ESM EXCLUSIVE: New York Jets OT Mekhi Becton previews 2021 season

mekhi becton, jets

New York Jets first-round pick Mekhi Becton spoke to ESM about the weeks to come and his new endorsement endeavors with Pepsi.

As the anchor of the New York Jets’ offensive line, left tackle Mekhi Becton already has some arduous tasks ahead of him on autumn weekends.

Thanks to a collaboration with Pepsi, however, Becton will not only be able to protect the stars of Gang Green’s revamped offense, but he’ll also have the time and ability to assist Jets fans in preparing their gameday snacks.

Days before the Jets open their 2021 season on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers (1 p.m. ET, CBS), Becton was revealed as the face of Pepsi’s new Jets-centered campaigns, entitled “Made for Jets Watching“. His participation is headlined by an augmented reality endeavor in which a mini version of the Jets’ first-round pick from the 2020 draft assists fans in conjuring up some Sunday recipes, including Pepsi BBQ Sauce, a dressing made with the official soft drink of the NFL.

“As fans across the country return to their favorite gameday watching and game day eating traditions this year, we’ve teamed up with the Jets to help fans unapologetically enjoy the experience all season long,” Kathy Kennedy, Sr. Director of Marketing, PepsiCo Beverages North America, North Division said in a company statement obtained by ESM. “Pepsi wants to give fans the magic of gearing up for game day no matter where or with whom they find themselves watching this season.”

Becton appears in Pepsi’s new league-wide campaign alongside other young talents like Jalen Hurts, Sterling Shepherd, Chase Claypool, and Sam Hubbard. Tenured veteran Devin McCourty and Hall of Famer rusher Barry Sanders likewise appear for their respective squads in New England and Detroit.

“Everything drew me to (this campaign),” Becton told ESM. “My parents they’re really big Pepsi fans and stuff like that. So I always grew up with it, with them drinking it and things like that. So it was just, it’s just a dream come true, honestly.”

With the season opener looming, Becton spoke with ESM about his new partnership and the upcoming trials and the Jets will face in the 2021 season…

mekhi becton, jets

Q: While this is an interesting and hopeful period on the Jets’ timeline, many choose to dismiss such hope as being a case of “Same Old Jets”. How is this team different from prior incarnations we’ve seen on this rebuild?

A: We’re really hungry, we’re a really hungry team. We go to work every day, we go hard every day. We have a lot of things ready to put on display and show the world. We’re ready to go out there and play, we’re ready to show the world what we can do. Our motto is “All Gas, No Brake”. I feel like that explains and defines us 100 percent.

(Robert Saleh) been really great. He brings the energy every day, he makes sure we’re bringing the energy every day. He’s just he’s a great guy, a great coach as well. He never sugarcoats things. He’ll always tell it how it is, so that’s already great to have.

Q: The team addressed its offensive needs in the first round through the selections of Zach Wilson and Alijah Vera-Tucker. What has it been like to work with them and almost guide them through the early stages of their NFL journeys? 

A: (Vera-Tucker) goes to work every day, just like I go to work every day. He likes, he loves to work hard, and I like to work hard. So it’s just great to have two hard-working dogs on the same side and I’m excited about that.

As for (Wilson), he has been great, he’s a great player. He’s going to do a lot of things that a lot of people aren’t expecting him to do and I can’t wait for him to prove the world room. The fact that he was named a captain speaks a whole lot of volume about how he just he’s just a leader already. So it has just been really great, and I can’t wait for fans to see it.

Q: In addition to the rookies, the team added several veteran talents that know to win and contribute. How they helped this team and what impact have the defensive additions left on you, namely DE Carl Lawson?

A: It’s was great to have them here. Guys like Corey (Davis), Sheldon Rankins, C.J. Mosley, they can take control of the team when things are getting out of whack. They are always people that everyone always listens to no matter what they’re saying. It’s been really great and it’s very helpful as well, too.

Carl helped improved me a lot, just helping with my hands, and my feet, just making sure I don’t give up on a play because he’s still going 100 percent. So that definitely personally helped me out a lot.

Q: What stood out to you most about the New York culture when the Jets chose you last season? Was there any additional pressure considering they passed on several elite receiving talents to bring you in?

A: It was love at first sight. The fans are the best, they’re always going hard no matter what’s going on in the season. They’re very loyal and the city has great. Everything in New York drew my attention. I can’t wait to have the fans back in the stands, that’s going to be really great. I’ve seen a little taste of it at the Green & White scrimmage. and when we played Philly, when we played the Giants (in the preseason), Once we get to the regular season, it’s going to be really great and they’re going to be really happy.

I don’t think I had any additional pressure at all (after the draft). I wasn’t even I honestly wasn’t thinking about those (receivers). I was just trying to go out there and perform, no matter who they passed up on. I was just trying to go out there and do what I got to do.

Q: What’s the message you want to send out as a leader and representative of the new-look Jets and how big would it be to make a statement in these early contests against noteworthy opponents (Carolina & New England)?

