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A Look at Jets Draft Pick Alijah Vera-Tucker

Plus the question of draft building philosophies.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 07 Stanford at USC Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Jets traded up in the Draft, investing two 3rd round picks in order to secure the services of Alijah Vera-Tucker (who for this article we will refer to as AVT) with the 14th overall pick. This means the Jets felt very secure in AVT’s abilities while at the same time not appreciating other players at the same position in this Draft. The two 3rd round picks are a steep price to pay for the services of a single player so the Jets are counting on their scouting prowess (something they have lacked for at least the last decade) in this pick.

If the Jets had not moved up in the draft they would have 3 chances in the first 86 picks to find Pro Bowl players. The Jets have put all their eggs in a single basket. This fact was not lost on AVT during the first round. “They told me they traded up for me. I’m blessed. For a team to put that much faith in me is amazing. Now I want to prove them right. Now I have to compete.” AVT said. Only time will tell if the Jets’ decision to trade up was correct or not. Let’s take a look at AVT to see if that was a wise decision or folly.

First off I was very high on AVT in this Draft. While the Jets had him ranked in the top 10 (supposedly according to Joe Douglas) I had him ranked right where he was drafted at #14. A few of the views I had in my draft report on AVT were:

Alijah Vera Tucker is a versatile, powerful, stout offensive lineman with a bit of a nasty streak. He has played six games at right guard, started 13 games at left guard and started 6 games at left tackle for the Trojans the last three years. He has very good hand usage with a powerful punch that can stall the biggest pass rushers momentum. He has strong hands, keeps them within the confines of the chest plate, rarely if ever are his hands wide. Once he has a hold of a defender he does a great job of controlling him. He is relentless when run blocking, driving his man back until the echo of the whistle. He likes to give an extra little push at the end to show his dominance, showing the defender it’s going to be a long day for him. He has some good power in drive blocking yet a lot of that comes from using solid technique with great leverage. His anchor is very stout and well balanced, he can withstand a Rhino in pass rush mode, he was not beaten or pushed back to his QB in all the tape watched. He was solid as a tackle but he was dominant as a guard with experience at both guard spots. He was a team leader with great character and a team captain.

Watching AVT over the last three years where he played 3 different positions the first word that comes to mind is: solid. He is rarely out of position. He is very aware of stunts and blitzes plus he can be a very powerful player when he uses solid technique. Yet this is a view of AVT as a compilation of three positions. There is a significant difference between when AVT plays outside to when he plays inside on the line.

AVT himself says he will play where ever the team needs him stating. “I’ll play wherever they need me — left guard, left tackle, right tackle — wherever they need me I’ll come in and play. At same time it really doesn’t matter to me.” The fact that ATV will happily play anywhere he is asked to is refreshing, but the Jets need to be smart and play him where he will be most effective. You spent a premium price to select ATV. Now let’s make sure he is playing where he can do the most good for the team. I would be utterly surprised if Joe Douglas was not thinking the same way.

So let’s take a look at some tape of AVT in action during the past two seasons. Game film of offensive line players is difficult to follow unless you can get some all-22 coaches tape which fortunately I was able to find. Not all of it is coaches tape so we will do the best we can with what we have. The first clip is of their game against Notre Dame from 2019 (They did not play Notre Dame in 2020.) with Notre Dame rushing 5 down linemen plus blitzing an ILB on the play.

The entire USC line does a great job in protection, but you can see AVT (#75) using great technique with a solid foundation which stones the defensive tackle cold. ATV has his arms almost fully extended. Hands inside on the chest plate with a wide base with his chin over his toes in a nice balanced lean. He isn’t bending at the waist plus he is moving his feet so he continually stays square to his opponent.

He doesn’t allow his man to ever get to this edge plus he is set at the perfect angle with his QB directly behind him forming the cone of protection around him. Very nice job.

This next clip is showing some decent movement skills to make it to the second level to make a effective block on a smaller, much more quicker player. AVT has moderate movement skills as a whole. He is not a dancing bear, but he can get the job done in short spaces and blocking horizontally. However. he struggles in the open field.

This play is similar to making a trap block but only on the 2nd level of the defense. He will usually be attacking a linebacker, but here he is erasing Alohi Gilman who is a safety playing in the box.

This next clip is from the 2020 season with AVT playing as the left tackle. He is lined up in a two point stance with his QB in the pistol formation receiving a shotgun snap. This is a run/pass option formation/ AVT has a DE playing beyond his outside/right shoulder in as a 6 tech. The slot receiver on the left motions back to the right just before the snap.

