Quinnen Williams is the New York Jets X Factor for 2021

By: Noah Nichols

A good pass rush makes a great defense. A great pass rush makes an elite defense.

Yes, that argument is not one hundred percent true, because secondary players are important. Are they more important than the front seven? It’s debatable. However, every single great defense in the NFL always has a good to great pass rush. And the best defenses have a great pass rush. Always.

And arguably the best way to build a team is to begin in the trenches. Build a great defensive and offensive line and go from there. That’s what the New York Jets and Detriot Lions are trying to do. Both the Jets and Lions took offensive lineman with high picks, and Jets head coach Robert Saleh has clearly made the defensive line a priority by adding Carl Lawson, Sheldon Rankins, and Vinny Curry.

And when your trenches have an “x-factor” player, then it’s that much easier for the defense to be great. Just take a look at the Los Angles Rams. If Aaron Donald played for some other team, there is no question that the defense would be much worse. Or look at T.J. Watt. If he were to be on some other team besides the Pittsburgh Steelers, would their pass rush even break 30 sacks? There is a good argument that it would not.

The Jets need an x-factor on the defense. After they traded Jamal Adams to the Seattle Seahawks, the only player of note on the Jets defense is Marcus Maye. And while Maye is a fine safety, he is not a star player. And if the Jets want to build a great defense, which is a good bet considering head coach Robert Saleh’s background, then the Jets need start players. They need players that can “call game,” making a play when the defense, and team, need it most.

There is plenty of talent on the offense. Zach Wilson, Mekhi Becton, Elijah Moore, and Michael Carter will give splash plays to an offense that badly needed them in 2020. The defense, however, will be picked on if it can’t pick up its own end. Without a star player on defense, it doesn’t matter how many points the offense scores. The Jets will lose anyways. At least, that’s what will happen if Quinnen Williams doesn’t play football in 2021. However, last time I checked, he will play football in 2021. A lot of it.

The former third-overall pick is the focal point on the Jet’s defense. He is their only star player. The pass rush and run defense start with him. Why? He has the most talent out of anyone else on the Jets defense. And because of the free-agent additions of Lawson, Rankins, and Curry, Williams is set up to succeed. The free-agent additions ensure that it won’t be just Williams and “everyone else” rushing the quarterback. And Williams is only getting better himself. He has not reached his ceiling yet, not by a long shot.

Williams almost doubled his rookie stats from 2019 to 2020. In thirteen games last season, Williams had 55 tackles, 10 for a loss of yards, seven sacks, 14 quarterback picks, three passes defended, and two forced fumbles. And the players around Williams were not as talented as the new group of free-agent acquisitions. Instead of players like Nathan Shepard and Kyle Philips on the line, forcing attention to the way of Williams because he was so much more talented than everyone else, Williams now has help. Lawson and Rankins make sure that offenses cannot focus on Williams and only Williams, if they don’t pay attention to Lawson and Rankins and company, life could get hard, and quickly.

Saleh pointed that out in an interview. “That kid is special,” Saleh said during an appearance on “The Michael Kay Show” on WEPN-FM in New York. “He’s a game-wrecker. He’s somebody you have to game plan against to keep him at bay, and, obviously, it gives the other 10 guys an opportunity to excel just because of the focus that he’s going to garner.”

Saleh really likes what he sees in Williams. Really likes what he sees. “In regards to that young man,” Saleh told reporters about Quinnen Williams, “his mindset, his athleticism, his power, his love for football, really, really excited to see him in our system, especially up front and the way we design with that attack style.” So Saleh is going to give Williams chances and create opportunities for Williams to succeed.

The 2021 NFL season is the year for Williams to breakout. And he certainly has the opportunity to become one of the best defensive lineman in the NFL. His talent and surroundings make him the Jets x-factor. Williams can be a Chris Jones, Cam Heyward type player. He only played thirteen games last year. Add four more games to that and his stats have to go up. He probably gets double-digit sacks. The forced fumbles and fumble recoveries should go up as well, but those things are less certain and are more up to chance.

If Williams can take advantage of the talent that surrounds him.

That is really the biggest question. Williams has already proven that he has talent. 2020 proved that he knows how to get to the quarterback too. But can he be the guy on the Jets defensive line? The x-factor so to speak? What does that even mean, “be the x-factor?”

Jokes aside, the x-factor is someone that makes big plays in big moments. Someone who always comes up clutch when needed, cannot be ignored, and most importantly, cannot be stopped. Williams is most of the way there to be the Jets X-factor. Offenses will not ignore him. Not after the campaign that he put together in 2020. He has the opportunity to build on that again this year. The new free agent additions will put together one of the strongest defensive lines in the NFL. Williams should be able to take advantage of the problems that the line will cause to offenses. He has the best chance to, out of everyone else on the line. Why? He has the most talent.

And the way that the Jets have built their line, they certainly believe that Williams can become an elite defensive player. The free-agent additions were all compliments to Williams. Rankins improves the inside of the line, Lawson the pass rush, and Williams provides the interior pass rush. The biggest problem is a lack of prominent edge rushers, but there is not much that the Jets can do about it now. Aside from perhaps Justin Houston, no real effective edge-rushing threat remains on the free-agent market.

Williams will have to put in the work. He will need to become the vocal leader of the Jets defense. X-factors lead the defense, both by example and verbally. And he already has started stepping up as a vocal leader. Williams said this when talking about his defense.“The main thing I feel like we need as a defense is just a mentality, like a standard, a culture,” Williams said. “You could definitely see that culture coming with the young guys who we have now. That mentality with the young guys coming in, who’re getting their feet wet in the NFL, who stepped up big like Bryce Hall, Lamar Jackson, Ashtyn Davis, and just a few other guys, like (former St. Paul’s Episcopal standout) Bryce Huff, Jabari (Zuniga), like a lot of young guys, me, Foley.”

But that isn’t everything. Williams wants his defense, and himself to be known. He didn’t say it but perhaps he would even want his defense to be feared. “We’re all young, so the main thing I think next year that we got to establish as being third-year players and fourth-year players is just a defensive culture, man, because you got like the New York Sack Exchange, who had all these sacks and them guys were being known for their defense.” Clearly, Williams has a goal in mind. That culture is starting to improve. Starting with Williams.

