NY Jets: 2021 NFL Draft class could produce several Week 1 starters

NY Jets, Hamsah Nasirildeen
NY Jets, Hamsah Nasirildeen / Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

On the surface, it seems a little foolish to suggest that the NY Jets 2021 rookie class could produce several starting players.

But if you take a step back and look at the whole picture, Gang Green has never had this many starting positions up for grabs on their roster going into a new season.

And the reason for the potential influx of multiple rookie starters is twofold. It's a combination of an entirely new coaching staff coupled with a roster that won only two games last season.

The Jets are installing a new offense and defense, and with that has come an organizational shift in philosophy and, most importantly, in the types of players that the franchise has targeted for many years.

Jets general manager Joe Douglas and his entire scouting department scouted players in the 2021 NFL Draft that were specific fits for their new coaching staff. 

As a result of the new direction and schemes on offense and defense, many of the holdover players from the 2020 Jets roster are not locked in as starters or as key contributors in 2021.

After all, these players were inherited and not chosen by Robert Saleh and his staff, like the 2021 rookie class specifically was.

Yearly roster turnover is a common occurrence for NFL teams, and the Jets' offseason has produced a lot of new blood on the team. The Jets have 38 new players on their team from a year ago. 22 of them are rookies.

The remaining 16 are a combination of veterans signed through free agency or acquired through waivers. Most of whom, like Corey Davis and Carl Lawson, are young ascending players, on their second contracts with presumably their best football still ahead of them. 

The NY Jets have a very young roster. The fifth-youngest in the NFL at an average age of 24.82. Only three players on the current 90-man roster are over 30-years-old — Vinny Curry (32), Ryan Griffin (31), and Greg Van Roten (31).

You combine last year's Jets draft class and undrafted free agents with this year, and what you have is a roster that is very young, largely unproven, and a work in progress.

NY Jets rookies who could start Week 1

• Quarterback: Zach Wilson
• Running back: Michael Carter
• Wide receiver: Elijah Moore
• Left guard: Alijah Vera-Tucker
• Outside linebacker: Jamien Sherwood/Hamsah Nasirildeen
• Cornerback: Jason Pinnock
• Nickel cornerback: Michael Carter II
• Kicker: Chris Naggar

Barring some unforeseen circumstances, Zach Wilson will be the Jets' starting quarterback when the season starts. Many also expect Alijah Vera-Tucker to be starting next to Mekhi Becton Week 1 in Carolina. 

Although the Jets figure to have a plug-and-play system that features multiple runners at running back, it's not out of the realm of possibility that fourth-round rookie Michael Carter could be starting from day one.

His ability as a receiver and pass blocker could get him on the field immediately. Veteran Tevin Coleman brought over from the 49ers, Ty Johnson, and others may also be in the mix, but Carter might be the team's best bet to handle the feature back role.

There are four incumbent starters on the Jets who will have to fend off serious competition this summer. Veteran slot receiver Jamison Crowder, outside linebacker Blake Cashman, and cornerbacks Blessuan Austin and Javelin Guidry.

Of this group, Crowder is the most accomplished, but the Jets' new staff fell in love with Elijah Moore in the draft process, and it's only a matter of time before he factors into the offense. 

In today's age of the NFL, even though teams list only 22 starters on offense and defense, the truth is that the two slot positions are starting roles. And depending on what type of scheme teams play, those two positions are prominent fixtures on almost every snap. 

With that in mind, despite a solid rookie campaign by Javelin Guidry in 2020, the new blood in the secondary will challenge Guidry's status as a starter in the nickel defense.

And rookie Michael Carter II was drafted specifically with that role in mind. Carter's position flexibility as a safety/cornerback makes him a potential day one starter right out the gate.

Cashman is the old toy in the toybox for the Jets defense. He has the skill set to transition into the Jets' new 4-3 defense, but factors are working against him. One of which is his history of availability due to injuries, but the other factor is more significant. 

Douglas never drafted Cashman and the new staff just selected two hybrid players in Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirldeen.

Newly minted defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich and Robert Saleh have a successful history of working with undersized safety/linebacker hybrids in the past. And both Sherwood and Nasirldeen fit the bill.

Either rookie could be supplanting Cashman from day one. The clock is ticking on the former fifth-round pick.

By default, Blessuan Austin is listed as a starter at cornerback opposite Bryce Hall, but the writing is on the wall for him as well. The Jets drafted three cornerbacks and gave Isaiah Dunn the largest contract ever for an undrafted rookie defensive back.

The competition this summer will determine who starts at the outside cornerback spot in September, but the odds favor Jason Pinnock as a player who could usurp Austin. 

Lastly, the Jets special teams will have a new look in 2021, thanks in part to the acquisition of special teams dynamo Justin Hardee, but the team could also have a new kicker in SMU rookie Chris Naggar.

Last season, the green and white's kicking game was ranked 26th in field goal percentage (75.0 percent) and 32nd in extra point percentage (83.3 percent). Naggar is a late bloomer who connected on 81 percent of his field goals as a senior. 

Naggar has a huge leg, with the capability of connecting from 60-plus. The returning starter at kicker, Sam Ficken, who barely escaped 2020 with a roster spot intact, will have the same challenge that many of the Jets incumbent starters will face this summer. 

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