Jets cornerbacks are due for a much-improved season

New York Jets, Bless Austin

The New York Jets defense has received a fair amount of notice this offseason. With the addition of Carl Lawson, the return of CJ Mosley and the continuing emergence of Quinnen Williams, there’s a lot to be excited about. However, one hasn’t received nearly as much praise, to say the least.

That would be the cornerbacks.

Sure, it’s easy to understand why that is: they’re young, unproven and lack “big names.” Nevertheless, this group is due for a much-improved season.

Now, let’s see why they are, highlighted by three key players:

Bryce Hall

Let me preface this by saying that I have very high hopes for Bryce Hall. And why wouldn’t I? The former Virginia corner was one of the best pass-defenders in college…when he wasn’t injured.

In 2018, when he played all 13 games, he led the nation with 22 pass breakups and was tied for first in the nation with 24 passes defended. Those are two of the key stats for cornerbacks and based on what he did compared to everyone else, you can’t get any better than that.

His first season in the NFL was a different story. Along with only playing in eight games, he allowed 37 catches on 52 targets. In case it needs to be said, that isn’t great.

He did show some on-field potential, though, especially for a young player with injury concerns. In those eight games, he had 36 tackles and an interception. Now, in case this needs to be said, or shown, his first interception was a beauty.

Hall will be one of the top-two corners for the Jets this season, and he should be ready for it. At 6-foot-1, 202 pounds, he has the size, and the speed, to trace top receivers. He also has a knack for finding the ball and stopping it from finding receivers’ hands.

Now, he has to put it all together on the field consistently. In year two, he’ll be ready for the challenge and the fifth-round pick with first-round talent will help this secondary leap forward.

Bless Austin

Along with having a great name, Bless Austin will most likely be alongside Bryce Hall as the top-two corners. His case is an interesting one, though, as it feels like his numbers should be better than they are.

Across his first two seasons, he has played in just 18 games, starting 16. He has eight passes defended in those games and has allowed 71 catches on 110 targets (64.5%). He’s a good tackler with great movement and speed, so it’s odd that his numbers aren’t better.

Numbers don’t always tell the whole story, though.

Analysts and fans tend to focus solely on stats and not enough on players’ non-stat impacts. Bless Austin is a guy who can make plays that don’t necessarily show on the stat sheet but drastically impact the outcome of a game.

Austin is due for a breakout third season and has all of the tools to have one. His passion and grit show on the field, whether his stats reflect it or not. It’s about time his stats do reflect his play, though, as something tells me this will be the year.

With no career interceptions, but impressive ball skills, this is the year that Bless Austin should make a name for himself.

Jason Pinnock

Jason Pinnock is a real x-factor this season. The fifth-round pick from Pittsburgh had six collegiate interceptions, along with 25 pass breakups. That’s all good, but here is where it gets really exciting.

All cornerbacks “know” how receivers move, but Pinnock really knows (notice how there are no quotations). This is because he was a receiver in high school, and he was a pretty damn good one. As a senior, he had 59 catches for 1,172 yards and 15 touchdowns. So, one might say he knows how to track the ball in the air pretty well.

You can see these skills clearly if watch him play, even for a short time.

Having experience playing receiver isn’t enough to be a successful corner, and he knows that. To complement his talent, skill and experience, he studied.

In a March interview with TheSpun.com‘s Chris Rosvoglou, Pinnock explained how he admired, and studied, two legendary cornerbacks.

“During my childhood, I’d say it was Darrelle Revis. I was a fanatic of his for years… I had the opportunity a few times to talk to him,” Pinnock said. “He helped my game out a lot just through a few conversations. As far as being in college and high school and getting to that level, I watched Richard Sherman. I’ve been breaking him down play-by-play since 2017.”

If Pinnock can replicate any of Revis and Sherman as a rookie it’d be really promising. His expectations may not be all too high being that he’s a fifth-round pick, but Jason Pinnock should be a major part of the exciting, young secondary this season.

Oh, and it helps that the Jets have an improved pass rush this season as well.

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.