But Williams will still need to step up, helping rookies learn a thing or two here or there, calling other players, and himself out, when mistakes are made. Staying up late to watch film, over and over again? Stay after practice to continue working on some small pass rush move that he doesn’t have done quite right?

Yeah, he will need to do that. And more, if he wants to become one of the players on the Jets. It’s a good thing, then, that hard work is not something new to Williams. The former Alabama star received glowing praise from legendary head coach, Nick Saban. “He has always played with a great attitude. Lots of tenacity. He’s a hard worker who tries to do everything right, and he’s a smart player as well.”

Williams has the work ethic. He has the talent. He has the opportunity. The only question left isn’t “can he do it” but “will he do it?” Let’s take a look at the Jets opponents for 2021 and see if we can find our answer there. As a disclaimer, when I say “such and such team had the “insert rank here” line in the NFL”, I am ranking it solely on sacks given up. NOT on how good the line was at running the ball. That statistic is much, much harder to account for because it relies just as much on the running back as the line.

vs. Buffalo

Buffalo has neither a particularly stout or weak offensive line. The Bills gave up 27 sacks in 2020, good for seventh-best in the NFL. Certainly, that is partly due to Josh Allen, who is hard to bring down. Williams certainly has a chance to notch a sack or two, and will certainly garner some pressures, but his biggest challenge is actually bringing down Allen.

vs. Miami

The Dolphins gave up 34 sacks last year, tying the Los Angles Chargers for fifteenth-best in the NFL last year. Williams has a much better chance here to dominate the game. A middle of the road offensive line partnered with Tua Tagovailoa who is not extremely mobile or tough to bring down, should not be a tough challenge for Williams. Williams should eat in this matchup.

vs. New England

The Patriots ranked 19th in the NFL last season in sacks allowed, with 37 sacks given up. And while the offensive line should be a little better than last season given some off-season upgrades through the draft and free agency, it won’t be a top ten unit. Williams will have no trouble with the quarterback either IF it’s Mac Jones, who is not very mobile. And even if Cam Newton is the quarterback, Newton is not what he used to be so Williams won’t have as much trouble bringing him down as perhaps Josh Allen.

vs. Jacksonville

This is a matchup that Williams should LOVE. The Jaguars gave up 44 sacks in 2020. They were tied for the sixth-worst offensive line in the NFL last year. And the Jaguars have not done a whole lot to upgrade that position through free agency or the draft. And even though Trevor Lawrence is a mobile quarterback, Williams should still be able to add a sack or three to his stat sheet during this game. He should dominate.

vs. Tennessee

It will almost be more interesting to see how Williams handles Derrick Henry than how he handles Ryan Tannehill. The Titans were tied for the sixth-best offensive line in the NFL last year, giving up only 25 sacks. So while Williams sure will be focused on sacking Tannehill my best guess is that he focuses more on stopping Henry. It will be a tough task for Williams, but he has the talent to make it happen. If he shines in this game, and the next one, then Williams will be recognized as a bona fide star.

vs. New Orleans

The only offensive line in the NFL that might be better than this one is the Cleveland Browns. And while the Saints gave up 29 sacks, good for 11th-best in 2020, they still have more talent on the o-line than anyone but the Browns. This game will be tough for Williams. It will be easier for him if Jameis Winston is quarterback over Taysom Hill, because Winston is a lot less mobile. If Williams can prove his mettle in this game and make a few splash plays, then he will be well on his way to earning a pro bowl, and potentially, All-Pro honors.

vs. Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay statistically the fourth-best offensive line in the NFL last year and gave up only 22 sacks. This game will be yet another strong test for Williams. He wont have any trouble with Tom Brady, who is not anywhere close to being a mobile quarterback. Williams will certainly be able to put up a sack or some tackles for loss, but that does depend on if the Jets are winning or losing. If the Jets are losing, by a lot, then Williams will probably get pulled from the game at some point to prevent injury, or he just will become a nonfactor. However, if the Jets want to have any chance at winning this game, it will start with Williams being disruptive and in Brady’s face all day.

vs. Cincinnati

Tied for the 5th-worst offensive line last year, the Bengals gave up 48 sacks. And while they do get Jonah Williams back from injury, and added some players in the draft, the line still won’t be great. Williams should have a field day with this line. A two-sack game is very plausible and would be the primary force in shutting down a potentially potent Cincinnati offense.

vs. Philadelphia

Quinnen Williams should have this game circled on his calendar. Next to the circle should be words that say something like; “If Line not healthy, set career sacks record.” The Eagles had the worst line in the NFL last year, by far. They have up 65 (yeah, you read that right, 65!) sacks in 2020. that beat the next closest team by 15 sacks. And while injuries were certainly a problem last year, the Eagles line will still be pretty bad. Jalen Hurts is a mobile quarterback, but Williams should have no real trouble logging a sack or two, and a good amount of tackles for loss.

at Houston

Speaking of teams that sucked at protecting the quarterback, the Texans gave up 50 sacks last year. That tied them with the New York Giants and Washington Football Team for the second-worst offensive line in the NFL in 2020. So, everything that I mentioned about Williams having a field day against the Eagles is the same here too. Oh, and Deshaun Watson probably won’t be the quarterback, so Williams doesn’t need to be worried about a mobile, dual-threat, quarterback.

at Indianapolis

The second-best offensive line in the NFL last year, the Colts will present a tough task for Williams. He will have his work cut out for him in the run game too, with Jonathan Taylor at running back. Williams certainly could have a sack in this game, but if there is any game in 2021 where he becomes a mostly nonfactor, it would be this game. If Williams were to show up big in this game though, the Jets would have a much better chance of winning. Williams could make it happen, but the chances are lower than any other game.

at Denver

the Broncos had a middle-of-the-road offensive line last year, giving up 32 sacks. That was good for 11th-best. Williams should be able to take advantage of talent disadvantage the he poses in this game. His main concern should be Javonte Williams, who led his college division in broken tackles last year. Quinnen Williams should have no problem leading the defense to some big plays in this game. However, if Williams does not play well in this game, the Jets have no realistic shot at winning.

at Atlanta

The Falcons had the tenth-worst offensive line in the NFL last year and gave up 44 sacks. Williams should eat in this matchup. There is no real threat at running back, Matt Ryan is largely a statue at quarterback, and does not shake off would-be tacklers at all. Williams should shine in this game against a weak Falcons o-line, and largely un-talented running back room.

at Carolina

The panthers had the definition of average at offensive line last year. They gave up 36 sacks, good for the 17th-best offensive line in the NFL last year. This game will primarily focus on Williams ability to defend the run, with Christian McCaffrey coming back from injury. If Williams can stop McCaffrey, then the defense should largely be able to handle business. McCaffrey is a big challenge, but it should not be something that Williams cannot win. And while Sam Darnold is a mobile quarterback, Williams knows how Darnold reacts to pressure and should be able to notch a sack.

