NFL Draft analysts have given out grades for the first round of 2021.
I find this annual rite of passage a bit silly. Immediate grades tend to not hold up very well over the long haul. A player’s actual performance is all that matters. Still immediate grades are given.
Just keep all of this in mind. You can clearly see why Draft grades are stupid...unless they praise the Jets.
Now let’s get to the grades.
No. 2: New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
The Jets fell in love with Wilson during the pre-draft process and I get it. There’s a lot of skills you see and imagine them translating to the NFL like Aaron Rodgers or Pat Mahomes, improvising, turning plays into jazz, and free-forming his way into eye-popping moments. Personally, I’m not nearly as high on Wilson. He played a lot of bad competition and threw too many 50/50 balls. I think this is a bigger risk than it needed to be, and the Jets are in dire need of “sure thing” superstars.
No. 14 ***TRADE*** New York Jets: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG, USC
The Jets felt the need to get some protection for Zach Wilson and get a hell of a blocker in Alijah Vera-Tucker. I had him mocked to the Vikings at this spot, but obviously they want a tackle rather than a guard. Vera-Tucker was USC’s left tackle last season, but he projects better into a guard, and his versatility will be an asset. That said, if the Vikings didn’t want Vera-Tucker, I’m not sure the Jets needed to bite to move up.
Mel Kiper, Jr.
Head-scratching moves from Round 1
New York Jets
The pick: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU (No. 2); Alijah Vera-Tucker, G, USC (No. 14)
We’ve known the Jets’ pick at No. 2 for weeks, but that doesn’t mean it is the right pick. Look, I like Wilson, and he has elite arm talent, but for the Jets to trade away Sam Darnold, they have to know for sure that Wilson is an upgrade. How can we say that for sure?
Darnold got very little help in his three seasons in New York, and he’s still only 23. He hasn’t come even close to reaching his ceiling yet. The Jets could have used this pick on a massive upgrade around Darnold — most likely tight end Kyle Pitts — but instead they’re starting over with another young quarterback. In fact, the Jets have now taken seven first- or second-round signal-callers since 2000, two more than any other franchise in that span.
Wilson took a huge leap this past season, improving in every area after an inconsistent 2019. But he did it against a weak schedule, with really good players around him. This Jets draft is going to be defined by whether or not Wilson is a star, and I still have questions. General manager Joe Douglas has to improve the talent around Wilson, something the previous regime wasn’t able to do for Darnold.
Douglas also traded up with the Vikings to No. 14 for Vera-Tucker, giving up picks Nos. 23, 66 and 86 (and adding No. 143) to get the clear best guard in this class. I don’t have huge qualms with this deal since the Jets didn’t have to give up the No. 34 pick, which is hugely valuable. Vera-Tucker will help Wilson in the passing game and pave lanes in the running game. It’s a sensible pick.
NEW YORK JETS: Zach Wilson
No surprise here. Wilson brings high-end accuracy and out-of-structure playmaking to New York, where he should be a strong fit in the offense Mike LaFluer is expected to run. His ability to attack downfield and make ridiculously difficult, off-platform throws should make the Jets’ offense far more dynamic … or at least just worth watching on Sundays. But Wilson’s lack of experience against top-level competition and his relatively slight frame worry me―and are a few reasons I have Ohio State’s Justin Fields ranked higher on my board. Wilson will need to prove he can operate behind a less-than-elite offensive line and adapt to the speed of NFL defenses, but overall, this is an exciting start to new head coach Robert Saleh’s tenure in New York.
NEW YORK JETS: Alijah Vera-Tucker
Vera-Tucker’s a strong prospect and this fit makes a ton of sense for the Jets, who bolster their offensive line and give Zach Wilson another quality protector. Vera-Tucker, who played left tackle last season for the Trojans but brings experience on the interior, makes sense as the team’s future left guard, where he can line up next to Mekhi Becton and help give Wilson a strong pocket. I am not a fan of teams making big jumps up for non-quarterbacks, though, and New York had to surrender a pair of foundation-building third-round picks (nos. 66 and 86) to move up.
New York Jets
Analysis: It’s been clear since October that Zach Wilson would be a very early pick in this draft. I can’t blame Jets GM Joe Douglas and new coach Robert Saleh for trading the former administration’s quarterback pick, Sam Darnold, to clear the way for their guy.
Wilson’s athleticism, accuracy and competitive fire are worthy of the No. 2 pick. He seems like a great fit in the “Shanahan East” offense Mike LaFleur, who came over from the 49ers with Saleh, is expected to run. With receivers Corey Davis, Denzel Mims, Jamison Crowder and Keelan Cole in hand, and one of the team’s remaining picks likely to be used on a tight end, Wilson should be happy with his new targets.
But will he be better than Justin Fields or Trey Lance? Is Wilson’s feel for the passing game, his ability to find secondary targets in and out of structure, really better than the other two? Only time will tell whether any (or all) of the three passers becomes the all-around talent the Jets desired at this pick.
New York moved up nine spots to No. 14 to select Vera-Tucker, bolstering an offensive line desperately in need of help after a rough 2020 season. He should be a very strong starting guard who will bully defensive tackles in the run game and serve as a solid pass protector. I had to mark this trade down a bit, though, because giving up two third-round selections, even though they’re receiving a fourth-rounder in return, was a bit much.
