'Head-Scratching': Experts Criticize Jets For Drafting Wilson, Vera-Tucker in First Round

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Some pundits praised the Jets for their first-round haul.

A high-upside quarterback and replacement for Sam Darnold to go along with protection up front in a player that has the potential to be a Pro Bowl guard in the NFL.

Others didn't look at New York's activity on Thursday the same way...

Here's a few of the reviews and grades we've seen from insiders and analysts online since the Jets picked Zach Wilson and traded up for Alijah Vera-Tucker:

  • Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN put the Jets in the "head-scratching moves" category when breaking down their first-round picks.

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.

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.

Grade: B-

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.

Grade: C-

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. 

Pick 2, New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

Jets fans hoped to land Trevor Lawrence going into the 2020 campaign, but BYU quarterback Zach Wilson is a nice consolation prize. Wilson had a meteoric rise after throwing for 33 touchdowns and only three interceptions this past season. What makes Wilson an exceptional prospect is his ability to work outside of structure. He can throw from different platforms on the run and has pinpoint accuracy downfield. In the age of the dual-threat quarterback, Wilson can also run, as he scored ten touchdowns on the ground for the Cougars.

The Jets need to find their franchise quarterback after years of disappointment. Wilson is the man to right the ship. He is a perfect fit in new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur scheme. Playing non-power five football is one of the only concerns with Wilson, which could cause him to take longer to develop. That being said, what he can do with a football is unmatched in this class.

Pick 14, New York Jets: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT/G, USC

Grade: A

After selecting Mekhi Becton in the 2020 draft, the Jets go back to the offensive line with Vera-Tucker. His film this past season at left tackle was phenomenal. He has fantastic footwork and is very smooth in pass protection. Vera-Tucker can get to the 2nd level with ease and has the skillset to translate into a pro bowl level guard.

This pick makes sense for the Jets. Vera-Tucker was by far the best guard in the draft, and he’ll kick inside to guard from day one. The Jets are slowly forming a very good offense, and it all starts upfront. The value is worth it here, even for a guard. 

Grade: A-

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