Did the New York Jets ‘finally’ solve their offensive line woes?

alijah vera-tucker, jets

Just one spot ahead of the New York Giants, the Jets ranked 31st in pass blocking efficiency last season, per PFF. In run blocking, they landed at 20th, thanks to a surprisingly successful performance by right tackle George Fant. Hopefully, with the insertion of UNC stand-out running back Michael Carter, the Jets will finally have a more committed running approach. With head coach Robert Saleh coming from the Kyle Shanahan system in San Francisco, it is possible they utilize a rotation of backs, exposing mismatches and running lanes.

However, the success of the Jets’ offense heavily relies on the protection of Zack Wilson in pass blocking. Considering how poorly they performed last year, the organization realizes it was a priority to upgrade the blocking personnel as much as possible. They brought in multiple new players, including USC versatile lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker, veteran Morgan Moses, and a few depth pieces to help mitigate fatigue and supplement injuries.

Offensive line coach John Benton attested to the scheme fits in the trenches and the new faces the team has brought in:

“I get the feeling that everyone’s pretty excited about it [the wide-zone scheme]. It seems to be a good buy-in at this point across the board. The guys fit the scheme real well. I think they’re excited to see where it can go.”

Projected starting offensive line for the Jets:

LT: Mekhi Becton

LG: Alijah Vera-Tucker

C: Connor McGovern

RG: Alex Lewis

RT: Morgan Moses

Depth:

OT: George Fant

OG: Dan Feeney

OG/OT: Conor McDermott

OL: Chuma Edoga

OG: Greg Van Roten

Simply looking at the expected starting group, it is with confidence we can say Wilson’s protection should be improved. Considering what Sam Darnold had to deal with last year, being sacked 35 times over just 12 games, it was about time the team allocated significant resources toward the bolstering of the unit.

Tucker has shades of Quenton Nelson embodied in his style of play, and Becton is a big left tackle with the ability to maul pass rushers at the point of attack. A veteran like Moses should provide substantial experience and an upgrade at right tackle, despite Fant having a solid 2020 season. However, having adequate depth shouldn’t be overlooked; Fant will return to his swing tackle role, which he played with the Seattle Seahawks before joining Gang Green.

Ultimately, with the injection of new talent, players who have performed well in the past, like Conner McGovern, should return to form with more consistency around him. If the line can hold up and develop chemistry as the season progresses, Wilson could find himself exceeding expectations in his rookie season, which would be a sign of optimism for the future.

New York Jets receivers will surprise everyone in 2021

The New York Jets completely revamped their offense for the upcoming season. Rookie Michael Carter and veteran Tevin Coleman joined a running back group that will surely be by-committee. As for the passing game, that’s where it gets really, really fun.

Obviously, the team drafted BYU product Zach Wilson to be their quarterback of the future. However, he can’t throw the ball to himself. The receiving group the Jets built around Wilson is truly one to be excited about.

Well, for some people it is.

Pro Football Focus seems to feel differently. They ranked receiving groups for the upcoming season, keeping every addition and subtraction in mind for each group. The Jets landed at number 28. I may be biased, but that just doesn’t seem right.

Mark my words: the New York Jets receivers will surprise everyone in 2021.

The upgraded group starts with new addition Corey Davis, the former fifth overall pick and four-year vet from Tenessee. After an underwhelming first three seasons, Davis had an underrated 2020 season. Although missing two games, he posted career-highs in yards (984) and touchdowns (5) and tied his career-high in receptions (65).

According to PFF, he also posted a career-high grade of 86.9, along with his career-highs in recorded stats. Davis is a guy who does most of his damage in the intermediate level of the passing game, but can cause serious problems for defenses after the catch as well. The clear-cut number-one receiver is a big addition to this exciting, young offense and may very well make the Titans regret letting him leave.

Second-year wideout Denzel Mims has the ability to be a future number-one target, but he should be the number-two if things go as hoped. Personally, I have very high hopes for Mims. At 6-foot-3, 207 pounds, he is the big, outside target that pretty much every quarterback loves to have.

His ability to go up and win 50/50 balls, along with making guys miss after the catch, is a beautiful combination to see. However, having the ability isn’t enough. He needs to put it together over the course of the season.

