The New York Jets haven’t made the playoffs since 2010, but new head coach Robert Saleh has a lot to build with in the 2021 NFL Draft. New York owns two first-round picks, including the second overall selection. Whether it’s Justin Fields or Zach Wilson, the Jets are getting a dynamic quarterback early on and retooling their young roster afterward.
Saleh’s team already made strides this offseason, agreeing to reasonable contracts with free agents Keelan Cole, Corey Davis, and Carl Lawson. The new coaching staff also inherits some exciting young players like Mekhi Becton, Denzel Mims, and Quinnen Williams. However, the team still needs significant reinforcements in the offensive and defensive backfields.
New York is several years behind its divisional rivals, but nailing the draft could jumpstart an exciting rebuild. It’s hard to imagine the Jets making a splash in the AFC East with top ten coaches in Bill Belichick, Brian Flores, and Sean McDermott running their competitors.
I used The Draft Network’s mock draft machine and Pro Football Focus’ mock draft simulator to justify each of my selections. At least one website had the chosen players available at their listed spots over several simulations. I didn’t manufacture any trades and included an “ideal pick” after every selection for those optimistic fans. You know who I’m talking about; the ones that mock their team all of the best players, even at unrealistic positions.
Round 1 (No. 2): Zach Wilson, QB BYU
General manager Joe Douglas and Saleh have two realistic options with the second overall pick (especially since they traded Sam Darnold). Fields and Wilson are in a heated competition for the top quarterback spot behind Trevor Lawrence. Wilson is a one-year wonder with incredible ball placement, and Fields is a proven multi-year Heisman candidate with playoff experience.
While there’s a strong case that Fields performed just as well as Wilson despite facing tougher competition, all of the rumbling points toward New York taking the BYU product. Wilson only produced at a notable level for one season and lost to the only top 20 team he faced, but he has all of the prototypical traits NFL teams love.
Hopefully, Fields and Wilson both succeed, so it doesn’t matter who the Jets draft here.
Ideal pick: Wilson
Round 1 (No. 23): Caleb Farley, CB Virginia Tech
The Jets have plenty of options at 23. They could have a shot at the draft’s top running back. Jaelan Phillips and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah could also be on the board. However, New York doesn’t have a good enough offensive line to justify taking a running back this high, and the team’s best cornerback last year was a fifth-round rookie (Bryce Hall).
Outside of the need for an upgrade at quarterback, cornerback is the largest question mark on New York’s roster. The team’s depth chart features plenty of veteran journeymen and undrafted players at corner. That won’t cut it in a league infatuated with throwing the ball more than 25 times per game.
Farley is a unique prospect with the best combination of physical tools for a corner in several drafts. His injury history could lead to a massive slide on draft day and gift wrap the Jets a blue-chip prospect.
Ideal pick: Christian Darrisaw, OT Virginia Tech
Round 2 (No. 34): Jaelan Phillips, EDGE Miami
Douglas got to work adding pass rushers this offseason by signing Vinny Curry and Lawson. Curry is a nice rotational pass rusher, while Lawson is an up-and-coming 25-year-old that had a high pressure rate in 2020. However, the Jets don’t have a true second full-time defensive end to play alongside Lawson. That’s where Phillips comes in.
Formerly the top high school recruit in the nation per 247Sports, Phillips decided to medically retire while at UCLA because of several concussions. Luckily for Miami, he returned to football and joined the Hurricanes as a transfer. In ten games, Phillips recorded eight sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss, and 45 tackles.
This is a risky draft strategy. Common sense says stacking Farley and Phillips in the same class compounds the likelihood of whiffing on an early selection because of injuries. On the other hand, hitting on both prospects guarantees New York two of the 15 best players in this draft class.
TDN rarely had Phillips fall to the second-round, but he was still available frequently in the PFF simulator.
Ideal pick: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB Notre Dame
Round 3 (No. 66): Dyami Brown, WR North Carolina
There’s a slim chance that Brown falls to the top of the third-round. He’s good enough to fly off the board in the second-round, but that depends on what teams think of Rondale Moore and Kadarius Toney. If Brown reaches 66, there’s no way New York can justify passing on him. The Jets can put more weapons around Wilson, even after adding Mims last year and Davis in free agency.
Brown is a dynamic vertical threat. In his final two seasons with the Tar Heels, he averaged over 20 yards per reception. While the 21-year-old isn’t a speedster, his exceptional ball skills and vertical route running created plenty of separation. Brown mostly feasted on off-man coverage at UNC, meaning he needs to prepare for more press looks in the NFL.
Wilson showed prolific accuracy during his final season at BYU. While he’ll jell with Davis and Mims, there’s a chance someone like Brown becomes his favorite target.
