is the predicted direction we are supposedly headed in. Honestly, I am not in love with this pick solely from a durability standpoint. I do think his ceiling is high which is a different scenario than when we took Darnold. Can he stay healthy will be the question. I'm just not sure. If, and it's a big if, he does stay healthy the sky is the limit...

Will my smile be wider if I hear Justin Fields name called at 8:10 PM? Certainly from a physicality standpoint. Fields is a specimen. An unreal athlete that is top tier dual threat while still being a mostly a pocket first guy. Some of his throws were jaw dropping "only this guy could pull that off" type of stuff. Yet there were some pretty considerable bumps along the way. He seemed to regress on a number of occasions this year, most notably against Indiana and Northwestern, where he looked ordinary at best. Opinions on him seem to be the most polar of the lot. Some have him going 3rd overall, others have him unbelievably slipping into the latter part of the 1st round. We have seen this story before. He has all the tools to be spectacular. Does he want to be spectacular? YOU HAVE GOT TO WANT IT. 

All the buzz at the moment seems to surround the meteoric rise of Mac Jones. A lot of pundits have already penciled him in as the third pick going to San Francisco, and for good reason. Though he may not possess the strongest arm of the group, Jones is extremely accurate downfield, especially to his right. If Marcus Mariota could have thrown to his right he would still be starting in this league. It's the hardest thing for a quarterback to do (Mahomes still struggles with it as do many NFL quarterbacks seeing a 15-20% drop off in accuracy verses throwing left). He also places the ball nicely with a steep downward trajectory which is always desirable. Like the others there are questions, most of which point to the all star cast which Jones was surrounded with in college. His receivers were ELITE. His O-line ELITE. His defense was ELITE meaning the defenses he was facing were gassed half the time from being on the field all game long. He would be entering a pretty good spot in San Francisco so it's not like he is going to the Lions or some other train wreck. I surprisingly think Mac Jones has the least bust factor of the lot. At the same time, his ceiling isn't through the roof like the others either. The type of guy that can win games but not by carrying a team on his shoulders all alone. He is going to need lots of best supporting actors like he had at Bama.

Which leaves us with the ultimate gamble, Trey Lance. Look, no one and I mean no one runs a 16 game season without an interception. In order to do that his mind must be processing information at a rate beyond all others, including Trevor Lawrence. Pro scouts will tell you that the most difficult transition from college to pro is in information processing and this is a direct result of the increase in defensive speed. Lance ticks the processing box big time. This is what has scouts hyper excited about Trey Lance. Additionally, he checks the athleticism box. The arm is there and some. He is the anomaly with the biggest ceiling bar none. He will best be served sitting behind a good teacher and getting up to NFL speed, especially after a vital year off the field in 2020. He is probably the least turn-key of the bunch but at the same time he could pick up this level of game faster than the rest given his football brain.

Other honorable mention includes Kyle Trask. Trask is the big bodied Florida gunslinger. In an ordinary clipboard year Trask would be a sure thing as far as going in the first round. While a likely 2nd rounder in 2021, Trask showed up in a big way on the national stage letting it all hang out verses Alabama in the SEC championship game, hanging 46 points on the Tide in the process. No one torched the Alabama like that all year. I wouldn't be shocked to see him get locally picked up by Tampa Bay. 

Of the best of the rest crowd Kellen Mond is interesting as he had a great year at A&M, offers dual threat flexibility and could be a good #2 in the right spot. Finally way down the list (in CFL territory) is a guy who quietly had one hell of a year, that being Ian Book. I have never been a big fan of Notre Dame quarterbacks and Book is the smallest of the whole crowd but the guy is a pure football player. He was very accurate all season long, putting up 70% completion rates back to back against both Alabama and Clemson. While the 'Bama game was a never in doubt for the Tide, Book played every down hard, even in garbage time up to the last meaningless play of the game. He always tried, every down, every play. It's a trait that you find in few modern athletes. There are a lot of pure leadership qualities in Ian Book and in my sports experience, regardless of the game played, guys like this, if they can get through the gauntlet and eventually get a shot, can surprise some people. He could develop into a real nice #2 one day. 

Or he is selling fitness equipment in 24 months. 

So the list goes as follows (to be graded after the 2023 season) 

Lance (!!!)

Of course the Jets aren't done there, far from it. Picks number 23 and 32 are up next. There are some suggestions that the Jets would take a great RB were one to be had. Personally I doubt this. The defensive transformation that Saleh will bring to this defense will require a number of personnel changes. If Saleh stays true to his colors and sticks predominantly with a cover 3 scheme the Jets will need to play light at the linebacker position. There is so much pressure placed on linebackers in cover 3. They need to be mobile and adaptable to a number of different coverages. There will be less blitz pressure on them as more of the pass rush disruption will fall upon the 4 down linemen in the 4-3. Quinnen is the perfect fit for this defense and we still don't know what we are getting in Carl Lawson (do we ever..??) but it sounds promising. Some of our other bulkier, less mobile D-linemen (think Sheppard) will need to be able to get up the field or get off the field. This will be a no nonsense defense that will not be nearly as deceptive as what Greg Williams put forth. Saleh has been a little more experimental in the past couple of years with some disguised blitzes (dropping linemen into coverage) and this too will require extremely mobile athletes up front. I don't think we have to worry about re-signing Sheldon Richardson... I expect the Jets to use one of these two latter premium picks on a mobile D lineman who plays the edge or a mobile linebacker.

The other premium will likely get burned finding a pure NFL starting caliber corner. It's been a while since the Revis days and while a talent like that is not on the board there are a number of very good corners, all of whom have size and are projected to be available in the early 2nd round. Young incumbents like Bryce Hall and Bless Austin still look promising and have shown that they have the tools to become serviceable starters down the road. Someone to anchor that group would benefit the stop side in a big way. 

Finally there is the off chance that the Jets are swapping spots with someone tonight. Douglas will be on the phone all night shuffling his draft chips. I could see them moving up in round 1, I could see them moving into round 1 (from 32) and I could see them trading out of round 1 if their needs could be had later than 23. They hold lots and lots of cards...

If Douglas plays those cards right we will enter the second inning of a dramatic change for this franchise. Rarely does an opportunity like this present itself to any NFL team, let alone the Jets. 

The stakes are incredibly high. This is our inflection point. 

Go get 'em.

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