A: It’d be really great to make a statement early on. A lot of people aren’t expecting us to do good things on the field. But everybody in the locker room knows that we can go out there and perform and do those things that people aren’t expecting us to do. So it’s going to be really great.

To the critics, all I can say is be ready. Just be ready. That’s all I can say. Just be ready. That’s all I’m going to say. Just be ready.

(Special thanks to Katherine Hartley for making this interview possible)

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets starters will get “a quarter, couple of series” on Saturday

new york jets, zach wilson

New York Jets fans shouldn’t be late to MetLife Stadium on Saturday if they wish to see Zach Wilson’s unofficial debut.

While it appears that the New York Giants will hold their young franchise thrower out of this weekend’s metropolitan showdown, their MetLife Stadium roommates are taking a different approach.

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh announced on Thursday that Zach Wilson and the primary offensive unit will play at least the first two series during Saturday’s preseason opener (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC). It will mark the first unofficial action in a Jets game uniform for Zach Wilson and several others, including receivers Corey Davis and Keelan Cole.

“We’re thinking about a quarter, couple of series for all those guys,” Saleh said precisely when it came to Wilson’s time, per notes from the Jets. “(We) just kind of (want to) get him his first action.”

Speaking after a practice session on One Jets Drive, Saleh noted that between the incoming rookie class and last season’s young group, over 30 players will be partaking in their first NFL preseason game on Saturday. Last year’s exhibition slate was completely wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are a very, very young football team and they’ve got to be able to go through the process of pregame and prepping themselves mentally and getting in their own space and getting ready to play a football game and then going out there and playing a couple of drives,” Saleh said. “To me, this is a big deal. These moments are priceless, especially for this team.”

Though Jets fans will who venture out to MetLife Stadium for a sanctioned NFL contest for the first time since December 2019 will get to witness Wilson’s first game action, several other debuts could be delayed.

Saleh announced that receiver and second-round pick Elijah Moore would “probably” require an MRI after leaving practice with what he described as a quad issue. Fellow rookie Alijah Vera-Tucker will miss Saturday with a quad issue, but Saleh was optimistic that he would be ready to prepare for the following weekend’s tilt in Green Bay, labeling him “day-to-day”. Dan Feeney currently sits in the second slot behind last spring’s 14th overall pick in the left guard slot on the Jets’ opening depth chart.

Injured veterans like defensive lineman Quinnen Williams (foot) and receiver Braxton Berrios (groin) are set to join Vera-Tucker in the Packers prep, per Saleh.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

What are realistic expectations for the 2021 New York Jets?

new york jets, zach wilson

The New York Jets undoubtedly became a better team over the past eight months. But are they a playoff team? ESM’s experts discuss.

The 2020 New York Jets left the franchise’s immediate and long-term future in a rare state of optimistically macabre: after the Jets sunk to the depths of the football underworld…plummeting to dubious valleys that even the cursed Rich Kotite era managed to avoid…any move the team made in the offseason could’ve been seen as an improvement.

With both the Stanley Cup and Larry O’Brien Trophy…not to mention every medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo…earned and bestowed, it’s officially socially acceptable to start forecasting the 2021 NFL season. The metropolitan arrivals of so many elite new faces, of both the rookie (Zach Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore) and veteran (Carl Lawson, Corey Davis) variety have gotten fans excited, as has the hiring of head coach Robert Saleh.

But the ultimate question lingers: after a two-win season and now ensnared in the NFL’s longest active playoff, just how much improvement will the Jets show in the one place it matters…the standings, namely the win column?

ESM’s Jets experts ponder this quandary as the preseason opener against the New York Giants looms on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC)…

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Magliocchetti

To take a page out of another New York sports decisionmaker Brian Cashman, let’s view Joe Douglas’ New York Jets from the perspective of the Death Star.

Ignoring the fact that the Star Wars-based superweapon is destroyed in each of its incarnations, Douglas does have a Death Star at his disposal. But it’s not the behemoth seen in A New Hope (and, by extension, Rogue One), nor is it the partially constructed but “fully armed and operational battle station” from Return of the Jedi. Rather, the Jets’ Death Star resembles the infantile version Vader and Palpatine look over at the end of Revenge of the Sith.

The Jets began this offseason with the hiring of head coach Saleh. In contrast to the Adam Gase hire, a transaction praised exclusively by modern hot take artists, the Saleh move was lauded by on-field participants both domestically and abroad. New York was and is by no means a football destination yet…one needs to establish a victorious on-field prescience before they become that…but the Jets were able to attract several names with championship experience, winners that were attracted to what Saleh was trying to build.

Douglas and Co. could’ve stood pat on the pass rush, a rare 2020 silver lining after the breakouts of Quinnen Williams, Foley Fatukasi, and John Franklin-Myers. They instead bolstered the unit by bringing in rising pressure artist Lawson and NFC postseason staples Sheldon Rankins and Vinny Curry. Elsewhere on defense, they prepared for Saleh’s reimplementation of the 4-3 with the arrival of linebacker Jarrad Davis, whose finest defensive days came in Florida and Detroit’s similar formations.

