Draft prospects for New York Jets fans to keep an eye on
While the NFL season continues to chug along into Week 7, the midway point of the college football season has now come and gone.
Naturally, this means that the top prospects for the 2022 NFL draft are starting to become more and more apparent.
Both the New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks have gone through their struggles thus far. Were the draft to happen tonight, Gang Green would hold two picks in the top ten — sixth overall (their own selection) and 10th overall (via Seattle).
New York is fortunate to already have a promising young franchise passer in Zach Wilson, as 2022’s quarterback class is looking more and more disappointing with each passing week.
The position groups that seem to boast the strongest crops of prospects this year are wide receivers, cornerbacks, and edge rushers.
As the second half of the college football season commences, die-hard Jets fans should be keeping an eye on its landscape, paying particular attention to the prospects who have a real shot at landing in Florham Park.
Some of the elite prospects, like Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux or LSU cornerback Derek Stingley for instance, are already quite well known and have been for some time. The following prospects are slightly lesser-known but still first-round-worthy players the New York Jets likely have their eye on.
Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Perhaps better known by his nickname, “Sauce”, Ahmad Gardner has somewhat quietly been one of the best cornerbacks in college football.
Among corners who have played at least 500 snaps since 2020, Gardner has allowed the fewest yards (268) and fewest first downs (12) while not allowing a single touchdown.
Not only does he have the stats to justify a first-round selection, but he also has the size and measurables to be a shutdown corner at the NFL level. Gardner is 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, excelling in man coverage on either side of the field.
The name “Sauce” Gardner just feels like it was made for the New York market, doesn’t it?
Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
What’s so remarkable about Tyler Linderbaum is his consistent dominance. The undisputed best center in college football finished last season with an elite Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade of 91.5. That fact alone already had him projected to go high in 2022.
This season, however, Linderbaum has actually topped his grade from last season and is currently sporting a 93.1 overall grade through seven weeks.
Very rarely do interior offensive linemen go super early in the NFL draft, but Linderbaum looks to be in that exclusive class of players who are legitimately worth a top ten selection. For reference, the last time this happened was Quenton Nelson in 2018 (sixth overall).
Though he has steadily improved as the season goes on, Jets center Connor McGovern just doesn’t seem like a long-term building block at center. Linderbaum could be that “next Nick Mangold” the team has been looking for since, well… Nick Mangold.
Imagine a Jets offensive line featuring a young trio of Mekhi Becton, Alijah Vera-Tucker and Tyler Linderbaum. That’s something this fanbase could get behind.
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Christian Harris, LB, Alabama
The Jets already have one Alabama linebacker in C.J. Mosley, so perhaps they opt to pair him with another in Christian Harris.
When playing downhill, Harris is terrifying. He hits like a truck and rarely misses a tackle. In the run game, he’ll be an asset very early on for whichever team drafts him. In fact, in his first three games for ‘Bama this season, Harris recorded 12 stops — that’s not easy.
The real concerns emerge when looking at Harris’s coverage ability. He’s by no means bad at it, but in order to be in consideration for an early pick, he has to show more in that area.
One of the best parts about having Robert Saleh as head coach of the Jets is that the team can, to some extent, expect young players to play beyond their expected potential. Just look at Bryce Hall, Michael Carter II and Quincy Williams this season.
It’s because of the Jets’ ability to develop defensive talent under Saleh that Harris should be seen as a great target for New York in the middle-to-late first round, should they be selecting there. It would be exciting to see the juggernaut Saleh could turn Harris into.
Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
You simply will not find a single player in all of college football who has earned himself more money than Aidan Hutchinson has this season.
Seen as more of a second-rounder in last year’s draft, Hutchinson opted to return to Michigan. That’s looking like a real good choice.
No edge defender in the country has a higher PFF grade than Hutchinson’s 92.6 — not even the generational Thibodeaux. He’s got 24 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks in only six games.
The Michigan product stands at 6-foot-5 and weighs around 270 pounds. Pair that with his relentless, ever-churning motor and incredibly strong use of hands and you’ve got a top ten talent.
If the Jets miss out on Thibodeaux at the top of the draft, Hutchinson would be much better than the average consolation prize.
Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
Though he’s played primarily right tackle for Texas A&M this season, Kenyon Green’s most appealing trait is his versatility. Similar to Vera-Tucker in the 2021 draft, Green is a prospect who projects to the NFL at guard, but who also has the versatility to play tackle, or even center if need be.
Green is viewed as a very safe prospect who will almost certainly play a prominent role on whatever offensive line he is drafted to. Having both Vera-Tucker and Green would be invaluable for the Jets, who would each offer an incredible amount of versatility on their line.
Greg Van Roten has been easily the worst offensive lineman on the Jets this season, so replacing him with a player like Green would, in theory, do wonders for the rest of the offense as a whole.
There are so many different directions Joe Douglas and the Jets could go in the 2022 draft. Obviously, there are still months to go until the Jets are actually on the clock, but with the college football season already halfway done, it’s smart to at least start looking ahead.