Preseason - 2021 New York Jets Outlook
New York Jets Outlook
After 10 straight seasons of missing the playoffs and a losing record each year since 2016 (23-57), Jets' fans have to miss Rex Ryan, who led them to the postseason in 2009 and 2010. Adam Gase helped New York draft their second franchise quarterback in just three easy years, thanks to a 2-14 record in 2020 while being outscored by 214 points.
Robert Saleh earns the keys to the future of the franchise after spending the past four seasons as the defensive coordinator for the 49ers. He's been a coach in the NFL since 2005, giving him 16 years of experience. Saleh was part of the coaching staff in Seattle that won the Super Bowl in 2013. His defense for San Francisco in 2019 reached the championship game.
New York added Mike LaFleur to run the offense. He worked as the pass game coordinator for the 49ers from 2017 to 2020, after having success with the Falcons in 2015 and 2016 (offensive assistant). LaFleur has seven years of experience in the league. His opportunity for the Jets will be a step up in job. New York had the worst offense in the league last season.
Jeff Ulbrich takes over as the defensive coordinator. He played in the NFL for 10 seasons with the 49ers before starting his coaching career in Seattle in 2010. Over the past six seasons, Ulbrich worked in the Falcons' system as a linebacker coach, plus some duties as the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator.
New York's defense showed growth in 2019 (seventh in yards allowed and 16th in points allowed – 359), but they fell to a bottom-tier defense last year. The Jets allowed 457 points (26th) while dropping to 24th in yards allowed.
The Jets addressed their weakness at wide receiver by signing Corey Davis to a four-year contract. He failed to live up to his draft pedigree in 2017 (5th overall) in his first three seasons, but his game started to shine last year. His next step is seizing an elite WR1 opportunity in the big apple.
Keelan Cole signed a two-year deal for wide receiver depth. His success and value with the Jaguars were up and down while almost being a tease to the fantasy market after a surprising rookie season (42/748/3) as an undrafted free agent. He'll replace WR Breshad Perriman, who signed with the Lions.
New York brought in Tevin Coleman to compete for snaps at running back. He has ties to offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. TE Tyler Kroft moved from the snow belt in New York (Buffalo) to the Jets. His role/opportunity has a low ceiling.
The top players added to the defense were DE Carl Lawson, DT Sheldon Rankins, and Lamarcus Joyner.
Lawson should be an upgrade to New York's pass rush. They expect him to work in a rotational role with minimal chances in early downs against the run.
Over the past two seasons, Rankins battled injuries leading to no impact value for the Saints. He is a former first-round draft pick (2016) who flashed pass-rushing upside in 2018 (eight sacks).
Joyner likes to keep receivers in front of him while allowing minimal damage in touchdowns and receiving yards. New York will use him in slot coverage while moving him back to safety.
Their defense lost DE Jordan Jenkins (HOU), DE Tarell Basham (DAL), and CB Brian Poole (unsigned). Jenkins failed to make an impact in New York in the pass rush and stopping the run. Basham showed growth as a run defender over the last two seasons. Poole played well in coverage out of the slot.
The direction of the Jets will hinge on the success of Zack Wilson with the second overall pick. New York has no choice but to start him in his rookie season based on their quarterback depth in early May. Young's scouting report on NFL.com mentioned he had a look of Johnny Manziel with better movement in and out of the pocket. Just this comparison gave the feel of a potential underachiever when adding his short resume of success.
The bottom line with Young is that he played for a good team that won eight games by 25 points or more last season. He has some intangibles that should progress at the next level. At the same time, his overall play will need time to develop, and I question his ceiling. Turnovers could be a problem earlier in his career until he fine-tunes his mechanics and improves his vision in play development.
New York took a swing at improving the offensive line with the second pick in the first round (G Alijah Veras-Tucker). Last year he handled himself well when asked to play left tackle, which is a sign of an explosive high upside player. Veras-Tucker will be an upgrade as a run blocker with the talent to play well in pass sets. He plays well on the move and in space in the run game with the power to stuff a bully on the run. Any shortfalls in technique should be coachable, helping his ceiling.
The Jets caught a break when the speedy WR Elijah Moore made it back to them in the second round. He projects as a slot receiver with the ability to test a defense in the deep passing game. Moore will be a zone buster while possibly struggling against physical corners in tight coverage. His release looks favorable with the hands to win in close quarters. Moore continues to improve while offering sneaky upside. His reported 40-yard time (sub 4.40) put him in the game with the top receivers in this year's draft.
The offensive building continued in the fourth round with the addition of RB Michael Carter. He runs hard with the vision, power, and elusiveness to reach the second level of the defense. After that, Carter is at the mercy of the open field in front of him. North Carolina used him out of the shotgun on draw plays in the run game. He almost has a misplaced feel in his skill set. I don't see a difference-maker on third downs in the passing game. Carter will catch passes, but most of his chances may come downfield when matched up with a linebacker.