On offense, newly minted quarterback Zach Wilson’s arsenal appears to contain more firepower than anything Sam Darnold had to work with. Two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman is ready to work with potential day three draft gem Michael Carter in the backfield, while the upgraded aerial attack features Davis and Moore uniting with returnees Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims. Mekhi Becton returns on the line with Alijah Vera-Tucker on Wilson’s blindside.

Yet…the playoffs remain a pipe dream.

The AFC East already appears to be under the control of a new potential dynasty in Western New York, so capturing the quartet for the first time since 2002 appears to be out of the question. The North could well send three teams to the postseason, while the West’s mighty Kansas City Chiefs show no signs of slowing down, even with the Los Angeles Chargers rising fast with Justin Herbert. Even with an extra playoff spot, it’s asking a lot for the Jets to establish themselves in the crowded conference.

Even if the AFC wasn’t packed to the brim with contenders, the Jets aren’t fully completed just yet. There were so many holes so fill, so much damage to repair from the Gase era that it was a guarantee that some area of the roster was going to be neglected. One look at the current depth chart shows that the secondary got the raw deal, as inexperienced options like Bless Austin, Ashtyn Davis, and Bryce Hall are set to assume primary roles. On offense, there are plenty of players that can become major contributors (Carter, Moore, Davis), but they lack the experience in the primetime situations they’ve been called upon.

Until Saleh’s group proves otherwise on the field, their dire straits are more indicative of just how poorly the Gase era went. Gase might be gone, but the dark spirits of his tenure will linger over the Jets’ facilities until the fruits of Saleh’s process appear in the win column. A good season in 2021 would be to at least double the two-win tally from last season and perhaps earn an upset win over an elite opponent, a similar process to what the Chargers went through last year with Herbert.

Record Prediction: 6-11

new york jets, zach wilson
Mandatory Credit: New York Jets/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Brendan Carpenter

The New York Jets have a lot of hype leading into the season and for good reason: rookies Wilson and Moore highlight a revamped offense. Lawson adds a much-needed pass rush to a defense that needs it with unproven corners.

The Jets, however, are not a playoff team just yet. Aside from their own play, they find themselves in an increasingly brutal AFC East. Each team is improving, but, at the moment, Gang Green finds themselves behind Buffalo and, most likely, either New England or Miami…maybe even both.

Yes, the future is bright and fans should be excited. All of the excitement should be taken with a grain of salt, though. There need to be reasonable expectations for this season. So, realistically, look for this team to win about 6 games of the newly-implemented 17 game schedule.

Record Prediction: 6-11

carl lawson, new york jets
(Photo: Getty)

Dylan Price

As the Jets head into a season filled with promise, I want to make one thing clear before I begin: I do NOT expect the New York Jets to make the playoffs.

I expect the team to take a significant step up and approach the 7-9 win territory. With that said, I foresee hiccups along the way: Wilson will likely experience significant growing pains early as he leaves Brigham Young University and acclimates to the bright lights of Broadway. I firmly expect struggles from both sides of the ball early as they look to establish a new identity under a new coaching staff. Lastly, I have a bad feeling about the secondary, but guys like Hall and Michael Carter II will likely get better as the season progresses.

On a lighter note, I foresee a strong debut in green and white for Lawson, Rankins, and Davis. Lawson is a legitimate threat to finish in the top ten in sacks, while Rankins and Davis will likely be impact contributors if they can stay healthy. Finally, look for rookies, Michael Carter (the running back) and Alijah Vera-Tucker to make names for themselves early, although the story will be Moore, the budding star receiver.

Record Prediction: 7-10

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets revel in front of fans for the first time since 2019

New York Jets fans saw their team in person for the first time in nearly 20 months when 1 Jets Drive opened to the public over the weekend.

Granted access to their team for the first time since December 2019, New York Jets fans took full advantage, packing Florham Park for the first public training camp session over the weekend.

With both training camp and MetLife Stadium closed to the public during the health crisis last year, it had been nearly 20 months since the Jets held activities in front of a flesh-and-blood crowd, dating back to the 2019 season’s penultimate contest against Pittsburgh. Things looked a little different: ongoing precautions pushed back certain training camp traditions like photos and autographs another year. On the field, only 15 players that partook in that win over the Steelers remain on the Jets’ roster.

But that was of little concern to the fans, who giddily made their prescience felt with the Jets’ future on display. The loudest cheer of the day was likely reserved for a long scoring hook-up between rookies Zach Wilson and Elijah Moore.

Jets fans had made it clear that they were excited to see their team again…after all, free tickets to the public sessions in Florham Park disappeared in less than 24 hours…but physically seeing their supporters officially made the return of relative gridiron normalcy a reality.

Alijah Vera-Tucker kicked things off by leading the first spelling of Jets in a video shared by team owner Woody Johnson. One young fan proudly displayed his makeshift Wilson jersey, as strips of duct tape buried the Sam Darnold marks originally printed. According to NFL Network’s Judy Battista, the excitement was so palpable that one overzealous fan was ready to book tickets to Southern California for February’s Super Bowl.