Overall, throughout all these games, Williams is the key to the defense. As he goes, so does the rest of the defense. If he has a great game, then the rest of the defense will probably shine as well. If Williams is dominant in a game, then the Jets don’t have to worry so much about their secondary. Williams play not only helps the defense, but it will help the offense too. Nothing is better for an offense than a defense that makes timely plays. And Quinnen Williams is the best place to start when looking for someone to make that splash play on defense.

Why the Jets Defense Will Rebound Under Robert Saleh

Robert Saleh is ready to lead the Jets defense

Daniel Racz

For the past few decades, the New York Jets have been one of the National Football Leagues’ laughing stocks. The lack of continuity at the coaching position and never having a true franchise quarterback has forced the Jets to sit in the league’s basement.

Despite the lackluster coaching staff put together by Adam Gase, the 2020 New York Jets showed promise at the end of the season. They even managed to win two football games, including one against a healthy Los Angeles Rams roster. The defense showed some strides towards the back end of the season, but they have a long way to go before they become a top group. The emergence of John Franklin-Meyers as a quality defensive lineman and the development of Quinnen Williams give Jets fans some reason for optimism, but the addition of head coach Robert Saleh will ultimately be the reason Gang Green’s defense will make a massive jump in 2021.

Constant Adaptation

Saleh’s defenses have always revolved around maximizing their roster. Saleh’s origins go back to the Seattle 4-3 defense which utilized cover three. However, as he rose the ranks, he incorporated more cover two elements. The shift from cover three to cover two frees up another defender to rush the passer, spy the quarterback or cover an underneath area as there are only two deep defenders.

Under Gase, the Jets ran a lot of 3-4 concepts, but switching to a 4-3 base may maximize the Jets’ defensive line. At Alabama, Quinnen Williams had tremendous success when he played in the interior. If he becomes more of a 4-3 defensive tackle, he will be able to dominate interior offensive lineman with his power and athleticism. 

Saleh’s recent San Francisco defenses featured phenomenal edge rushers. However, the Jets do not boast a great edge room, so Saleh will once again have to adapt to his roster. 

Improved Edge Unit

Last year, the Jets edge group was one of the worst in the league. The Jets’ top edge rusher, Tarell Basham, only had 3.5 sacks in all 16 games. Their next leading edge rusher, Jordan Jenkins, had only 2.0 sacks.  During the 2021 offseason, the Jets signed Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson to a 3-year, 45 million dollar contract. Last year, Lawson had 5.5 sacks and 32 QB hits. 

Saleh will feature Lawson as the Jets’ premier edge rusher. Lawson and company are not as skilled as Saleh’s past group of Dee Ford, Arik Armstead, and Nick Bosa. Saleh can utilize stuns, twists, and other schemed rushes to force pressure, but it will be a tough task.

Linebacker Development  

One of the most impressive parts of San Francisco under Saleh was the constant talent at the linebacker position. Fifth-round pick Dre Greenlaw has become an above-average starter, and third-round pick Fred Warner is one of the best coverage players in the entire league. 

The Jets linebacker room has been hyped up ever since the 2019 CJ Mosley signing, but they have not lived up to their expectations. Mosley missed most of the 2019 season due to injury and opted out of the 2020 season. If Robert Saleh gets the most out of Mosley, he could be a pro bowl linebacker. Deeper on the depth chart, Saleh could unlock Blake Cashman. Cashman is a freakish athlete, running a 4.50 40 yard dash at 237 pounds. The Jets also signed ex-Lion linebacker Jarrad Davis in free agency. Saleh’s staff has the chance to give the Jets a linebacker corps that will help their defense bounce back.

Why the Jets Are the Most Mysterious Team in the AFC

By: Tayyib Abu

The New York Jets endured a miserable 2020 season. The team staggered and stumbled their way to the second-worst record in the NFL. The season signalled the end for hapless head coach Adam Gase, coordinator Gregg Williams and quarterback Sam Darnold.

General manager Joe Douglas wielded the axe throughout the organization. Robert Saleh got named as the new head coach, the former 49ers defensive coordinator replaces Gase.

Furthermore, there was a seismic change at quarterback. Sam Darnold got traded to Carolina; the Jets subsequently drafted BYU signal-caller Zack Wilson to step into Darnold’s shoes.

Those profound changes make the Jets a mysterious proposition. The changes were the tip of the iceberg. The Jets are arguably the most perplexing team in the AFC.

Is Mr Intensity the Right Man to Change Things?

Robert Saleh is a cyborg disguised as a head coach. The Dearborn native has travelled cross-country for his first head coaching job. Saleh forged an intense, emotional and aggressive reputation.

That yin meshed well with Kyle Shanahan’s yang. Now Saleh is in the hot seat. Can he lead a franchise with that mindset? On the field, Saleh will deploy a base 4-3 defence that will attempt to mimic what he did in San Francisco.

The Jets defence ranked 26th in scoring defence last year; it was a lousy unit. And despite some innovative additions like Lamarcus Joyner, the Jets are still short of game-wrecking talent on defence, despite the presence of Quinnen Williams.

The Jets are relying on Saleh’s skill to build an elite defence. The 49ers were a top unit in 2019 and 2020 despite a spate of significant injuries. Saleh’s coaching job in 2020 is what made him one of the hottest candidates in the recent hiring round.