2. New York Jets: QB Zach Wilson, BYU — Surprising this heavily speculated pick hasn’t received a bit more security to this point. Wilson has a tremendous arm, matched only by his confidence. He could be a really nice fit in the Shanahan-steeped system of Mike LaFleur, but Wilson could get in trouble with his fast-and-loose style early. He’ll be compared to the QBs who go after him — namely Justin Fields — for the next several years. Grade: B-.
14) New York Jets (via Minnesota Vikings): OT-OG Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC — The feeling all draft season was that the Jets would draft a QB at No. 2 and either an edge rusher or a blocker with their second first-rounder. They went with the former/latter, trading up from No. 23 to make sure they got their man. Vera-Tucker has experience at both guard and tackle, and he’ll be joining a line that has promising left tackle Mekhi Becton. GM Joe Douglas likely wants to recreate what Zach Wilson had at BYU last season: great pass protection that allowed him to create. Grade: B+.
Pick 2, New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
The best version of Wilson is a quarterback who breaks the will of opposing defenses with his improvisational skills and ability to make plays outside of structure. He was not a top-50 prospect entering the fall but turned in an impressive 2020 campaign, completing 73.5 percent of his passes with 33 touchdowns and three interceptions.
The upside is obvious, but the Jets are taking a gamble on someone who did not face any Power 5 competition last season. There are legitimate questions about whether Wilson’s playing style will translate against NFL athletes. Jets GM Joe Douglas has been patient thus far. This pick will define his tenure in New York one way or another.
Pick 14, New York Jets: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT/G, USC
With Zach Wilson as their starting quarterback, the Jets needed to address their offensive line. They traded up to 14 from 23 to take Vera-Tucker. He started 13 games at left guard in 2019 before sliding over to left tackle for six games in 2020. Vera-Tucker (6-foot-5, 308) held up well at both spots.
It’s fair to question whether the Jets needed to get so aggressive here. They gave up picks 66 and 86 to move up and got back pick 143. Vera-Tucker is a fine prospect, but the draft is often about getting a lot of bites at the apple. Given the holes on the Jets’ roster, I don’t like giving up two third-round picks for a guard.
Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
Upside: Tony Romo
Downside: Kyle Boller
Best Comparison: Andy Dalton
Wilson almost led BYU to victory over Coastal Carolina. He drove them to the 1-yard line at the final gun after making a few Houdini plays as the clock ran down. Alas, the Chanticleers’ pressure had him rattled for much of the game, many of his passes sailed high or arrived at the same time as the coverage, and Wilson struggled to move the Cougars offense for most of what turned out to be a 22-17 defeat.
It was BYU’s only loss of the year, in part because Coastal Carolina—a Sun Belt Conference program in its fourth FBS season—was the Cougars’ toughest foe of the year.
BYU was supposed to face Michigan State, Stanford, Mizzou, and other power-conference foes last season. Then COVID happened. BYU cobbled together a schedule full of Troy, Western Kentucky, North Alabama, and University of Texas-San Antonio. Boise State was forced to start a freshman scout-team quarterback against BYU due to a COVID outbreak. UCF was without much of their secondary (including likely Friday draft picks Aaron Robinson and Richie Grant) in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Wilson’s breakthrough 2020 season came against a stunningly weak schedule. He spent the year stepping up into whistle-clean pockets and playing catch with open receivers. He looked like an elusive scrambler against defenders who wouldn’t cut it in an XFL training camp. His entire 2020 season looked like one long pro day.
The creamy schedule doesn’t make Wilson a bad prospect. QBASE 2.0 accounts for it in various ways, and Wilson still grades out just below Trevor Lawrence. Wilson snaps off some gorgeous throws, particularly on the run, and appears to have a full NFL toolkit.
Still, the Jets just drafted a quarterback who couldn’t lead his high-profile Independent program past Coastal Carolina.
The Dalton comparison above may look like an insult, but Dalton would have been the best Jets quarterback in decades. (Dalton might not have been as good as even-year Chad Pennington but blows odd-year Pennington away). Like Dalton, Wilson will probably look great given strong weapons, clean pockets, and a sound structure. Those are three things the Jets are not known for, but so far the Joe Douglas/Robert Saleh/Mike LaFleur regime appears to know what it’s doing.
In short, the Jets will need to elevate Wilson, because despite his high draft status and gaudy 2020 results, he is probably not good enough to elevate the Jets.
Alijah Vera-Tucker, T/G, USC
The Jets offensive line currently consists of Mekhi Becton and four compromise solutions. Their offense finished 29th in adjusted line yards, in part because Adam Gase was almost willfully sabotaging his own team, but also because the Jets thought players such as George Fant were capable starters and Josh Andrews were adequate backups. (And yes, Fant and Andrews were part of that willful sabotage.)
Vera-Tucker started at both left tackle and left guard for the Trojans but projects as an NFL guard. He has a wide frame but a somewhat lumpy build. He has quick feet but a choppy backpedal. His biggest technical issue is that he’s a huggy blocker whose arms often end up outside his defender’s frame. He needs to move his hands inside and improve his punch.
Sheer size, good eyes when picking up blitzers, and an ability to just get the job done in pass protection should make Vera-Tucker a starting-caliber guard who could slide outside in an absolute pinch.
Still, I don’t love the idea of trading up for Vera-Tucker, especially with Christian Darrisaw still on the board.