The summer debut of Carl Lawson was one of the most anticipated events of camp, evidenced by a group of fans clad in shirts depicting Lawson adorning a Jets beanie shortly after his March signing. Lawson has lived up to the early hype and thanked fans for their support by declaring “Man I love being a jet” [sic] on Twitter shortly after Saturday’s festivities.

The Auburn and Cincinnati Bengals alum previously spoke to the team’s official site about the impact he’s hoping Jets fans will have on the revamped pass rush this season.

“Please come to a game, especially our home games, because it will help me a lot. It will help the D-line a lot,” Lawson implored in an interview with team reporter Eric Allen. “You are actually helping by being at the game…You don’t (have) to like me. You don’t have to do anything extra. Please, just come to the games and scream as loud as you can when the offense is on the field so they can hear nothing, and that would help me a lot.”

If the weekend was any indication, Jets fans are not only going to be big fans of Lawson, but will be more than happy to acquiesce to his request.

Head coach Robert Saleh likewise earned high approval ratings from fans. Florham Park engaged in hysterics when Saleh turned his famous “All gas, no brake” mantra into a chant for the fans, promising them “a lot of fun” once they get back to East Rutherford. The Jets open their preseason slate against the New York Giants on August 14 and their 2021 home debut comes on September 19 against the New England Patriots.

“It’s fun just to have human interaction again and fans, listening to them scream and boo and whatever else they were doing over there. It was awesome,” Saleh said, per notes from the Jets. “I appreciate them coming out. It’s not easy in this climate right now to be able to step out and break out of your comfort zone. For them to come out here and enjoy a practice, hopefully it was worth it for them.”

Fans will be welcomed back to Monday and Wednesday’s practice sessions at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center on 1 Jets Drive this week, with additional availability on August 9, 11, 24, and 25. Tickets to Florham Park are sold out but a limited number of entries are available to the Green & White practice at MetLife Stadium this Saturday. They can be obtained on the Jets’ official site.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

New York Jets sign Alijah Vera-Tucker to rookie deal

alijah vera-tucker, jets

The New York Jets have finally signed Alijah Vera-Tucker to his rookie deal, making him the first of their top-three picks to do so. It’s a four-year deal, with a fifth-year option, fully guaranteed for $15.8 million. He also has a signing bonus of $8.9 million.

Vera-Tucker is expected to be the starting guard alongside Mekhi Becton on the left side of the line from the get-go. The former USC guard has high expectations coming in as a rookie and now the contract talk can finally be pushed into the rearview mirror.

The Jets, who traded up to draft Vera-Tucker with the 14th overall pick, made acquiring him a priority in April.

“We felt we had a unique opportunity to get a top-10 player in our minds as our board was stacked,” General Manager Joe Douglas said after making the trade to move up in the draft. “To go up and get a guy like Alijah Vera-Tucker, a player that has started at tackle, has started at guard and has been highly productive at both, that versatility and that production is something we really value.”

The Jets will now move their focus to signing their other top-two picks: Zach Wilson and Elijah Moore.

New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Offensive line

alijah vera-tucker, jets

The continued renovations to the offensive line got off to a slow start, but the New York Jets recovered with a big gain on draft day.

Following the conclusion of minicamp activities, the NFL offseason is officially over. The next time the New York Jets convene in Florham Park, they’ll be getting ready for preseason and regular season action for the 2021 campaign. 

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. This next segment centers on the revamped blocking program…

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton
Credit: Joe McManus

How It Started

By this point, everyone knows that Jets general manager Joe Douglas is at least trying to make things right on the offensive line after the negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. That plan was rather obvious last offseason when the Jets spent a majority of their offseason capital on blocking help.

New York missed out on top names like Jack Conklin and Joe Thuney but dispensed over $34 million guaranteed to George Fant, Connor McGovern, and Greg Van Roten. With their first-round pick, the Jets passed on premier receiving talents to draft Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton instead. It marked the first time the Jets used their opening pick on a blocker since the iconic D’Brickashaw Ferguson/Nick Mangold pairing in 2006.

When the Jets took the field for Week 1 action in Buffalo, it was completely different from the five that opened the prior campaign at the Meadowlands in 2019. But despite Douglas’ financial enthusiasm, the splurge did not have the intended effect. The Jets’ line ranked 29th in Pro Football Focus’ final unit grades, marred by inconsistency. Advanced stats dictated the Jets averaged only 2.5 seconds before allowing pressure and quarterback Sam Darnold was dropped on 8.3 percent of his dropbacks, the third-worst rate in the league (behind Carson Wentz and Daniel Jones).

The Jets did enjoy a huge silver lining in the form of Becton, who lived up to his first-round billing and then some, offering the Jets serenity in passing on names big box score names like Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs, and Jerry Jeudy.

morgan moses, new york jets

How It’s Going

Gifted with a cap space surplus, many expected the Jets to hit the ground running. But New York got off to another slow start on the free agency front, watching their top targets and revered blocking names like Thuney and Corey Linsley sign elsewhere.

