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

BREAKING: New York Jets Select IOL Alijah Vera Tucker

new york giants, alijah vera-tucker

This is not the same old New York Jets. After hinting towards a trade, the Jets have made a move up nine selections to grab a monster from USC. After nabbing their guy at Quarterback, the Jets have grabbed Alijah Vera Tucker. Tucker is a versatile guard from Oakland, now he heads to the Big Apple.

Tucker was a highly touted prospect out of high school, receiving offers from a majority of PAC-12 schools. Tucker immediately excelled at USC and only allowed five sacks in 927 snaps. Tucker, at 6 foot 4, 315 pounds, has the size to carry that excellence over to the next level. Tucker is a plug-and-play guard with the All-Pro potential as run and pass blocker.

With Tucker likely slotting in at left guard, the Jets now have their left side of the line-locked down for the foreseeable future. Pairing Becton and Tucker up ensure Wilson’s blindside will be well protected, which is something that Sam Darnold did not have in his time with gang green. A nice little wrinkle as well, Tucker was a captain for the Trojans, something Douglas has made a point for picking players to this point.

The Jets did have to trade up to nab Tucker, but the cost was not too bad. The Jets moved up nine slots while giving their 23rd selection to Minnesota. They also gave the Vikings both pick 66 and 86. In return, aside from pick 14, they also got pick 143 in the 4th round. While they lost both their third-rounders, with three picks in the 4th, don’t be surprised if Douglas moves back into the 3rd if a guy he covets is there. Now, the Jets look to pick 34 to get their pick of the guys who slip out of the first round, with a prime chance to grab another blue-chip prospect.

New York Giants could shift attention to alternative OL in first round, 2-for-1 scenario

new york giants, alijah vera-tucker

The New York Giants have a difficult decision to make with the 11th overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, but bolstering their offensive line would be a good decision. Ultimately, there aren’t many poor avenues they can take at 11, considering the talent that is expected to drop after multiple quarterbacks are selected in the top five picks.

Most believe that Northwestern stand-out OL Rashawn Slater could drop to the Giants, and if he does, could be a plug-and-play right guard. After the Giants released Kevin Zeitler, their offensive line was left with a massive hole at the RG position, and they have a few scenarios they can attack in the draft to cover the void. Either they solve the spot in the first round or wait until the second round to draft a player like Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis or even Alabama’s Landon Dickerson.

However, I have one alternative that would not only add a high upside lineman but also contribute more draft capital to the Giants’ selections. Currently, Big Blue has only six picks to utilize in the draft, and adding a second-rounder would go a long way in finding a pass rusher and allowing the team to find another playmaker.

Of course, trading back all depends on who’s willing to move picks and what players fall to 11 that are of interest. For example, if a quarterback fell to 11, a team like the New England Patriots could be a great trade partner, which would open up an interesting avenue for the Giants.

The New York Giants can kill two birds with one stone:

One player who is rising quickly on draft boards is Alijah Vera-Tucker out of USC. Vera-Tucker is a 6’6″, 300-pound lineman who has experience at left tackle and guard. As an extremely competitive player that has great upside based on his athleticism, most analysts have been projected as a guard at the NFL level. He would be a great supplement for the loss of Zeitler, with even more potential.

Compared to Slater, I like that Alijah has experience in the interior already and great feet when maneuvering in the run game. While the Giants’ OL would undoubtedly be young, they would have plenty of great players to work with and develop around quarterback Daniel Jones. In this scenario, the Giants not only land one of the top linemen in the draft, but they also add a second-round pick from the Patriots, moving back to 15, which allows them to target an offensive playmaker or a pass rusher at 46.

Should the New York Giants consider drafting USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker in round one?

new york giants, alijah vera-tucker

The New York Giants have their options open ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft. The Giants addressed two of their top weaknesses in free agency, signing a top-tier wide receiver in Kenny Golladay and a new outside cornerback in Adoree’ Jackson. This means the Giants are not forced to draft for need in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

The Giants could still draft a playmaker or cornerback with the eleventh overall pick. But now they do not have to. The Giants are in position to draft the best player available. That player could be an offensive lineman, a wide receiver, a tight end, or a linebacker. New York’s excellent free agency period has set them up perfectly for the upcoming draft.

But if the Giants do want to address a specific need in round one, there is one glaring weakness on their roster. The Giants need to upgrade the interior of their offensive line. Left guard Will Hernandez was moved to the bench half way through the 2020 season. Starting right guard Kevin Zeitler was a cap casualty. Now, the Giants’ offensive line features second-year Shane Lemieux and Will Hernandez as the projected starting offensive guards.

The Giants will not reap the benefits of their upgraded offensive playmakers if the offensive line does not allow Daniel Jones to spread the ball around. It could behoove New York to target an interior offensive lineman in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The top offensive guard for the Giants to target in round one is USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker.

Why Alijah Vera-Tucker makes sense for the Giants

Alijah Vera-Tucker is an interesting, versatile offensive line prospect. Pro Football Focus’s top-ranked interior offensive lineman in this year’s class, Vera-Tucker actually spent the 2020 season playing offensive tackle. Alijah was the starting left tackle for USC this season and he played as one of the best tackles in the country. According to PFF, Vera-Tucker was the highest-graded offensive tackle on true pass sets this season with a grade of 89.2.

We already knew Vera-Tucker was a very good guard, but it took him kicking out to tackle in 2020 to see just how much of an all-around player he really is. – Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus

Alijah Vera-Tucker might make a lot of sense for the Giants in this year’s draft. However, he might not make sense for them with the eleventh overall pick in the draft. That might not be the best value for Vera-Tucker as he is a prospect that is often projected to be drafted in the second half of the first round.

This does, though, open up the possibility for the Giants to target Alijah Vera-Tucker in a trade down scenario. The Giants could trade down to the second half of the first round, draft Vera-Tucker as their new starting offensive guard, and gain additional draft picks in the middle rounds. That would make for two key acquisitions. The Giants could land a starting offensive lineman and increased draft capital.

Alijah Vera-Tucker is a talented offensive line prospect that would make for an instant upgrade on the Giants’ offensive line. Vera-Tucker does have short arms (32 1/8″) and small hands (9 5/8″), which is why he is projected as a guard rather than a tackle (Jordan Reid). He did play well at tackle in 2020, but being undersized, he projects as a guard at the next level.

His ability to kick out to tackle could make him more attractive to the Giants, though, a team that emphasizes versatility. Alijah Vera-Tucker is a powerful prospect, putting up 36 reps on the bench at his Pro Day. Vera-Tucker could be just what the Giants need as they look to protect Daniel Jones entering his third professional season.