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Are post-Sam Darnold Jets better equipped to develop next QB? Yes and no – New York Jets Blog

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Here they go again.

For the second time in three years, the New York Jets will invest a high draft pick in a quarterback, a college wonder boy tasked with the enormous challenge of invigorating a star-crossed franchise. They botched it with Sam Darnold, whose shortcomings were exacerbated by organizational failure on multiple levels. Now it’s fair to wonder:

Will it be any different with BYU’s Zach Wilson, the presumptive No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft?

Let’s put it this way: While it’s hard to overlook the Jets’ long history of ruining quarterbacks, the organization is in a better place than it was in 2018, when Darnold arrived with so much hype. By then, the coach-general manager tandem of Todd Bowles-Mike Maccagnan was coming off two straight losing seasons. The timelines weren’t aligned; it was a rookie quarterback in a win-now situation — a recipe for disaster.

And it was. Bowles was fired after the 2018 season, followed by Maccagnan a few months later.

Now, with coach Robert Saleh entering his first season, and with Joe Douglas entrenched as the general manager, the Jets have a stable environment for their new face of the franchise. Mike LaFleur, who will have the greatest impact on the quarterback’s development, is unproven as a first-time offensive coordinator, but he’s installing a tried-and-true system that suits Wilson’s skill set.

Continuity is a big part of the equation. You can’t develop a young quarterback if he’s stuck in the middle of a revolving door. He needs a chance to grow with a coach and a system. It’s not a guarantee for success — look at Mark Sanchez, whose career went sideways under the same regime — but it’s a good start.

Now comes the area of concern.

The new quarterback’s supporting cast is pretty much the same one that finished dead last in total offense last season. Free-agent addition Corey Davis is a definite upgrade over Breshad Perriman at wide receiver, but the rest of the offensive personnel is frighteningly familiar to what the Jets had in 2020.

Same five starters on the offensive line. No true No. 1 running back. Major questions at tight end. And, let’s not forget, no veteran quarterbacks on the roster.

It’s unrealistic to believe Wilson will succeed with the roster as currently constructed. This is where Douglas has to do a better job than he did with Darnold. And he knows it.

In the summer of 2019, Douglas, new on the job, promised Darnold’s parents that he would give their son playmakers and protectors. That never materialized, as Douglas acknowledged the lapse midway through the 2020 season. Give him credit for admitting his mistakes; not many GMs would have done that. Presumably, he learned a hard lesson and will attack the new situation with a different plan.

“We have to surround our next quarterback with as much talent as possible,” Douglas said Tuesday.

With 21 picks in the next two drafts, including 10 in the first three rounds, Douglas has the resources to build something sustainable around Wilson. He owns the second, 23rd, 34th, 66th and 86th choices in the draft, which begins April 29. He should come out of it with a playmaker and an offensive lineman (or two). There are some pressing defensive needs, so there has to be balance.

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Mike Golic Jr. and Chiney Ogwumike are happy to see the Jets trade Sam Darnold to the Panthers.

Douglas should be bold and use the Jets’ 23rd pick, along with one of their 2022 second-round picks, to trade up for an elite-level player. If one of the high-end pass-catchers falls out of the top 10, either Florida tight end Kyle Pitts (not likely) or one of the top three wide receivers (perhaps Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle), Douglas will have enough ammunition to jump up from No. 23 to draft him.

He’s sitting on a war chest of draft picks. Don’t be like former GM John Idzik and just sit on them. Be aggressive and move around the board. Put Waddle with Davis, Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder, and now you’re talking about a potentially explosive receiving corps.

“We do have a lot of assets,” Douglas said, “but we have to make the most of the opportunities.”

Douglas also needs to import an experienced “bridge” quarterback to help guide Wilson through the inevitable growing pains, someone who can start the season, if necessary. It’s a huge leap from BYU’s cream-puff schedule to the weekly challenges of the NFL, and it would be a mistake to rush him into action. Where have you gone, Josh McCown?