At 5'8" and 199 lbs., Carter has a strong lower half while owning an edge in quickness. His top-end speed came in below expectation when adding in his build.
New York had three selections in each of the fifth and sixth rounds, leading six darts thrown at the defensive side of the ball – S Jamien Sherwood, CB Michael Carter, CB Jason Pinnock, S Hamsah Nasirildeen, CB Brandin Echols, and DT Jonathan Marshall.
Sherwood will bring fire in run support when moving forward and attacking the line of scrimmage. He'll get tested vs. speed running backs and tight ends over the long field. Offenses will look to take advantage of his weakness in coverage by using crossing patterns to get him matched up with a wide receiver. His change of direction quickness puts him in a heap of trouble if caught too close to the line and asked to be in chase mode.
Carter has an up-close and in-your-face feel in coverage, but his game works best if drawing a lower-tier option at wide receiver. He'll work well defending over the short field out of the slot with the wheels to turn and go if asked to play in a trailing position. Carter isn't quite there yet in his technique when allowing a receiver to have a free release when facing the line of scrimmage. His size (5'10" and 185 lbs.) can get him in trouble in close quarters when trying to get to his assignment when faced with traffic and blocking.
Pinnock is another cornerback New York drafted who will be at his best when testing the release of a wide receiver out of press coverage. He has the NFL look in his movements and playability, but his vision and decision-making lead to him being a target in the deep passing game. Pinnock will have more value in red zone coverage.
The next dart for the Jets in their secondary came with Nasirildeen in the sixth round. He's coming off a torn ACL in his left knee. His physical style fits what the new coaching staff wants to do on the defensive side of the ball. Nasirildeen hits hard and has a workman attitude in his game prep. He needs to improve his tackling technique plus anticipate better when reading play development. I expect him to be a much better player when he steps on the field in his next game.
Echols is the developmental speed swing cornerback for New York. His challenge will come when matched up with elite physical wide receivers who will own him in 50/50 type plays. He has a playmaker feel despite not producing elite success in 2020 for Kentucky. Echols will make his tackles, but offensive blockers will eat him up in run support.
Marshall has a short resume of starting. His motor needs more gas to handle more volume of plays as the game moves on. His quickness and power point to upside and more production if he is willing to put in the work to get stronger and develop his pass-rushing moves. For now, Marshall will work as a hold-the-line run defender.
New York inched up to 23rd in rushing yards (1,683) last year while scoring nine rushing touchdowns. They gained 4.1 yards per carry with four rushes over 20 yards.
The Jets ranked 31st in passing yards (3,115) with 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Their offensive line allowed 43 sacks.
LT Mekhi Becton
The rebuild of the Jets offensive line starts with their rookie first-round draft pick. New York hopes that they found a long-time Pro Bowler, who should instantly improve the run game. Becton is a beast of a man (6'7" and 364 lbs.). His range should be expansive as far as reach while having the footwork to control pass rushers. Becton's desire to fire after the snap can lead to some poor timing if he misses his mark. Maintaining his weight and overall quickness are the keys to his long-term upside.
In his 14 starts, Becton finished with a slight edge in all areas despite playing in a lousy offense. He did give up some sacks, which should be cleaned up with growth in the Jets' offense.
LG Alijah Vera-Tucker
The left side of the Jets' offensive line should be in a good place over the next decade. Vera-Tucker should hit the ground running with the tools to reach a higher ceiling. His run blocking looks to be ahead of his pass protection skills while grading well in both areas.
C Connor McGovern
Over the last three seasons, McGovern started all 48 games for the Broncos and Jets. He continues to allow too much pressure and sacks up the middle, inviting job loss risk. His run blocking came in about league average in 2020.
RG Alex Lewis
New York signed him to a three-year contract for $18 million in March last year. He made nine starts before landing on the injured list due to a shoulder injury and dealing with an off-the-field issue. The addition of Vera-Tucker pushed him sideways to compete for the right tackle job. Lewis played better in the run game while showing more fade in pass protection. The starting gig is his job to lose, but New York needs a higher ceiling player.
RT George Fant
In 2018 as a rotational player for Seattle, Fant showed improvement at right tackle. Over the past two seasons, he started 22 of the 31 games with some run and pass blocking issues.
The Jets' offense now hinges on an incoming rookie quarterback while having strength on the left side of their offensive line. The structure of the wide receiver core looks much improved, which sets the foundation of a climb up the offensive mountain in the NFL. This line projects to be league average due to weakness at three positions.
The Jets tried to run a balanced offense last year, but game scores got in the way. They ran the ball 44.9 percent of the time while attempting only 499 passes, which was about 20 percent lower than the league average.
