With the NFL Scouting Combine commencing, let’s take a look at the Jets’ goals for the first three rounds.
It’s that time of year again!
This week, 2022 NFL Draft prospects, NFL coaches, and NFL executives will be in the city of Indianapolis for the league’s scouting combine. This comes after COVID-19 prevented 2021’s event from occurring.
A total of 324 draft prospects earned an invitation to the combine. Players of all sorts of positions, from all sorts of schools, and from all sorts of backgrounds will gather for this prestigious event to impress scouts from all 32 teams…including the New York Jets.
General manager Joe Douglas, head coach Robert Saleh, and co. are in Naptown to gain a notable glimpse at players they may target in April’s draft. Following a four-win season in which the Jets finished in the basement of the AFC East, the organization must make various important decisions in the draft, especially in the earlier rounds.
The Jets own a total of five picks in the first three rounds, including two in the first. Which positions could they address? Which players may they consider?
Positions to target & prospects to consider
Let’s start out by listing the draft picks the Jets own in the first three rounds…
- Round 1, Pick 4
- Round 1, Pick 10 (via Seattle)
- Round 2, Pick 35
- Round 2, Pick 38 (via Carolina)
- Round 3, Pick 69
If the Jets remain at No. 4 overall and don’t execute any sort of trade involving that prestigious draft choice, I could one-billion-percent see them drafting a safety.
Marcus Maye’s future in Florham Park is uncertain. He’s slated to become a free agent and is coming off a franchise-tag season in which he missed 11 games due to injury (he suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in Week 9).
It would be reasonable for Douglas to target a talented safety to replace Maye than to sign Marcus to a likely expensive long-term deal. It’s obvious the Jets need a top-tier defensive back as well, given the fact they allowed 259.4 passing yards per game last year (third-worst in the league).
The only safety I could see going that high is Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton, who definitely figures to be a top-10 pick in this draft. Hamilton was a consensus All-American for the Fighting Irish in 2021 and sports great on-field versatility with physicality and a knack for defending the pass.
If the Jets aren’t drafting a safety at No. 4 overall, expect them to at least target one at No. 10 overall or at No. 35 overall in the second round. Although, if they don’t take Hamilton with the fourth pick and he’s already on another team by the 10th selection, I’m not sure any other safety in this class would be worth that No. 10 pick.
The Jets could also target a cornerback with any one of their first three picks, considering the struggles in and around the defensive backfield that we alluded to earlier.
This is a young cornerback group that needs an improvement in talent, which is an issue the Jets could resolve very early on if they were to take LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. (who also figures to be a top-10 pick). Stingley would be an instant starter while the Jets would have various returners in this position group (such as Bryce Hall, Brandin Echols, Michael Carter II, and Jason Pinnock) to enhance depth.
If the Jets were to bypass taking a cornerback at No. 4, Ahmad Gardner out of Cincinnati could be a legitimate choice at No. 10. The same goes for Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam at No. 35 if New York was to wait until the second round to address this position.
Interior offensive lineman
The Jets seem to have their bookend tackles set for the 2022 season with Mekhi Becton and George Fant on the roster (it’s unknown which side either will perform on). They also employ their hopeful guard of the future in 2021 first-round pick Alijah Vera-Tucker.
But there are still question marks on the interior of the line. Conor McDermott’s contract is expiring, Greg Van Roten could be a cap casualty (it would save the organization $3.5 million), and it’s unclear if the Jets will retain 31-year-old Laurent Duvernay-Tardif for next season.
With that said, the Jets could target an interior lineman at No. 10 overall or wait until the 35th pick to acquire one.
At No. 10, the Jets would potentially be in prime position to draft Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum, who many say is the top true interior offensive lineman of this draft class. There’s also the chance the Jets could use their fourth pick on NC State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu and bump him inside, but I don’t adore that idea because I don’t think using a top-five pick on an eventual interior lineman would be a great big-picture move for the organization. That’s a valuable-as-all-hell pick and should be used on a position of critical need (for the Jets, it would either be a safety or cornerback).
Boston College’s Zion Johnson, who was a first-team All-American and All-ACC selection in 2021, might be a late first-rounder but could slip to No. 35 if the Jets were to get lucky (we’ve seen crazier things occur in this crazy event).
I like the idea of the Jets drafting a tight end.
But I don’t think it should be a point of emphasis with any of the team’s first three picks.
Some may believe the Jets could go after a tight end at No. 35, but I think they should wait until at least their No. 38 overall selection in the second round (I know that’s hardly a difference, but I think it’s important the Jets address superior needs — a safety, cornerback, and/or interior offensive lineman — before focusing on the tight end position). The Jets could also target a tight end at pick No. 69 in the third round or even later.
In fact, they may additionally use a chunk of their available cap space (Spotrac projects them to have $44.7 million in space for 2022) to acquire an established tight end in free agency to assist in the development of Zach Wilson.
But if the second or third round is the spot to address this position, Jalen Wydermyer (Texas A&M), Trey McBride (Colorado State), and Isaiah Likely (Coastal Carolina) will be names to keep an eye on.
Wide receiver is another position I would like the Jets to focus on during free agency — they need an established name like Michael Gallup or Mike Williams to complement Corey Davis and Elijah Moore.
But if they must also build depth in this area during the draft, No. 69 in the third round should be the earliest spot to do it in.
I’m not saying the Jets can’t target a wideout in the middle and later rounds as well, but the No. 69 pick could be a perfect spot to locate another target for Zach Wilson.
A guy that could be available in the third round (after he was a potential top-10 pick in 2021 prior to missing the 2020 season due to a neck and spine injury) is Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross. The Tiger sports tremendous size at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds and could be a reliable option down near the goal line.
Follow Ryan Honey on Twitter: @RyanHoneyESNY