The Jets could sign a free agent (Alex Smith?), wait for a quarterback to get cut (Teddy Bridgewater?) or trade a late-round draft pick for a stop-gap option (Gardner Minshew II?).

Right now, it’s all about building a winning environment for Wilson, something they failed to do for Darnold.

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Ex-Austin Peay Governors DB Juantarius Bryant falls victim of Atlanta Falcons tryout hoax

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Juantarius Bryant thought he was heading to Georgia this weekend to try out for the Atlanta Falcons during the team’s rookie minicamp. When he arrived in Flowery Branch, though, he learned he had been the victim of a hoax instead.

Bryant, a defensive back from Austin Peay, was never actually contacted by the Falcons but instead by someone texting him from an Atlanta area code pretending to be defensive coordinator Dean Pees. So when Bryant arrived at the team’s facility Wednesday to get ready for his chance to accomplish an NFL dream, he was instead turned away.

“I do not know or understand why this has happened,” Bryant wrote in a Twitter message. “But I do know that everything happens for a reason. Yes, this was heart breaking for me, but just another stepping stone that I am not afraid to admit or overcome.

“At the end of the day, this will not make or break me. I will still continue to fight for my dreams because I know it’s what I really want.”

Bryant declined an interview with ESPN when reached Sunday and said he posted something about it publicly on Twitter to let people who have supported him know what was going on because he believed he had a legitimate invite to Falcons camp over the weekend.

“I am ready to move on from the situation and respectfully I do not feel like talking about it over and over again,” Bryant said in an email to ESPN. “Yes, whoever did this to me is very wrong, but I’m moving on from the situation and I forgive them for whatever reason they chose to do it.

“I honestly would not like the person who pulled this stunt on me to be publicly humiliated. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”

Bryant, who is from Nashville, Tennessee, initially began his career as a walk-on at Austin Peay and became a first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference defensive back by his senior season in 2019 after making 107 tackles (2.5 for loss). In his career, he played in 43 games for Austin Peay with 242 tackles (8.5 for loss), eight passes defended, three forced fumbles and an interception.

The Falcons declined to comment about the situation to ESPN, but Bryant’s agent, Corey Alexander, tweeted that he has been in touch with the Falcons about what happened. A message left with Alexander seeking further comment was not immediately returned.

COVID-19 protocols limited the number of tryout players a team could have at its rookie minicamps the past two weeks. Atlanta had five players try out for the team this weekend — the maximum the team could have — and signed defensive lineman Olive Sagapolu, who was in training camp with the Detroit Lions last year, on Sunday.



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Carolina in his mind? New York Jets rookie Zach Wilson catches a tough break – New York Jets Blog

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:

1. Wilson vs. Darnold: Zach Wilson‘s NFL debut will be off-Broadway in location only. In terms of theater, his Week 1 road showdown against predecessor Sam Darnold is worth a neon marquee.

While Jets-Carolina Panthers is being billed as Darnold’s revenge game, the potential impact on Wilson can’t be dismissed. Already facing huge expectations as the No. 2 pick and perceived franchise savior, the 21-year-old rookie and presumptive starter will be under magnified pressure in what amounts to a statement game.

Is that a fair way to look at it? No, but that’s how it will play. The NFL schedule-makers, always lusting for drama, did the Jets no favors by staging Wilson versus Darnold. This is no soft opening, that’s for sure.

Wilson hasn’t commented yet on the matchup, but someone who knows him well believes he will be unfazed by the magnitude of it.

“He looks forward to opportunities like this,” said former NFL quarterback John Beck, Wilson’s longtime personal coach. “Because people kind of snubbed him young, meaning he wasn’t heavily recruited [in high school], he could see these as opportunities to prove something.

“He’s not one of those people who had everybody telling him how good he was. In situations like this, those [players] probably think, ‘Oh, gosh, I may fail and, if I fail, what does that mean?’ I think Zach views that as the opposite.