The play is an off tackle run with the RB hopefully shooting through the gap between the left guard and AVT. At the snap AVT moves into that gap with good knee bend to get great position on the DE. He gets low then comes up with his hands to gain a leverage edge on the play despite the fact he is over 2” taller than his opponent.

He has a good wide base, hands inside to keep control of his opponent then uses short choppy steps to drive his man off the line. Notice how he gets in perfect position to drive his man back with he play directly behind him. AVT is not overly powerful as a drive blocker so he will need to work with Justus Galac (Jets strength amd conditioning coach) to build up more power to work against the size in the NFL. On this play the power is sufficient against a player he outweighs by 30 lbs. He also uses excellent technique.

On this next clip against Utah AVT is in pass protection as a left tackle. The offense is again in the pistol, but this play is a straight drop back pass. They don’t even try a cursory fake, just a 5 step drop from the pistol depth. AVT is out of his stance quickly then reacts to the line slant smartly as the OLB peels off instead of rushing. This gives AVT time to get in prime position as the defensive tackle takes the long road around the edge.

This is a quality job (albeit an easy one) on the edge as it is an example on how AVT in the NFL will be mirroring pass rushers as a guard. For the Jets AVT will move inside where his skill set suits him best. He has had some difficulty out wide which would only be exasperated in the NFL. AVT has poor length (32 1/2” arms) which is woefully short for an offensive tackle. Because of that he will often drop his head in an attempt to keep up with his man’s accent around the edge. NFL DEs and edge rushers will see this and counter off his lack of vision then beat him back inside.

Because of his work on the edge, mirroring inside pass rushers should be no problem in limited space. He has shown here that he has good eyes to see possible twists and stunts plus the patience to not overreact to schemes in front of him. He has decent quick-short area movement skills for an offensive tackle. Those skills are exceptional for a guard.

Against Oregon in the PAC 12 championship game AVT was exposed somewhat by a future lottery pick in Kayvon Thibodeaux (DE Oregon 6’ 5” 250). The quickness plus speed was too much to handle on the outside with room to roam. Thibodeaux had a sack plus two TFL in the game (not all was attributed to AVT). He was the only real NFL type prospect that AVT faced all year as a offensive tackle.

It wasn’t all bad for AVT as here in this clip he does well in a combo block by blocking down on the defensive tackle then getting up to the 2nd level to cut off the pursuing ILB #1 Noah Sewell a 6’ 3” 250 lbs player with speed.

The thing to notice is the good lateral movement as he hammers the DT with a quick block but is still able to slide out laterally in front of the ILB to make the cut off block. Both these blocks don’t have to be devastating, just enough to keep the players from flowing to the play side. In the case of the ILB AVT is able to get both hands on him and move him from his spot. He will be asked to do this type of block much more as a guard.

I was able to get some coaches tape from the 2019 season which gives a clearer picture of how AVT reacts and moves to the action in front of him as a guard.

This first clip is real simple as AVT reacts to a stunt off a blitzing OLB. The OLB starts at him then moves outside with the DE folding back inside. This is a poorly timed/executed stunt that is easily defeated in short order.

What you want to focus on is the calmness of his play. He doesn’t come close to getting rattled. He has a very solid base. He is able to move quickly in the line up and back. Even though he got help from the center who was unoccupied, he was in great position, balanced with the ability to move plus absorb a bull rush if necessary. Also both his hands are inside, a good push first and the catch of the stunting player; no hands outside which could draw a holding flag if the player is quicker and pushes his edge.

This next clip is slightly obscured by the tailback #7 but this is a faced up/man to man block. The play is blown up in the backfield, but AVT gets good leverage and physically moves his man from his spot to an area 3 yards from where he began out of the hole that the play was scheduled to go through and totally out of the play.

This is the type of blocks the Jets are looking for AVT to make. He is not really a power player yet (He is still young; he will be 22 in June.), but he has great technique to keep his hands inside and drive his man out of the way. This is the type of play where AVT excels with a man directly over his face, and his job is to move him out of the way. That will be a challenge at first in the NFL with the size of the inside players, but over time with his great technique and a strengthened body he should be a monster on the line.

The Jets are looking to implement a zone blocking scheme, and this next clip is an example of that. In zone blocking you are not looking to move a player. You are looking to clear a path. You may start out blocking one man then move on to the next trying to create a pathway for your runner to exploit.

On this play AVT has a man over his inside shoulder who he wants to press to the outside. The center is uncovered so at the snap he comes across and double teams the defensive tackle which helps push him down the line. Once AVT feels his man is being controlled by the center he is able to get off the block and move over to the safety/OLB (#2) and take him out of the play.