Saleh must coach up the defence as New York made major additions on the offensive side this offseason. The defence is a massive mystery in New Jersey for 2021. They’ve hired the hottest coordinator candidate to turn a terrible unit around. Is that enough?

Only time will tell. One player that may benefit is the athletic linebacker Jamien Sherwood. The Saleh style may coax the best out of the dynamic playmaker.

A Change at Quarterback: It’s Time for the Mormon Manziel

After moving on from Sam Darnold, the Jets drafted BYU quarterback Zach Wilson to be the next star in New York. Wilson is a dazzling talent with the skill to make highlight-reel plays. The rookie heads east from BYU with a booming arm and a penchant for making things happen. Wilson is a raw talent with a high ceiling; however, he isn’t the finished product.

New offensive coordinator Mike Lafleur comes from San Francisco to work with Wilson. Lafleur is a Shanahan/McVay coaching tree product; therefore, the offence should be a well-designed, well-planned unit.

That style of offence is an intelligent, quick-hitting offence that utilizes a ton of pre-snap movement, misdirections and shrunk personnel packages. Jimmy Garropollo, Jared Goff and Matt Ryan all benefited from this offensive style.

These quarterbacks played reliably and competently; they allowed the system to beat the defence. Wilson is a gunslinging playmaker; the big mystery is how will his style mesh with Lafleur.

Moreover, Wilson will benefit from additional help on the offensive line and in the wideout room. Mekhi Becton returns for year two, and he’ll line up alongside first-round draft pick from 2021 Alijah Vera-Tucker.

The Jets also signed guard Pat Elflein in free agency, so Wilson and Lafleur should own protection and time to scheme up plays. The Jets also bolstered the receiver room.

They already had Denzel Mims; they added Corey Davis in free agency and drafted speedster Elijah Moore in round two of the 2021 draft. The Jets prioritized helping their new rookie quarterback.

The pieces are there for the offence to play at a high level; the question and concern are, can Wilson step up to the NFL and play within a structure. He is an excellent scrambler, but that will only carry him so far in the NFL. Wilson is raw and exciting; however, there is a risk of him flaming out. The Mormon Manziel must start well.

Landing Spots for All 5 of the Top QB Prospects

Who will Lawrence, Wilson, Fields, Lance and Jones play for in 2021?

by Michael Obermuller

The lead-up to the NFL Draft is a sports process like no other. The speculation, the intrigue, the misinformation and strategy used by different franchises and general managers. Considering the diverse crop of quarterback talent available in 2021, this offseason has been as wild as ever. I mean, just look at this curveball from Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer a few days before draft night.

Trevor Lawrence has been the consensus number one pick for what feels like years, and Jags owner Shad Khan has seemed pretty intent on marketing the rebirth of the franchise around the Clemson star, so why then is Meyer still choosing between three players at No. 1 overall?

It could just be due diligence from a first year NFL head coach, or maybe Lawrence to Jacksonville isn’t as much of a lock as most people thought. After all, there is certainly no reason to play mind-games with opposing GM’s when you’re the one picking first. Yet here we are left with this mysterious quote.

Don’t you worry though, I’ve seen through all the GM mumbo jumbo of the past few months and I’m confident in saying that I have figured out where each quarterback will end up — I think. Either way, I’ll give it a whirl, starting with the aforementioned Jaguars.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence (No. 1)

I know, after all that in the introduction, I’m still predicting T-Law to DUVAL? That’s right, because if Meyer wants to pull off the most shocking move in recent draft memory, he can do it without my blessing. There are a couple important things to note here though. One, Meyer is not considering Mac Jones or Trey Lance in the top spot. Could this have an influence on other franchises behind him? Urban was a premier college recruiter for a long time after all. Or perhaps he has yet to gain the respect of his fellow NFL peers, and his opinion means very little to them. Two, the former Ohio State HC and program director is likely passing on his former QB, Justin Fields. Meyer actually ranked the quarterbacks in a preseason show in June of 2020, with Lawrence first in his ranks and Fields second. His reasoning at the time was this;

[Lawrence] played one more year. That was it. The one thing I’ll say about Justin Fields because I’m very close to the situation, any concerns about him being a throwing quarterback are gone now. He’s developed, he’s outstanding.

– Urban Meyer, FOX College Football

The Jags could certainly throw a wrench in the entire draft by taking either Zach Wilson or Fields, which would probably send Lawrence to New York at No. 2, but it’s highly unlikely and I’m not buying it. Size, accuracy, speed, raw ability, intelligence, drive — Lawrence is the consensus number one for a reason. I’m not saying that he’s guaranteed to be the most successful NFL product, he’s not, but he is the safe bet for Jacksonville. For the sake of all our sanities, let’s move on and assume this sticks.

2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson (No. 2)

GM Joe Douglas and the New York Jets have traded 2018 first round pick Sam Darnold, so yes they are 100 percent taking a quarterback at two (for those who haven’t been paying attention). They have been linked to the BYU Cougars signal-caller more and more since Week 17, and I personally don’t see this changing on Thursday night. Wilson checks all the boxes for the Jets. He is an accurate passer and a competitive winner (albeit against lesser competition), known for his on-the-fly decision-making and pocket presence as well as an arm that throws just as far on the move as it does standing upright. Wilson has drawn recent comparisons to Patrick Mahomes for some of these intangible traits, but there’s a contingent of fans that still have doubts that scouts and GM’s are once again sleeping on in-your-face talent.

If Fields can translate his OSU skillset to the pros, it wouldn’t be the first time that the best and brightest NFL minds in the game are totally wrong. I mean he did run a 4.44 forty with a 70.2 completion percentage in 2020. For the record, as you’ll see throughout this article, Fields is my personal QB1 in this class, but that doesn’t mean he appeals to the teams picking in the top three.