QB Zach Wilson, NYJ - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
After two dull seasons at BYU (3,960 passing yards with 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions), Wilson burst onto the NFL map after an explosive junior year. He completed 73.5 percent of his passes for 3,692 yards while delivering 33 passing touchdowns and three interceptions. His most impressive stat may have been his 11.0 yards per pass attempt. Last year Wilson became more active at the goal line (10 TDs) in the run game while gaining 254 yards on 70 carries. His low output in 2019 was tied to his recovery from right shoulder surgery and a broken right thumb that also required surgery. The Jets passed for 3,115 yards last year with 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, which is Wilson's starting point. New York gave him plenty of wide receiving talent to start his career, and his blindside should be well protected.
Fantasy Outlook: I expect Wilson to start, but there will be some mistakes and growing pains. He has enough talent to over 4,000 combined yards with an entire season of starts. I don't expect him to rank above the league average in touchdowns. Fantasy owners in the high-stakes market rank him as the 27th option in the 12-team fantasy drafts in mid-May.
QB James Morgan, --- - Not Draft Worthy
In 2019, Morgan played through a knee issue, which hurt overall production. Morgan is a big quarterback (6'4" and 230 lbs.) with a live arm. He wants to drive the ball to his receivers, but his mechanics need work to improve his accuracy. Morgan has a long motion while holding the ball at waist level at times, which will lead to many fumbles in the NFL. He doesn't read defenses well and his rhythm, feel, and touch in the short passing game needs plenty of work.
Morgan had a chance to play quarterback over four different seasons in college, but only once did he flash any intrigue (2018 at FIU – 2,727 passing yards with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions). Over 42 career games, he passed for 8,654 yards with 65 touchdowns and 34 interceptions. His completion rate (57.2) was a liability in every season except one (65.3 - 2018). Morgan will hold a clipboard for many games before getting a chance to play in the NFL.
Other Options: Mike White
RB Michael Carter, NYJ - Sleeper (undervalued)
Last year the Jets' running backs gained 1,829 combined yards with seven touchdowns and 61 catches. They gained only 4.0 yards per rush and 6.3 yards per catch.
Carter worked as the change of pace back for the Tarheels. Over his final two seasons, he gained 2,669 yards with 16 touchdowns and 46 catches. He gained 8.0 yards per rush and 10.7 yards per catch in his senior year.
The structure of the Jets' running back has a lot of moving parts. Carter is the new shining toy, and he may very well end up with the best opportunity for New York.
Fantasy Outlook: His early ADP (126) shows that fantasy owners have placed their bet on him to earn the starting job in 2021. Carter should have a floor of 150 rushes with a chance at 30-plus catches. My starting point is 850 combined yards with only a handful of scores. I view him as more of an RB4, with his best success coming over the second half of the year.
RB Ty Johnson, NYJ - Low Potential
Over his first two years in the NFL, Johnson gained 735 combined yards with two touchdowns and 40 catches on 157 touches. His best showing last season came in Week 13 (117 combined yards with one touchdown and two catches). Despite his success, New York only gave him only 32 touches over their final four games leading to 152 combined yards with one touchdown and eight catches.
Fantasy Outlook: Johnson brings speed to the running back position to the Jets' running game. He won't be a factor at the goal line with some value in the passing game. Johnson is more of a flier than an ownable player in the fantasy market.
Other Options: John Adams, Pete Guerriero
RB Tevin Coleman, NYJ - Quality Backup
After three solid years of success with the Falcons (2,944 combined yards with 28 touchdowns and 90 catches), Coleman failed to make an impact with the 49ers over two seasons while battling injuries. In 2020, he gained only 87 combined yards with four catches on 32 touches due to a knee injury.
Coleman played under Mike LaFleur over the past five seasons, which puts him in the one or two position for running back snaps for New York.Fantasy Outlook: His experience in the NFL and with the coaching staff gives him the inside track to start in Week 1 for the Jets. Coleman will catch some passes while possibly being the top goal-line back out of the gate.
RB Lamical Perine, NYJ - Deep-league Only
Perine has the feel of a running back that will take the yards given to him, but his feet don't have the change of direction value needed to create a winning starting edge in the NFL. His best move may be a slight jump-cut through the line of scrimmage where his acceleration has value over a short area. Perine runs with patience and some power, but his game takes a clear step back when faced with no running room and forced to make yards with his quickness from a standstill.
Over four seasons at Florida, he gained 3,159 combined yards with 30 touches and 72 catches on 565 touches. His best value running the ball came in 2018 (134/826/7)) while setting career highs in catches (40), receiving yards (262), and receiving touchdowns (5) last year.
His speed (4.62 forty) is below par while showing plenty of strength (22 reps in the bench press at the NFL combine). He works hard with fight in his game. Perine has a looker feel in pass protection while thinking rather than knowing where to go to pick up the free-running blitzer. This shortfall looks coachable, and more experience in these situations will help his growth.
In his rookie season, he gained 295 combined yards with two touchdowns and 11 catches. Perine missed four games late in the year with an ankle issue plus the final week with Covid concerns.Fantasy Outlook: He projects a rotation backup in 2021 while needing a couple of injuries to clear his path for more playing time.