This play might not have been a complete success, but the blocking by AVT was. This is the action the Jets are looking for and the reason they were so high on AVT as a prospect. His ability to move laterally, hands inside on blocks, work as a zone blocker which can be difficult for some college players to grasp, the balance/strength/technique, and character traits were too much to pass up.

Okay now how do you work against power? That is a question each player who works inside the tackles must face. If you are not stout enough you will be picked on unmercifully on the interior line. This next play is a straight bull rush from an interior player with size and power to get the job done.

This is a 6’ 2” 290 lbs defensive tackle who is bull rushing AVT. Watch how AVT is able (at near 6’ 5”) get low then lift his opponent up until he is almost standing straight up at the end. This is how you take away a shorter player’s power; with bent knees, getting low then his body/hands that are pushing upwards. This is not highlight film type video. It is just good technique that gets the job done.

This next play is so much harder than it looks. There are so many things that can go wrong on the goal line with everyone so close to the line of scrimmage. Not only tha. This is a reach block where AVT has to move from his left guard position to the right side of the center. Get position on the big nose tackle then make an effective block.

This is where good feet come into play. You need to be quick, but you also have to get your big body to the correct side of the block. Yes, you have to get there, but you have to nearly pass your target then come back towards him from a completely different angle to make the block. This was done very well. Fortunately on this play the nose tackle moved like a glacier so AVT could get into great position. It will not be as easy in the NFL, but he still moved very well in this short reach block.

This next play is a type of stretch play he Jets are going to use, but penetration stops the play from being successful. The play starts again in the pistol formation where the QB has certain options depending on the formation and actions of the defense. Problem is he doesn’t read the defense well as he is outnumbered to the left but open to the right.

The strong safety to the right of the defense is up near the line of scrimmage and is not blocked by the slot receiver in Amon-Ra St Brown. This allows penetration on the play which upsets the blocking scheme. AVT blocks his man nearly 10 yards down the line, but the penetration doesn’t allow the cut back or the edge. This is a good job by AVT (not great) but would have worked out better with finer blocking by his teammates.

These next two plays are more traditional type plays as they involve pulling from the guard position, while leading the play around the edge. The ability to move well plus be able to make a successful block on the move is critical to any guard not based solely in a power gap system of which AVT is not being asked to play.

There is not a whole lot to this play on AVT’s part except that he can pull and move fluidly with speed. He can find a target in a traditional offense (not just a zone blocking offense) and make a crease sealing block to allow a RB to find a seam.

This last clip is of the same type play against the same team. The ability to effectively pull plus make a effective block is huge on any offense. The drive blocking on the right side of the line on this play was awful (The right tackle is stalemated directly in the hole.), but the job done by AVT was excellent. The left OLB on the play side steps up into the hole but is eliminated from the action by ATV with the RB cutting off his seal block in the line. The right guard #70 picks the wrong man to block as he is needed to pick up the flowing LBs (especially #43) on the 2nd level rather than doubling the nose on a man who is already engaged with another blocker.

Summery

The selection of AVT by the Jets was a positive move as AVT projects as a potential Pro-Bowl talent that can team up with Mekhi Becton on the left side of the Jets offensive line for the next decade. If that is the only way you look at this pick then you should be over-the-moon excited by the prospect of such a talented left side of the Jets offensive line.

It is hard to complain about a draft where the Jets I believe gained so much, but I will.

The choice of AVT as a Jets player is only questioned by the use of the original pick plus two 3rd round draft picks to do so. There was a tremendous amount of talent left in the 3rd round plus the possibility of just standing pat at #23 and taking Christian Darrisaw an offensive tackle from Virginia Tech.

There of course a chance that if Minnesota had stayed at #14 they would have selected Darrisaw at #14. The Raiders then may have taken AVT at #17 which means the Jets would have probably been left with Alex Leatherwood as a selection which to me would not have been as enticing as I had Leatherwood well below Darrisaw in my rankings.

At that point I may have traded down to secure more picks and selected a Teven Jenkins (to move inside to guard) and then a Dillon Radunz as our right tackle prospect of the future. He could sit for a year as a swing tackle then take over in 2022 on the right side.

George Fant was not a player I would have signed to play as our right tackle as Joe Douglas did when he signed him to a $27 million contract. Fant is 29 years old and rated as the 64th best tackle out of 79 players graded at his position in 2020. He has a cap hit this year of $9,829,412 and $10,650,000 next year. He is the type of player you use but are always looking to replace and upgrade from.

