ESNY convenes for a New York Jets draft roundtable. Building around quarterback Sam Darnold is the top priority.
The New York Jets have plenty of holes to fill on the roster. General manager Joe Douglas began his roster rebuild during free agency, focusing most of his efforts on the offensive line. The Jets inked George Fant, Connor McGovern, and Greg Van Roten to deals, helping to solidify the line.
But the work in the trenches might not be over. The 2020 draft class is strong at offensive tackle and there are four guys who could go within the top 12 picks—Tristan Wirfs, Jedrick Wills Jr., Mekhi Becton, and Andrew Thomas.
However, despite the talent at tackle, the Jets are in desperate need of an upgrade at wide receiver. It just so happens that there are three dynamite receivers potentially for New York at pick No. 11. Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, and CeeDee Lamb or potentially elite receivers who are coming into the NFL with sky-high expectations.
In fact, the strength of the 2020 receiving class crippled the market for free agent wideouts like Robby Anderson.
The Jets also need an outside cornerback and if it’s a day that ends in “y,” Gang Green needs an edge rusher. But It’s hard to see Douglas going defense with this pick. Darnold is the franchise quarterback and the front office is going to act accordingly. Expect the Jets go with an offensive lineman or receiver in the first round.
Here are the ESNY staff predictions for what the Jets will do with pick No. 11.
Henry Ruggs III — WR — Alabama
With the top three offensive linemen in this class expected to be off the board, look for the Jets to go wide receiver at 11.
Gase has been demanding added speed for his offense since Mike Maccagnan was general manager. It’s why the Jets attempted to trade up for Mecole Hardman in 2019. Since Douglas has taken the job he has echoed Gase preaching adding explosive weapons to the offense.
There is no more explosive weapon than Henry Ruggs III. The former Alabama receiver ran a 4.28 40-yard dash with a pulled hamstring at the combine. He’s got electric speed that nobody else in this class can match. He’s also a strong route runner excelling in short and medium routes breaking into the open field. Add in elite hands, Ruggs only has two drops in his college football career, and you have an elite prospect.
Ruggs is just one of many elite wide receiver prospects in this stacked 2020 NFL Draft. What helps him stand out is his ability with the ball in his hands. Ruggs has special yards after the catch skills, he earned more than half of his yards in 2019 after the catch. If he gets just a little bit of wiggle room, he has the special speed and open-field vision to take the ball to the house on any given play.
That fits perfectly into Adam Gase’s offense. Gase loves short throws and yards after the catch. It’s why Jamison Crowder and Jarvis Landry excelled in his offense. Ruggs would take that to the next level.
The Jets are looking for an explosive weapon for Darnold and nobody fills that role better than Ruggs could.
Andrew Thomas — OT — University of Georgia
Jets fans are constantly going back and forth on whether the team should draft a receiver or offensive tackle. The overall argument shifted towards the former when news broke of Robby Anderson’s decision to head to Carolina. But after the acquisition of Breshad Perriman, it’s clear drafting an offensive lineman is still a legitimate option.
The top four prospects at the tackle position are currently Jedrick Wills, Andrew Thomas, Tristan Wirfs, and Mekhi Becton. Wills, Wirfs, and Becton may be gone by the time Gang Green’s No. 11 overall pick arrives. Thus, enter Thomas from the University of Georgia.
He’s likely not as dominant as the other three. Nonetheless, he’d still be a beneficial pick for New York. He could be thrown into a starting role at the right tackle position right away and learn from more experienced guys like Chuma Edoga and George Fant, the latter of whom the Jets just acquired.
As time progresses, New York could transition Thomas from the right side to Sam Darnold’s blindside. It’s important the Jets stay patient with him, so they shouldn’t put him at left tackle right away.
And even though the Jets have made numerous moves to the offensive line in free agency, the position group is still a work-in-progress in the eyes of Joe Douglas. The Jets allowed 52 sacks (29th in the league) and 106 quarterback hits (tied for 27th) just last year, so it has to be.