Mims did earn a PFF grade of 70.4 last season and averaged 15.5 yards per reception, but only played nine games. If he stays on the field, he should take a big jump forward for the Jets this season.

Next comes Elijah Moore. The rookie has a lot of hype around him already, reportedly “turning heads” within the team. The ever-explosive slot receiver had a great junior season at Ole Miss, totaling 86 receptions for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns in eight games.

Moore earned 2020 All-American and All-SEC First Team selections and the Jets were able to get him in round two of the draft. Being the best slot receiver in the draft, he may end up being a major steal compared to the other receivers drafted. Moore will be more than a regular rookie option. He’ll have a major impact going forward.

Rounding out the top-six receivers on the team are Jamison Crowder, Keelan Cole and Braxton Berrios. Crowder should be competing for slot time with Elijah Moore, and should still be a productive option on offense. If nothing else, he could mentor Moore as well. Berrios, who would probably be most productive as a slot guy as well, will have his work cut out for him to earn meaningful time on the field.

Keelan Cole is a bit of a mystery. Across his first four seasons in the league, he had over 500 yards twice and five touchdowns once. He won’t be one of the top-target options, but he’ll easily provide capable depth for the group.

For a New York Jets team that ranks 29th in receiving grades since 2018, the only place to go is up (for the most part). Even though the group is drastically improved as a whole, the question remains if the young players can improve on the field. They should be expected to and the group should be expected to be good.

The problem is, they aren’t expected to do that, clearly. As a result, the receivers will end up surprising people this upcoming season.

 

How do you think the receiving group will be this season? Let me know and keep the conversation going by tweeting me @brendancarpESM!

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.

Report: Jets ink OT Morgan Moses to one-year deal, add more competition to OL

morgan moses, new york jets

The New York Jets have been contemplating the idea of signing former Washington offensive tackle Morgan Moses to a one-year contract. Well, on Friday, they finalized the deal to bring Moses to New York, having started 97 games in his career for Washington.

The Jets, who have Mekhi Becton, George Fant, and rookie Alijah Vera-Tucker capable of playing offensive tackle, now have added competition from a solid veteran.

In 2020, Moses played the majority of his snaps at right tackle, featuring at left tackle in Weeks 11 and 12. He’s capable of playing on both sides but was far better in pass blocking when featuring on the right side of the OL. He allowed five total sacks, 14 QB hits, and 22 hurries.

Overall, Moses has been a consistent option for Washington for the past seven seasons. At 6’6″ and 335 pounds, rookie quarterback Zach Wilson now has himself a consistent OT on the right side who can provide support due to injury and will likely push Fant for the starting job.

Moses is coming off a five-year, $38.5 million deal, so the Jets signing him to a one-year contract should land in the $5-8 million range for the 2021 campaign. Fortunately, Moses hasn’t missed a game in six seasons, showcasing his reliability, and was mainly cut due to financial reasons and not performance-based factors.

Did the Jets stumble upon a stud in mid-round running back selection?

jets, michael carter

The New York Jets don’t have a clear-cut starting running back, but rookie Michael Carter out of UNC already has the advantage to be the opening day option for Zach Wilson in the backfield. Last year in 2020, Carter posted 1,245 yards and nine rushing touchdowns, including 267 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns.

As one of the most productive running backs in the country, nobody anticipated Carter falling to the 4th round. Jets management waited patiently for Carter to fall as they sat with their eyes glued to the screen as every team passed him by.

Having sweated the entire third round in hopes Carter would be available, general manager Joe Douglas stated they would have had a serious discussion taking him in the 3rd, but thankfully, he fell right into their laps and is already penciled in as a potential starter come Week 1.

Projected running back room for the Jets:

RB1: Michael Carter

RB2: Tevin Coleman

RB3: Ty Johnson

RB4: La’Mical Perine

RB5: Josh Adams

Carter has already gained the majority of first-team reps during OTA‘s, but the anticipation is that Robert Saleh will execute a rotation of running backs this upcoming year, especially with the signing of Tevin Coleman.

