The 2021 New York Jets season was the team’s sixth straight without a winning record. Finishing with a 4-13 record in the NFL’s first 18-week regular season, it was clear the Jets lacked the depth and talent to compete. However, what the Jets did identify are the core pieces needed to turn the ship around. With that in mind, it is time to hand out some individual awards to establish who made the biggest impact on the Jets 2021 season.
New York Jets 2021 Season Team Awards
Most Valuable Player: Linebacker C.J. Mosley
Coming into the 2021 season, nobody knew what to expect from C.J. Mosley. A former first-round pick and four-time Pro Bowl linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, Mosley had only played in two games over the first two seasons of his Jets contract. He opted out of the 2020 season, after having dealt with injuries in his first for the Jets in 2019. Thus, leaving the team hoping to even get a full season out of the 29-year-old linebacker.
Luckily, not only was C.J. Mosley on the field for 16 games, but he was the Jets Most Valuable Player in 2021. New York had a horrendous defense this past season, but it could have been significantly worse without the leadership of Mosley on the field. Guided by first-year Head Coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, the young Jets defenders looked to Mosley’s experience. Mosley was the rock of the Jets defense and locker room as a whole in his first full year with the team.
Offensive Player of the Year: Left Tackle George Fant
Like the MVP award, it was hard to determine a player truly worthy of the award. No quarterback or tight end was worth considering. Injuries hurt the case for rookies Michael Carter and Elijah Moore, despite their promising play. Therefore, leading one to the play of George Fant earned the Jets award for Offensive Player of the Year.
Entering the year at right tackle, George Fant quickly pivoted to starting on the blindside once Mekhi Becton went down Week 1. A once considered over-paid free agent signing by General Manager Joe Douglas, Fant went on to prove the naysayers wrong. He started all 15 games he played, only being penalized four times, giving up just 18 pressures in pass protection, and one sack. As one of the most efficient left tackles in pass protection, with numbers that compare to Andrew Whitworth and Tyron Smith, Fant is undoubtedly the Jets Offensive Player of the Year. Had it not been for his play, rookie quarterback Zach Wilson would have been constantly under pressure from the blindside.
Defensive Player of the Year: Linebacker C.J. Mosley
Back to C.J. Mosley quickly, as he is the also the Jets Defensive Player of the Year. In 16 games (all starts), Mosley set career-highs with 168 combined tackles, 103 solo tackles, and 1,096 defensive snaps (99%). Additionally, Mosley added two forced fumbles, two pass deflections, and was the leader of a young defense. While his up-and-down play in coverage hurt the team at times, Mosley ultimately was named a third alternate for the 2022 Pro Bowl. Making him the Jets awards winner for Defensive Player of the Year.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Left Guard Alijah Vera-Tucker
When it came down to Offensive Rookie of the Year, it was an easy choice. Zach Wilson’s disappointing start knocked him off the ballot, making it a race between Michael Carter, Elijah Moore, and Alijah Vera-Tucker. In the end, Vera-Tucker’s durability made this an easy decision.
The 14th overall pick in this year’s draft, Douglas traded up to make sure he didn’t lose out on the USC product. All year long, Vera-Tucker dominated in the run game, with his 72.5 grade finishing 18th among 82 guards in qualified run blockers per Pro Football Focus. While he had his struggles in pass protection at times, he put together numerous stretches where he flashed his All-Pro potential. With a hopefully healthy Becton back healthy next season, the Jets left side of the offensive line has elite upside.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Cornerback Michael Carter II
In the 2021 NFL Draft, the New York Jets spent six-straight picks on defensive players. Two of them became staples in the Jets lineup, being rookie corners Brandin Echols and Michael Carter II. Echols, a sixth-round pick, deserves a nod for his production, having started all 14 games he played in. The Kentucky product recorded two interceptions, nine pass deflections, and 63 tackles. However, Echols was not perfect, as he often found himself in penalty trouble and struggled in run defense.
That is where Michael Carter II comes into play as the Jets awards winner for Defensive Rookie of the Year. A fifth-round pick out of Duke, Carter stood out in training camp in the slot corner role and became a regular in the lineup come season’s end. In 15 games, he made seven starts, lining up all over Ulbrich’s defense. Carter finished his rookie year with 72 combined tackles (four for a loss), five pass deflections, two fumble recoveries, and a big sack on Tom Brady. Chances are, Carter has put himself in a position to remain the primary slot corner in 2022.
Comeback Player of the Year: Right Guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
Not C.J. Mosley again? Yes, Mosley has a strong case for Comeback Player of the Year, but one needs to consider the story and then play of Laurent Duvernay-Tardif in the second half of 2021. The former Kansas City Chief is a medical doctor, who opted out of the 2020 season to join the pandemic front lines, returned to the field this past season. That was until he didn’t see a snap for the Chiefs, leading them to deal Duvernay-Tardif to New York at the trade deadline for tight end Daniel Brown.
Not only did Brown make his way back to the team by the end of the season, but Duvernay-Tardif started seven of the final eight games in 2021. He quickly took the right guard starting job from veteran Greg Van Roten, who had become a liability in the lineup. His biggest impact came as a run blocker, as the Jets ran for over 100 yards in four of his seven starts. To put that into perspective, they only broke the 100-yard mark on the ground twice prior to Duvernay-Tardif becoming a starter. Duvernay-Tardif went from the medical room back to the football field, playing like a starter once again upon entering the lineup. Not only is he the Jets awards winner for Comeback Player of the Year, but has made a strong case to be retained this off-season.
Most Improved Player: Cornerback Bryce Hall
Last but not least, the Most Improved Player award for the 2021 New York Jets goes to second-year cornerback Bryce Hall. A fifth-round pick in 2020, Hall emerged in the second half of his rookie year after nursing a leg injury from late in his final year at Virginia. Once Blessuan Austin was dealt, Hall’s small sample size made him the most experienced at the position, making him their number one cornerback.
This season, Hall didn’t simply play the role of a top cornerback – he was one. Hall started all 17 games, recording career-highs in almost every category. Among cornerbacks, Hall’s 16 pass deflections ranked sixth, as his 79 tackles finished third. Now, Hall is not the shutdown cornerback that can shadow a receiver… yet. The former 158th overall pick is a budding star, who very well may be the Jets 2022 Defensive Player of the Year.
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