In regards to the wide receiver issue, the Jets could easily take someone in the second or third round who would greatly succeed with Darnold. Take a look at their crosstown rivals for example. The Giants’ top two receivers — Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton — are second and fifth-rounders, respectively. But reserve wideout Corey Coleman, who’s a former first-rounder, has caught just 61 balls since the Browns drafted him in 2016.
A receiver chosen after the first round succeeding in this league isn’t an unheard-of scenario whatsoever.
CeeDee Lamb — WR — University of Oklahoma
It may not be the result they wanted, but the Robby Anderson situation is finally resolved. With the offensive line situation relatively stabilized, the Jets need to restock on weapons for Darnold now that he’s going to have some time to throw the ball. Plenty of the line options could be gone by the time the Jets’ turn rolls around, as will Alabama stud Jerry Jeudy. Lamb has the speed and explosiveness ready to work in a Darnold-led offense, and he may be the best route-runner in the draft.
The Jets’ work on the offensive line isn’t over yet, but there’s plenty of time and resources to keep building. With their top receiver from the past four seasons gone (Anderson had 20 touchdowns since 2016, while no other Jet had more than six), receiver shoots up to the top of their offseason checklist.
Jets — OT Andrew Thomas — Georgia
Joe Douglas sits in a strange spot with the 11th pick in the draft. Despite his free agency moves, he no doubt wants to add an offensive tackle with his pick. Entering the season with George Fant and Chuma Edoga as the two starting tackles being tasked with protecting Sam Darnold is less than ideal, to say the least. The ideal situation for the team would be landing an offensive tackle to start on the left side, with Fant and Edoga competing for the string job on the right side.
However, the issue for the Jets is that anywhere from two to four offensive tackles could be drafted ahead of them. With the Carolina Panthers landing Teddy Bridgewater, the likelihood of four quarterbacks going in the top 10 has decreased. However, it’s still not difficult to envision that one of the top four offensive linemen available will still be there at 11, in which case Douglas will run his draft card up to the lectern (or not if the draft his held remotely).
Thomas is ready to step in and start right away for an NFL team, and although his ceiling is limited due to his lack of prototypical size, he can step right in and start at either tackle side for the Jets in year one. Although he’s not likely to ever be a superstar, he should be an effective starter for years to come for the team. His ability to move to right tackle should also be attractive to the team, as it wouldn’t stop the team from adding an elite left tackle down the road and sliding Thomas over to the right should the opportunity arise.
Douglas would gladly snap up whichever of Wirfs, Wills Jr., Becton, or Thomas are still available at 11. It’s my belief that Thomas will be the last of those four to be available, and he happens to be an ideal fit for the Jets.
CeeDee Lamb — WR — University of Oklahoma
With the departure of Robby Anderson and lack of other options available in free agency, Joe Douglas will finally provide Sam Darnold with his No. 1 wide receiver of the future. The Jets will continue to address their offensive line in free agency and look to add depth in the later rounds of the draft, but in the first round, they will be forced to add to their weak receiving corps by taking either Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, or CeeDee Lamb. With Georgia’s Andrew Thomas as the top offensive lineman on the board, I think Lamb is the pick. Sam Darnold gets the weapon he desperately needs.
Jets — OT Andrew Thomas — Georgia
In the immediate wake of losing Robby Anderson, it’s easy to feel panicked about the wide receiver situation. Jamison Crowder is a legitimate slot guy, but there is no true No. 1 receiver. Just a bunch of question marks. No dominant receiver for Sam Darnold to establish a connection with.
But Anderson’s departure shouldn’t distract from the top priority: rebuilding the offensive line. If one of the top four offensive tackles are on the board, Douglas has no choice but to take him. Through two seasons, we’ve seen that Darnold is exceptional when he has time and space, but he struggles when there’s pressure. Continue building the line and invest in skill positions later.
After all, the Jets might be weak at wide receiver, but Le’Veon Bell is as dynamic as any offensive player in the league and the tight end combination of Chris Herndon and Ryan Griffin should give Darnold some targets.
Douglas is an offensive lineman and he knows it starts and ends in the trenches. Thomas is the pick.