There’s nothing quite like NFL Draft season. Rumors swirl for months around teams and prospects. Trades are negotiated behind closed doors and dropped like bombshells. In general, there are very few certainties.
Not this year. Trevor Lawrence is the consensus top player in this year’s draft, and will most likely go to the Jaguars at No. 1 overall . The No. 2 pick is less certain, but a majority of people believe the Jets will take Justin Fields.
This would mark a new era of Jets football. But what would this new Jets team look like with Fields at the helm, and what can fantasy managers expect?
No one has any doubts about Justin Fields’ physical talent. He has a rare combination of size and athleticism that has drawn comparisons to Dak Prescott and Deshaun Watson, two of the best young quarterbacks in the league. Fields also has an extremely strong arm that allows him to make any throw on the field.
While this is just a 10 yard gain, the throw is impressive. Throws from the far hash to the sideline are dangerous for a quarterback. If he doesn’t get enough velocity on the ball, the corner has a chance to break on the route and intercept the ball. In this instance, Fields puts more than enough power into the throw and the receiver secures the catch and a first down.
Fields also displays impressive accuracy and touch:
This throw is less about power, and more about placement. The defender is right on the receiver’s hip, so the ball placement has to be perfect. Fields throws it to the open space, allowing his receiver to go get the ball while at the same time preventing it from being picked.
Justin Fields does have issues that need to be worked through in order to reach his ceiling:
These plays demonstrate some of Fields’ negative traits. In the first play, he tries to do to much with the ball and ends up taking a sack, even though his running back is open for a modest gain. On the second, he stares down his first read and throws a very ill-advised ball into the teeth of the defense.
The good news is, these flaws are very coachable and can be fixed at the next level. However, they also mean that Fields probably isn’t going to walk onto the field and be a great NFL quarterback in his first year. He’ll need a good coaching staff that has a multi-year plan to develop him into the quarterback that he can become.
With their recent moves, the New York Jets now match that blueprint. They recently fired Adam Gase and hired former 49ers’ defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to become their new head coach. With a new head coach comes a whole new staff as well. Saleh has already hired two of his fellow 49er colleagues to work on his staff. Mike Lafluer, the 49ers’ passing game coordinator, will become the new offensive coordinator. John Benton, the 49ers’ offensive line coach, will become the Jets’ running game coordinator and o-line coach.
Saleh has proven his defensive prowess. After a slew of injuries took out many of his star players for the season, Saleh managed to lead his unit to a successful season. The 49ers finished at 6th overall in team DVOA, above teams such as the Bears, Dolphins and Ravens. Saleh also brings tremendous energy on the sideline, and is known as an excellent motivator. These traits should help him reshape a poor Jets defense into at least an average group. On the offensive side of the ball, bringing over both the 49ers passing and running game coordinator paints a pretty clear picture. Lafleur and Benton will bring the 49ers’ offense to New York.
These coaches have been on the same staff together for the last four years. They are all coming to the Jets together, and undoubtedly have a vision for what they want this team to become. The Jets suddenly have excellent environment to draft a QB into. Justin Fields would be able to enjoy a unified coaching staff that is helmed by someone known for creating an energetic, winning culture.
What would the offense look like?
If the Jets do draft Fields, what could the offense look like? Admittedly, The words “New York Jets” and “offensive talent” rarely appear in the same sentence. However, they do have a few pieces on that side of the ball around which to build. Even better, the pieces that are already in place are great fits for the offense that Lafleur and Benton are expected to implement in New York.
New and improved run game
The beauty of the 49ers’ run scheme is that it is simple and translatable anywhere, as long as a team has the right personnel. Their run game is mainly comprised of inside zone and outside zone plays. A zone blocking scheme requires athletic offensive linemen, as they have to carry blocks horizontally along the line of scrimmage.
The Jets have Mekhi Becton, the most athletic tackle of last year’s draft class, who looked fantastic in his rookie year. They also have a lot of draft capital (2 firsts, 1 second, and two thirds) in a draft that has a lot of good prospects at tackle. The Jets could find a quality tackle to start across Becton and boost their o-line to protect a rookie quarterback.
Justin Fields would add an extra dynamic to the run game that the 49ers have been missing for years. While Garoppolo and Mullens are not statues, they do not possess the power or agility that Fields possess. Fields would add a presence to the running game akin to Dak Prescott: athletic enough to take advantage of open space, and strong enough to be successful in short yardage situations and the red zone. This would give Fields fantasy upside even as a rookie.
What about the pass game?
The passing game is a little more complex to predict, as there are more factors that go into its execution. But in general, Shanahan’s offense uses more short and intermediate routes that allow receivers to get yards after the catch. Meanwhile, they use the play action game to open up deeper shots down the field. The idea is to take fewer deep shots than average, but to maximize those opportunities.
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You can see that Aiyuk and Mims were used in very different ways last year. Mims was sent downfield at almost twice the rate as Aiyuk: meanwhile, Aiyuk was used more often in the short and intermediate areas of the field.
Mims and Aiyuk both profile as X receivers with similar athletic traits, body size, and catch radius. With Lafleur coming in as OC, we can expect Mims to be used much like Aiyuk was this past season. That means more short and intermediate routes, and more efficient shots down the field. Mims is well-suited for this playstyle, as he recorded 6.4 Yards After Catch (YAC) per reception in 2020, which ranked eighth in the NFL.
The Jets also have Jamison Crowder and the cap space to sign a high-profile free agent this offseason. Adding someone like Kenny Golloday or Allen Robinson to this offense could make the transition for Fields much easier.
There is no denying that the Jets were the laughing stock of the NFL this past season. However, pairing a top QB prospect with this new coaching staff could lead to exciting changes. The Jets now have the coach to shape up their putrid defense, and the offense has nice weapons to build around.
If Fields is indeed drafted by the Jets, fantasy managers should adjust their expectations of all Jets players. Their current running backs do not match the Shanahan model of a zone running back, so I’d expect an addition in free agency or the draft. Shanahan’s zone scheme creates fantasy relevant running backs almost everywhere it goes. Therefore, whoever starts in that scheme could be a sleeper candidate for managers next season. They’d be had at a discount as well, considering people will most likely be soured on every Jets player this coming season.
The receivers would also get a big boost. Denzel Mims becomes more valuable, with the potential to have a breakout sophomore campaign in Lafleur’s passing offense. Jamison Crowder’s route running ability makes him very QB friendly, which should allow him to maintain a decent target share. While I wouldn’t expect league-winning upside from any of them, Mims could definitely grow into a solid WR2 as Fields matures on the field and should be on your radar everywhere, especially in dynasty. If Justin Fields ends up in New York, the fantasy value of all their players is suddenly pointing up.