3. San Francisco 49ers: Mac Jones (No. 3)

Is the infamous “smokescreen tactic” being utilized by Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch and the San Francisco 49ers? It’s quite possible, in fact Joe Douglas and the Jets could be using it too for all we know. If Fields truly is the quarterback with the most upside potential, it would make sense that every GM behind the Jaguars is trying to keep Meyer off their trail by talking up Wilson, Jones and Lance. At the same time, it seems even more likely that the NFL brass are once again scared off by an Ohio State product who has been labeled as a runner that struggles with his progressional reads. If Lawrence and Wilson do indeed go one-two, Fields should be the pick at three in my opinion, but he may not be according to reports.

There’s something fishy about this developing story, because Jones and Lance couldn’t be more different as prospects. I can’t deny that Mac Jones makes sense as Shanahan’s favorite option. The Niners HC has highlighted his on-field and NFL-ready intelligence, citing that the Alabama product is the win-now choice for a team that was in the Super Bowl two seasons ago. Jones is also the most similar to the quarterbacks that have flourished in Shanahan’s system in the past (Matt Ryan, Jimmy Garoppolo). Lance on the other hand makes me scratch my head. He’s from a small program that did not play against NFL-type talent, he’s not game-ready by most estimations, and he’s athletic rather than accurate or experienced. The fact that San Francisco is torn between these two, but not interested in the player that is pretty much the combination of both (Fields) is odd to say the least. For these reasons, I do think there’s a chance that the 49ers are under-selling Fields on purpose, but I’ll begrudgingly stick with Jones here anyway because of how well he fits the Shanahan mold.

4. TRADE — Denver Broncos: Trey Lance (No. 4)

Some have the Atlanta Falcons taking Lance at four, but in the end I think Arthur Smith’s new offense stands pat with the reliability of Matty Ice for a couple more seasons and trades down to reconstruct this roster from the inside out. That process may not start with an inexperienced QB, but it could begin with a haul of present and future draft picks. The next question is their trade partner, and although it has not been mentioned as much as a New England or Washington Football Team, the Denver Broncos are my under-the-radar candidate to make the jump from ninth to fourth. George Paton is taking over as GM for the Broncos, and he may try and make a splash in his first NFL Draft having the final say.

Everything about Paton’s thinking for his first draft screams Lance to me. It’s unexpected, out-of-the-box, and hopefully solves the problem that John Elway failed at for years in the same position — finding a franchise quarterback. Drew Lock has yet to display any qualities that separate him from the rest of the league, so I expect Paton to jump at the opportunity to bring in someone that can compete not only with Lock, but long-term with division rivals like Mahomes and Justin Herbert. Of course, the Broncos could also go with Fields here, but I’m sticking with my theme that this inexplicable stigma drops my QB1 down to QB5. I also like the fit for Lance in Denver. He played at North Dakota State, a similar climate, and his build and physicality as a runner bear some resemblance to Elway himself. Although I’m sure Broncos fans would also take his Josh Allen comp.

5. Detroit Lions: Justin Fields (No. 7)

So where oh where will Mr. Fields land? No he won’t fall out of the top 10, and I don’t expect the Cincinnati Bengals or Miami Dolphins to trade down either when they can grab the players they covet most (Kyle Pitts and Ja’Marr Chase by all reports) at five and six. That leaves the Detroit Lions, who could choose to trade down with the Patriots or the highest bidder, but honestly why would they? The Lions roster moves have signaled a total overhaul rebuild under the new regime of Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes, and they already have enough future draft capital from the Matthew Stafford trade where they don’t need more first round picks. They need a franchise quarterback. The wrinkle that you may point out is that they also received back Jared Goff and his contract in that same deal. Let’s be honest though, Goff is a placeholder in Detroit at best. At worst, he’s a cap casualty after 2022 (when cutting him would only cost $10 million). So why not accelerate the process if Justin Fields falls into your lap?

A player with as much potential as Fields could be a dream for Holmes at No. 7 in his first NFL Draft, and the young QB could even learn under Goff as a rookie before jumpining into the NFL head-first. He can truly do it all; whether it’s his accuracy as a passer or his agility as a runner, his escapability in the pocket or strong arm on the run, his competitiveness as an premier athlete or his confidence in primetime games. I’m not sure why every team is insistent on looking past Fields, and maybe it all is a smokescreen and he goes top three, but it just feels like the NFL scouts and decision-makers are talking themselves into passing on another superstar.

Pros and Cons For Panthers Drafting a QB in round one

After trading for Darnold, should Carolina double-down at QB?

by Michael Obermuller

Just one season into a three-year deal with Teddy Bridgewater, the Carolina Panthers have traded three draft picks (including a 2022 second rounder) for Sam Darnold. This time, Matt Rhule and Joe Brady finally got their quarterback of the future — or did they?

From multiple reports, the Panthers may not be totally “out” on drafting a QB just yet. General manager Scott Fitterer knows just how crucial it is to get this position right, and he’ll bring in as many players as it takes to do it. Darnold is the presumed starter based on potential as of now, but statistically, he was far less efficient than Bridgewater in 2020.

QB, Year (Team)Games StartedCompletion %Yards/GameTDsINTsRating
Sam Darnold, 2020 (Jets)1259.6%184.091172.7
Teddy Bridgewater, 2020 (Panthers)1569.1%248.9151192.1

Of course, Darnold was in Adam Gase’s system last season, a system that many blame for his failures, but maybe neither signal-caller deserves the job outright after a combined record of 6-21 a few months ago.

That’s Carolina’s mindset, but should they sacrifice even more draft capital and cap space on the position when they’ve already used so much? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the Panthers drafting another QB in 2021.

