Jets' Top 2021 NFL Draft Targets

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2021

Jets' Top 2021 NFL Draft Targets

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    Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    For better or worse, the 2021 NFL draft will be a franchise-altering event for the New York Jets.

    After a 2-14 campaign, the Jets are ready for a fresh start. Robert Saleh taking over as head coach for Adam Gase was step No. 1. An influx of talent from free agency was another important step. Perhaps the most important will be selecting the right quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick.

    A good draft for the Jets doesn't just include nailing the second pick, though. They also have a second first-round selection Thursday. They are scheduled to be on the clock at No. 23 and could get another difference-maker with that pick.

    An early pick in Round 2 is another highlight of a batch of picks that includes five in the first three rounds and another five on Day 3. It's the kind of draft that could be the beginning of a successful run for the new coaching regime or could be looked back on as a disaster.

    Here are some of the top targets they will be looking to lock up with those first three picks.

Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

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    Steve Conner/Associated Press

    The Jets' season-long quest to land Trevor Lawrence came up a few games short. But with Sam Darnold now a Carolina Panther, this pick has to be a quarterback. And Zach Wilson's breakout season at BYU makes him the No. 1 candidate.

    Wilson went from throwing 11 touchdowns to nine interceptions in his sophomore season with the Cougars to throwing for 33 touchdowns to three picks as a junior, leading BYU to an 11-1 record. The concerns about Wilson's potential to be a one-year wonder are there, but coaches seem to be convinced of his talent.

    "If I was picking No. 1—hoo, man, it'd be hard for me not to take him over Trevor," an AFC quarterbacks coach told Tom Pelissero of "He's got real playmaking ability. He's shorter [than Lawrence]—I get it. But he's got ball all about him."

    Wilson brings a lot of the physical tools to the table that Darnold was supposed to have. He has a big arm, he's accurate and has shown the ability to make throws on the run. The success of the quarterback will likely come down to how well the Jets assemble his supporting cast.

    That's something they didn't do with Darnold, but Wilson represents a chance to right their wrongs.

Alijah Vera-Tucker, G/T, USC

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    General manager Joe Douglas showed he's willing to spend premium picks on the offensive line last year when they took Mekhi Becton in the first round. It wouldn't hurt to return to the unit with the team's second first-round pick.

    Among the reasons Darnold didn't work out was the Jets' inability to protect him. The Gang Green offensive line allowed the fourth-highest pressure percentage in the league.

    Grabbing USC tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker could help remedy that. Vera-Tucker played mostly left tackle for the Trojans this season, but his frame projects as a guard at the next level. The Bleacher Report big board ranks him as the best pass-blocking interior lineman in the draft.

    Douglas has attempted to patch up the offensive line through free agency. In 2020 they added Alex Lewis, Greg Van Roten and George Fant to their ranks. The results speak for themselves—and they weren't good.

    The lesson is that elite offensive lines are mostly built through the draft. Pairing Vera-Tucker with Becton would give the Jets two young studs to build around.

Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State

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    Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press

    The Jets offense is going to look different with a rookie quarterback presumably at the helm, but the defense needs help too. New York finished 26th in points allowed per game last season, so there's plenty of room for improvement.

    Specifically, the Jets gave up the fourth-highest passer rating to opposing quarterbacks (103.2).

    While they addressed the pass-rush in free agency via the additions of Carl Lawson and Vinny Curry and added Jarrad Davis to the linebacker corps, the cornerback position has been largely ignored this offseason. They have a young duo on the outside in Blessuan Austin and Bryce Hall, but Austin was a sixth-round pick in 2019 and had little production last season (four passes defended, no interceptions).

    Brian Poole has been strong in the slot but remains unsigned.

    Asante Samuel Jr. is an ideal target in the second round. The son of an All-Pro cornerback, he has NFL bloodlines and the versatility to play on the inside and out. He was named the best in zone coverage by B/R's Scouting Department.

    He would be a great fit in Saleh's system and addresses a position of need.