Undrafteds New York Jets preseason review. I’ll start with this. Whatever you think you know about the Jets. Throw it out. This might as well be a brand new franchise. The Jets can put the Adam Gase era behind them, and GM Joe Douglas, along with head coach Robert Saleh, can begin to build the future. For Jets fans, this is what you’ve been waiting for. There aren’t many teams, if any, that had a better draft than the New York Jets, who executed their first three picks perfectly, adding QB Zach Wilson, guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, and wide receiver Elijah Moore. Then using their later round picks to boost the depth on defence, and start to add some guys for defensive minded head coach Robert Saleh to work with, it was a great weekend in April for the New York Jets.
In no way am I suggesting that the Jets are now suddenly a Super Bowl contender. But it is going to be a totally different roster, approach, atmosphere, and energy on the green side of Metlife stadium. The energy that Saleh brought to the sideline as defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers was immense, and that defence, despite being flooded with star talent, rallied and played for him. Saleh will now carry that energy into his first head coaching role, and the front office seem very happy with their decision. Christopher Johnson, vice chairman of the franchise, talked about Salehs’ intellect, power, and total sync with GM Joe Douglas on how to build an NFL roster during the Jets own brand Youtube series ‘Flight’. Johnson added that during the interviewing process with Saleh, they took a quick break, gathered in Douglas’ office and all had ‘huge smiles on their faces’ because they knew they’d found their coach.
It’s been an extremely busy off season for the Jets. Firstly with the head coaching hire, then making the decision to move on from Sam Darnold, who they traded to the Panthers, in order to welcome a new face of the franchise with the 2nd overall pick. We’ll get onto Zach Wilson shortly. The most stand out thing for me with the new… New York Jets… is this: There are often a few teams in the NFL who lack excitement. Their games won’t fill you with anticipation and quite often you’ll skip them. The Jets have been one of those teams in recent years. The Jets are absolutely not one of those teams anymore.
The Head Coach
Robert Saleh has been one of the most impressive coordinators for multiple years now. He took over the defensive coordinator role in San Fran in 2017, after serving as a linebackers coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was also a part of the coaching staff in Seattle during the legion of boom era, when the Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2013. He worked as a defensive quality control coach under Pete Carroll for three seasons.
Still only 42 years old, Saleh heads to New York with the same fire he had in San Francisco, only now, he’s in charge. Linebacker Fred Warner talked about Saleh during a segment on Good Morning Football, explaining how ‘intensely dialled in’ Coach Saleh is throughout the week, going over every miniature detail and all elements of what could happen during the game, and then lets out that excitement we see on the sideline on Sundays. His preparation during the week is second to none.
Saleh signed a five year contract with the Jets, and brings with him some of his coaches from the Niners. He’s going to implement discipline and aggression on a Jets defence that really needed it, and I have no doubts that he can be a leader of men in the locker room. The guys that play for him really seem to respect him, and although he’s hard on them and very disciplined, it’s for all the right reasons. This is a great hire for the New York Jets.
Landing with the second pick in the draft left the Jets a decision to make. Would they stick with Sam Darnold, or begin to look in a different direction? I like that they made that decision early. The Jets moved on from Darnold almost a whole month before the draft, and turned their full focus onto scouting and selecting the right guy to take over as the face of the franchise. As it unfolded, that guy ended up being exciting BYU prospect Zach Wilson.
Wilson matured into his role as the starting QB at BYU, and led his team in his third season to an 11-1 record, losing only one game to Coastal Carolina in a 17-22 defeat. Aside from that, BYU and their offence was electric. Zach threw 32 touchdowns and only 3 picks, and his ability to look after the football was something that really stood out to scouts at the Jets organisation. He’s also athletic, and able to escape the pocket and run without hesitation. He attributed a further 10 rushing touchdowns, and was key in the Cougars scoring 50+ points a game on three occasions, including a 66 point display against North Alabama.
Zach Wilson really matured during his junior season. His ability to go through his progressions and on some occasions throw to his third or fourth read is evident, and he stands in the pocket and will take a hit as he makes a throw. One Jets scout commented saying ‘he doesn’t flinch’, and went on to explain that a guy might be a great quarterback, but does he flinch when he knows he’s about to take a hard hit while making a throw? Wilson has the toughness they were looking for, and we’ve all seen the highlight reels, he can make just about every throw. He’s patient, trusts his instincts, and has all the tools it takes to be the guy to run that offence.
The challenge for him is the step up in competition, which of course every college QB faces as they turn pro, but particularly for Zach, as his 2020 season was played largely against their D1 subdivision opponents. The best team BYU faced was Coastal Carolina, and that was the game in which BYU scored the least points. Wilson wasn’t bad in the game, not at all, all I’m saying is that this was their toughest game, and they fell just short. That being said, i’m filled with confidence by his performances against number 21 ranked Boise State, who BYU blew to pieces, and Boca Raton bowl game against UCF, who they also took apart. Wilson threw 5 touchdowns and no picks across the two games, and protected the football well with zero turnovers. So yes, the NFL is a step up in competition for Zach Wilson, but the challenge games he faces in his 2020 season, he largely came out of glowing.