“To him, it’s not him versus Sam Darnold. In Zach’s mind, it’s him taking the stage at his first regular-season game. To him, that’s what this stage is about. Because of that, he wants to play really well in that situation. I think that type of challenge excites him.”

Last month’s Darnold trade wasn’t a clear-cut decision for Jets general manager Joe Douglas, who admitted he considered the possibility of pairing Darnold and Wilson. Despite his struggles in New York, Darnold remains popular within the organization and the fan base. In that sense, it’s probably a good thing the opener is on the road. If the day goes sideways, Wilson won’t have to worry about fan backlash.

2. Two for the show: As expected, Wilson will wear No. 2. There’s certainly not much Jets history associated with that number. The most recognizable player to wear No. 2 was place-kicker Nick Folk, a member of the team from 2010 to 2016. In terms of New York sports history, the all-time No. 2 is a no-brainer — former Yankees star Derek Jeter.

3. Sorry, wrong number: First-round pick Alijah Vera-Tucker will wear No. 75, which raises a question: Why is that number still in circulation? The Jets should retire that number because it belonged to the late great Winston Hill, who was recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Other ex-Jets in the Hall of Fame — quarterback Joe Namath (12), wide receiver Don Maynard (13) and running back Curtis Martin (28) — had their numbers retired by the team. Even defensive lineman Joe Klecko (73), not a member of the HOF (even though he should be), had his number retired. Why should Hill, who wore No. 75 with distinction for 14 seasons, be different? By the same token, offensive lineman Kevin Mawae (68), inducted in 2019, also should be afforded that honor. No current player has No. 68.

Vera-Tucker wore No. 75 at USC, so his preference is understandable. Chuma Edoga, another former USC lineman, wore it for the Jets the past two years. No one should wear it again now that Hill has been posthumously honored in Canton.

The Jets, aware of the Hill situation, haven’t ruled out adjustments in the future.

4. Inside the schedule: Every team’s schedule is filled with quirks and trends. Let’s take a closer look at the Jets’ slate:

  • Positives: They have 13 games at 1 p.m. ET, a franchise record. That’s not great for national exposure, but it makes the coaches happy. Prime-time games cut into the following week’s preparation. … The Jets and Chicago Bears are the only teams without back-to-back road games. … They face only one 2020 playoff team (Tennessee Titans) in their first seven games. … Starting in Week 10, they have six home games in a span of eight weeks, their first such stretch since 1976. … They could benefit from an unbalanced schedule. Due to the 17-game schedule and a London game, the Jets have nine home games, seven true road games and one international game. The Miami Dolphins have the same situation.

  • Negatives: The bye is Week 6, the earliest it can be. (Three other teams have the early bye.) For the Jets, it comes after their trip to London. That means they have to close the season with 12 straight games, which will be taxing. … Their rest differential is minus-2 days. That’s not ideal, but it’s better than the New England Patriots (-15) and Dolphins (-6). (Note: The Jets had a plus-8 differential last season, which did them no good.) … They’re away from home in four of the first six games, which could be a factor now that stadiums are expected to be at full capacity again. … Five of the Jets’ final 10 games are against 2020 playoff teams.

5. Did you know? The Jets play the Patriots in Weeks 2 and 7. If Wilson starts against Mac Jones, who will supplant Cam Newton at some point, it will mark the first time in the history of the Jets-Patriots rivalry that two rookie quarterbacks started. That covers 121 regular-season games. Tom Brady started 36 of them, none as a rookie, which explains a lot.

6. No opt-outs: Before the 2021 NFL draft, Douglas was on the fence when asked how he would evaluate prospects who opted out for 2020. On one hand, he said it would be a “challenge” to grade players based on 2019 tape. But he made sure to note he respected the wishes of those who decided not to play, ostensibly for COVID-19 concerns. (Wink, wink.)

