Around the middle of the month, I admitted to Play Like a Jet readers my thoughts on the Jets’ second first-round pick exhibited a certain… circular logic.
But as the draft approaches this week – finally wrapping up what feels like one of the longest waits for Draft Day in recent memory – it’s time to halt the circle and draw some conclusions.
The first conclusion: If somebody terrific at a non-priority position unexpectedly is available when the Jets pick at number 23, it’s okay to pick that guy. The Jets really need a talent infusion at just about every position except defensive tackle, left tackle… probably safety… and after drafting Wilson, they won’t need another quarterback. Any other first round pick can probably step in and start and be an upgrade, or at minimum, become an eventual upgrade. The Jets seem happy with Connor McGovern at center, so a first-round pick on a center seems .
The Jets really need a ready-to-start-on-day-one cornerback – preferably two – and a ready-to-start-on-day-one guard, preferably two. And then there’s a bunch of positions where the Jets could use an upgrade: wide receiver, linebacker, an edge rusher to put opposite Carl Lawson. They don’t need a running back, but it would be nice to add a potential impact player in the mix, and it’s a similar story at tight end.
If Tevin Jenkins is there at 23, terrific. Pick him, plug him in at guard for a year, and groom him to eventually replace George Fant at right tackle.
·If Alijah Vera-Tucker is there, plug him in at guard for the next decade or so.
I was hoping the Jets could get guard Alex Leatherwood with their second-round pick, but a lot of mock drafts have him going late in the first round.
·I’d like to see the Jets get center Creed Humphrey, but that seems hard to envision if they really are pleased with Connor McGovern.
If Greg Newsome is there, terrific. Pick him, plug him in at cornerback, and imagine this new ferocious defensive line getting some coverage sacks.
Patrick Surtain or Jaycee Horn? It’s almost impossible to imagine they last until 23, but if either one is, run, don’t walk, to the podium with the pick. (Okay, I guess they do this all electronically now, so just hit “SEND” quickly and emphatically.)
Cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu is probably going to be a fine player, but at least based upon a lot of mocks, there’s a good chance he would last until the 34th pick. At least one has him going relatively late in the third round.
Cornerback Caleb Farley? Man, that back makes me nervous. Sorry, I’m just having traumatic flashbacks to Dee Milliner.
A wide receiver like Rashod Bateman? He’d be a fine pick. I do wonder how many targets he would get as a rookie in a lineup with Corey Davis, Denzel Mims, and Jameson Crowder – not to mention Keelan Cole. A good-but-not-superstar wide receiver feels like a bit of a luxury pick. But who knows, maybe something crazy unless happens and one out of Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, or Ja’Marr Chase slides all the way to 23, or close enough to justify a trade-up.
Would l like having Najee Harris or Travis Etienne on my team? Sure. But spending a first-round pick on a running back feels like a poor allocation of resources. Fix the offensive line first, then find somebody to run through the holes.
It feels like edge rusher Azeez Ojulari is slipping down the board, with some mock drafts having him slipping out of the first round. I like him with the 23rd overall pick, but I love the idea of getting him with the 34th overall pick.
Trade up? Sure, if Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh are convinced that the guy they’re trading up to get is an impact player and durable and worth the price. Considering the variety of quality players available at 23, it probably doesn’t make much sense to trade down any lower than… 16 or 17 or so? The Dolphins, sitting at 18, are probably not going to do the Jets any favors by trading with them, and maybe there’s a player worth grabbing so he doesn’t end up in the teal-and-orange of a Miami uniform.
Out of all of the positional needs, it feels like that interior offensive line is the spot that could be most pivotal for the Jets in the years to come. The offensive line needs to either run block or pass protect on every single down. If you have a top-tier offensive line, all kinds of good things result from that – a more effective running game, more time for your quarterback to make reads, more time for your receivers to get open, the consistent ability to get that one or two yards you need on third and short. And if you’re going to have a young quarterback, you have to protect your investment.
If the Jets see one of these guys – Jenkins? Vera-Tucker? Leatherwood? – as a genuine difference-maker in protecting Wilson for years to come, then they ought to take what’s needed out of that giant pile of 2022 picks (two first-rounders, two second-rounders, a third-rounder, two fourth-rounders, two fifth-rounders, three sixth-rounders) and move up and get your guy.
Trade back? Douglas did this several times last draft, and I’m not sure I feel like it’s warranted in this situation. High draft picks are rare opportunities to get impact players. With the 23rd pick, the Jets should be getting something close to the 23rd-best player available in this year’s class – and they are a team that need impact players all over the roster.
At least, I don’t like trading back with the 23rd overall pick. The 34th overall pick is a different story. When the last pick is announced Thursday night, football fans will probably be gasping, “wow, I can’t believe that guy didn’t get picked in the first round!” There’s always at least one, and usually at least two or three highly rated, highly hyped players who slide out of the first round. (Plus, you never know when there will be some sort of Laramy Tunsil gas mask-style late rumor that alters teams’ evaluations and calculations.)
That second pick in the second round is a valuable bargaining chip; you never know when some team will fall in love with one of those players who just missed being selected in the first round overnight, and start the next day determined to trade up and get him. And that’s where teams might be willing to overpay.
This is one of the weirdest, and most intensely analyzed Jets drafts ever. It’s easy to say this every year, but this really does feel like a pivotal moment for the franchise. Barring some huge surprise, Zach Wilson will be the starting quarterback for the New York Jets when this season begins. His short-term and long-term ability to surpass the legacies of Sam Darnold, Geno Smith, and Mark Sanchez will be highly dependent upon who’s playing around him.