If the Jets turn the corner under GM Joe Douglas and HC Robert Saleh, in all likelihood people will be able to look back at the 2021 NFL Draft in a few years and point to it as a key juncture in the build.
With the No. 2 overall selection, two picks in Round 1, five selections in the first three rounds and 10 overall, a year's work of preparation is near complete and the time is at hand. While the Jets will ultimately select big, fast, physical, tough and smart players this weekend, love of the game will be critical as well.
"I've always believed that if a player loves football, they'll usually protect football off the field," Saleh said. "They'll do everything they can to prepare, to be the best football player they can be. They'll prepare off the field, on the field, in the meeting rooms, whatever they have to do. So usually for us, we judge players by whether or not they love ball and how much that love is. And you can tell through the process, and that's where I think our scouting department has done such a great job in really digging into the character of these individuals and finding out who they are and where they stand. And so, from that part of it, you always find the more they love ball, the harder they'll try for it."
The Jets are expected to take a quarterback with that No. 2 overall pick and BYU's Zach Wilson potentially could head from Utah to New York City. Wilson, whose rare athletic traits have been discussed for months, is a hyper-competitive football junkie obsessed with the game. Before his prolific 2020 campaign, Wilson repeatedly flew and drove to Southern California to work under the tutelage of former NFL passer John Beck, who is the quarterbacks instructor at 3DQB. A guest on The Peter King Podcast, Wilson told King that he delivered DoorDash to pay for the trip and food in addition to getting his mom some "nice things" for Mother's Day. If the Jets draft Wilson, his DoorDash days will probably be numbered unless he's making the order.
Douglas said of scouting the QB position: "You've heard me say it's the most important position in sports and there's a lot that goes into it. And obviously there's the physical traits that go into it: the arm talent, the athleticism. Then there's the intangible traits: the intelligence, the leadership, the mental toughness, the physical toughness. So, there are really so many traits that go into every quarterback evaluation. And ultimately those traits are so important in determining a quarterback's success."
After Douglas lands his quarterback, there are many schools of thought about where he should go next. Does he continue to fortify the offensive line in front of a rookie QB or give the new passer a toy in the skill position category? The Jets certainly could opt to go the edge or corner routes early in the draft as well.
"You're trying to build the best team that you can possibly build," Douglas said. "That's offense, defense and special teams. There also is an importance to really doing everything we can to provide what we can to make a young quarterback successful. So, there is some balancing that goes into that."
Douglas, whose first pick as GM of the Jets was Louisville T Mekhi Becton, has reiterated that he wants to win in the trenches and yet he also has the desire to surround his quarterback with explosive playmakers. He has assets at his disposal and he is a confident man ready for a critical weekend.
"We feel good about the position we're in with the picks where they are," he said. "We're in a good position with the picks we have inside the top three rounds. And we do feel like with the process we've had with the conversations we had with the collaboration, with the coaching staff and scouting staff, that we're going to be able to let the board come to us and make a lot of good decisions."
Following fact-finding missions from the coaching staff and personnel department in exhaustive draft meetings, Saleh that said Douglas and the scouts have a "great feel" for the schemes the Jets will run both defensively and offensively. Lauded by new Jets who joined the Green & White in free agency, Saleh remains a big-picture leader who is ready to invest in each of his players. The drafting part is one step, but the development part will happen both in the classroom and on the grass at One Jets Drive.
"My excitement goes beyond just the No. 2 pick," Saleh said. "It goes to the 23rd, the 34th, 66th, 86th. It goes to all of them. And then including the players that are currently here and the opportunities that they're going to have. So not to bore you with cliché answers, but I'm excited for all of it."
On a weekend where all 32 NFL teams will celebrate player acquisition, the Jets are loaded up with capital to go in any direction they want. The answers will come in time, but two things we feel certain about: 1.) A QB will be the selection at No. 2, and 2.) Love of football is required.
"We feel good about the process, the meetings, the work that's been done leading up to this point so that we can make the best possible decision we can make," Douglas said.
See the Best Prospects According to The Athletic's Dane Brugler Leading Up to the NFL Draft