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Which quarterback, if not Trevor Lawrence, will the NY Jets target in the 2021 NFL Draft?
Around 7:00 pm on Sunday, Sam Darnold took the final knee at SoFi Stadium, as the NY Jets watched the clock hit zero. The final scoreboard read 23-20, with the Jets shocking the world in beating the nine-win Los Angeles Rams on the road.
And just like that, the Jets are now 1-13 on the season. So now what?
It is a valid question. Right off of the bat, the Jets have been eliminated from the playoffs for weeks now and have nothing to play for. Yet the fire they showed on Sunday is very promising for the young team. Thus, leaving them in an interesting situation over the final two weeks.
The Jets are set to welcome the playoff-bound Cleveland Browns next week, then face the playoff-less New England Patriots in Week 17.
Neither, on paper, look like wins, then again, neither did the Rams game. At the same time, Jets fans will be watching the Jacksonville Jaguars more than ever.
The Jaguars currently hold the tiebreaker over the Jets, leaving them in position to get the first overall pick should they lose out.
They are set to play the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts in their final two games, both of which remain in playoff contention. In other words, the odds are now firmly against the Jets to get the first pick in April, as the Jaguars have lost 13 straight.
Head coach Adam Gase will more likely than not be gone, yet his legacy will stand having lost the Jets the stronghold on the first overall pick, i.e., Clemson superstar Trevor Lawrence.
Who knows who general manager Joe Douglas will want under center in 2021? But let’s take a look at his draft options, outside of Lawrence.
Next: 1. Lawrence's old challenger
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1. The NY Jets could target Ohio State’s Justin Fields
There is no question, Trevor Lawrence has put himself on an untouchable pedestal. He is the best quarterback prospect in this class, and nobody can dethrone him now. Nevertheless, there was a time before this season some people thought it could be done, by none other than Justin Fields.
After coming in third for Heisman voting in 2019, it seemed as if Fields could climb to challenge Lawrence for the top quarterback spot.
Last season, he totaled 51 touchdowns with just three interceptions, throwing for 3,273 yards and rushing for another 484. Not to mention, he brings an NFL-ready build at 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds.
Then came this season.
Of course, this year was odd on its own, with COVID-19 limiting the Buckeyes to just six games to this point. Yet Fields managed to prevail, winning Big Ten Quarterback of the Year.
He led Ohio State back to the playoff for the second time in his career, passing for 15 touchdowns to five interceptions and completing 72.6 percent of his passes.
While he may have seemed mortal against teams like Indiana and Northwestern, he managed to prevail, still leading his teams to wins. He also did so with a limited team, as COVID-19 kept the program in flux with players missing time.
Fields is a modern-day quarterback, with the ability to kill teams with his arm and legs, in similar ways to Dak Prescott. He is capable of making an instant impact at the NFL level, assuming he goes to the right team.
For Douglas, if he were to draft Fields, he may need to put a team together around him that can capitalize on his playing style right away.
Otherwise, the Jets could risk a poor head coach pairing ruining a young quarterback once again.
Next: 2. An FCS star
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2. The NY Jets could target North Dakota State’s Trey Lance
Following Fields, the field is going to become very interesting. The 2020 season has seen a handful of young signal-callers emerge as potential first-round picks. Whereas Trey Lance has maintained his spot as a potential top-10 pick by not playing at all.
The North Dakota State product has already declared, having only ever played in 19 games. He has never lost, and only has one interception, showing excellent decision making.
Most notably, in the Bison’s 2019 Championship season, Lance accounted for 36 touchdowns, and not one interception.
The one interception actually came in an exhibition game this season, where despite little preparation, he still won using his legs. Lance is another multi-dimensional quarterback, with 1,325 rushing yards in just 19 games. He also has added 18 total touchdowns on the ground.
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Like Carson Wentz back in 2016, there are going to be questions about the level of competition. It is something that comes with any non-Power Five quarterbacks. Lance will also need to learn to protect himself, oftentimes being an aggressive runner and taking plenty of hits.
At 6-foot-3 and 224 pounds, he has the NFL-ready build to take the field right away. He displays an accurate arm and one that combined with his athleticism will be a threat with his arms or legs.
Of course, sitting out has made Lance a bit of a forgotten prospect compared to the others on this list.
However, expect Lance to amaze scouts in the offseason at events such as the NFL Combine. When it is all said and done, it would be surprising to see Lance land anywhere outside of the top 10.
Next: 3. 2020's surprise breakout
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3. The NY Jets could target BYU’s Zach Wilson
As previously mentioned, there have been a handful of quarterbacks who have taken massive leaps this season. And nobody has taken as big of a jump into first-round discussions as BYU’s Zach Wilson.
The junior’s development is astonishing, as it plays a huge role in why the Cougars are 10-1 and ranked 16th in the country. He has stayed healthy, playing a career-high 11 games, throwing for 3,274 yards, 30 touchdowns, and only three interceptions.
