2021 New York Jets Fantasy Team Outlook: Zach Wilson Must Overcome Growing Pains

2021 New York Jets Fantasy Team Outlook: Zach Wilson Must Overcome Growing Pains

A fantasy football breakdown of the New York Jets by high-stakes legend Shawn Childs

Coaching

After 10 straight seasons of missing the playoffs and a losing record each year since 2016 (23-57), Jets fans have to miss Rex Ryan, who led them to the postseason in 2009 and 2010. Adam Gase led them to a 2-14 record in 2020 while being outscored by 214 points.

Robert Saleh earns the keys to the franchise’s future after spending the past four seasons as the defensive coordinator for the 49ers. He’s been a coach in the NFL since 2005, giving him 16 years of experience. Saleh was part of the coaching staff in Seattle that won the Super Bowl in 2013. His defense for San Francisco in 2019 reached the championship game.

New York added Mike LaFleur to run the offense. He worked as the pass game coordinator for the 49ers from 2017 to 2020, after having success with the Falcons in 2015 and 2016 (offensive assistant). LaFleur has seven years of experience in the league. His opportunity for the Jets will be a step up in job. New York had the worst offense in the league last season.

Jeff Ulbrich takes over as the defensive coordinator. He played in the NFL for 10 seasons with the 49ers before starting his coaching career in Seattle in 2010. Over the past six seasons, Ulbrich worked in the Falcons’ system as a linebacker coach, plus some duties as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator.

New York’s defense showed growth in 2019 (seventh in yards allowed and 16th in points allowed – 359), but they fell to a bottom-tier defense last year. The Jets allowed 457 points (26th) while dropping to 24th in yards allowed. They’re still recovering from trading away S Jamal Adams to Seattle before last season.

Free Agency

The Jets addressed their weakness at wide receiver by signing Corey Davis to a four-year contract. He failed to live up to his draft pedigree (2017, fifth overall) over his first three seasons; however, his game started to shine last year. His next step is seizing an elite WR1 opportunity in The Big Apple.

Keelan Cole signed a two-year deal for additional wide receiver depth. His success in Jacksonville was inconsistent. He was tease to the fantasy market after a surprising UDFA rookie season (42/748/3). He’ll replace WR Breshad Perriman, who signed with Detroit.

More New York Jets Coverage from SI

New York brought in Tevin Coleman to compete for snaps at running back. He has ties to offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. TE Tyler Kroft moved from the snow belt in New York (Buffalo) to the Jets. His opportunity has a low ceiling.

The top players added to the defense were DE Carl Lawson, DT Sheldon Rankins, and S Lamarcus Joyner.

Lawson should be an upgrade to New York’s pass rush. They expect him to work in a rotational role with minimal chances in early downs against the run.

Over the past two seasons, Rankins battled injuries leading to no impact value for the Saints. He is a former first-round draft pick (2016) who flashed pass-rushing upside in 2018 (eight sacks).

Joyner likes to keep receivers in front of him while allowing minimal damage in touchdowns and receiving yards. New York will use him in slot coverage and also moving him back to safety.

Their defense lost DE Jordan Jenkins (HOU), DE Tarell Basham (DAL), and CB Brian Poole (unsigned). Jenkins failed to make an impact. Basham showed growth as a run defender over the last two seasons. Poole played well in coverage out of the slot.

Draft

QB Zach Wilson

The Jets direction hinges on Zach Wilson. New York has no choice but to start him in his rookie season due to a lack of quarterback depth. Wilson’s scouting report on NFL.com mentioned he had a look of Johnny Manziel with better movement in and out of the pocket. Just this comparison gave me the impression of a potential underachiever when adding his short resume of success.

The bottom line with Wilson is that he played for a good team that won eight games by 25 points or more last season. He has some intangibles that should progress at the next level. At the same time, his overall play must develop, and I question his ceiling. Turnovers could be a problem earlier in his career until he fine-tunes his mechanics and improves his vision.

