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There’s a new regime running a team that went 2-14 last season, so it’s obvious that few – if any – jobs on the Jets are secure. Robert Saleh can’t afford to not play the best players, even if some of them are very new to the league.
That means every member of the Jets’ 2021 draft class will have at least the chance to contribute and have an impact during their rookie year. Every one of them could have a chance to win a significant role.
Their quest to do that starts on Friday, when they step on the field for the first time at the Jets’ weekend rookie mini-camp. Here’s a look at just how impactful the members of the Class of ’21 could be, in order of the impact they’re likely to have...
1. QB Zach Wilson (1st round, 2nd overall)
The new franchise quarterback is obviously at the top since it would be a shocker if he doesn’t enter training camp and then the regular season as the unchallenged starter. In many ways, this entire season will revolve around how good he is, and how fast he can settle in to his job. There will be a learning curve, as there always is with rookie quarterbacks. It will likely be a very up and down season. For the most part, expect the Jets to ride the same waves their rookie leader does.
2. RB Michael Carter (4th round, 107th overall)
They may have waited a few rounds to take a running back, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of the 5-foot-8, 201-pound Carter in the Jets’ new, run-heavy offensive scheme. He will start in a rotation with La’Mical Perine, Tevin Coleman, and maybe Ty Johnson, but at some point a leader will emerge. Carter has the quickness and evasiveness to be that lead back and the Jets think he can handle the tougher, early-down runs. Since he was part of a backfield committee in college, and because he’s small, no one is sure just how heavy his workload can be in the NFL. But that won’t matter because the Jets are going to split their carries. Carter has a chance to lead, while not getting worn down along the way.
3. WR Elijah Moore (2nd round, 34th overall)
There’s a chance that at some point Moore will be viewed as the steal of this draft. The 5-foot-9, 178-pound Moore is a dangerous playmaker with 4.3 speed who put up crazy numbers in college. The Jets can use him anywhere – outside, in the slot, out of the backfield, on sweeps. They view him as their version of Deebo Samuel, who was an all-purpose weapon in San Francisco. His impact, though, will only be limited by his opportunity. The Jets gave Corey Davis a three-year, $37.5 million deal to be their No. 1 receiver, and he will be. The improving Denzel Mims is still here and those two will be the starters on the outside. Moore will have to compete for space with veteran slot receiver Jamison Crowder (though this calculus obviously changes if Crowder is released).
4. G Alijah Vera-Tucker (1st round, 14th overall)
The only reason he’s not higher on this list is because of his position, and because he can’t protect Wilson by himself. His success will have a lot to do with the rest of the offensive line, which a year ago wasn’t good. But the 6-foot-4, 308-pounder should be a big part of that line revival. He almost certainly will end up replacing Alex Lewis as the starting left guard. With him and tackle Mekhi Becton on the left side, Wilson’s blind side will be well-protected and the Jets figure to run a lot in that direction. If the rest of the offensive line improves, this could end up being the most significant development for the Jets in 2021. Vera-Tucker will be a part of that, but he can’t do it alone.
5. S/CB Michael Carter (5th round, 154th overall)
The biggest hole on the Jets’ defense is at cornerback, and the 5-foot-10, 184-pound Carter doesn’t exactly fill it. But with his 4.3 speed and ball-hawking skills he’s got a real chance to be the Jets’ nickel cornerback. There’s not much competition there – only Javelin Guidry, really, unless the Jets re-sign Brian Poole. Carter played mostly safety in college, so he’s never handled that role full-time, but the Jets will give him the chance.
6. S/LB Jamien Sherwood (5th round, 146th overall)
He’s one of several Jets draftees switching positions on defense, going from college safety to NFL linebacker. He’s got an advantage, though, in that he moved to linebacker on many third downs at Auburn, so he’s already accustomed to that hybrid role. There will still be some adjustment, especially since he’s a bit small (6-foot-2, 216 pounds). But there is a big opening at linebacker, especially on the weak side. And even if he doesn’t win a starting job there, Saleh loves his hybrid defenders and will surely find a way to work him in.
7. S/LB Hamsah Nasirildeen (6th round, 186th overall)
He’s in the same basic position as Sherwood, trying to transition from safety to linebacker. He might even be more talented, considering he likely would’ve been a Day 2 pick if there weren’t concerns about an old ACL injury. Assuming he’s healthy, the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder will have a chance to compete for a role in the Jets’ rebuilt linebacking corps, but he might need some time to get up to speed. He only played two games last season while recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in November, 2019. He’ll start his career on special teams.
8. DT Jonathan Marshall (6th round, 207th overall)
The strength of a Saleh defense is its defensive line, and the coach will likely use a lot of players there. That means the 6-foot-3, 310-pound Marshall could squeeze his way into a rotation. He’s a bit of a developmental prospect, though. He didn’t do much at college, but he might have been out of position as a 3-4 nose tackle. The Jets think he has interior pass rush skills, but he’s going to have to fight for snaps behind Quinnen Williams, Sheldon Rankins, Folorunso Fatukasi and several others ahead of him on the depth chart.
9. CB Jason Pinnock (5th round, 175th overall)
The Jets are clearly taking a quantity over quality approach to cornerback, so add the 6-foot, 204-pound Pinnock into the mix. He’s not likely to beat out Bless Austin or Bryce Hall for a starting job, nor will he likely jump Carter for the nickelback role. But he’ll get a chance, just like all the other young corners on the Jets’ roster. He does have decent speed (4.45 in the 40) but he wasn’t a full-time starter for the Panthers until he was a senior so he’s still got a lot to learn.
10. CB Brandin Echols (6th round, 200th overall)
More for the cornerback depth chart. The 5-foot-9, 178-pounder does have potential and track-star speed (a 4.35, 40-yard dash). But he started college as a receiver and is still learning how to play cornerback. He’ll have to make his mark on special teams at first, but if he’s a quick learner on defense this is a late-round gamble that could some day pay off.