What is most amazing is how efficient he has become in year three. In 2019, he completed 62.4 percent of passes, as opposed to this season, where he has a 73.1 percent mark.
He has also averaged 10.9 yards per attempt, after 7.5 the year before, and even has a passing efficiency rating of 194.8. To put that into perspective, it was at 130.8 last season.
At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Wilson has solid size and can afford to add even more bulk to his frame. He has the ability to extend plays with his legs, with excellent touch on his ball downfield. His past accuracy issues have vastly improved this season, and Wilson is clearly a leader for BYU.
Wilson has a great arm, though his tendency to risk it all rather than making the safe play is going to be a topic of discussion. He also has a decent injury history that will come up in the pre-draft process.
Wilson has the making to be one of the top quarterbacks in this class should he declare and may even contest Fields or Lance for the number two spot at the end of the day.
Next: 4. Replacement turned Heisman favorite
4. The NY Jets could target Alabama’s Mac Jones
The NFL has seen a trend of quarterbacks who display fantastic mobility and overall athleticism. It simply is the way the game is played at the position, as players like Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, and many others look like the quarterbacks of the future.
Then there are players who look to keep the traditional pocket passer type alive. That is where Alabama’s Mac Jones comes in.
After starting for Tua Tagovailoa last season when he went down with an injury, Jones has excelled as his replacement when few expected him to. On that note, there is a very good chance Jones can even secure the Heisman Trophy this season.
Jones owns a 76.5 completion percentage, throwing for 32 touchdowns and four interceptions. At 6-foot-2 and 214 pounds, his size is average, howbeit his ball placement is top-notch.
Even being without the strongest of arms, he still manages to throw a beautiful deep ball thanks to his accuracy.
Jones also knows his limitations, as with average athleticism and overall mobility, he has focused on his strengths. Specifically, Alabama has done a great job in fitting their system to Jones’ ability.
It also helps that Jones plays with the likes of Najee Harris and Devonta Smith, both of whom are also Heisman candidates.
No matter what, the Jets will need to address their lack of weapons. With Jones, it is fair to ask if he is a product of the talent around him.
Then again, Jones continues to develop with each and every start. He has a high-IQ, and accuracy that the Jets have not seen out of a quarterback since Chad Pennington.
Next: 5. Backup to starter to Heisman candidate
5. The NY Jets could target Florida’s Kyle Trask
Imagine being told one of the top quarterbacks in the nation was not a starter in high school or even entering the 2019 season. That’s the case here with Kyle Trask.
In high school, Trask played behind D’Eriq King, then Feleipe Franks last season until a season-ending injury finally gave Trask his chance to shine. And he never looked back.
Like Jones, Trask has continued to improve every game he plays, as he is getting a better feel for what he is capable of. This season it was truly on display, in what was a Heisman-worthy campaign.
Trask threw for 4,125 yards, only throwing five picks to 43 touchdown passes. His completion percentage jumped from 66.9 percent to 69.7 percent, as well as his passing efficiency rating being 186.7, 30.6 points up from 2019.
Simply put, Trask was another animal altogether this season.
He has prototypical size and the style of a pocket passer, standing at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. He is a bulky player and one that is not going to go down easy in the pocket.
Trask also is going to protect the football well, as he is a disciplined quarterback when it comes to decision making.
As any quarterback deserves, the Jets will need to properly protect Trask. At his size and mobility, he is not going to be able to extend plays often with his legs.
Trask also has average arm strength and is still developing his overall game, given he has only recently gained significant playtime.
There is a lot to love about Trask, nonetheless, he has his cons just like all of the quarterback prospects.
Next: 6. The not-so wild card
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6. The NY Jets could always keep Sam Darnold
That being said, what if the Jets were to not draft a quarterback? Say Douglas feels out the market and elects to trade down in the draft and acquire a massive haul of picks in return. Or even stays in the top three, choosing to pick the best player available that is not a quarterback.
Would Douglas and the Jets give Darnold a clean slate in Florham Park?
With Lawrence possibly out of the question, it is a legitimate option for the Jets to run it back with Darnold in 2021. Get him a new head coach, one that will not harm his development. Build the team around him that he has always deserved, and let him prove why he was a third overall pick.
Back when Darnold was drafted in 2018, the Jets thought they had their franchise savior. Before the draft, many had Darnold as the top quarterback in a class ahead of Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, and Josh Allen.
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Coming out of USC, his leadership, playmaking ability, and overall talent had the makings of a franchise quarterback.
Three years later, Darnold still has the raw talent that he did when the Jets drafted him. He also still has the footwork and turnover issues he had. As he enters his fourth season, he will only be 24-years-old, younger than Jackson and even Joe Burrow.
Darnold has made it clear that he wants to be in New York, and the Jets have failed him over the past three years. Has he done much to convince the Jets to prove he can be the franchise quarterback this season? No.
But this team is finally going to be equipped with the draft capital and cap space to fix things. Why not give him the offensive line and weapons he never had?
With Lawrence out of the question, Darnold has as strong of a case to be the Jets quarterback in 2021 as any rookie.