G Alijah Vera-Tucker

New York took a swing at improving the offensive line with their second pick in the first round. Last year Vera-Tucker handled himself well when asked to play left tackle, which is a sign of an explosive, high-upside player. He will be an upgrade as a run blocker with the talent to play well in pass sets. He plays well on the move and in space in the run game with the power to stuff a bully on the run. Any shortfalls in technique should be coachable, helping his ceiling.

WR Elijah Moore

The Jets caught a break when the speedy playmaker made it back to them in the second round. He projects as a slot receiver with the ability to test defenses in the deep passing game. Moore will be a zone buster while possibly struggling against physical corners in tight coverage. His release looks favorable with the hands to win in close quarters. Moore continues to improve while offering sneaky upside. His reported 40-yard time (sub 4.40) makes him a top receiver from this year’s draft.

RB Michael Carter

The offensive rebuild continued in the fourth round with the addition of RB Michael Carter. He runs hard with the vision, power, and elusiveness to reach the second level of the defense. After that, Carter is at the mercy of the open field in front of him. North Carolina used him out of the shotgun on draw plays in the run game. He almost has a misplaced feel in his skill set. I don’t see a difference-maker on third downs in the passing game. Carter will catch passes, but most of his chances may come downfield when matched up with a linebacker.

At 5’8” and 199 lbs., Carter has a strong lower half while owning an edge in quickness. His top-end speed underwhelms given his size.

S Jamien Sherwood

Sherwood will bring fire in run support when moving forward and attacking the line of scrimmage. He’ll get tested vs. speed running backs and tight ends over the long field. Offenses will exploit his coverage weaknesses by matching him up with wide receivers in crossing patterns. His change of direction quickness puts him in a heap of trouble if caught too close to the line and asked to be in chase mode.

CB Michael Carter

Carter has an up-close and in-your-face feel in coverage, but his game works best if drawing a lower-tier option at wide receiver. He’ll work well defending over the short field out of the slot with the wheels to turn and go if asked to play in a trail position. Carter isn’t quite there yet in his technique when allowing a receiver to have a free release when facing the line of scrimmage. His size (5’10” and 185 lbs.) can get him in trouble in close quarters when trying to get to his assignment when faced with traffic and blocking.

CB Jason Pinnock

Pinnock is another cornerback who will be at his best when testing the release of a wide receiver out of press coverage. He has the NFL look in his movements and playability, but his vision and decision-making lead to him being a target in the deep passing game. Pinnock will have more value in red zone coverage.

S Hamsah Nasirildeen

The next dart for the Jets in their secondary came with Nasirildeen in the sixth round. He’s coming off a torn left ACL. His physical style fits what the new coaching staff wants to do on the defensive side of the ball. Nasirildeen hits hard and has a workman attitude in his game prep. He needs to improve his tackling technique plus anticipate better when reading play development. I expect him to be a much better player when he steps on the field in his next game.

CB Brandin Echols

Echols is a developmental speed prospect. His challenge will come when matched up with physical wide receivers who will own him in 50/50 balls. He has a playmaker feel despite not producing elite success in 2020 for Kentucky. Echols will make his tackles, but blockers will eat him up in run support.

DT Jonathan Marshall

Marshall has a short resume. His motor needs more gas to handle more volume of plays as the game moves on. His quickness and power indicate upside and more production if he is willing to put in the work. For now, Marshall provides value in a space eater defender.

Offensive Line

New York inched up to 23rd in rushing yards (1,683) last year while scoring nine rushing touchdowns. They gained 4.1 yards per carry with four rushes over 20 yards.

The Jets ranked 31st in passing yards (3,115) with 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Their offensive line allowed 43 sacks.

LT Mekhi Becton

The Jets may have found a long-time Pro Bowler, who has instantly improved the run game. Becton is a beast of a man (6’7″ and 364 lbs.). His range should be expansive while having the footwork to control pass rushers. Becton’s desire to fire after the snap can lead to poor timing if he misses his mark. Maintaining his weight and overall quickness are the keys to his long-term upside.

In his 14 starts, Becton finished with a slight edge in all areas despite playing in a lousy offense. He did give up some sacks, which should be cleaned up with growth in the Jets’ offense.

