Who will Lead the New York Jets at Quarterback Next Season?
By: Zac Alfers
Following an underwhelming 2-14 season, the New York Jets have many questions marks surrounding their roster in 2021. The offensive line will demand a lot of attention after finishing last year as the 29th-worst unit in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. A need for a workhorse running back remains and the team could use another playmaker, at wideout or tight end, to raise the talent of their subpar receiving corp.
On top of all that, it is unsure who the team will elect to captain their offense at the quarterback position. The Jets do have former top-five draft pick Sam Darnold on the roster, but the former USC product has left a lot to be desired in his first three seasons with the team. While I personally think Darnold has what it takes to be a serviceable starter in the NFL, my feeling is that first year head coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas will look for their next franchise QB to replace Darnold.
With the No. 2 overall pick in April’s draft and some quality free agent options, plus a potential block-buster trade candidate, let’s take a look at the top five quarterbacks the Green and White should have their eyes on moving forward.
Deshaun Watson, the disgruntled Houston Texans quarterback, is my top choice for every QB-needy team in the league right now. Watson is one of the best athletes in the game regardless of position. Combine that with his rocket for an arm, he is unquestionably one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
He finished last season as the NFL’s passing leader, tossing for 4,823 yards which marks the second time in his four-year career that the 25-year-old signal caller has passed for 4,000+ yards in a season. Watson completed his passes at an impressive 70.2 percent rate (third-best mark in the league) while throwing 33 touchdown passes (tied for seventh-best mark in the league).
The problem here is that Houston’s front office remains adamant that they won’t trade the young superstar. When looking at the stats, it’s easy to see why. However, of all the teams vying for Watson’s services, the Jets are the only one with enough pieces to put together a good enough trade package to pry Watson out of Houston’s grasp. New York holds four first round picks over the next two years. The incoming talent is highly regarded by draft experts, making those picks that much more valuable. It’s believed if the two teams were to get a deal done it would be centered around the 2021 No. 2 overall pick.
If New York decides to stay put and hold onto their highly coveted first round pick, there are a number of interesting QB prospects to choose from. With the Jacksonville Jaguars selecting first-overall, it is safe to assume they grab Clemson star Trevor Lawrence. That leaves the Jets with a tough question, either select the best overall player available or the next best quarterback. Many mock drafts have New York linked to Oregon tackle Penei Sewell but I am absolutely enamored with what Ohio State QB Justin Fields brings to the table.
When it’s all said and done, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Fields ends up as the best quarterback in this class. (Feel free to quote me on that.) At 6-foot-3, and 228 pounds the former Big Ten Player of the Year is an intriguing prospect from a physical standpoint. Clocking in with a 4.51 40-yard dash time in high school, Fields also possesses the elite athleticism that has become so valuable in the NFL in recent years. Fields has the arm strength to make throws at all three levels and the accuracy to thread the needle in order to throw his receivers open. He also has the innate ability to lead a locker room and his talent of preserving himself as a runner is underemphasized.
One of the biggest knocks on Fields coming out of college is his decision making. Experts argue that he holds the ball too long in the pocket when facing pressure which is likely to lead to sacks and interceptions at the next level. The thing is most young signal callers struggle with this exact problem when transitioning from college to the NFL. That can be coached up and fixed if Fields is put in the right offensive system. Overall, Fields unique skill set is worth the investment and whichever team decides to roll the dice on him will be extremely happy they did so.
Another intriguing draft prospect to consider with the second-overall selection is BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. Wilson is a confident pocket passer who filled up the stat sheet last season as a junior. His 3,692 passing yards and 33 touchdowns helped carry the Cougars to an 11-1 overall record, including a victory in the Boca Raton Bowl over UCF.
Even though not on the same level as Fields, Wilson is a capable athlete who can keep plays alive with his feet and still deliver catchable balls. His arm accuracy is one of his best traits as evident by his 74% completion rate last season. What is absolutely insane is that Wilson’s accuracy actually improves when throwing the deep ball. On balls thrown at least 20 yards downfield, Wilson has an impressive 83% completion rate (per PFF). Alabama’s Mac Jones ranks second on that list at 64%.
Of all the potential landing spots for Wilson, I believe New York would be a good fit for the former Cougar when considering what type of offense the Jets are mostly likely to run next year. Mike LaFleur will be taking over at offensive coordinator this year who got his start under offensive guru Kyle Shanahan. The reason I bring up the Shanahan offense is because it is a very QB friendly system that incorporates a lot of college features. The new system will most likely revolve around a zone-run scheme while the passing game in turn will feature a lot of RPO’s, play-action, and bootleg passes. By taking some of the pressure off of Wilson, this type of offense will make life much easier for the young signal caller as he tries to find his bearings in the NFL. Ultimately, Wilson’s mobility and overall arm talent will allow him to easily transition into the next level and eventually become one team’s future franchise QB.
I’ve mentioned earlier that the Jets have a lot of holes on their roster. They could easily decide to hold onto their draft capital and start rounding out the rest of the squad. If they choose this option, I believe bringing in Dak Prescott on a one-year, prove-it type contract could help fast track their rebuild.
Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys have been working on a long-term deal for a while but neither side seems all too happy with the discussions. After rejecting the Cowboys extension offer last summer, Prescot signed a $31.4 million franchise tag entering the 2020 campaign. If it weren’t for Dak’s freak ankle injury that he suffered in October it would be safe to assume that the Mississippi State product and the Cowboys would have resumed talks where they left off last year. With uncertainties surrounding his injury and his overall longevity in the league, it is possible that the Boys decided to go another direction. If Prescott walks, the Jets should jump all over the opportunity.
With potential to be next season’s Comeback Player of the Year, Prescott is a top-ten talent when healthy. He is just entering the prime of his career at 27 years of age. In 2016, Dak captained the Cowboys to a 13-3 record on his way to garnering Rookie of the Year honors. He was selected to his second Pro Bowl in 2018 and threw for 4,902 yards in 2019. How Prescot rebounds from his injury is yet to be seen but the man has All-Pro talent that the Jets would be foolish to pass on if does indeed become available.
Mitchell Trubisky’s start in Chicago has been a bit shaky to say the very least. However, like Darnold, I still think Trubisky has a place in this league and a change of scenery could be exactly what he needs. Even if the Jets aren’t sold on Mitchell becoming their next starting quarterback, I think there’s a lot of upside to adding him to the roster.
The old adage “iron sharpens iron” is especially relevant to an NFL team. If New York elects to draft a QB or to stick with Darnold, bringing in a guy like Mitchell to raise the level of competition in practice makes a lot of sense. Mitchell, because of his lack of success with the Bears, isn’t going to command that large of a contract. This will allow the Jet some roster flexibility, allowing them to spend their money on locking up their draft picks and potentially bringing in a top-tier free agent.
Coming out of North Carolina, Trubisky was a prospect that received a lot of pre-draft praise.
So much so, the Bears moved up from the No. 3 spot in the 2017 draft to select him second-overall over the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. At one point at time his talents where highly regarded around NFL coaching circles and it’s very possible that his last two seasons were just a fluke. It’s also possible that Trubisky regains his 2018 form that ended with him being selected to a Pro Bowl.