The Rookie To Watch
With a very strong rookie class, I can easily say all three of the Jets first three picks. I love what they’re doing to reinvent the offence, and I might have liked the Vera-Tucker trade up and draft better than the Zach Wilson pick. With Mekhi Becton at left tackle, adding Alijah Vera-Tucker at left guard is huge, and Zach Wilson’s blindside is so well protected immediately. Something Sam Darnold never had. What they also struggled for was weapons…
The Jets have boosted the receiver room adding Corey Davis as an outside threat, who left Tennessee off the back of a career year, and add depth with contributors such as Keelan Cole. We’re also yet to see the potential of Denzel Mims who missed half of his rookie year, and the Jets were bad for the rest of his when he did play. But my pick here ie Elijah Moore. The 2nd round pick (barely), was selected by the Jets 34th overall, and was the second name called on the second day of the draft. Moore comes from a line of Ole Miss receivers who have exploded in the league in recent years. Both Titans receiver AJ Brown, and Seahawks machine DK Metcalf were products of the Ole Miss receiver core, and Elijah Moore spent time with those guys as a young receiver with the Rebels.
Moore is a true professional, and comes out every single day to work. The Jets scouting attended his pro day, and noticed how locked in and focused he was all day long. Moore tore up the competition in 2020, going for 200 yards on three separate occasions (Florida, Vanderbilt, South Carolina). He ended the season with 1,193 receiving yards, primarily from the slot, and 8 touchdowns. The 5’9 185 pound prospect has a large opportunity to add something different for the Jets, and heading into rookie camp, OTAs and pre season training with fellow rookie Zach Wilson, I’d like to see the two of them build a strong relationship ahead of the NFL season starting. With so much focus on adding outside talent like Corey Davis, and Denzel Mims, the Jets address the inside of their receiving core with this pick, and with Jamison Crowder becoming a free agent at the end of the season, the spot is Moore’s to win for the long term. He’s a playmaker, a big play specialist, and can cause problems from the jump.
The New Kid On The Block
The Jets signed some good pieces that will serve as pillars for a team that’s rebuilding its whole roster. One of Saleh’s specialties as the coordinator for the Niners, was getting to the opposition quarterback. The way he used the likes of Nick Bosa & Dee Ford off the edge, and Fred Warner from linebacker helped those guys to reach their potential, and I see a similar outcome for edge rush Carl Lawson.
Lawson spent his first four seasons with the Bengals, after being drafted in the 4th round back in 2017. He was one of the top edge rush talents on the free agency market, and the Jets made a statement bringing him in on a 3 year, $45M dollar contract. Despite playing on a bad roster for the majority of his career so far, Carl Lawson has totalled 22 sacks in 4 seasons. If you discount his second season, where he missed a lot of time, and only managed 1 sack, that’s 21 sacks in 3 seasons for an average of 7. Now give a talent like that to Robert Saleh, and i’m excited to see how those possibilities shape up. With the Jets also adding defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, and first round star Quinnen Williams already showing just how good he is, Saleh might already have a pretty good defensive line going into this year…
The Up & Comer
The aforementioned Quinnen Williams is the guy to look out for this season. I’m not sure anybody on the roster will benefit more from the coaching changes than this young man. Williams contributed 8 sacks in year 2 in the 13 games he played in, and that was without any real superior talent on the edge. Now playing alongside veterans Sheldon Rankins and Carl Lawson, Williams will have less focus on him individually.
Saleh knows how to get his guys through the offensive line. The 49ers have ripped O-lines to pieces in recent years and tallied up sacks for fun. This hire is perfect for someone like Williams, who lets not forget, was drafted 3rd overall only two seasons ago. The Jets move Williams around on the line, which is something i’d now expect to see even more of, and the upside here for this young man is so high heading into this year. Williams will have a 10+ sack season if he’s healthy all year, and it could be a lot more than that too. I’m excited to see these guys play together.
Record Prediction: 7-10
Everything I’ve just said about the Jets is positive, so why the 7-10 season? Well, let’s not forget this team was 2-14 last year. This is a significant improvement. They’re not going to be a Super Bowl contender in Wilson’s rookie year, at least, not unless he goes absolutely bonkers from the jump. There are going to be rookie jitters. I mean, let’s look at the Chargers, Herbert was electric in his rookie year, and the Chargers have a great defence too, but they finished the year 7-9. I’d expect a bit of a slow start in New York, but as things begin to gel, and Saleh works in his systems, analysing what works and what doesn’t, the consistency will improve as the year goes on.
A rookie head coach, a rookie quarterback, and a whole bunch of guys who’ve not played together all that much, it takes time. But one things for sure, things are headed in the right direction for the New York Jets. Jets fans… the wait is over… things are starting to look brighter… and at the least, you have a season of football to be excited about.
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