LG Alijah Vera-Tucker

The left side of the Jets’ offensive line should be in a good place over the next decade. Vera-Tucker should hit the ground running with the tools to reach a higher ceiling. His run blocking looks to be ahead of his pass protection skills while grading well in both areas.

C Connor McGovern

Over the last three seasons, McGovern started all 48 games for the Broncos and Jets. He continues to allow too much pressure up the middle, inviting job loss risk. His run blocking came in about league average in 2020.

RG Alex Lewis

New York signed him to a three-year contract for $18 million in March last year. He made nine starts before landing on the injured list due to a shoulder injury and dealing with an off-the-field issue. The addition of Vera-Tucker pushed him sideways to compete for the right tackle job. Lewis played better in the run game while showing more fade in pass protection. It’s his job to lose, but New York needs a higher ceiling player.

RT George Fant

In 2018 as a rotational player for Seattle, Fant showed improvement at right tackle. Over the past two seasons, he started 22 of the 31 games with some run and pass blocking issues.

OL Snapshot

The Jets’ offense now hinges on an incoming rookie quarterback while having strength on the left side of their offensive line. The structure of the wide receiver core looks much improved, which sets the foundation of a climb up the offensive mountain. This line projects to be league average due to weakness at three positions. Somebody has to step up there.

Offense

The Jets tried to run a balanced offense last year, but game score got in the way. They ran the ball 44.9 percent while attempting only 499 passes, which was about 20 percent lower than the league average.

Quarterbacks

Zach Wilson

After two dull seasons at BYU (3,960 passing yards with 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions), Wilson burst into the NFL conversation after an explosive junior year. He completed 73.5 percent of his passes for 3,692 yards while delivering 33 passing touchdowns and three interceptions. His most impressive stat may have been his 11.0 yards per pass attempt. Last year Wilson became more active at the goal line (10 rushing TDs) while gaining 254 yards on 70 carries.

His low output in 2019 was tied to his recovery from right shoulder surgery and a broken right thumb that also required surgery.

The Jets passed for 3,115 yards last year with 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, which is Wilson’s starting point. New York gave him plenty of wide receiving talent to start his career, and his blind side should be well protected.

Fantasy Outlook: I expect Wilson to start, but there will be some mistakes and growing pains. He has enough talent to over 4,000 combined yards with an entire season of starts. I don’t expect him to rank above the league average in touchdowns. Fantasy owners in the high-stakes market rank him as the 27th option in the 12-team fantasy drafts in mid-May.

James Morgan

In 2019, Morgan played through a knee issue, which hurt overall production. Morgan is a big quarterback (6’4″ and 230 lbs.) with a live arm. He wants to drive the ball to his receivers, but his mechanics need to improve for better accuracy. Morgan has a long motion while holding the ball at waist level at times, which will lead to many fumbles in the NFL. He doesn’t read defenses well and his rhythm, feel, and touch in the short passing game needs plenty of work.

Morgan had a chance to play quarterback over four different seasons in college, but only once did he flash any intrigue (2018 at FIU – 2,727 passing yards with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions). Over 42 career games, he passed for 8,654 yards with 65 touchdowns and 34 interceptions. His completion rate (57.2) was a liability in every season except one (65.3 – 2018). 

Fantasy Outlook: Morgan will hold a clipboard for many games before getting a chance to play.

Other Option: Mike White

Running Backs

Last year the Jets’ running backs gained 1,829 combined yards with seven touchdowns and 61 catches. They gained only 4.0 yards per rush and 6.3 yards per catch.

Michael Carter

Carter worked as the change of pace back for the Tar Heels. Over his final two seasons, he gained 2,669 yards with 16 touchdowns and 46 catches. He gained 8.0 yards per rush and 10.7 yards per catch in his senior year.

The structure of the Jets’ running back has a lot of moving parts. Carter is the new shining toy, and he may very end up with the best opportunity for New York.

Fantasy Outlook: His early ADP (126) shows that fantasy owners have placed their bet on him to earn the starting job in 2021. Carter should have a floor of 150 rushes with a chance at 30-plus catches. My starting point is 850 combined yards with only a handful of scores. I view him as more of an RB4, with his best success coming over the second half of the year.

