2021 NFL Draft: Round One Press Conference
JOE DOUGLAS: All right all, just briefly, before we get to your questions, obviously, an exciting night here in Florham Park. Obviously, just couldn’t be happier about the two players we acquired tonight. Zach Wilson, just an exciting young player. Highly productive, a great leader, great person, and then a unique opportunity to move up and take offensive lineman like Alijah Vera-Tucker, his versatility, his toughness, his character, his leadership. Feel really good about not only the players but the people that we added tonight and looking forward to keeping the weekend going.
Rich Cimini, ESPN: Hey Joe, they were lots of good quarterbacks in this draft. What was it that separated Zach from (Justin) Fields and Trey (Lance) and Mac Jones?
JD: Yeah, I think when we get in our meetings and we talk to our coaches and listened to our coaches, and we value the traits of decision-making, anticipation, accuracy, the play-making ability, the ability to make plays off schedule. Those were some of the big things that really stood out throughout our evaluations of Zach.
Brian Costello, New York Post: What do you make of the kind of criticism or the question about (Wilson) played in 2020, the BYU schedule, and whether that factored into the numbers he produced in 2020?
JD: Having been asked questions about the strength of schedule, look, that’s not his fault no more than it was Steve McNair’s fault of Alcorn State’s schedule when he was coming out. He doesn’t make those decisions. But I think it was cool to see a young quarterback go into an SEC environment in 2019 and win a game at Tennessee to go and play USC Trojans early last year, win that game. So, it’s not like he hasn’t played high level competition before.
DJ Bien-Aime, New York Daily News: Joe, what made you pull the trigger and trade up to the number 14 pick?
JD: I think where we were sitting at 23, we felt we had a unique opportunity to get really a top 10 player in our minds. As our board were stacked to go up and get a guy like Alijah Vera-Tucker, a player that has started at tackle has started a guard and has been highly productive at both. So, that versatility and that production is something that we really value.
(follow-up) A quick follow-up, he played a little bit of tackle and left guard. Where are you going to have him playing for the New York Jets?
JD: Look, I think Alijah like every one of our rookies are going to have a great opportunity to come in here and compete. And so, I know we have a lot of guys on our offensive line that have played multiple positions. From Conor McDermott playing tackle and guard, to Connor McGovern can play center and guard. So, he’s going to come in and compete and ultimately, we’re going to have our best five offensive linemen on the field, come opening Sunday.
Al Iannazzone, Newsday: Joe, last week you talked about the intangibles that you wanted in a quarterback in your conversations with Zach and with other coaches, his coaches, what do you like about him?
JD: Love the confidence. Love the energy. Love the passion. You see, just in our zoom calls, one of the things that really stood out was just his intensity. He was on the edge of his seat. He was close to the camera. You could tell how intensely focused he was and then on top of it, just his mental horsepower, the recall going through these plays and knowing exactly the situation, the play call, the audibles, how the defense was going to react. So, just really impressive. Every hurdle that we had in our pre-draft process, we felt like he cleared.
Brian Costello, New York Post: Hey Robert, just a question for you, just Zach Wilson, what did you like about him in this process? And what makes him the guy for you?
ROBERT SALEH: Joe, just hit it. The things that we value out a quarterback play is, he checks every box. You talk about arm strength and accuracy, check. Ability to work off schedule and make plays, check. Fearless in the pocket, check. His ability to recall, process and make the right decisions to get the ball where it needs to go without turning the ball over. When you look at his freshman year and his last year, I think he had six interceptions out of those two seasons which is remarkable, especially with the touchdown ratio we had. So, he’s a special young man. His mental horsepower, like Joe just mentioned, is through the roof. We’re really excited to have him part of a New York Jets.
Rich Cimini, ESPN: Robert, is your plan to make him your Week One starter?
RS: I love you all man. They weren’t kidding when they said New York media was aggressive. It’s a great question Rich, but I’m excited to get him in the building as soon as possible. Excited for the first meetings and give the kid an opportunity to introduce himself to his teammates and go one step at a time. And you all can ask me that in training camp.
DJ Bien-Aime, New York Daily News: Robert, you said that the West Coast scheme is one of the best schemes. Well, you said, “it’s the best team in the world.” How does Zach Wilson fit into that?
RS: I’m obviously, I’m biased towards the scheme we run. I’ve been blessed to be a part of it for many, many years. So, when you look at Zack, a lot of the principles that he played in college you can see it, they ran a lot of our system. And so, you can see him making all those throws. You can see the deep bench routes to the sideline. You can see the over the middle throws. You can see the boots, the play-action pass game. You can see all of it. And, during his pro day, they ran a lot of the routes that we run. They made all those throws. So, you could see him have success in our system. So, there’s going to be some carry over but at the same time, I just think this system is built for quarterbacks. It is a quarterback-friendly system, it’s designed to help these kids. It’s pitch and catch, max protection, two-man concepts, balls out of their hands, and it’s in and out of their hands as quickly as possible. And, you need to have an accurate quarterback who has a tremendous amount of mental horsepower and he’s got all of it.
