When the 2020 season began, most industry pundits believed the Jets would finish with the league’s worst record. I mean, Adam Gase was their head coach, so it felt like a good bet. Then, they did…not. They won only two games, one more than the Jacksonville Jaguars for league-worst. And as a result, they lost out on the number one pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. And with that, Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence would not be their savior. Whoops.
GM Joe Douglas cleaned house and brought in a new coaching staff. Former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is the new head coach, QB Sam Darnold was shipped off to Carolina, and Douglas spent the second overall pick on BYU QB Zach Wilson. Will all this change result in more wins? And if not, will the new offense give us fantasy managers more fantasy points?
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From one baby-faced quarterback to another. Zach Wilson is New York’s latest attempt at finding a franchise quarterback. Many around the fantasy football Twitter-verse felt Wilson was the 4th best QB in this draft class, despite an 11:1 TD-to-INT ratio with 3,692 passing yards and a 73.5% completion percentage in 2020.
So what can we expect in Year 1? Let’s first look at the new play-caller in charge. Mike LaFleur comes from the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree, which is predicated on a strong running game, something the 2021 Jets likely won’t have (more on the running backs later). LaFleur’s 49ers finished 16th in passing attempts in 2020. They cycled through three different starting quarterbacks after incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a season-ending injury. During San Francisco’s 2019 Super Bowl runner-up campaign, they finished 29th in passing attempts.
With an offensive line anchored by 2020 first-round pick Mekhi Becton and 2021 first-round pick Alijah Vera-Tucker, Wilson hopes to remain upright as he attempts to get the offense moving in the right direction.
The 2020 New York Jets’ leading rusher was future Hall of Famer Frank Gore (RB47 finish). Gore also just turned 38 this year. As a team, they finished with only nine rushing touchdowns on the year, tied for league-worst. They return 2020 fourth-round pick La’Mical Perine, who played in only ten games and finished with 3.6 yards-per-carry and as the RB78 in fantasy, and journeymen Ty Johnson and Josh Adams. Things can’t get worse in 2021, right?
The Jets spent yet another fourth-round pick on a running back in 2021, adding UNC’s Michael Carter. They also brought in former Falcon and 49er Tevin Coleman via free agency. One of these guys profiles as a scatback in the mold of former Bengal Giovani Bernard (Carter), and the other, well, sucks (Coleman).
Are we really expecting the 2021 Jets to have a good run game? If Perine gets over the injury bug, expect him to have the first crack at the starting job. Carter can potentially be worked into a similar role that Jerick McKinnon served in the 49ers offense a year ago. As for Coleman, he can serve the same role he played for the 49ers last year — injured and consistently out of the lineup. RB is the most volatile position for fantasy managers, so these guys will likely be rostered throughout the year. Maybe they can serviceable in one or two games.
If there is any skill position that can have fantasy success for the Jets, it’s this group of wide receivers. They return their highest-scoring receiver from a year ago, Jamison Crowder (WR39), but then drafted his likely replacement in the 2nd round this year, Elijah Moore out of Ole Miss. To make matters worse for Crowder, if New York were to cut him before the season, they would save over $10 million against the cap (per overthecap.com). Without Adam Gase around to pepper his second-best slot receiver (All hail Braxton Berrios!), Crowder could be on the outside looking in.
The Jets ventured into free agency and brought in former Titans’ first-round pick Corey Davis (WR30 in 2020) on a 3-year deal. Davis can pair with last year’s second-round pick, Denzel Mims, to give Wilson a couple of big-bodied targets on the outside. This will allow the rookie Moore to roam freely underneath against linebackers. The scheme that Mike LaFleur is likely to employ has seen dominant wide receiver performances over the years. Corey Davis once had a target share of over 30% in LaFleur’s brother Matt’s offense in 2018. With a defense that allowed the 9th-most total yards and the 7th most points to opposing offenses, Zach Wilson will have every opportunity to air it out in garbage time and give the likes of Davis, Mims, and Moore (and maybe Crowder, who knows?) the chance to score fantasy points.
The cherry on top? No Jets receiver is currently being drafted in the Top 40 at the position, per Fantasy Football Calculator. Crowder currently sits at WR42, with Davis (WR46), Moore (WR64), and Mims (WR75) further down the list. For the upside they present, they are decent dart throws in your drafts throughout the summer.
Are there any Chris Herndon truthers still out there? No? Didn’t think so. Look, George Kittle is a special player, and was able to break out when San Francisco had no one at wide receiver. The Jets have some quality receivers, so it wouldn’t shock me to see the TE target share end up closer to 10%. (The Jets targeted their TEs only 12.2% of the time a year ago.) Behind Herndon are Ryan Griffin and Tyler Kroft, two absolute juggernauts at the position, right? Start Jets TEs at your own risk in 2021.