Tevin Coleman

After three solid years of success with the Falcons (2,944 combined yards with 28 touchdowns and 90 catches), Coleman failed to impact the 49ers over two seasons while battling injuries. In 2020, he gained only 87 combined yards with four catches on 32 touches due to a knee injury.

Coleman played under Mike LaFleur over the past five seasons, which puts him in the one or two positions for running back snaps for New York.

Fantasy Outlook: His experience in the NFL and with the coaching staff gives him the inside track to start in Week 1 for the Jets. Coleman will catch some passes while possibly being the top goal-line back out of the gate.

Ty Johnson

Over his first two years in the NFL, Johnson gained 735 combined yards with two touchdowns and 40 catches on 157 touches. His best showing last season came in Week 13 (117 combined yards with one touchdown and two catches). Despite his success, New York only gave him only 32 touches over their final four games leading to 152 combined yards with one touchdown and eight catches.

Fantasy Outlook: Johnson brings speed to the running back position to the Jets’ running game. He won’t be a factor at the goal line with some value in the passing game. Johnson is more of a flier than an ownable player in the fantasy market.

La’Mical Perine

Perine has the feel of running back that will take the yards given to him, but his feet don’t have the change of direction value needed to create a winning starting edge in the NFL. His best move may be a slight jump-cut through the line of scrimmage where his acceleration has value over a short area. Perine runs with patience and some power, but his game takes a clear step back when faced with no running room and forced to make yards with his quickness from a standstill.

Over four seasons at Florida, he gained 3,159 combined yards with 30 touches and 72 catches on 565 touches. His best value running the ball came in 2018 (134/826/7)) while setting career highs in catches (40), receiving yards (262), and receiving touchdowns (5) last year.

His speed (4.62 forty) is below par while showing plenty of strength (22 reps in the bench press at the NFL combine). He works hard with tenacity in play style. Perine has too much hesitation in pass protection. You can see the wheels turning rather than him knowing where to go to pick up the free-running blitzer. This shortfall looks coachable, and more experience in these situations will help his growth.

In his rookie season, he gained 295 combined yards with two touchdowns and 11 catches. Perine missed four games late in the year with an ankle issue plus the final week with COVID-19 concerns.

Fantasy Outlook: He projects a rotation backup in 2021 while needing a couple of injuries to clear his path for more playing time.

Other Options: John Adams, Pete Guerriero

Wide Receivers

The lack of a viable tight end and an upside pass-catching back led to New York gaining 74 percent of their passing yards for the wide receivers in 2020. Their production (186/2,320/12) fell in line with the previous season (193/2,412/12).

This season, the Jets have set up their receiver core to have a lead WR1 in Corey Davis. Jamison Crowder will handle the slot, and Denzel Mims can be the big-play threat. When adding incoming rookie Elijah Moore, New York looks poised to give Zach Wilson the toys to succeed.

Corey Davis

Davis showed more explosiveness and consistency last year after struggling to fulfill his expected value after getting drafted in the first round in 2017. He set career highs in receiving yards (984) and touchdowns (5) while matching his 2018 season in catches (65). Davis posted four impact games (7/101, 8/128/1, 11/182/1, and 4/110/1). He missed two games with a COVID-19 issue. On the downside, Davis was shut out in three games on seven combined targets (one game was in the postseason). His catch rate (70.7) was the best of his career, along with his yards per catch (15.1).

Fantasy Outlook: The move to the Jets doesn’t clear a path for Davis to receive elite targets. Jamison Crowder should still be the volume guy due to his possession skill set. His next step should be 75 catches when adding in a 17th game while gaining over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. Davis still has a favorable ADP (128) in the 12-team high-stakes market due to the unknown value of their rookie quarterback. In 2020, he was the 30th highest scoring quarterback.

Jamison Crowder

Crowder started the year with three impressive games (7/115/1, 7/104, and 8/116/1), but he missed four contests over the first eight weeks. Over the second half of the year, Crowder only had 30 catches for 316 yards and four touchdowns on 43 targets with the top games (5/47/1 and 7/92/1).

