FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Bright lights, big city: It’s a long way from Big Man on Campus to biggest market in the country, which is why it can be overwhelming to play quarterback in New York. The 24/7 scrutiny can get into a player’s head (see: Geno Smith), the paparazzi can find you at all times (Mark Sanchez) and the media attention can even cause a pro’s pro (Chad Pennington) to have a couple of bad moments in front of the cameras.
In 11 days, the Jets are expected to draft BYU’s Zach Wilson, who was born, raised and schooled in Utah. Is he ready for Gotham? Can he lead a perennial loser out of the abyss?
ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who spent time with Wilson and the other top quarterback prospects while filming his new ESPN series “QB21,” offered his insights this week in a conference call with reporters.
“What I liked about Zach Wilson is this guy has a chip on his shoulder,” Herbstreit said. “He wears a wristband that says ‘Prove them wrong,’ and I was like, ‘Who are you trying to prove wrong, my man? Like, everyone loves you.’ But he wasn’t recruited heavily. He grew up in Salt Lake. His dad played at Utah. Utah didn’t recruit him. And I think, from that point on, he had a chip on his shoulder, and he has not let it go.”
Herbstreit mentioned how Wilson, wanting to stay sharp last spring during the COVID-19 quarantine, made a 10-hour drive (each way) to Southern California to meet with his personal coach, former BYU quarterback John Beck. He did that several times.
“The mental toughness, which is what you need to be able to go into [New York]. I don’t think I personally would question it,” Herbstreit said. “I’d be careful of looking at him with his baby face and growing up in Utah and judging the cover of book on what you see. This kid’s got some good wiring. I love guys that are out to prove everybody wrong, and I think he’s not emotional about it or he’s not like (on) social media [saying], ‘You’ll see.’ It’s nothing like that. It’s like an internal fire that’s burning, that I think is real.”
In reality, there’s no way to accurately predict how a 21-year-old will handle the pressure. Sam Darnold always handled himself like a pro, saying he benefited from having played college ball in a big market at USC, but he didn’t produce on the field.
Quarterback of the Jets is a tough job, one of the toughest in sports.
2. Too many cupcakes? The big question with Wilson is the level of competition he faced in college. As a starting quarterback against AP-ranked teams in his career, Wilson went 2-4 with eight touchdown passes and five interceptions — significantly lower than the rest of his games. That has to be factored into his evaluation, but the Jets evidently are OK with that.
3. With the 23rd pick …: We haven’t been paying much attention to the Jets’ pick at No. 23 overall (for obvious reasons), so let’s take a quick look. It’s a semi-hot spot in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft (April 29-May 1 in Cleveland, on ESPN and ESPN the App), as the pick was traded in three of the past six drafts. Maybe they will get some calls.
Assuming the Jets keep the pick, and knowing general manager Joe Douglas’ preference for using high picks on the so-called premium positions, we can narrow it down to cornerback or edge rusher. This eliminates guard, running back and off-ball linebacker, three other big needs. Offensive tackle is a premium position, but they seem willing to roll with George Fant on the right side. More than half his 2021 salary ($4.45 million of $8.5 million) already is guaranteed. Ideally, you don’t want that much money sitting on the bench.
Available cornerbacks could include Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech) and Greg Newsome II (Northwestern). Know this about coach Robert Saleh: He wants big corners for his zone-based scheme. At 6-foot-2, 197 pounds, Farley is an ideal fit. He’s a top-15 talent, but back issues (a recent microdiscectomy) could give them pause.
Another thing we know about Saleh: He believes you can’t have too many edge rushers, which puts defensive end in play even though they spent big money on Carl Lawson. The names to watch are Jaelan Phillips (Miami), Azeez Ojulari (Georgia) and Zaven Collins (Tulsa). Ojulari is particularly intriguing. At 6-foot-2, 249 pounds, he might be a bit undersized to be an every-down 4-3 end, but he’s twitchy and explosive.
Historical note: Only once in franchise history have the Jets made a pick at 23. It was linebacker Bob Crable in 1982. He battled injuries and lasted only six seasons.
4. False start? The offseason program (voluntary) is scheduled to begin Monday. Once again, there will be virtual meetings at the start, with no on-field drills. This will be Saleh’s first opportunity to address the team as a whole, a chance to set a tone for the spring — albeit on a laptop.
The full offseason schedule is up in the air, with the NFL and NFLPA at odds over whether it’s safe to have in-person events. (The Jets, like many teams, have opted out.) If the entire offseason remains virtual, a lot of players across the league will lose workout bonuses.
But not the Jets. No one on the roster has a workout bonus, per overthecap.com (OTC). They were big on workout bonuses in past years, but the current regime has moved away from them. They’re one of only five teams with no workout bonuses.
5. Cap check: The Jets have $25 million in cap space and their draft class will eat up $9.4 million, per OTC, which means they should have a carryover into 2022.
6. Holding pattern: Some folks might be wondering about free-agent cornerback Richard Sherman. Saleh is interested in reuniting with Sherman, I’m told, but that depends on a few factors. From the Jets’ perspective, it could hinge on how the draft turns out. As for Sherman, he seemingly would prefer a contending team in the West. Naturally, there’s always the money. In other words, there are a few bridges to cross before anything happens.
7. Trade buzz: All quiet on the C.J. Mosley front, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the linebacker’s name comes up in trade speculation during the draft.
8. Delayed homecoming: Defensive end Vinny Curry was on the Jets’ free-agent radar in 2020, but he wasn’t ready to commit to them or anyone because of a personal tragedy. His half-brother, Gerald Glisson, a New Jersey high-school principal, died last spring because of COVID-19 complications.
“That took me out. My mindset wasn’t there,” said Curry, who waited until last August before re-signing with the Philadelphia Eagles. “I just had so much going on personally.”
Curry, who idolized Glisson, said the virus “came out of nowhere. It was like, ‘Oh, he’s got COVID.’ Then he went on a ventilator, a breathing machine. Then, next thing you know, he’s gone.”
The New Jersey native, who missed a game while on the COVID-19 list, wound up having a solid finish for the Eagles, parlaying that into a one-year contract with the Jets. Douglas, a former Eagles executive, finally got his man.
9. Slot machines: Julian Edelman’s retirement triggered memories of former Jets star Wayne Chrebet, whom Edelman considered “The Godfather” of slot receivers.
Edelman was feted for his competitiveness and drive, which carried him from seventh-round pick to Super Bowl MVP. Chrebet never made it to a Super Bowl, but his story was no less dramatic. Heck, he wasn’t even drafted. You might be surprised to see their regular-season numbers aren’t that much different.
Receptions: Edelman 620, Chrebet 580.
Receiving yards: Chrebet 7,365, Edelman 6,822.
Touchdowns: Chrebet 41, Edelman 36.
10. The last word: “I felt like I was well on my way to being in the upper-echelon class of defensive tackles. Obviously, the injuries struck, but I’m very confident in my ability to get back to doing all those things and being a special player.” — recently-signed Sheldon Rankins, formerly of the New Orleans Saints.