Free agency always throws the NFL draft into flux, and 2020 is no different for the New York Jets. They’ll likely be in a bind come April.
Free agency did not go as the New York Jets hoped. They missed out on Joe Thuney, Jack Conklin, and Graham Glasgow. It forced them to re-sign Alex Lewis and take a huge gamble on George Fant.
The plan at 11 is still obvious. The Jets want to draft an offensive lineman. Even if Fant is set to be entrenched at left tackle, the Jets are desperate for help at right tackle and guard.
The issue is that other teams have been angling to take advantage of the historic offensive line class as well. The New York Giants addressed linebacker in free agency, freeing them up to take a tackle. The Arizona Cardinals traded for DeAndre Hopkins filling their hole at wide receiver. The Browns addressed right tackle but still need a left tackle.
Not to mention, potential moves from the Jaguars, Chargers, or any trade up scenario. It seems incredibly unlikely that any of the top three offensive linemen in the class are on the board at 11.
With Mekhi Becton, Jedrick Wills, and Tristian Wirfs off the board, the Jets are going to have an incredibly difficult task in front of them. Should they overdraft an offensive lineman or bypass the position in round one to fill another need?
Andrew Thomas, LT, Georgia
The most likely selection in a scenario with the top tackles gone is Andrew Thomas. Thomas has the highest floor of any offensive lineman in this class, but his ceiling is also the lowest. He’s likely never going to be anything more than an average to above-average offensive lineman.
That sounds great to the Jets after having an awful offensive line for years. Protecting Sam Darnold is the first priority. Taking Thomas and playing him at right tackle, or even guard, in the early part of his career makes sense. It strengthens the offensive line and gives the Jets a cheap option for years to come.
The issue is that the Jets would be bypassing elite talent to take Thomas. This team has holes all over the roster, they need two outside cornerbacks, two wide receivers, and two edge rushers. Taking a less than inspiring tackle over potentially game-changing talents at those positions would be hard to justify.
That’s the decision that general manager Joe Douglas will likely have to make at the end of April. Build the offensive line with a less than elite talent, or abandon the offensive line in round one and take an elite talent elsewhere.
Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
The 2020 NFL Draft has arguably the greatest crop of receivers scouts have ever seen. The draft is so strong at receiver that it has nearly frozen the free-agent market at the position. Despite that strength, it’s possible that no receivers go in the top 10.
That could be great news for New York. They’ll have their pick of three generational talents at the position. The one that makes the most sense is Henry Ruggs III.
Douglas has talked all offseason about adding explosive weapons to his offense. He has yet to do so in free agency. Even if he manages to bring back Robby Anderson, the Jets will still lack a true No. 1 receiver, Ruggs could fix that.
Ruggs is a bullet on the field. He ran a 4.28 40-yard dash at the Combine with a pulled hamstring. That’s the kind of speed that he brings to the field.
Speed isn’t everything. Tons of fast receivers have failed in the NFL, but Ruggs isn’t like the other speedsters that fans are used too. He brings an elite skill set with him completely separate from his speed.
He’s a strong route runner, though not as strong as his Alabama teammate Jerry Jeudy. He has strong hands, though not as strong as Oklahoma receiver CeeDee Lamb. That gives him a solid base to work with that’s already more than most speedsters possess.
What makes Ruggs special though is his ability to pick up yards after the catch. Most players of Ruggs’ ilk are seen as slot receivers or deep threats, and Ruggs is neither.
He makes his money with the ball in his hands. He has a special ability to break defenses on short passes and screens that few have ever had. Ruggs reminds a lot of scouts of Tyreek Hill, but his skill set is slightly different.
He’s rarely going to beat people over the top. He can do it, but his deep route running is actually one of his worst skills. He better fits the mold of a young Larry Fitzgerald, except with a ton more speed.
Ruggs is a special talent. If the Jets pass on an offensive lineman, it should be to give Darnold as many weapons as possible. Ruggs would give Darnold the most explosive weapon he’s had in his football career.
C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida
If Joe Douglas goes defense in round one, Jets fans may riot. That doesn’t make it any less of a possibility. The Jets are barren at cornerback. The team’s starting corners are set to be Bless Austin and Arthur Maulet in 2020, with little left on the free-agent market to fix the position. That’s simply an unacceptable pair of starting corners in the NFL.
It’s unfortunate that the top corner in the class, Jeff Okudah, won’t be available at 11, but it doesn’t mean the Jets won’t take one. C.J. Henderson is a strong talent in a weak corner class.
He isn’t the elite talent that Ruggs is, but he does have an elite ceiling. He just has a lot more work to get there.
Henderson is the opposite of a Gregg Williams’ corner. He’s a press-man corner who lacks aggression in tackling. Williams loves aggressive zone corners who know how to attack the ball. There’s a disconnect there, but the talent is real.
Henderson has the size, speed, length, and sticky coverage that all teams look for. He has true No. 1 corner tools if he can put it all together.
Henderson can be too aggressive at times in coverage leaving him in trouble. He always wants to make a play on the ball and due to his natural instincts and length, oftentimes he can. Things are going to be more difficult for him at the NFL level. His physical tools aren’t going to bail him out of as many misplays and aggressive decisions as they did in college.
If he can be more disciplined in coverage he has the look of a man corner. Henderson is inconsistent in zone coverage. He tends to play off the receiver in zone in an attempt to bait a throw by the quarterback. When it works, Henderson looks like an elite corner. His hands and ball skills make him a turnover machine.
The issue is that when it doesn’t work things blow up. Henderson’s lack of aggression in tackling paired with late zone coverage makes for an explosively bad combination.
The good news is that if there’s any defensive coordinator in the NFL who can beat those zone skills and aggression into Henderson it’s Gregg Williams. The bad news is that Henderson would likely spend his first year as the Jets No. 1 cornerback learning to play a way he’s never played before.
Henderson could be an elite player, but he’s likely going to be a high-end No. 2/low end No. 1 at the next level.
Given that the Jets need cornerbacks nearly as bad as they need offensive linemen, Henderson’s ceiling could be too much for Joe Douglas to pass on.