Jets Players Who Will Be Most Impacted by 2021 NFL Draft Picks
In a little more than a week, the New York Jets will have their new franchise quarterback. After trading Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers earlier this month, it's clear the team will be selecting his replacement with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, which gets underway April 29.
Most mock drafts are expecting New York to take BYU quarterback Zach Wilson in the opening round. From there, the Jets will try to add players who fit their roster throughout the rest of the draft as they look to return to contention and end the longest active playoff drought in the NFL (dating back to the 2010 season).
Coming off a 2-14 season, New York has already had an eventful offseason after hiring new head coach Robert Saleh and bringing in some key free agents.
Now, it will look to have a successful draft, which means there could be players currently on the Jets' roster who are heavily impacted by the incoming wave of fresh talent.
Here's a look at several who will likely be affected by New York's draft.
WR Jamison Crowder
There's been some speculation this offseason that the Jets could cut Jamison Crowder, who will be a cap hit of $11.35 million in the 2021 season, which is the last year of his current contract.
If New York opts to take a receiver in the early-to-mid rounds of the draft, perhaps that could become even more of a possibility.
The Jets already have a new No. 1 wide receiver in free-agent acquisition Corey Davis, and they have several other talented playmakers on the roster, such as Denzel Mims, Josh Doctson and Keelan Cole Sr. (another free-agent acquisition). So if they bring in a rookie receiver (particularly one who can play in the slot), then Crowder could become expendable in order to clear some cap space.
The 27-year-old's targets could go down if he stays with the Jets in that situation, despite being a solid player during his two seasons in New York, with 137 receptions for 1,532 yards and 12 touchdowns in 28 games.
Even if the Jets don't draft a replacement for Crowder and opt to hold on to him for the final season of his contract, he'll be impacted by working with a new quarterback in New York. His chemistry with the rookie will likely define his future with the team.
CB Bless Austin
One of the positions the Jets most need to improve this offseason is cornerback.
The only corner New York has signed via free agency is Justin Hardee, which was a depth move. That means Bless Austin and Bryce Hall would likely be the two starters if the season opened today.
It's likely that will change within the first few rounds of the draft. The Jets own two first-round picks, and ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. projected them to take Northwestern product Greg Newsome II with the No. 23 pick in his most recent mock draft.
Coach Saleh is going to be looking for defensive players who fit his scheme, and that could lead to some overturn, particularly at cornerback. Hall was a rookie last year, so he could get some opportunity to develop.
However, Austin is now entering his third NFL season, and if he doesn't show improvement in camp and during the preseason, he could be the one who loses playing time in favor of a rookie.
Through his first two years, the 24-year-old has 88 tackles, two forced fumbles and no interceptions in 18 games. The Jets are going to add at least one cornerback in the draft, and if that ends up being a top prospect, it could have a major impact on Austin's status in 2021.
OG Greg Van Roten
The Jets appear to have three offensive linemen who are sure starters for 2021: left tackle Mekhi Becton, center Connor McGovern and right tackle George Fant.
It had been rumored that Fant could be cut this offseason, but as ESPN's Rich Cimini noted on March 28, $4.45 million of his $8.5 million salary for 2021 is now fully guaranteed, which "all but secures a roster spot." And that would be a lot to pay a backup.
While it's possible McGovern and/or Fant could move to a guard spot next season, there's also a chance they remain in their current roles. If that happens, then it's likely because New York selected a guard early in the draft, as it needs to improve from its current starting duo of Greg Van Roten and Alex Lewis at those spots.
Lewis is set to make $6.8 million next season, so it could be harder to justify moving him to the bench over Van Roten, who will earn $3.6 million. Plus, the 31-year-old had a Pro Football Focus player grade of 63 in 2020, so it's clear the Jets need more of an upgrade at right guard.
ESPN's Todd McShay projects New York to take Notre Dame offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg in the second round. If that (or something similar) happens, it seems likely Fant and Eichenberg (or another rookie) would start on the right side, with Van Roten moving to a reserve role, perhaps backing up multiple positions.