New York Jets Draft: Linebacker Headlines 5 Biggest Positions Of Need

LSU Jabril Cox

Getty LSU defender Jabril Cox making a play on the ball.

The New York Jets had the second-most cap space in the NFL heading into free agency and filled several voids on the roster. Despite doling out over $75M in guaranteed money this offseason, this team still has several gaping holes that they’ll now be forced to address in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Fortunately, the team is armed and dangerous with 10 draft picks, half of those coming in the top-100 of this class. But what are the top needs for the team?

5. EDGE

Depending on who you ask, this is a much higher need on the New York Jets’ wish list.

The team hasn’t had a consistent edge rusher that opponents have had to fear since John Abraham. To put it bluntly, it has been a constant barrage of mediocrity including last season when the team ranked in the bottom half of the league in sacks per game, per Team Rankings.

New York Jets John Abraham

GettyThe last time the New York Jets had an EDGE that opponents feared was John Abraham.

Over the last 15 years, the Jets have had three double-digit sack single seasons and that’s it. Muhammad Wilkerson did it twice (2015 and 2013) and Calvin Pace somehow did it in 2013.

This offseason the team added an All-Pro worthy talent in Carl Lawson formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals. Plus a slew of rotational pieces (Sheldon Rankins, Vinny Curry), but they still need an edge rusher opposite of Lawson.

Joe Douglas has proven to be a “best player available” kind of guy, albeit it with a very small sample size. If one of the top edge rushers slips to 23 or 34 in the 2021 NFL Draft, you could see the New York Jets leap at the opportunity. Although the third round (where the Jets have a pair of draft selections; 66, 86 respectively) may be the more apt place to take a dive into the rookie EDGE class.

4. Linebacker

Arguably the most underrated need for the New York Jets this offseason is linebacker. We mentioned previously that the new head coach Robert Saleh is bringing his patented 4-3 scheme with him from San Francisco.

It’s paramount to have linebackers that can cover. Whether that be covering running backs out of the backfield or matching up with opposing tight ends.

Right now the Jets’ linebacking corp is pretty razor-thin.

The star of the group, CJ Mosley hasn’t played football in essentially two years. The lone addition in free agency is a former first-round bust with the Detroit Lions and has serious issues in coverage (Jarrad Davis). Oh yeah, they also play the same position, which could lead to a potentially awkward situation that has already drummed up trade rumors.

Not enough fans or analysts are talking about this need which is critical in this scheme.

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3. Cornerback

In Robert Saleh’s 4-3 scheme he’s bringing to the New York Jets, the most important component is the pass rush. If there’s no EDGE presence, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the defense is doing.

In theory, if the Jets have a strong pass rush, the corners don’t have to cover as long. Perhaps that’s the team’s strategy and it would explain why they avoided adding any players during the free agency period. But they can’t possibly enter 2021 with the same unit they did in 2020.

To put it bluntly, the Jets’ current crop of corners is underwhelming.

The Jets gave up 34 touchdowns through the air (third-most in the league), over 4,400 passing yards (fifth-most in the league), and quarterbacks that faced the green and white had a 103.2 quarterback rating (fourth-best in the NFL), info provided by NFL Next Gen Stats.

The slot corner is currently Javelin Guidry who has started a grand total of two games. Both of their outside corners are also young and inexperienced (Bless Austin and Bryce Hall).

Fortunately, the 2021 NFL Draft class is super deep at the cornerback position. There could be as many as four or five taken in the first round. Certainly, it’ll be a very legitimate option with the 23rd overall pick and worst case at the 34th overall spot for the Jets.

2. Interior Offensive Line

This can’t be it, right?

The same offensive line that ranked fourth-worst in all of football last year by PFF is still fully intact heading into the 2021 NFL Draft? Yikes.

This should arguably be the No. 1 need for the green and white. They completed ignored the position in free agency, outside of some small backup additions for depth.

Every fan of the New York Jets will be hoping and praying that USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker makes it to the 23rd overall pick. He would be a massive upgrade at guard over Alex Lewis.

Speaking of Lewis, Gang Green hasn’t released him or his substandard counter-part Greg Van Roten because they didn’t have viable replacements on the roster but they hopefully will at the conclusion of this draft.

Contrary to popular belief, the Jets are fine at offensive tackle.

Mekhi Becton is a budding superstar and George Fant was solid last year on the right side. In this new scheme led by Mike LaFleur, it should highlight Fant’s athleticism that made him so attractive to Joe Douglas last offseason.

On the interior, the Jets seem resistant to kick Connor McGovern to one of the guard spots. Perhaps that mentality could change during the 2021 NFL Draft. It would be an apt strategy for the team because they could hit two birds with one stone.

By drafting a traditional center, you could fix the weakest link of the offensive line. Plus you could solve one of the guard spots by kicking McGovern over. Connor has over 30 games of right guard experience in his NFL career, per Pro Football Reference.

One name to keep an eye on is interior offensive lineman Cameron Clark, a fourth-round pick from last April. He wasn’t active for a single game, but it’s unclear whether that was an Adam Gase decision or a he wasn’t ready for the NFL decision.

When I spoke with New York Jets team reporter Ethan Greenberg a few weeks ago he used the term “redshirt” when describing Clark’s rookie season.

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At a bare minimum, the Jets have to draft two offensive linemen maybe even three. Two interior players and maybe a right tackle that has some positional flexibility. In theory that player could play guard for a year, then if/when the Jets decide to move on from George Fant in a year, you could kick that player out to their natural position of right tackle.

The world is the Jets’ oyster in the 2021 NFL Draft. With 10 selections, they control the narrative of this class, and it all starts and ends in the trenches.

1. Quarterback

With Sam Darnold officially gone, the only two quarterbacks currently on the New York Jets roster are James Morgan and Mike White. Morgan is a second-year player out of Florida International that wasn’t active a single game in 2020. While White is a journeyman backup who also lacks any true experience.

In other words, it sure seems like the Jets are going quarterback in this draft. General manager Joe Douglas said, “it’s a fair assessment” when asked if the New York Jets are “locked” in to take a QB with the second overall draft choice.

 

This need will be addressed with the No. 2 overall pick when the Jets select their quarterback of the future. But don’t expect them to also draft their backup quarterback of the future in this draft class.

The team will either ride the James Morgan train, their fourth-round draft choice from 2020. Or they’ll sign a veteran quarterback to mentor their rookie passer. Brian Hoyer is a player the Jets have already done some homework on, per NFL insider Ian Rapoport.