Ideal pick: Javonte Williams, RB North Carolina
Round 3 (No. 86): Trey Sermon, RB Ohio St.
Here’s New York’s new starting running back. Selecting Sermon instead of taking Travis Etienne, Najee Harris, or Javonte Williams in the top 34 picks isn’t a sexy decision, but it’s effective. Early-round running backs rarely reach second contracts, let alone finish them. It’s not cost-effective to draft a running back in the first-round either, which should make the position a mid-level priority for New York at most.
Sermon had a mediocre college career until his final few appearances with the Buckeyes. He ran for 636 yards and four touchdowns in three games, including a 331-yard day against Northwestern in the Big Ten Conference Championship. Sermon’s résumé is far more than three games though. He had four 100-yard performances in 2018 as a member of the Oklahoma Sooners.
The top backs on New York’s roster right now are Tevin Coleman and 2020 fourth-round pick La’Mical Perine. Coleman followed Saleh from San Francisco, but the veteran only has 597 rushing yards in the past two seasons. The Jets need one more back to round out this rotation and give it some extra fangs. Sermon can be that guy.
Ideal pick: Brevin Jordan, TE Miami
Round 4 (No. 107): Ben Cleveland, IOL Georgia
Cleveland isn’t a freak athlete, but he’s a big body guard that can create space against the run and drop the anchor in pass protection. Cleveland thrived in Georgia’s run-heavy offense, which might run perpendicular to offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s plans. However, the 49ers embraced larger guards during LaFleur’s time as a passing game coordinator in San Francisco.
While the Jets would ideally add a starting-caliber lineman that fits LaFleur’s scheme at this spot, the guard play drops off significantly after the first two rounds. The best remaining players, including Deonte Brown, Cleveland, and Trey Smith, have similar profiles.
Expect New York to target a corner like Paulson Adebo here. Upgrading over Alex Lewis and Greg Van Roten becomes a priority if the best defensive backs are already off the board.
Ideal pick: Paulson Adebo, CB Stanford
Round 5 (No. 146): Rodarius Williams, CB Oklahoma St.
Williams is a physical corner with good length. He doesn’t have tremendous deep speed, which leads to him sometimes giving up shorter throws for fear of double moves. If the Jets can’t get Adebo in this draft, Williams is a decent fallback plan. Zone coverages can probably disguise some of his physical limitations.
We already covered the issues with New York’s secondary. It’s built from scraps and held together by duct tape. Saleh didn’t work with a defensive backfield filled with superstars last year, but this roster doesn’t even have a corner on par with Emmanuel Moseley. The Jets desperately need two or three new corners.
Perhaps Williams’ history in man coverage removes him from contention here, but that doesn’t change New York’s needs. Expect Douglas and Saleh to swing on an experienced defensive back in the mid-rounds.
Ideal pick: Rashad Weaver, EDGE Pittsburgh
Round 5 (No. 154): James Wiggins, S Cincinnati
Wiggins had an up and down pro day. His measurements came in at 5-11, 209 lbs. with only 29-inch arms. That’s a good amount of punch packed into a small frame, but the arm length is a significant concern. Wiggins ran a 4.40 40-yard dash and had good showings in the bench, broad, and vertical. Overall, he’s a promising prospect with some physical limitations.
The Jets retained Marcus Maye this offseason and signed free agent Lamarcus Joyner. The former Raider was a borderline elite safety while with the Rams, but Jon Gruden’s decision to use him in the slot was a massive mistake. New York can pass on adding a safety if Joyner returns to his 2017-18 form.
Wiggins offers a backup plan until the Jets are sure Joyner is still capable of playing at a high level.
Ideal pick: Walker Little, OT Stanford
Round 6 (No. 186): Deommodore Lenoir, CB Oregon
Three corners in one draft? It makes sense when you look at New York’s current depth chart. There are still several talented corners in free agency, including Casey Hayward, Steven Nelson, Brian Poole, and Richard Sherman. If the Jets sign one of those guys, you can put this mock through the shredder, but overloading at corner makes sense for now.
Lenoir is best fit for zone coverage in the NFL, which should translate well in Saleh’s defense. At 5-10, Lenoir could fill the void at slot corner left by Poole’s departure in free agency.
Ideal pick: Sadarius Hutcherson, IOL South Carolina
Round 6 (No. 193): Jaelon Darden, WR North Texas
The Jets got an extra sixth-round pick when they traded Darnold to Carolina. That selection comes in handy here as New York gets a versatile receiver capable of contributing as a punt returner. Darden didn’t display breakaway speed at his pro day, but the 5-8 receiver ran a sub-4.00 short shuttle and cleared the three-cone in 6.66 seconds.
Darden is twitchy and makes players miss in open space. He could see some snaps in the slot as a rookie.
Ideal pick: Darden