This time around, the Jets instead opted to spend the early portions upgrading their box score weaponry through receiving and rushing help. Depth-based consolation prizes awaited in Dan Feeney and Corey Levin from the Los Angeles Chargers and the New England practice squad respectively. Levin hasn’t appeared in a regular season game since 2019 while Feeney was an average blocker whose profile was amplified through a lively, larger-than-life personality that quickly won over Jets and Islanders fans alike.

Douglas and the Jets changed the narrative on draft night, boldly sending away draft picks (one of which was obtained in Jamal Adams’ Seattle deal) up north to Minnesota to draft USC blocker Alijah Vera-Tucker. Known primarily as a Trojan guard, Vera-Tucker spent the shortened 2020 season as a tackle, showcasing his versatility. It was a costly endeavor…the Jets had no Friday picks beyond Elijah Moore at 34th overall…but Douglas’ dedication to this renovation can’t be denied. Vera-Tucker is expected to take over the primary left guard role previously occupied by Alex Lewis, who struggled last season in starting duties but is nonetheless back as a depth option.

The Jets enjoyed an extra boost to the line in the late stages of the offseason, negotiating a one-year deal for Morgan Moses, formerly of the Washington Football Team, shortly after minicamp. Moses has been one of the most effective blockers in the league and is coming off a career-best campaign. He brings the championship feeling desired by the Jets in other acquisitions, having played a strong role in Washington’s run to the division title last season. His reliability, having started every game since 2015, made him an attractive late gem as well.

Along for the ride is newly minted offensive line coach John Benton, who will also serve as the run game coordinator. Benton reprises the former role he held for four seasons alongside Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur in San Francisco.

Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; The New England Patriots and the New York Jets at the line of scrimmage for the snap during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Are They Better Off?

Maybe Jets fans have been so desperate for any semblance of doing the right thing. But Douglas’ dedication to the unit from the minute he took office has been refreshing. The struggles of last year’s haul did nothing to deter his quest to build a wall in front of his new passing and rushing units.

Douglas faced a bit of an uphill battle in luring free agents to New York. Even though players both domestically and abroad were hyped by Robert Saleh’s hiring, asking marquee free agents to join up with a two-win squad was going to be a bit difficult. It was tough, though, for the Jets to watch Thuney sign a long-term deal in Kansas City without much of a fight.

Having said that, Douglas put his draft money where his mouth was in the latter stages of the offseason, trading some of his valuable draft capital to find a mid-first round gem. At the literal last minute, he was able to convince the serviceable Moses to sign up for the year.

The gestures are great. But no it’s about the success translating on the field.

Douglas’ appreciated offensive line makeover began when he traded a late pick to Baltimore for Lewis and convinced Carolina Pro Bowler Matt Kalil to come out of retirement. It was great to see him take initiative…but now it’s time for results. Getting that desired effect may have been a bit easier if Douglas was able to add an elite name.

Final Offseason Grade: B-

How important will a revamped offensive line be to the Jets’ success? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

2 players the New York Jets absolutely struck gold with in the 2021 NFL Draft

elijah moore, jets

There is no question the New York Jets had one of the best draft classes in the NFL this year on paper, and now it’s time for them to display their talents during training camp and hopefully come the regular season. Of course, the drafting of Zach Wilson will plaster the headlines, but they have two more players capable of achieving greatness at the next level.

Two players the New York Jets struck gold with in the 2021 NFL Draft:

WR: Elijah Moore

Elijah Moore is the ideal slot receiver, standing at 5’9″ and 178 pounds. As a shifty pass catcher, he posted 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns last year with Ole Miss, presenting a fantastic athlete in the open field and consistent hands.

Falling to the second round, the Jets couldn’t believe their luck, as Moore fits multiple offensive systems, whether it be a West Coast style or Air Raid. He has the versatility to align outside and in the interior, representing a dynamic athlete with sudden quickness and sky-high potential. While his route running is still a bit raw, the right coaching should do the trick regarding his development at the next level. As a tough and gritty player, more has the ability to create after the catch and offer home-run capabilities.

While the drafting of Moore created the narrative that Jamison Crowder’s time in green might be coming to an end, the two sides settled on an agreement, slashing Crowder‘s salary by about 50%.

So far this off-season, Elijah has been a massive stand-out, impressing Robert Saleh as he shifts alignments. He checks all the right boxes when it comes to progression and fundamentals coming out of college. He is already making stellar improvements with the team, and gaining chemistry with Wilson could curate one of the most exciting QB-WR duos the Jets have seen in years.

OL: Alijah Vera-Tucker

Aside from Moore, the Jets also landed USC stand-out offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker. A unit the  New York Jets desperately needed to upgrade, Tucker has the versatility to play offensive tackle and guard, contributing toward his value.

In fact, Hall of Fame OT Anthony Munoz has already become a big fan of Tucker, who not only impressed him on the field but also with his intellectual nature.