Cases FOR Drafting a QB

  • The Player they Want Most is Available at No. 8 Overall
    • The word around the NFL is that Carolina wants Justin Fields, and their scouting would certainly back that up. Based on Albert Breer’s tweet above, the Panthers have shown heavy attendance at both of Fields’ two Pro Day events.
    • This would also make sense in concurrence with the Darnold trade. Supposedly, the Panthers previously tried to move up to either second or third overall, but the New York Jets decided not to budge from two, and the San Francisco 49ers beat them to the punch at three.
    • Reports have the Panthers less high on Mac Jones and Trey Lance, so the Darnold deal may have been insurance in the event that Fields is gone at eight. If a QB you LOVE is still on the board, you draft him, that’s Football 101 (especially if there’s no QB prospect you like in 2022).
  • Potential Ceiling
    • Every team evaluates players differently. For example, the New York Jets new braintrust clearly evaluated Darnold differently than the Carolina Panthers, being that they believe a rookie has a higher ceiling than the former third overall pick in 2018.
    • Having said that, Carolina would not have traded for Darnold unless they thought he had more potential than Bridgewater. They should only consider drafting a QB if they truly believe he has a higher potential than both Sam and Teddy.
    • The stats above could support this theory alone, but it’ll also have to do with age, dual-threat ability, scheme fit, mentality and different raw skills like arm strength. A prospect like Fields would beat out the two veterans in almost every measurable category.
  • Can Never Have Enough QBs
    • This is the “multiple darts” argument, but it’s unlikely that Carolina would ever enter the 2021 season with three quarterbacks.
    • They could draft a QB at eight, then trade Bridgewater to a team like the Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears, or New England Patriots.

Case AGAINST Drafting a QB

  • Top QBs Are Gone Early
    • I know, duh, but I’m including this to point out that Carolina CANNOT and SHOULD NOT trade up for a quarterback. They already gave up three picks to get Darnold, and this rebuilding franchise still needs help elsewhere if they plan on succeeding long-term.
    • Most draft analysts have all five of the main QB prospects being drafted in the top 10, and some have them going one through five (or at least top seven). This may be out of the Panthers hands.
  • Darnold’s Upside
    • Although Bridgewater could theoretically outplay Darnold, I don’t think there’s an argument to keep Teddy over a rookie past 2022, so let’s focus on Sam here.
    • The latest NYJ disappointment is just 24 years old in June, and he’s had an odd start to his career. Whether due to injury or his baffling bout with mono, Darnold has yet to play a full season. This could be looked at as a con for the USC product, or it could mean that the best is yet to come.
  • Change of Scenery Could “Unlock” Darnold
    • The Jets also didn’t do Darnold any favors, hiring Gase to mentor him after one failed campaign with Todd Bowles and Jeremy Bates. Panthers OC Joe Brady is considered to be one of the brightest young minds in the game, which could act as a catalyst for Sam.
    • A skill-position core of Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson and David Moore also trumps anything the Jets ever armed Darnold with.
    • Even offensive line play was better in Carolina last season. Darnold had a pressure percentage of 27.3 compared to Bridgewater’s 19.8. Sam was also hit the same amount of times (38) as Teddy in three less starts, and was actually hurried once more than him despite the difference in games.
  • Available Cap Space & Draft Capital vs. Roster Needs
    • As I just pointed out, the Jets never put a quality roster around Darnold, so would it be wise for Carolina to do the same, even if they start a rookie QB?
    • Bridgewater currently has a cap hit of $22.9 million-plus this year ($20 million dead cap hit), and Darnold has a hit of $4.77 million. They have ALREADY picked up Sam’s fifth year option for 2022, which is another $18.85 million, and assuming they cannot deal Teddy, they’ll incure a $5 million dead cap hit when they release him next offseason. An eighth overall pick would add about $3.75 million this year and $4.7 million in 2022.
    • After the Darnold trade, the Panthers have seven draft picks in 2021, and five picks in 2022.
    • Carolina’s defense ranked 18th in points allowed last season. Their offensive line also ranked 18th according to Pro Football Focus. They even lost playmakers like Curtis Samuel and Mike Davis this offseason. They cannot afford to spend $31 million-plus and four total draft picks (including a first and second) on three QBs in 2021 when this roster is far from perfect.

The Verdict

I think it’s pretty obvious that the Panthers should give Darnold the opportunity in 2021. For better or for worse, they made their bed when they pounced on the Jets trade proposal. The only way they draft a QB is if they find a second trade partner for Bridgewater, which is possible, but I doubt they get much back in this scenario (besides cap relief). With the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers set up to be the powerhouse of the division for at least one more season, it’s probably smarter to add another layer of foundation around the quarterback position this draft. Then, after seeing what you have in Darnold, you can re-evaluate the situation in 2022.

5 Draft Trades that Could Occur Before April 29

NFL Free Agency is well underway, and as the pieces begin to fall into place, the NFL Draft outlook becomes more and more clear. Rosters have many holes heading into the offseason, but those needs start getting crossed off the list during the free agency period.

There is a third avenue though, trades. We have already seen a few trades this offseason. The first blockbuster involved a quarterback swap and multiple drafts picks, when the Los Angeles Rams acquired Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions for Jared Goff. Then Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz was sent to the Indianapolis Colts. We’ve also seen left tackle Trent Brown head back to the New England Patriots, as well as a Benardrick McKinney/Shaq Lawson exchange between the Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins.

Some of these deals have involved 2021 draft capital, others have not. One thing’s for certain, more trades will occur before April 29th and the NFL Draft. Here are five that may be upcoming in the near future.

5. N’Keal Harry to the Chargers

Supposedly, three teams are currently in on New England’s 2019 first round pick N’Keal Harry. We’ve already seen a 2020 first rounder get dealt, after tackle Isaiah Wilson was traded from the Tennessee Titans to Miami, so don’t assume Harry is safe based on his draft status. The Pats have already all-but replaced the former Arizona State wide receiver, signing a duo of Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne in free agency (keep in mind Julian Edelman and Jakobi Meyers are also ahead of Harry on the depth chart). At this point, Bill Belichick’s best course of action is to salvage some sort of mid-to-late round draft pick in return for the bust.

Where he’ll end up is a bit trickier. I’ve heard the New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals names mentioned, and the Lions and Titans also stand out as franchises looking to add wide receiving ability (both cores have been decimated by free agent losses). The Los Angeles Chargers just seem like the ideal fit though, being that Harry’s best days were out West and Justin Herbert needs weapons besides Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler. He just lost one in Hunter Henry, but New England could send Harry back as retribution.

4. Zach Ertz to Indianapolis

This one has been heavily speculated already, similar to the Wentz trade before it happened. The Eagles are desperately shedding cap under a new coaching staff, and they have a built-in relationship with Frank Reich already (former Eagles offensive coordinator). Zach Ertz was Wentz’s favorite target for a long time in Philadelphia, and the Colts have identified the tight end position as an area that they would like to add to. It just makes perfect sense.

