Joe Douglas moved aggressively last spring to acquire Alijah Vera-Tucker, and early results indicate the deal is paying off.
The Jets traded overall picks No. 23, 66 and 86 to the Vikings to get the No. 14 overall pick to select Vera-Tucker in the 2021 draft. After his rookie season, it looks like it could be a slam dunk move .
“I feel like it went well. Obviously there were ups and downs from a personal perspective,” Vera-Tucker said after meeting reporters after the final. of the season against the Bills. “I feel like this rookie year took time to assess this life in the NFL, it was a great opportunity for me.”
Vera-Tucker hasn’t always been perfect, but the Jets couldn’t expect greatness in the first year.
But there were plenty of games where Vera-Tucker looked like a seasoned pro.
The former USC standout has shown signs of becoming a force in the run-blocking game. And while it wasn’t always consistent, Vera-Tucker showed impressive athleticism. He can cross the line of scrimmage or block two blitz defenders in pass protection to give his QB enough time to fire a strike.
Mike White’s touchdown pass to Braxton Berrios against the Bengals is a prime example.
In the running game, Vera-Tucker can double down on a defensive tackle, then sprint to the second tier and latch onto a linebacker quickly.
The Jets’ rushing offense averaged 4.3 yards on the left rush, which is solid, but leaves room for improvement.
Vera-Tucker needs to be better at pass protection. He allowed 42 pressures (34 rushes, six QB hits and two sacks), sixth among NFL guards, according to Pro Football Focus. Growth in this area will come over time as he gets stronger and cleans up his technique.
“I think there is always room for improvement. From what I could tell now without looking at every game in detail, I would say going pro,” Vera-Tucker said. “I would really like to improve in this area. I know my strengths and weaknesses with that. Also in the racing game, too. I just always want to be violent in the run and pass game. I feel like I was able to show it this season. But I really need to do well, just techniques and stuff like that. To be able to perfect my craft.
The three picks after Zach Wilson were Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore and Michael Carter and all three showed they are building blocks. The offensive quartet could become the franchise’s course-changing core.
“It’s really exciting just the rookie class this year, everybody’s taking this year to grow and stuff like that, getting used to playing in the NFL,” Vera-Tucker said. “I’m excited for this. I know everyone is excited for this. Go into this offseason and assess what we did right, what we did wrong, watch the tape and improve.
Overall, Vera-Tucker’s rookie year revealed he could become a top guard in the NFL. He has already made promises in the running game and, as he admits, his pass blocking needs improvement.
Trading up to pick #14 pays early dividends.