Dennis Wazak, Associated Press: So, when did you know that Zach was the guy for you guys? Was it before the pro day? Was it leading into it or did the pro day kind of seal the deal so to speak? When did you know that at number two, you were taking Zach Wilson?
JD: I think the pro day really helps solidify the decision. Just having time to leading up to the pro day, to spend time with him on the zoom call. Obviously, we did a lot of work on him prior to even the season ending, just watching the tape and watching his unbelievable junior year. But I think that ultimately that pro day really, really cemented it.
DJ Bien-Aime, New York Daily News: Joe, is there any possibilities of you trying to trade back into the third round? Or trading back up or trading back down to get some more picks?
JD: Yeah, I think look, we’ve been able to acquire a lot of picks and you saw the flexibility that that gave us tonight and look, we’ll see how tomorrow goes. Obviously, we’re going to have discussions. We’ll see if the phone rings. We’re open to any discussion, as I’ve told you guys in the past. So, we’ll see how it plays out over the next two days.
Connor Hughes, The Athletic: Joe, there’s been a lot of talk about how the pandemic and things like that have made evaluating this year’s class a little bit harder, compared it to next year, where you should have the full season and all that stuff. Did that play a role in your willingness to give up two third round picks to move up? Did that kind of make you more apt to be okay dealing those selections this year?
JD: Yeah, that’s a great question Connor, and I think you’re right. I think there are with so much uncertainty this year, not being able to go in the schools, I think you’re going to see teams really value next year’s picks at an even higher rate than they would in normal drafts. But, I think for us, this really came down to having a player in our top 10 sitting there and us having the ability to have the picks to go get this player. Someone we feel like can help us for a long time here, and we’re always going to try to be strong upfront, both sides of the ball. So, this goes into that.
Rich Cimini, ESPN: Joe, during the run-up to tonight, did any teams call to inquire about obtaining the second pick?
JD: Rich, I’d just say, I’ll tell you it was pretty quiet leading up to our call with Zack.
Brian Costello, New York Post: Zach isn’t the biggest guy and had shoulder surgery already, had some injury issues as a sophomore was durability concern at all during this process?
Well, I think that was one of the final hurdles that we just wanted to make sure we had all the right information on. Dave Zuffelato, Dr. (Ken) Montgomery, they’ve done a great job of acquiring so much information in a difficult year to do it. I mean, we talk about how difficult this year was for scouts, it was also difficult for doctors and trainers to get information, but ultimately we feel really good about where Zach is physically.
Kim Jones, NFL Network: I have two quick ones if I could on Vera-Tucker. Daniel Jeremiah said on NFL Network tonight that he’ll line up at left guard. Whether he knows that or was just guessing or that I’m not sure of, but would there be something about Vera-Tucker that would make him particularly effective lining up next to Mekhi Becton?
JD: Yeah Kim, I’m guessing Daniel probably said that because look, before this year Alijah was a left guard and he was a really good left guard. And, now this year he was a really good left tackle. So obviously, him playing on the left side for the majority of his career, being in that left-handed stance, being comfortable in that left-handed stance. That’s probably why that was said. Now with him being the athlete and the versatility that he has, I’m sure it wouldn’t be a problem for him being in a right-handed stance either, but just excited to get him in here and start competing.
Kim Jones, NFL Network: And about Zach, did he in your zoom processes, did he talk to Mike LaFleur in great detail about the offense?
(follow-up): OK, can you shed light on what you guys gleamed from that.
JD: So obviously, not to get into all the nuts and bolts of our process, but a big part of it was just watching his tape with him and him detailing and outlining all the intricate details of his offense in that specific play. And, Coach LaFleur, Coach (Greg) Knapp, Coach (Rob) Calabrese did a great job running those meetings for every quarterback. But, obviously, Zach really stood out with his recall, his focus, his intensity, his passion, it all stood out.
DJ Bien-Aime, New York Daily News: I have a quick question for Robert. I know that you’re Muslim and Ramadan is going on, how have you been able to balance requirements for Ramadan along with still doing your actual job, which is being head coach of the New York Jets?
RS: Football occupies the mind, so it makes it easy. I know it’s a boring answer, but the day flies pretty quick, especially since we’ve been able to have these zoom meetings with all the men.
Brian Costello, New York Post: Robert, is (Douglas) going to take anyone on defense for you?
RS: That’s the blessing of being the head coach, right? I’m on all three sides. So, all three phases, I’m cheering for all of them. I think Joe has done an unbelievable job in this first round and I can’t wait to see what trick he has up his sleeve next. So, it’s going to be awesome.
Bruce Beck, WNBC: Hey Joe, my overall feeling is, as you go home tonight, do you feel like this ball club is improved in a big way? How do you put it in perspective?
JD: I feel like this ball clubs improved and I feel good about the two people and players that we brought in and the leadership that they’re going to bring. And, just ecstatic really about these two young men.