Ertz is 31 years old, and has a $12.471 million cap hit in 2021. If the Eagles were forced to release him, it would yield a dead cap hit of $7.769 million. The veteran tight end started 11 games in 2020, but had a career-low catch percentage of 50.0, with only 335 receiving yards and one touchdown. He probably wouldn’t cost more than a sixth or seventh round pick.

3. Brandon Brooks to the Jets

Since we just talked about Ertz, let’s discuss the other Eagles veteran that’s on the block. Brandon Brooks is a three-time Pro Bowler and 2018 Super Bowl Champion guard. He had a 92.8 grade on Pro Football Focus in 2019, but missed the entire 2020 season with a torn Achilles. Approaching his age 32 season, Philly needs to get his contract off the books, which increases to an $18 million-plus cap hit from 2022-24. His cap hit would be a little over $7 million this season, and there is a potential out in 2022 with a $16.438 dead cap penalty.

There aren’t too many teams that would take on this type of contract coming off a torn Achilles, but the New York Jets might. They were reportedly in the market for interior offensive linemen this offseason, but already missed out on guards Brandon Scherff and Joe Thuney, as well as center Corey Linsley. The drop-off in free agent talent after those three is drastic, so if the Jets are still looking to add experience at guard, Brooks might be the best possible solution. It would likely cost them a late-round pick, as the Eagles are desperate to unload his contract.

2. Sam Darnold to Chicago

Based on the way the offseason has gone, it appears that the Jets are trending towards trading Sam Darnold. They are supposedly rebuilding through the draft, or making a blockbuster deal for a Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson type (less likely). Either way, neither path involves keeping Sam as their starter. The most recent bidders on Darnold are the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Football Team (according to reports), but the Seahawks would only make an offer if they were forced to trade Wilson. So far there’s more smoke than fire in Seattle. Washington on the other hand just signed Ryan Fitzpatrick, and already stated that they would only trade for Darnold if his price tag came down (not happening).

That leaves the San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans (more on that below), Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears. Aside from his contract and hometown, a Darnold to San Fran trade doesn’t really make all that much sense. What will become of Jimmy Garoppolo? Is Sam really an improvement on Jimmy G? Denver and Carolina sound plausible, but they are less desperate to get a deal done with Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater under contract. The Bears are the only franchise that NEEDS a quarterback (Andy Dalton addition aside), and they don’t really have enough trade capital or cap space to acquire Wilson if we’re being honest. Darnold is the cheapest, high-ceiling option for Chicago, and that’s why it could end up happening.

1. Deshaun Watson to Miami

To me, the Miami Dolphins still feel like the franchise most likely to trade for Deshaun Watson. Of course, the Jets, Broncos, Panthers, 49ers, Bears and a half-dozen other teams still remain in the mix for the generational talent. The Dolphins must keep pace with the likes of the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots (who have been gearing up in free agency), and Tua Tagovailoa didn’t exactly inspire much confidence his rookie season. The former Alabama star threw for only 181.4 yards per game (6.3 yards per attempt), with a 64.1 completion percentage and an 87.1 quarterback rating. Not terrible, but compared to Herbert and Joe Burrow, not very enticing either.

Miami also has the draft capital and cap space (about $32 million) to make the Houston Texans a legitimate offer. They could send Tagovailoa back in return, along with the third and 18th picks in the 2021 draft, as well as numerous future firsts and seconds. The only team that could match an offer like this is the Jets, but NYJ general manager Joe Douglas seems more intent on building through the draft. Even if this is a smokescreen tactic by Douglas, some might argue the Dolphins have the more appealing offer with Tua rather than Darnold (more years of team control left) headed to Houston. The Broncos or Panthers probably have the third best chance, with more cap and draft capital than the Niners and Bears, but none of them can truly match up against the Fins and Jets.

Watson would make any franchise an immediate contender, but GM Nick Caserio and the Texans have yet to even admit that they have any intention of dealing him. The writing’s on the wall though, and at this point I would expect Deshaun to be wearing a new jersey by the time Roger Goodell reads out Trevor Lawrence’s name.

Top Fits For Guard Joe Thuney

Where Will Thuney Land?

The New England Patriots opted not to franchise tag Joe Thuney. That means that the guard will test the free agency market. The former Pro-Bowl guard is arguably the finest guard on the market. Thuney owns a ton of experience, and he’s not old; he brings Super Bowl-winning cache to any team he will join.

As the Super Bowl demonstrated, offensive-line play is still vital if a team is to win games. Several teams will think that their offensive-line situation is healthy. However, a player such as Thuney improves most offensive-lines. He should get considered by plenty of teams. Its time to examine who are the best fits for Joe Thuney.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings’ offensive-line play struggled during an inconsistent 2020 season. The unit ranked 18th in pass-block success. That is not good enough when the quarterback is the statue-Esque Kirk Cousins. Thuney is a considerable upgrade on incumbent guards Ezra Cleveland and Dakota Dozier.

One of the advantages of signing Thuney is he understands run-heavy offenses. After spending 2020 in New England, Thuney owns a little bit of prior knowledge in a single-back inside-zone offense. If the Vikings let Riley Reiff go, Thuney is the right man to assume the unit’s leadership. Thuney is a premium player.

Therefore there is a premium price tag; his market value per Spotrac $15.3 million. Some cap juggling would need to get done by Minnesota if they are to make this move.

New York Giants

It seems as if the Giants are letting Kevin Zeitler leave the franchise. That move could save New York around $14.5 million on the cap this year. The additional cap space could allow them to make a move for Thuney. Daniel Jones is still skittish under pressure, and New York must protect him if they feel he is their franchise quarterback. The Giants staff boast plenty of ex-Patriots, both in the front office and coaching staff. The staff know Thuney better than perhaps any other team in the country.

With Saquon Barkley coming back, strong offensive line play is critical to the Giants’ success in the NFC East. Barkley is an uncomplicated runner with all of the skills. Thuney is a solid trap-blocker and lead-blocker. Those skills can open up holes for the running back. If the back is the explosive Barkley, the Giants could be onto a winner if they sign Thuney.

