With their quarterback quandary solved and a blocker in tow, perhaps a bigger challenge awaits the New York Jets on Friday.
Zach Wilson’s aerial talents have landed in Florham Park. He’ll have some protection working with him in the form of Alijah Vera-Tucker, who came by in the 14th overall selection obtained from the Minnesota Vikings. The New York Jets’ problems aren’t fully solved, but at least there’s a path toward officially making things right.
But the immediate stages of that journey leave little opportunity to rest. The NFL Draft continues on Friday night, with the next two rounds being staged in Cleveland (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC/NFL Network).
The Jets accomplished their goals on day one; how can they keep the good weekend vibes going?
Get More Picks
The arrival of Alijah Vera-Tucker came at a major price: the Jets went from three Friday picks to one: the 34th overall choice, also known as the second pick in the second round.
It’s probably silly to assume that the Jets would be willing to send their fans to bed early with only a single pick, especially when their defensive woes haven’t been addressed at all (more on those in a minute). Douglas said in his first-round aftermath that he wasn’t willing to rush things.
“We’ve been able to acquire a lot of picks and you saw the flexibility that that gave us tonight. We’ll see how tomorrow goes,” Douglas said, per Max Goodman of Sports Illustrated. “Obviously, we’re going to have discussions, we’ll see if the phone rings, we’re open to any discussion, as I’ve told you guys in the past. We’ll see how it plays out over the next two days.”
The odds are slightly stacked against them for the time being, but with so much strong talent left on the board, it would be an absolute sin for the Jets to choose only once on Friday night. Even if it means moving out of the 34th slot, something has to be done.
Address the Defense
It’s great the Jets have created a new offensive identity after bringing in Wilson and Vera-Tucker with their opening picks. But it doesn’t mask the issues they have on defense. Their defensive woes…ones that mostly centered on inexperienced projects like Bless Austin, Ashtyn Davis, and Bryce Hall…probably should’ve been addressed during free agency, but they should definitely try to find an instant defensive contributor on Friday. In the final lead-up to the draft, Douglas insisted that the Jets couldn’t afford to focus on one side of the ball and needed a sense of balance in their 2021 draft plan.
“There is a balance you’re trying to strike,” Douglas said, Brian Costello of the New York Post.“You’re trying to build the best team that you can possibly build. That’s offense, defense, and special teams. There also is an importance to really doing everything we can to provide what we can to make a young quarterback successful. There is some balancing that goes into that.”
The Jets did a solid job of adding veterans of the 4-3 defense in the earlier parts of the offseason (Carl Lawson and Jarrad Davis) and could help the presumed transition under Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich go a bit smoother if they find rookies who have worked in the formation as well. Zaven Collins, who went two picks after Vera-Tucker, would’ve been a strong fit after his time at Tulsa. Notable names on the draft board include Joseph Ossai of Texas and Wake Forest’s Carlos Basham.
Keep Helping Wilson
This draft obviously centers on Wilson, and rightfully so. Every move the Jets make over the next few days should be dedicated to making him as comfortable as possible. They failed to help Sam Darnold, and now his fifth-year option is getting exercised in Carolina. The best way to do that is to trade back into the second and third rounds tonight, as Friday has often been a perfect place to find instant contributors and depth options alike.
The Jets must also remember to keep the proverbial balance that Joe Douglas has sought. A good defense can help keep manageable game situations for Wilson to work with and improvements on that end should thus not be ignored. New York should also keep building the wall in front of Wilson. His old Provo teammate Brady Christensen would be a match made in gridiron heaven. Even special teams could find their way into the day two proceedings. A player like Western Michigan’s D’Wayne Eskridge (who previously worked with Jets assistant Jake Moreland) is not only one of the MAC’s top receivers but also made a name for himself in the Broncos’ return game.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags