Douglas snagged the Cincinnati cornerback with the No. 4 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft on Thursday night. It’s a move that makes plenty of football sense, but is not necessarily a no-brainer.
First take: It’s tough to overlook how horrendous the Jets’ secondary was last year. They allowed 259.4 pass yards a game, third-worst in the NFL. Yes, some of that is due to the pass rush. But the loss of Marcus Maye in free agency leaves the Jets lacking playmakers in the back end. Gardner was the second corner taken behind new Houston Texan Derek Stingley Jr. (No. 3 overall). He should elevate the secondary and give the Jets a long-term stalwart on the outside. And that’s something that is extremely needed given the defense’s inefficiencies just a year ago (32nd in both total defense and scoring).
Second guesses: Gardner’s success is always going to be compared to that of any of the pass rushers that were still available (Kayvon Thibodeaux and Jermaine Johnson), so Douglas risks having to answer for this pick down the road if either defensive end becomes a star. But Gardner makes sense from a need standpoint. The Jets do have Carl Lawson returning from injury and extended John Franklin-Myers last year. The pass rush was not as big a priority. There’s also the chance the Jets could address the front seven later in the first round (No. 10 overall) or early in the second (No. 35 and 38).
How does Gardner fit into 2022 plans? He is a Day 1 starter. Gardner will be the top corner across from free agent pickup D.J. Reed. Head coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich will look to Gardner to produce immediately. The Jets believe they will have a chance to contend for the postseason if everything goes right in quarterback Zach Wilson’s second season. That would include Gardner living up to his billing from the start.
Final thoughts: Gardner’s athleticism, speed and length immediately upgrade the Jets’ secondary. Saleh and Ulbrich need to scheme to maximize his talents. Remember, they share a division with the Bills’ Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs and the Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill now, not to mention the Patriots. Also, Gardner’s lock-down tendencies will assist Saleh with the rushing of the quarterback. The Jets did not have that type of player in the backend last year, which caused issues on the pass-rushing front. The expectation is Gardner will limit those problems in 2022 and beyond.