As it turned out, no fewer than 19 teams drafted at least one player who opted out for the entire college season — but not the Jets. Wide receiver Elijah Moore opted out for the final two games at Ole Miss, but he still had eight highly productive games on tape in 2020. Douglas picked players who played, and I don’t think that was a coincidence. He’s all about minimizing risk, and he recognized opt-outs carried more risk than other players.

7. Super sleeper: For obvious reasons, the Jets’ third-day defensive draft picks didn’t get much exposure, but one name to watch is fifth-round pick Jamien Sherwood, the safety/linebacker hybrid. He was a tackling star at Auburn, but his pro evaluation dropped with a disappointing 40-yard dash (4.74 seconds) at his pro day. The Jets see him as an ideal fit as a weakside linebacker in their 4-3 front — a wide-open position — and there’s some thought he could emerge as the starter. He played safety with a linebacker mentality.

8. Looking for gems: The Jets were aggressive in signing undrafted free agents, doling out relatively large guarantees for coveted players. Oregon State cornerback Isaiah Dunn got $185,000 and Ole Miss tight end Kenny Yeboah received $180,000, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Those were two of the league’s biggest guarantees.

9. Whatever happened to…: Most of the members of the Jets’ previous coaching staff landed jobs in the pro and college ranks. Of the coordinators and position coaches on Adam Gase’s staff, only Gregg Williams (defensive coordinator), Joe Vitt (outside linebackers) and Jim Bob Cooter (running backs) are out of coaching. Vitt, Gase’s father-in-law, could retire. Gase, too, is not coaching; he has two years left on his contract.

10. The last word: “He’s a fantastic guy. I think he’s the leader of men that the Jets need. I think he’s going to be one of the biggest parts of the rebuild phase.” — center Connor McGovern on coach Robert Saleh, via inforum.com in Fargo, North Dakota (his hometown).



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New York Giants sign former first-rounder Kelvin Benjamin

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants have signed former Carolina Panthers first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin, the team announced Sunday.

Benjamin and former Philadelphia Eagles running back and Super Bowl hero Corey Clement impressed over the weekend during tryouts at rookie minicamp and received one-year deals.

A wide receiver who had over 1,000 yards as a rookie for the Panthers in 2013, Benjamin has not played in the NFL since 2018. He worked primarily as a tight end at the tryout.

“In terms of Benjamin working a different position [Friday], we’re going to work different guys at a variety of things right now,” Giants coach Joe Judge said. “He’s a big guy. He’s always been a big receiver. He’ll work receiver. He’s working a little bit flex tight end as well.

“I wouldn’t really kind of, you know, pin him down to any one position at this point. We’re going to use the weekend to move him around to different spots and see how it works out.”

Benjamin would join a crowded tight end room along with Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo. The Giants also are deep at wide receiver after adding Kenny Golladay and John Ross in free agency and drafting Kadarius Toney in the first round. This will make it tough for Benjamin to ultimately land a spot on the final roster, regardless of position.

It was just three years ago during a Monday Night Football broadcast that ESPN analyst Booger McFarland famously declared Benjamin was “probably a Popeyes biscuit away from being a tight end.”

Benjamin, 30, has spent time with the Panthers, Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs. He has 209 career receptions for 3,021 yards and 20 touchdowns. The 28th overall pick in 2014 was originally drafted in Carolina by current Giants general manager Dave Gettleman.

Clement, 26, spent the first four seasons of his professional career with the Eagles. He has been slowed in recent years by injury but is best known for his performance in Super Bowl LII, when he had 100 receiving yards and a touchdown in the Eagles’ upset win over the New England Patriots. Clement also helped execute the Philly Special, a trick play that resulted in a touchdown reception by quarterback Nick Foles.

The Giants needed veteran depth at running back. With Saquon Barkley coming back from a serious knee injury, the Giants signed Devontae Booker as a free agent and drafted Gary Brightwell in the sixth round.

New York also announced that it had waived running back Jordan Chunn and tight end Nate Wieting.

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