A committee-based approach would help Carter find his sea-legs at the NFL level, easing him into a more physical and athletic league. Heading into the draft, Carter’s strengths included solid agility, vision of the field, and protecting the football efficiently. The UNC product hasn’t fumbled in two years, and most of his negatives include diagnosing running lanes and a lack of top-end speed.

Breakaway speed for running backs is more of a luxury than a necessity, as finding running lanes and picking up first downs is more beneficial than blowing the top off of defenses at the second level. Plenty of backs with average speed produce above-average play. Some examples include Joe Mixon, Nick Chubb, Aaron Jones, Chris Carson, etc.

Ultimately, if Carter can improve his vision and ability to hit holes with confidence, the Jets could have themselves a steal in the mid-rounds. He is a player to have a close eye on during training camp, gauging his snap count with the starters.

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.

The New York Jets still have time to bolster the secondary with one solid veteran

richard sherman, jets

The New York Jets seemingly had a fantastic draft and free agency class, but there is one unit they didn’t bolster sufficiently this off-season. Last year, one of the weaker points on defense for Gang Green was the secondary, and after the departure of Jamal Adams, the unit only got worse. The Jets ranked 28th in passing yards allowed per game, giving up 275.6 on average. They desperately need more support at cornerback after cutting Pierre Desir after just one season with the team.

However, there is one free agent on the market that could make perfect sense for the Jets, especially with the hiring of Robert Salah from the San Francisco 49ers.

Currently, on the roster, the Jets have a plethora of inexperienced options which don’t represent immediate starters or impact players.

-Bless Austin

-Bryce Hall

-Justin Hardee

-Isaiah Dunn

-Corey Ballentine

Only one of these players has played more than two seasons in the NFL and an entire 16 game campaign. Justin Hardee, who the Jets signed as a free agent from the New Orleans Saints, has never started a game in the NFL but has played in 56 over four seasons. He has two passes defended to his name, so expecting him to be a starting-level player would be optimistic.

The player on the market who could make the most sense for Gang Green is Richard Sherman, who is coming off a three-year, $27.15 million deal. At 33 years old, there’s no question that Sherman is getting up there in age, but as an intelligent corner who is one of the best defensive backs in the last decade, he could offer them plenty of value as a veteran in the locker room.

Sherman recently played for Salah and his defense, featuring in just five games last year, but did partake in 15 regular-season games and three playoff contests in 2019. During his 2019 season, he recorded a 90.5 overall coverage grade, allowing 373 yards and one touchdown the entire season. As a historically lock-down man coverage corner, Sherman clearly has a bit of gas left in his tank, but after missing the majority of the 2020 campaign, the Jets might be able to snag him up on a cheaper deal.

Considering the connection between Sherman and Salah, this would be an easy signing to make for the Jets, inserting an immediate starter into the secondary who can help the young players gain their sea legs in the NFL.

Signing Sherman to a one or two-year deal in the $7 million range would make sense, given the lesser contracts signed this off-season. The Jets currently have about $32 million available and cap space, giving them plenty of money to work with prior to the start of the 2021 season.

Jets, Morgan Moses nearing potential multi-year deal

morgan moses, new york jets

The New York Jets have made strides in upgrading their offensive line for rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, and another may be on the way. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the Jets are considered the favorites to land free agent OT Morgan Moses and are making progress on a potential multi-year deal.

The addition of the former Washington lineman would be a massive one upfront. The seventh-year player has started every game since 2015 and would add sustainability and security to the line.

Moses is the best available offensive tackle, by far, and would take over the other tackle spot opposite the young star, Mekhi Becton. He has experience on both sides of the line, but is more suited for the right tackle spot. That works perfectly, as Becton is comfortable on the left.

Coming off a season in which he ranked 18th among tackles with a Pro Football Focus grade of 79.9, Moses would be a gem to add this late in the offseason. So, the seemingly aggressive push to sign him makes sense.

A deal has not yet been agreed upon or confirmed, but it appears as though the Jets will land the free agent. If a deal is finalized in the coming hours or days, the Jets’ offensive line will have taken a major step forward.