Fantasy Outlook: New York brought in competition, but his resume is long enough to earn a starting job in Week 1. Crowder averaged four catches per game for 50 yards with 0.31 touchdowns in his career, which comes to 10.8 fantasy points per game. In 2019, he finished as the 26th highest scoring wide receiver in PPR leagues (197.70 fantasy points), showing his potential when healthy for an entire season. Crowder has an ADP of 155 in the early draft season.

Denzel Mims

Over the last three seasons at Baylor, Mims caught 182 passes for 2,901 yards and 28 touchdowns, with his best success coming in his sophomore (61/1087/8) and senior (66/1020/12) years.

He’ll have an edge for sure in the deep passing game where he has the wheels to win over the long field and separate after the catch. His rhythm in space showed more explosiveness on slants and fast-moving routes. Mims comes to the NFL with size (6’3” and 205 lbs.) and speed (4.38 forty). He labored through the 20-yard shuttle (4.43) but showed explosiveness in the three cone-drill (6.66). Overall, Mims needs to clean up his route running while adding more fight to his game. His release could be an issue when pressed over the short areas of the field where his speed has less value.

In his rookie season, Mims caught 23 of his 44 targets for 357 yards. He averaged 15.5 yards per catch, with more than a quarter of his plays gaining over 20 yards. Over a five-game stretch midseason, Mims did most of his damage (17/284 on 33 targets).

Fantasy Outlook: Mims will work as the Jets’ deep threat, but his targets won’t be impactful. He’ll offer flash value when hitting a long touchdown.

Elijah Moore

Moore is another undersized wide receiver (5’9” and 185 lbs.) in the 2021 draft class. He finished last year with eight catches for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns, which is even more impressive when adding in only eight games played. Moore had seven games with 10 catches or more. His season started with an excellent outing (10/227) and ended with three straight impact games (14/238/3, 13/225/2, and 12/139).

Fantasy Outlook: Moore should be a great fit over the long haul with Zach Wilson. His speed and quickness should help him dominate over the short areas of the field. For now, he projects as the upside insurance for Jamison Crowder with a chance to steal some snaps as well from Mims. I’m very interested in roster him a late flier, and he has almost a free ADP (218).

Keelan Cole

The Jets brought in Cole for wide receiver depth after regaining some momentum in his fourth year with the Jaguars (55/642/5). Despite success last year, he only had two strong games (6/143 and 7/67/1). Cole gained fewer than 60 yards in 14 of his 16 contests. His experience could lead to him being a problem for snaps for Mims.

Fantasy Outlook: Cole had his moments in Jacksonville but he’s got a rookie QB and a number of players ahead of him. He would need a big offseason to make the leap to relevancy.

Other Options: Braxton Berrios, Vyncint Smith, Jeff Smith

Tight Ends

New York failed to find an upgrade at tight end over the past two seasons, leading to a second year with empty stats (43/409/3). The Jets added another option at tight end (Tyler Kroft), but I don’t expect more usage out of the position.

Chris Herndon

Herndon drew some attention in the 2019 early fantasy draft season as a possible backend TE1. He showed some upside in a few games (4/42/1, 4/62, 7/57, and 6/82/1) over the final 11 weeks in 2018, but a four-game suspension paired with a hamstring issue and a broken rib led to a lost season in 2019. Last year the value buzz was cooking in drafts, but Herndon failed to gain momentum when on the field. His season started with six catches for 37 yards. Over the next 13 weeks, he caught only 14 passes for 153 yards and one touchdown. Herndon did finish the year with two solid games (4/34/1 and 7/63/1).

Fantasy Outlook: His ceiling isn’t very high, with New York expected to feature their wide receivers in the passing game. Herndon does get a new quarterback, creating a crack of more upside. He looks like a bye week or short-term injury cover. Possible 45 catches for 500 yards with less than five scores if Zach Wilson hits the ground running.