“The first thing I knew about Vera-Tucker was that he played guard, he opted out because of Covid, then when the Pac-12 decided to play, he played left tackle and he played extremely well. I knew he was versatile, to move from inside to outside and to be effective. … I knew he was a pretty good offensive lineman, but the thing I noticed right away was how genuine and down to earth he is. At the same time, he’s focused and eager to get to work. He wanted to learn. That’s the sign of a guy who’s going to be a great, great player. He wants to learn and he’s not satisfied with his performance at the college level.”

Munoz detailed one specific factor that should excite fans about Alijah, his transition from the inside at guard to starting at left tackle, where he played well. That type of transition is not simple or smooth, and he held his own with ease, elevating his draft stock considerably. Per PFF, AVT played 975 total snaps during his career at USC, allowing 5.0 sacks, 3 QB hits, and 8 quarterback hurries.

Consider this, Greg Van Rotan, who the Jets signed last year to help supplement weaknesses in the interior, allowed three sacks, two QB hits, and 19 hurries in 752 snaps last season. AVT should offer an instant upgrade at guard but also has the versatility to swing outside if injuries arise. His development will be exciting to watch, and adding potentially elite players on offense is exactly what the Jets needed to build around Wilson.

New York Jets: 3 aftershocks from the Morgan Moses signing

morgan moses, new york jets

The New York Jets had a late offseason surprise going into the weekend. How does it affect the team moving forward? ESM investigates.

With Independence Day weekend looming, the New York Jets had early fireworks to share.

Per a Friday report from Rich Cimini of ESPN, the Jets are set to sign Morgan Moses to a one-year deal. Moses, formerly of the Washington Football Team, was released due to salary cap reasons after seven seasons in the nation’s capital.

“Morgan is a fantastic player. He’s played at a very high level,” head coach Robert Saleh said recently, per Cimini. “We’re not going to shy away from adding good football players.”

What does it mean? ESM investigates…

Another Brick in the Wall

General manager Joe Douglas continues to make up for the offensive line negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. While Douglas has earned rave reviews for the relative risk of picking Mekhi Becton at 11th overall and his willingness to use offseason capital on blocking, his veteran acquisitions haven’t exactly panned out. It’s great, for example, that he was able to convince Ryan Kalil to come out of retirement during his first weeks in office, but at some point, these moves have to start paying on-field dividends rather than ones of morale. Douglas has identified the problem. Now he needs the solution.

The 30-year-old Moses only boosts the Jets’ offensive potential as they continue to construct the wall in front of Zach Wilson and his young running backs. This veteran blocking signing, or at least the timing of it, has a different aura to it.

Unlike the aging Kalil or last year’s relatively unproven class developed out of necessity (George Fant, Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten), Moses appears to still be working through his prime and is someone who serves as an automatic life of the blocking party. There are no Pro Bowl or All-Pro nominations to his name just yet, but Moses’ Pro Football Focus grade (80.6, including an 85.9 in rush protection) was sixth-best amongst right tackles.

Moses has also had little issue staying healthy (having started in every Washington game since 2015) and fulfills the championship feeling trait that the Jets have worked on this offseason (Corey Davis, Tevin Coleman, Sheldon Rankins). To that end, Moses was part of Washington’s unexpected division title effort.

George Fant Becomes a Depth Star

Fant was one of the more prominent arrivals of the Jets’ 2020 free agent class. But he figures to be the odd man out with a player of Moses’ caliber set to join the lineup.

At first glance, Fant could become a late cap casualty or draft capital fodder. The Jets, for example, would save $7.8 million if they trade the former Seattle Seahawk. But if the versatile Fant is a backup right tackle, the Jets are in a relatively decent spot. With experience in several blocking roles, Fant can serviceably step in in case of an emergency. If anyone knows about the value of having a deep squad, it’s Douglas, one of the architects behind the Philadelphia Eagles’ improbable Super Bowl run back in 2017 (which makes the lack of an experienced backup for Wilson all the more puzzling, but that’s another conversation).

Though Fant got off to a slow start, he gradually improved throughout the season. Fant likely endeared himself to new Jets management by expressing his anticipation of working in new coordinator Mike LaFleur’s system toward the end of minicamp proceedings. He’s particularly impressed by LaFleur’s tendencies to focus on outside-zone or wide formations.

“This system is really built for me,” Fant said in a report from team writer Ethan Greenberg. “This is the most excited I’ve been going into a season so far. Being in Seattle for all those years, we kind of ran something similar. But seeing the 49ers and how they were running a wide zone when I was in Seattle, I already kind of had an idea of what they were going to do. Very excited to work with them, get in this system and really show what I’m capable of.”

A Master and An Apprentice(s)

Once again, Douglas’ line renovations deserve some praise in the early going. Becton appears to a legitimate lasting force on the line while Douglas boldly traded up with Minnesota to take Alijah Vera-Tucker, sacrificing any day two capital beyond the second pick of the second round.

