Jets Are Building Perfect Cast to Help Zach Wilson Thrive in New York

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMay 1, 2021

BYU quarterback Zach Wilson holds a New York Jets jersey after being selected second overall in the first round of the NFL football draft Thursday, April 29, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Tony Dejak/Associated Press

The New York Jets did the necessary and smart thing to really kick off the 2021 NFL draft, making Zach Wilson the second overall pick after the Jacksonville Jaguars did the obvious by selecting Trevor Lawrence. 

Jets general manager Joe Douglas hasn't stopped perfectly fleshing out the roster around Wilson since. 

Not that Wilson projected to need too much help. Over three seasons at BYU, he completed 67.6 percent of his 837 attempts, throwing for 7,652 yards with 56 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Fun run-and-gun looks that dominate the NFL commanded his film, which had NFL.com's Lance Zierlein throwing out names like Aaron Rodgers and Johnny Manziel during his writeup. 

There's little question that Wilson was the right pick at the right time for a team that just moved on from Sam Darnold and needed a modern-styled passer to usher in a new era.

Still, the job the Jets have done to build around Wilson is impressive and doesn't have many equals when it comes to teams in similar positions. 

Take the aggressive stance in the first round when Douglas and Co. traded up to No. 14 with Minnesota to select USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker. The move cost the Jets a first-rounder (No. 23) and two third-round picks (No. 66 and No. 86), but significantly upgraded the offensive line in front of Wilson. 

Vera-Tucker, after all, was the 21st-overall prospect ranked by Pro Football Focus and earned the following exclamation point on his profile: "Vera-Tucker put up the highest pass-blocking grade on true pass sets of any lineman over the past two seasons, and he did it between guard and tackle."

The tackle experience is nice, but Vera-Tucker will replace Alex Lewis at left guard, a veteran who has graded above a 60.0 once at PFF since 2017. 

If anything, that left side of the line is now superb evidence the Jets have been building the basics for their next quarterback quite well for a while now. In 2020, the Jets used the 11th pick on left tackle Mekhi Becton, who flashed immense long-term upside while putting up a 74.4 PFF grade as a rookie. 

But back to this weekend's draft because Vera-Tucker was hardly the end of it. 

Standing firm at No. 34 despite what was assuredly a ton of trade offers for a premium pick to start Friday night's festivities, the Jets instead took Ole Miss wideout Elijah Moore. 

Moore, the 22nd overall prospect at PFF and fifth-ranked wideout who shockingly fell out of the first round after putting up 2,441 yards and 16 touchdowns on a 12.9 per-catch average over three seasons. 

The instant starter wasn't just productive in college—he's exactly what a team should want around a rookie passer attempting to develop on the fly in today's NFL: 

PFF Draft @PFF_College

Elijah Moore caught 97% of catchable targets beyond the line of scrimmage in 2020. Best among all WRs in College Football. https://t.co/gxpaw1okof

Moore's pro comparison? Zierlein says Antonio Brown

Don't forget New York's free-agency performance, where the Jets surely already had Wilson in mind, even if they proclaim they didn't. Moore will take the field with Corey Davis, the fifth-overall pick from the 2017 draft who just appeared to be realizing some of that extensive potential with career-highs in yardage (984) and touchdowns (5) in Tennessee's run-heavy offense last year. 

Elsewhere in Wilson's arsenal, 2020 second-round pick Denzel Mims flashed some No. 1 upside last year over just nine games once he was able to reliably get on the field. Veteran Jamison Crowder is still there at wideout too after scoring six times over 12 games last season. 

Behind Wilson, new free-agent add Tevin Coleman is still only 28 years old and an underrated breakout candidate thanks to his speed and ability to catch passes, provided he can stay healthy in 2021 (he played eight games last year). He's got prior experience with Jets coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur.

Michael Nania @Michael_Nania

The #Jets' intermediate passing game 👌 2020 production on intermediate throws (10-19 yards downfield): Corey Davis: 35.2 YPG (4th among WR) Elijah Moore: 43.3 YPG (2nd among FBS WR) Zach Wilson: 94.3 YPG (7th among FBS QB) #Jets

This hasn't even touched on the mega signing in free agency of edge rusher Carl Lawson, who will provide a surefire boost to a unit that only had 31 sacks last season. It's still very much a work in progress, but a better pass rush and a mind like Saleh at the controls should have Wilson benefiting from a strong complementary defense. 

With rookie passers, it's all about structure. If there was a big knock on Wilson, it was his size (6'2", 214 pounds) leaving questions for whether his body can withstand pro hits for 17 weeks, never mind a throwing shoulder that has already required surgery. Dramatically overhauling the offensive line with long-term starters is a point of luxury most teams can't say they have, yet here are the Jets. 

Another question mark was Wilson's consistent leaning into play breakdowns to make gains on the fly off-script. With Saleh planning to employ a West Coast look, the Jets will embrace the on-the-run dink-and-dunk approach with a superb cast of weapons. 

Jets Videos @snyjets

Robert Saleh discusses how Zach Wilson fits in the West Coast Offense: "During his pro day, they ran a lot of the routes that we run...you could see him having success in our system" https://t.co/135RwuJwXb

Given New York's abysmal hit rate with the quarterback position, the Jets should know what not to do for a rookie passer. Clearly, the emphasis is on fostering those developmental years in a cozy system with elite talent around the quarterback. With Saleh, we know the culture will be right. And the team certainly doesn't hurt for assets thanks to two first and second-round picks in the 2022 draft, too. 

There's an added pressure to just being a quarterback in the Big Apple, of course. And the Jets don't get a break in the AFC East just because Tom Brady finally left. Buffalo's Josh Allen is running things now. But the current unraveling plan looks like a winner. 

If it is, Wilson should reach some of that immense ceiling his skillset suggests and take the Jets right along with him.