Other Options: Tyler Kroft, Ryan Griffin, Daniel Brown, Trevon Wesco

Kicker

Sam Ficken

Ficken played well over nine games last season after struggling in 2019 (70.4 percent success rate in his field goals). He made 13 of his 15 kicks, with his two missed coming over 50 yards. Ficken did miss seven games with a groin issue while being cut after the season. New York only created 26 touchdowns and 28 field goal chances last year, making him a below-par fantasy option.

His biggest competition comes from Chris Nagger. In 2020, he made 43 of 46 extra points at SMU while converting on 81 percent of his field goals.

Defense

New York fell to 12th defending the run (1,792) with 16 touchdowns. Ball carriers gained 4.0 yards per carry, with four runs over 40 yards.

Their pass defense ranked 28th (4,409 yards) while allowing 34 touchdowns and picking up 10 interceptions. They finished with 31 sacks.

DE Carl Lawson

Lawson picked up 59 tackles and 10.5 sacks over the past two seasons. He has minimal impact value against the run, pointing to a rotational role.

DE Jabari Zuniga

Zuniga looks the part of an explosive player with the talent to attack the quarterback. If given daylight on any play, he has the game to finish while also having an edge if asked to change direction. Zuniga must get stronger to win against top-flight power players. Offenses will game plan to attack him with strength. He saw minimal playing time in his rookie season.

DT Sheldon Rankins

New York hopes to find the missing link in Rankins’ game after getting drafted in the first round in 2016. He only has 3.5 sacks over the past two seasons, covering 22 games. Rankins lost his way defending the run last year after being league average in 2018 and 2019.

DT Quinnen Williams

Williams had growth in his second year after getting drafted third overall in 2019. He finished with strength in run support while developing much more value in the pass rush. His quickness, hands, and vision grade well while offering a disrupter mentality. He puts himself in a position to make plays, but Williams needs to get stronger to defeat top offensive linemen and learn to make an impact vs. double teams. Williams is still learning, which is part of his upside, intrigued.

He suffered a broken bone in his foot in early May, which will require three months to recover.

LB C.J. Mosley

In his first year with the Jets, Mosley missed 14 games with a groin injury. He has over 100 tackles in four of his five seasons with the Ravens, but he only has 1.5 sacks over his last 47 games. Mosley is a high-volume player with an edge defending the run. He opted out last year due to COVID-19 concerns.

LB Blake Cashman

Cashman missed almost all of last year with a groin issue. He posted 40 tackles and minimal value rushing sacks in his rookie season over seven games. Cashman will compete for a starting job in training camp.

LB Jarrad Davis

The Lions added Davis in the first round in 2017. He delivered 196 tackles over his first two seasons while showing improvement in the pass rush in 2018 (six sacks). His play declined over the past two years due to some injuries. Davis looks to be a liability in run support.

CB Bryce Hall

Hall hasn’t been able to overcome his shortfall in his technique when back peddling. He continues to progress in coverage, but there’s a lot to be desired. Hall lacks the wheels and the movements to cover receivers over the long field. He projects well in the red zone. Hall projects more as a slot cornerback.

CB Bless Austin

In his second year in the league, Austin made 10 starts. He held wide receivers to short yards per catch with help defending the run. New York drafted many players to improve their cornerback position. Austin has a lot to prove when defending top wide receivers.

S Ashtyn Davis

Davis comes to the NFL with plenty of upside. His thinker mentality should improve with more experience. He has cover skills for the safety position with a willingness to fire at oncoming ball carriers. His next step is finding a balance between attack and patience. Davis needs improvement in his vision and timing when making tackles in the open field. In his rookie season, he added value defending the run with risk in pass coverage.

S Marcus Maye

Over the past two seasons, Maye started 32 games while offering strength in coverage. He set a career-high in tackles (88), sacks (2), and defended passes (11) in 2020. In his career, Maye has six defensive scores. He projects to be a neutral player in run support.

Fantasy Defense Snapshot

The Jets have plenty of question marks at cornerback and one safety position, but they threw enough darts in this year’s draft to hopefully plug at least one hole. New York has three players that project as foundation pieces. Overall, this defense has plenty of work to do, and it won’t happen this year. I see more risk than reward in 2021.


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