The Jets could have stayed where they were or traded down then possibly could of had a Pro Bowl type right tackle in Darrisaw or two players (Jenkins and Radunz) to fill in of the right side of the line. They could have done this and still selected Elijah Moore at #34. Darrisaw is an interesting prospect as he played left tackle for the Hokies but would be a right tackle for the Jets. He could always slide over to the left side in case of injury which would give you a skilled left tackle in reserve on your team instead of a swing tackle on the bench with limited skills. I had Darrisaw ranked just above ATV in ranking, and his selection (if he had been there) would have given the Jets bookend tackles for the next decade.

With their two 3rd round pick which they would have still owned if they hadn’t traded up they had a choice of Wyatt Davis (guard) or Quinn Meinerz /Kendrick Green who were both guard/center prospects and would work well in the Jets offensive system.

Of course they could have taken any of those players but also added a TE’s Tommy Tremble or Hunter Long; CBs Aaron Robinson, Paulson Adebo, Benjamin St-Juste, Nahshon Wright, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Ambry Thomas or slot corner/safety Elijah Molden. Plus there was a plethora of other players. The point being there were many options for the Jets to add serious talent in the Draft that was taken away when they traded up.

The Jets handcuffed themselves in the draft by trading up in the first round.

It is basically a philosophical question of team building. Had the Jets been a team like the Buffalo Bills or Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Baltimore Ravens who are maybe just a few players away from a stacked team then I could see a move like they made. If you already have a bevy of quality talent then adding higher quality talent is probably the best way to go considering you don’t have room on your roster for 10 or 12 rookie players like the Jets do.

The Jets are not close to that type of team. They need an influx of talent throughout their roster so to trade away two premium picks was not in the best interest of the team. For a team so bereft of talent like the Jets to move up in the draft was in my opinion foolish. They had a chance (in a loaded draft) to add 5 players in the first 86 selections which would have been ideal. Instead they added on 3 players of the first 106 selections.

Now you have to realize I love the player (AVT) and believe he will be a great asset to the Jets and their organization. He is a high level talent while also being a player of great character. Yet what if he should get injured (which can happen to any player) and maybe hampered by that injury his entire career? In this scenario it is like 3 players are getting injured since the Jets gave up 3 quality picks to draft AVT. They didn’t even get any future picks in the trade. They did get pick #143 which they traded for picks 162 + 200. They then made a questionable trade with KC with picks 162 + 226 going to KC in return for picks #175 + 207.

So in the end the Jets had the same number of picks but had a much different array since they went from #23, 66 + 86 to #14, 162 +175. Even in the trade from 143 to the eventual 175 + 207; I probably like the player Tyree Gillespie (the Raiders pick at #143) than the combined players of Jason Pinnock and Brandin Echols at #175 + 200.

I had both Pinnock and Echols rated as UDFA players so the Jets may have gotten them without a pick if they wished. Plus it was puzzling that the Jets supposedly have said they had a 4th round grade on TE Kenny Yeboah but didn’t use a pick on him. Instead they gave him guaranteed money as a UDFA signing. I had Yeboah as a late 5th round prospect. He has some solid traits but dropped 17 catchable passes in college which is a huge red flag for me. I don’t mind the signing but they will need to buy him a Jugs machine and teach him the correct way to catch a football.

So in the end would you rather have AVT (great prospect) or the combination of say Christian Darrisaw, Kendrick Green and Teven Jenkins (or Jenkins, Green, and Dillon Radunz) as your Draft along with the other Jets picks? I would have preferred either of the later scenarios but that does not take away my adoration of AVT as a prospect; it is more of a team building philosophy than a knock on AVT.

The thing I have learned about the NFL Draft over the last 3 decades plus is it takes more than great Draft acumen to build a team. You have to know what your team needs are and where you can fill them in the Draft. The team building philosophy always has to be on the mind of the GM when drafting. If you fall in love with a prospect then you can forget about other players later who can help your team as well.

Like I said earlier, if the Jets were closer to competing for a championship I would support the trade up in the draft but that is not where the Jets are right now. I know Joe Douglas really liked AVT as a player, and who wouldn’t? Yet I wonder if you you asked him before the Draft would he prefer the combination of AVT, Jason Pinnock, and Brandin Echols, or Christian Darrisaw, Teven Jenkins, and his choice of Kendrick Green or Quinn Meinerz what would he choose.

If he could think without the excitement of the Draft and all the craziness that happens in a Draft room...if he could sit quietly and calmly look at the situation rationally, would make the same choice?

I wouldn’t have.

That’s what I think.

What do you think?