But, much like the incoming quarterback, it shouldn’t be fully on the shoulders of Becton and Vera-Tucker to completely clean up the Jets’ blocking woes, especially at such a young age. Having a veteran option like Moses in tow should provide some relief and give them a strong mentor to learn from. When Trent Williams left Washington for San Francisco, Moses became the elder statesman in burgundy blocking. Under Moses’ watch, Washington’s line finished sixth in the final PFF rankings, up from 29th in the preseason edition. Moses was even said to take Washington’s then-franchise quarterback Dwayne Haskins under his wing before the team moved on to eternal placeholder Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Between his experience, talent, and championship knowledge, Moses arrives at a perfect time from a Jets standpoint. Sure, his green makeover probably doesn’t turn the Jets into playoff contenders, but he’s something a Jets team desperately trying to end a perpetual rebuild desperately needed The hard part…fulfilling the potential brought about by this addition and proving Douglas correct…starts in training camp.

How much an impact will Moses have on the 2021 Jets? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Jets: Alijah Vera-Tucker has ‘Quenton Nelson’ like versatility

alijah vera-tucker, jets

One of the priorities for the New York Jets this off-season was bolstering their offensive line, as they went out and utilized draft capital and free-agent money to upgrade the unit. They brought in Dan Feeney, who’s started 57 games in four seasons of play, and has experience at LG and C, and drafted Alijah Vera-Tucker out of USC to fill an interior position.

Vera-Tucker has experience playing at OT and OG, providing the Jets with versatility they didn’t have before on the OL. Having failed to make a significant splash in free agency, they walked away with one of the best drafts in the NFL, as the USC product was considered a top 10 player in the entire class. Considering they traded up to pick 14 to ensure they snagged the versatile offensive lineman, it gives you an idea of how much they valued his services.

Verta-Tucker’s former head coach, Clay Helton, had great reviews of the offensive lineman, generously comparing him to All-Pro OG Quenton Nelson in some ways:

“He played three years for us at an elite level and really didn’t give up a sack his junior year (at LG) in that entire year,” Helton said. “He has tremendous athleticism in all your run schemes. He’s a guy who can get out in space, can run outside zone, power on inside zone and be able to really get out in space on the second level and be able to connect with defenders and be able to lock on them and show those great feet that he has. You’re really getting a talented a player that I think can really fit into what the Jets want to do.”

When you have a player being compared to Quenton Nelson, your eyes must widen. With a combination of athleticism and technique, Tucker is ready to make an impact on day one. In addition, he has the flexibility to help supplement injuries, which could end up being an undervalued factor. Considering Mekhi Becton has been dealing with planters fasciitis and other issues, there is the potential that Alijah could end up starting some games on the outside, which he has significant experience doing.

However, the Jets envision him filling the left guard spot next to Becton, solidifying a duo for years to come that can protect their rookie quarterback, Zach Wilson.

At this point in time, the Jets have made significant changes across the board, but their offense has experienced a shift that not many other teams have experienced around the league. They have the personnel to take a dramatic step forward and 2021 — it all depends on the scheme/coaching moving forward.

New York Jets: Too early to grade, but offensive goals met on day one

New York Jets, Joe Douglas

Thursday’s efforts in Cleveland will help the New York Jets compete in a modern NFL that worships offense.

East Rutherford’s Meadowlands Sports Complex hasn’t exactly been a hotbed for high-scoring affairs. The New Jersey Devils’ championship squads of the mid-90s and early aughts at the arena (then sponsored by Continental Airlines) made their fortune through legendary defense and goaltending. When the NBA’s Nets were still based in New Jersey, their finest hours featured strong defensive efforts (ranking 2nd in the NBA in defense during their run to the 2003 NBA Finals).

Alas, the New York Jets have been adding to this trend in the worst ways possible through their recent endeavors at MetLife Stadium. Despite employing the services of an “offensive guru” as a head coach in Adam Gase over the past two seasons, no team in the NFL has scored fewer points than the Jets, whose final tally stands at 519. To put that number in perspective, last year’s Green Bay Packers came 10 points short of tying that number by themselves. Thus, the Jets were ill-equipped to survive and succeed in the modern NFL, where seven of the 25 highest-scoring games in league history have occurred in the last decade. Numbers predictably don’t improve for the Jets in that span, as they’re 31st in points scored over the last two seasons, besting only Jacksonville…and the Jaguars at least have the consolation prize of coming a few snaps away from the Super Bowl.

The Jets find themselves in a macabre yet almost inspirational situation going into the weekend’s NFL Draft in Cleveland: things have gotten so dire in New York that no matter what they do, they can emerge from the affairs as winners. One would assume that with their search for their latest franchise quarterback, revealed to be Zach Wilson on Thursday night, that their draft plans would center around offensive endeavors. General manager Joe Douglas, however, has stressed finding a balance in the Jets’ expansive capital.

zach wilson, new york jets
. Mandatory Credit: George Frey/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard and, frankly futile, to argue with that logic. The Jets have plenty of young projects that they can’t wait to work with on defense but can they truly feel comfortable going into Week 1 of the 2021 season with Marcus Maye overseeing raw talents like Bless Austin, Ashtyn Davis, and Bryce Hall. These are areas they’ll have to address at some point as the draft continues on Friday night (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC/NFL Network), a quest that becomes much harder with each of their third round choices now hanging out with Lou Solverson in Minnesota.