New York Jets

The New York Jets possess a ton of cap space for 2021. They can pay Thuney his market worth and still stay in a healthy position cap-wise. The other reason to sign Thuney is the quarterback position. Either Sam Darnold or a rookie will line up for GangGreen in 2021. All young quarterbacks require a heavy dose of protection from their offensive line. Thuney can also become a locker-room leader on a rebuilding squad that is bereft of experienced winners.

Mike LaFleur is the new offensive coordinator in the Meadowlands. He is of the Shanahan/McVay tree; those offenses thrive on the strong offensive-line play. They want to pass out of the run; they want to use play-action and run on opponents. New York needs some superglue in its line.

Thuney can play a pivotal role as the team look to fortify the trenches. Every rebuilding team requires a cornerstone piece in each position room, Thuney is that guy. And, the Jets would make plenty of Patriots fans unhappy if they bring the guard to New Jersey.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Like the Jets, the Jags are in a healthy situation regarding the salary cap. Urban Meyer’s team will attack the market to build a talented team around Trevor Lawrence. The Clemson man will desire a veteran presence on the offensive line to protect him. Who better than Thuney? It is a no-brainer move for the Jags.

As for Thuney, he’d swap cold, miserable Massachusetts for sunny Florida and a chance to work for one of the most famous coaches on the planet. Teams always talk about creating a winning culture; Thuney would arrive from a winning locker room, ready to add that invaluable knowledge and cache to a team that needs it.

Thuney never misses games and can walk straight into the locker-room and command respect. He can also play a big part in helping exciting runner James Madsion develop in the running game.

Cincinnati Bengals

Young quarterbacks need protecting. That’s why the Bengals should chase Thuney. Joe Burrow possesses all the skills to develop into a special quarterback. However, the Bengals must protect their Ohio-born saviour. Sadly, 2020 saw big problems arise.

Burrow’s offensive line was terrible. He had no protection and spent most of his time trying to evade pressure. No-one can forget the day the Ravens rag-dolled him into the ground. In a division with TJ Watt, Myles Garrett and the ferocious Ravens, Burrow needs help.

The Bengals are another team in an adequate space regarding the cap. The big caveat to this move is this; will Thuney want to go to the Bengals. He is in the prime of his career; does he want to waste it on a rebuilding team. Forgetting that, the Bengals must pick up the phone and call him. If you never swing, you’ll never score.

Top 3 Fits for Jason Verrett

Where Will Jason Verrett Sign?

Written by Benedetto Vitale: Twitter (@TalksVitale) 

Jason Verrett enters the 2021 free agency as one of the top corners available. He’s been a consistent defender in pass coverage for the San Francisco 49ers the last two seasons now and aims to receive a nice payday this offseason. He finished last year with 60 total tackles, seven pass deflections, and two interceptions.

He’s played a vital role for this 49ers defense, and now with Richard Sherman likely on his way out, San Francisco may want to consider bringing Verrett back to the team. He’s been solid throughout his career and should be receiving many offers during the free agency period. 

Look for Verrett to sign somewhere he will have the opportunity to play as the top corner on the team. Coming close to winning the Super Bowl in 2019, playing for a championship-caliber franchise is probably high on his list of priorities too. However, if a team makes him the right offer, he could be signing with a young up-and-coming squad. Here are the three best fits for Jason Verrett this offseason. 

Does Jason Verrett Stay in San Francisco?

Staying in San Francisco is the most likely situation for Jason Verrett. He’s already familiar with the defensive scheme, and if he remains on this roster, he will be their top cornerback as well. 

For the 49ers, they’re in a tricky situation, as they’re going to have to choose between Verrett, or another corner on the team this offseason. “With the NFL’s negotiating window set to open on March 15, the two players the 49ers have likely prioritized re-signing are cornerback Jason Verrett and Nickelback K’Waun Williams.”

With that in mind, Verrett comes off as the right choice to make between him and K’Waun Williams. He’s more capable of playing on the outside, making him a much more versatile player on the defense. The 49ers may re-sign Verrett before he hits the open market, if they don’t, he’s likely signing elsewhere. 

Do the Denver Broncos Reel in Verrett?

The Denver Broncos are another franchise in an odd cornerback situation. They just released AJ Bouye not long ago, making Bryce Callahan their top cornerback on the roster. Callahan played well last season, but even so, this organization needs help at the corner position in the worst way possible. 

Luckily for them, they’ll have depth in the position next year. “The entire cornerback room is under contract for next season. However, outside of Bryce Callahan, no one made a lot of plays during the season.” With that said, the Broncos could wait until the NFL draft to find another corner, however, this defense would be much better off signing a veteran like Jason Verrett. 

Rather than relying on Callahan and a potential rookie, the Broncos could hedge their bets and sign Verrett as well. This would give the Broncos a solid 1-2 punch at corner, then potentially take one of the top prospects in the draft with the eighth overall pick. Adding someone like Patrick Surtain along with Jason Verrett suddenly gives Denver a legitimate secondary in this league. 

Will Jason Verrett Join the Jets?

Of the teams on this list, the New York Jets are the least likely to make the playoffs next season. However, this franchise has the cap space to make Verrett a great offer. Additionally, Robert Saleh is the new head coach, who has a history with Verrett in San Francisco. 

The former defensive coordinator for the 49ers, Robert Saleh became the head coach for the Jets this offseason. He’s been a top prospect coach in the NFL for a few years now, and he has finally received his opportunity to shine. The 49ers’ defensive players have spoken highly of Robert Saleh, which bodes well for the future of the Jets. “Several vital members from the 49ers’ 2019 defense, including Nick Bosa, Richard Sherman, and Dee Ford, missed most of this season with injuries, but the team still finished fourth in passing yards allowed and fifth in total yards allowed per game.”

For Saleh, signing Verrett away from the 49ers would be a great move for this franchise. The new head coach is going to want players that are familiar with his scheme and Verrett fits that mold perfectly. This would be an opportunity for Verrett to step up as a leader even more so, helping a young Jets defense attempt to right the ship. 

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