According to Brian Baldinger of the NFL Network, one New York Jets rookie has a chance to provide the highest non-QB impact in year one.
Just a season ago in 2020, we saw Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson take the league by storm. Although he lost out on the Offensive Rookie of the Year award to quarterback Justin Herbert, some believe Jefferson was snubbed after putting up 1,400 yards receiving.
This year, five quarterbacks were selected in the first round of the NFL draft, but the focus shouldn’t lie solely on the signal-callers.
In a panel selection, Baldinger featured Jets rookie left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker as his number one non-QB rookie to watch this season. General manager Joe Douglas saw the value in “AVT,” trading two third-round picks (with a fourth back in return) to snag the bruiser of an offensive lineman.
Reasons for Baldinger’s Praise
Vera-Tucker was a top-ranked guard prospect that had added experience playing offensive tackle his junior year at USC, taking over for Miami Dolphins 2020 draft pick Austin Jackson. AVT not only did the job but won numerous awards, including All-Pac-12 first-team honors and the 2020 Morris Trophy for the best offensive lineman in the conference.
The guard has a rare mix of talent and maturity as a rookie, and Baldinger also recognized his opportunity in New York. The analyst expects Vera-Tucker to shine next to 2020 first-round pick Mekhi Becton, nicknaming the duo the “Bash Bros.”
Another factor for Baldinger seemed to be coaching, as he highlighted Jets’ new offensive line coach John Benton as well as head coach Robert Saleh. Remember this play from Week 2 of the 2020 season Jets fans? I do, and the wide-zone blocking scheme that was used to make it happen is a specialty of Benton’s.
Sorry to bring back bad memories, but keep in mind that the San Francisco 49ers well-oiled run game is now the Jets 2021 offense. Also keep in mind that the Jets will be running the ball left, behind the wall that is Becton and AVT.
Baldinger went one step further, noting that this partnership could develop into “one of the best left tackle-left guard duos in the league.”
He also touched on how this pair may influence rookie quarterback Zach Wilson: “I believe AVT and a rebuilt O-line will help give every Jets fan a sense of optimism as the Zach Wilson era gets underway.”
The 6-foot-4 guard is known for his strength, lateral athleticism and consistency. According to Sports Illustrated writer Bill Huber, in 2019 at left guard, “Sports Info Solutions charged [Vera-Tucker] with no sacks, five blown blocks (four runs, one pass) and no holding penalties in 13 starts.”
Joe Douglas Is the Real Deal
Fans still need to be convinced on the field, but all signs point to Douglas holding this Jets GM job for a long time, and I mean longer than his original six-year contract.
Aside from the draft, one big-time win for the Jets shot-caller has been the Jamal Adams trade, which actually led to the Jets having enough capital to afford Vera-Tucker in the first place. The cherry on top came yesterday (June 1, 2021), when Pro Football Focus rated Marcus Maye the better all-around safety.
That makes you wonder what will come out of Douglas’ Sam Darnold haul. There have been growing pains for Douglas of course — mainly the Robby Anderson misfire and the two-win 2020 product — but overall the franchise’s progress has been evident.
With exciting young players like Elijah Moore, Vera-Tucker, Becton, Denzel Mims, Michael Carter, Jason Pinnock, Jamien Sherwood, Bryce Hall and Wilson (plus the list goes on) being talked about around the league, this could be a very bright future indeed for Gang Green.