Jets' Position Battles to Watch Ahead of 2021 NFL Season

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMay 31, 2021

Jets' Position Battles to Watch Ahead of 2021 NFL Season

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Some NFL teams will be heading to training camp later this summer with all eyes on a heated quarterback battle. That's not going to be the case for the New York Jets.

    After taking BYU's Zach Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 draft, the Jets have seemed to make it clear that the rookie will be their starting quarterback. They have no signal-callers on the roster with NFL experience, so Wilson should have an immediate opportunity to get under center.

    But New York is going to have some battles taking place in other position groups. The roster has greatly changed since the end of the 2020 season because of free agency and the draft, and it's a bit less clear which players will be starters and who will open the season in reserve roles.

    Here's a look at three positions where New York is likely going to have some competitions taking place ahead of the 2021 season.

Running Back

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    It's highly unlikely that the Jets are going to have a bell cow who will line up at running back every down. That's not the way the San Francisco 49ers offense operated when New York's new offensive coordinator, Mike LaFleur, was on their staff the past four seasons.

    Plus, the Jets have a group of running backs that could work well as a committee. They brought in veteran Tevin Coleman during free agency, selected Michael Carter during the fourth round of the draft and bring back La'Mical Perine and Ty Johnson, each of whom got time on the field last season.

    Coleman appeared in only eight games for the 49ers last season, rushing for 53 yards on 28 carries and never getting into the end zone. But he had some productive years for the Atlanta Falcons from 2015 to 2018, and he had a solid season for San Francisco in 2019. The 28-year-old could fit nicely into the Jets' new-look offense.

    Carter could end up being a mid-round steal, as the 5'8" running back rushed for 3,404 yards and 22 touchdowns in 44 games over his four-year college career at North Carolina. If the 22-year-old impresses during training camp and the preseason, he could quickly carve out a role with New York.

    Still, there are a few ways the Jets could choose to operate their running game. And these backs are all going to be competing for carries heading into the season.

Right Guard

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    In the first round of the draft, the Jets solidified the left side of their offensive line by drafting USC's Alijah Vera-Tucker to slot in at left guard. He will be next to left tackle Mekhi Becton, who was a first-round pick in 2020. Together, the two could anchor New York's offensive line for many years to come.

    The Jets are also likely set with starters at center and right tackle, where they return Connor McGovern and George Fant, respectively. Both will probably keep the roles they had for New York in 2020.

    That means the only position up front that could have a competition this summer is right guard, where several players could battle for the starting job. Alex Lewis (nine starts) and Greg Van Roten (13 starts) each had substantial playing time last year, while free-agent acquisition Dan Feeney and second-year lineman Cameron Clark could also be in the mix.

    Lewis recently restructured his contract, as he will now make $3 million in 2021 (rather than $5.8 million) and will be a free agent after the season, according to ESPN's Field Yates. That means it's less likely the Jets cut Lewis to create cap space, but he may not factor as much into their long-term plans.

    Because Lewis and Van Roten each has starting experience for New York, it's possible those two will be competing for time at right guard. It will be interesting to see how the Jets plan to utilize both of them up front in 2021.

Cornerback

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    There's been speculation all offseason that the Jets might bring in a veteran cornerback to boost their secondary. That's heightened considering Richard Sherman is still a free agent and has ties to head coach Robert Saleh, who spent the past four seasons as San Francisco's defensive coordinator.

    But the Jets still have no cornerback on their roster who is older than 27. And while Bryce Hall and Bless Austin are two projected starters (considering each started games when healthy in 2020), there's going to be a lot of competition for playing time among all these youngsters.

    "The easy answer is to, right now, bring in a veteran, but a veteran would probably just eat up reps and not give us an ability to look at all these young guys who are just starving for an opportunity," Saleh told reporters during the first week of OTA practices.

    New York has added several cornerbacks to its roster this offseason, signing Justin Hardee during free agency and adding Jason Pinnock and Brandin Echols on the third day of the draft. With not a lot of experience among the corners, any one of them could earn substantial playing time with strong performances during training camp and the preseason, especially as Saleh looks for players who fit his scheme.

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