NY Jets: 5 players who could be the Week 1 starting QB in 2021

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NY Jets (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images) /
NY Jets
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NY Jets Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The NY Jets will have plenty of options at their disposal this offseason as they attempt to determine their plan for the quarterback position.

And as the days and weeks go by, the rumors continue to swirl about what the team will ultimately decide to do.

Some believe the team will opt to stick with the incumbent Sam Darnold for at least another season while others see the Jets moving on and searching for his replacement. Either way, their decision will be one met with contention.

The 2021 offseason serves as a critical crossroads for the organization. With a ton of draft capital and cap space to play with, general manager Joe Douglas has the chance to either set this team up for future success or set them back years in the process.

The hiring of new head coach Robert Saleh was the first major decision. Now, all focus has shifted to the quarterback position.

What Douglas — and to a lesser extent Saleh — decides to do at the position will shape the future of the Jets’ franchise, for better or worse.

It isn’t an easy decision, and the chances are that the Jets haven’t even made up their minds just yet. And even if they have, we certainly aren’t going to hear about it — especially given how tight-lipped the organization has been under Douglas.

With that, let’s take a look at five players who could be the Jets’ Week 1 starting quarterback in 2021.

Next: 5. Trey Lance

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5. NY Jets QB Candidate: Trey Lance, North Dakota State

Admittedly, this one is unlikely. But it’s only January — a lot can happen from now until April.

North Dakota State’s Trey Lance has gotten a little overshadowed in an exceptionally talented quarterback class, but that shouldn’t take away from the caliber of prospect he is.

In fact, going into the year, many saw him as the clear-cut QB2 in the class behind Trevor Lawrence. If not for the fact that COVID-19 limited his sophomore season to just one game, he may have been able to hold on to that title.

Instead, he saw the likes of Zach Wilson and Justin Fields put together fantastic seasons. But don’t be fooled by national media projections, there will be teams that have Lance as their QB2.

Could the Jets be one of those teams? It’s unlikely, but not completely out of the question.

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Lance has about as high of a ceiling as any quarterback in this draft class with the arm talent and athleticism to be a future superstar. However, his lack of collegiate experience and overall rawness means he might take some time to develop in the NFL.

Probably not an ideal target for the Jets, but if they feel he’s more NFL-ready than others seem to believe, he could be an option with the No. 2 overall pick. Or, if the Jets trade down a few spots and he’s still available, Lance makes sense as a target as well.

This likely won’t be the route the Jets take, but it’s not something that should be ruled out either. A lot can happen over the next few months, and Trey Lance might just find himself shooting up draft boards.

Next: 4. Deshaun Watson

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4. NY Jets QB Candidate: Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans

Again, this one feels more like a pipedream than a true possibility. But over the past few days, there’s been plenty of smoke about the Jets possibly pursuing disgruntled Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

And sometimes where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Watson is unhappy in Houston and the superstar quarterback may soon be on his way to a new team. If a trade were to happen, it would undoubtedly be one of the most high-profile and unprecedented in NFL history.

As such, it’s going to cost a hefty sum for any team to land him. Fortunately, the Jets are one of the few teams with the assets necessary to make a deal happen.

With four first-round picks over the next two years and a boatload of cap space, the Jets have the resources, financial flexibility, and desire to offer a reasonable trade to the Texans.

Watson will have his fair share of suitors. The Miami Dolphins will be chief among those, but don’t rule out a team like the Carolina Panthers — especially if Houston wants to trade him out of the AFC.

But if the opportunity presents itself, this is one the Jets cannot afford to pass up. A player of Watson’s value has never been traded before in league history — and with good reason.

If it costs three-plus first-round picks, you do it. No questions asked.

Deshaun Watson might be playing for a new team in 2021. And maybe, just maybe, that team will be the Jets.

Next: 3. Sam Darnold

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NY Jets /

NY Jets

3. NY Jets QB Candidate: Sam Darnold, NY Jets

With all the talk about the Jets possibly moving on from and replacing Sam Darnold, there remains a chance that he sticks with the team in 2021. Or rather, the team sticks with him.

Darnold has been put in arguably the worst possible situation over the past three years. Surrounded by less-than-stellar talent and an incompetent coaching staff, Darnold has been placed in an environment that’s clearly stunted his growth.

That all came to a head in 2020 when the former USC star put together the worst season of his professional career finishing with nine touchdowns to 11 interceptions while completing under 60 percent of his passes.

Darnold was one of the worst starting quarterbacks in 2020 by pretty much every metric, if not the worst. But with a new system in place under offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur and a hopefully-improved supporting cast, there are reasons to believe he can still find success.

That said, it would be wholly unprecedented if it were to happen. If Darnold were to succeed at this stage, he would essentially become the single-greatest statistical anomaly in quarterback history.

Is it possible? Sure. There’s no doubt that Darnold’s development has been stunted by his situation. But at the end of the day, it remains unlikely that he magically puts it all together, even with a new staff.

The financial aspect surrounding his soon-to-expire rookie contract and ensuing fifth-year option makes this an unwise (and probably unlikely) choice.

But it is an option the Jets will consider.

Next: 2. Justin Fields

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2. NY Jets QB Candidate: Justin Fields, Ohio State

If the Jets are going to replace Darnold in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft later this year, two options stand above the rest. The first of those options is Ohio State’s Justin Fields.

Fields entered the year with plenty of hype after a standout sophomore season that saw him finish with 41 touchdowns to only three interceptions in his first year as a starter.

Apart from being a Heisman finalist, he was also named first-team All-Big Ten and second-team All-American. And in 2020, while the numbers dipped slightly, he still helped lead his team to a second-consecutive Big Ten title and a National Championship berth.

Fields is a somewhat polarizing prospect among the draft community. Some have him as the clear-cut QB2 behind Lawrence while others have him behind both Wilson and Lance as the QB4.

Either way, he’s very much in play for the No. 2 overall pick, and thus, very much in play for the Jets.

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Possessing ample athleticism and arm talent to project him as a franchise quarterback at the next level, Fields would likely be considered the top quarterback in his class in a normal year. Alas, this isn’t a normal year for quarterbacks.

Fields would be best served in an offense that could make use of his legs as well as his strong arm. While he may not be the best fit for a Kyle Shanahan-esque offense (he fits better in a modern spread offense), Fields remains an excellent option for Gang Green.

Don’t be surprised if he’s the second quarterback off the board come late April.

Next: 1. Zach Wilson

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1. NY Jets QB Candidate: Zach Wilson, BYU

Perhaps no player has risen up draft boards as much as BYU’s Zach Wilson has in the past calendar year.

Seen as nothing more than a fringe starter at the collegiate level a year ago, Wilson burst on to the scene in his junior year and established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the entire country.

The 21-year-old passed for 3,692 yards and 33 touchdowns in 12 games while tossing only three interceptions. He led his team to a victory over UCF in the Boca Raton Bowl marking his third consecutive bowl victory.

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Wilson is an excellent athlete who’s shown the ability to thrive in clutch situations. His poise and moxie combined with his timing and anticipation make him a strong contender for QB2 in this class.

Notably, Wilson would also be an excellent fit in Mike LaFleur’s offense. His quick release and fast processing skills allow him to get the ball out in a hurry and thrive in a hybrid West Coast scheme.

Wilson has all the traits necessary to be a franchise quarterback at the next level. However, his prior injury history and one year of collegiate production will be red flags to some.

Nonetheless, he stands as good a chance as any of being the second quarterback off the board in a few months. And the team that ultimately takes a chance on him could be the Jets.

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If the Jets search for Darnold’s replacement in the draft, no prospect is more appealing than Wilson.