But Thursday night was a night of offensive indulgence, a couple of hours that are finally going to give the Jets offensive momentum.

With the second pick in the draft, the Jets chose BYU’s Wilson, who becomes the fourth first-round quarterback the Jets have taken in the new century. Unlike these prior occasions, the Jets have opted to provide immediate blocking help. With the 14th pick, one obtained from the Minnesota Vikings, the team selected USC interior blocker Alijah Vera-Tucker, ironically ensuring that a former Trojan would play a major role in their offense for years to come.

Immediately grading NFL Drafts, placing letters in articles before the stitching is completed on the draftees’ jerseys, are a fruitless exercise. It’s a task that only creates fodder for the “Freezing Cold Takes” accounts, creating hypotheses with very little evidence. But Douglas and the Jets have set themselves up to compete in an NFL that has spent a decade trying to leave them behind.

“I feel like this ballclub’s improved, and I feel good about the two people and players that we brought in and the leadership that they’re going to bring,” Douglas said of his early selections, per Alex Smith of SNY. “(I’m) just ecstatic really about these two young men.”

Everyone who’s watched a minute of football over the past year knew that Wilson was heading to New York. Once Trevor Lawrence was off the table, the Jets did their due diligence on what was a sizable passing class and eventually came to the conclusion that Wilson was the right man for them. But the abyss beyond the second overall choice was one where utmost caution had been raised, one where the immediate aftermath would bestow passing grades no matter what…any form of improvement looks like a complete makeover when you’re coming off a two-win season…but the Jets had to spend their draft gifts wisely.

With a bit of boldness, a bit of boldness that raised questions that will take months to answer, Douglas made a move that will leave his personal mark on the franchise.

Douglas has made it clear that he’s going to do his utmost to rectify the sins of the Mike Maccagnan era, a tenure of offensive line negligence that set the franchise back years. Blocking renovations have been the defining moves of his tenure thus far. Endeavors beyond the draft have misfired (luring Ryan Kalil out of retirement, spending big on mediocre vets like Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, and George Fant), he’s gained elite talents from the draft that will serve as the foundation for what the Jets want to build.

The dedication that Douglas has to this cause was perfectly on display through the arrival of Vera-Tucker, winner of the Morris Trophy annually bestowed to the Pac-12’s best linemen on both sides. It’s an honor previously worn by Bruce Matthews, Tony Boselli, and Jonathan Ogden, it’s the exact kind of good vibes the Jets need in this starting lineup. Putting Vera-Tucker on the same side as Becton creates a strong foundation that’s going to immediately make Wilson comfortable. In the end, it might be the Vera-Tucker gambit that might come to define Douglas’ tenure rather than the obvious choice of Wilson. A verstaile, accomplished talent like Vera-Tucker could the jolt of like this dormant unit, a group looking for any sort of clarity since the bliss of the D’Brickashaw Ferguson-Nick Mangold era ended, needs.

Vera-Tucker may come from the opposite coast, but he knows the deal when it comes to the Jets’ ongoing futility. Unlike many who would drone on about the talent that’s already there…though he did have some kind words for Wilson in his first New York statements…Vera Tucker’s looking to be a player that can make a major difference and embracing the high expectations that come with his new role.

“I’ve been in this position before just playing so many sports growing up,” Vera-Tucker said, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “Not every year is going to be the greatest year. I’m going to come in, I know what the Jets fan base is like, I know they’re pretty intense. I love that type of atmosphere. I’m going to come in and embrace it.”

“I liked their vibe. I liked what they’re doing there, how they’re trying to change things up. I got a good feeling from them. They traded up to get me, so I’m excited.”

new york giants, alijah vera-tucker
 Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no use in grading the Jets’ draft at this point or any in the near future. Meaningful downs of football are needed to fully assess that. But the draftings of Wilson and Vera-Tucker do provide wins in new forms: accomplishing goals and turning themselves into an attractive destination. There are no grades, but there is a path. Douglas showed just how far he’s willing to go make his vision come true, how dedicated he is a worthy cause that has earned positive reviews across the league.

The hire of Robert Saleh was step one, a move that was praised not by the hot take artists but rather the players on the field both abroad (Richard Sherman) and domestically (Quinnen Williams). Much like the Vera-Tucker trade it was a unconventional but bold move that made football-sense, a move made for the purpose of getting wins. Sure, the Jets are still trapped in a rebuild…there are simply too many contenders in the AFC to make much headway in the playoff standings…and paid a hefty price to pull off the endeavor.

But through these moves, and possibly what’s to come on Friday and Satuday, Douglas has shown off his most prestigous draft day hault yet: a vision.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags