What if the New York Jets splurged on defensive players in the NFL draft?
In 2020, the Carolina Panthers made history when they used all seven of their NFL draft picks on defensive players, becoming the first team in the common draft era (since 1967) to put together an all-defense draft class.
What if the New York Jets mimicked that strategy in 2022?
The Jets just had arguably their most woeful defensive season ever, allowing a league-high 397.6 yards of offense per game, which is the worst mark in franchise history. They also allowed a league-high 29.6 points per game, which ranks as the third-worst mark in franchise history.
Meanwhile, the New York offense began to show signs of life in the latter portion of the season. Prior to a horrific season finale in Buffalo where they were missing most of their offensive starters, the Jets had ranked 16th in scoring (22.0 points per game) and 15th in total offense (352.1 yards per game) over their previous 10 games.
Let’s say that, prior to this year’s draft, the Jets use free agency and the trade market to solve most or all of the problems they have offensively. They get a legitimate starting tight end. They solidify the offensive line. And they get another big-time weapon for the wide receiver unit.
At that point, would it be completely far-fetched for the Jets to use the draft solely for improving their worst-in-team-history defense?
Okay, yes, it would.
To use all nine picks on defense would certainly be overdoing it. After all, the offense still finished just 28th in scoring (18.2 points per game) despite its second-half efforts. An abundance of help will be needed on both sides of the football once the draft arrives, regardless of what happens over the months leading up to it.
But we’re here to explore the hypothetical, the fantastical.
What if the Jets did copy the Panthers’ strategy and go all-defense in this year’s draft?
Here is my take on an all-defense Jets mock draft.
Disclaimer: I am not suggesting the Jets should actually consider doing this. I don’t think they should do it, and obviously, they won’t. This is a just-for-fun exercise with the main goal of identifying some options for defensive prospects at every one of the Jets’ slots in the draft.
Round 1, Pick 4: George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
The 6-foot-4, 275-pound Karlaftis is a perfect fit to play defensive end in the Jets’ scheme. He has the build and power to set the edge in the run game but also enough explosiveness and skill to win at a high level in the passing game.
Karlaftis had the fifth-best pass-rush win rate among Power-5 edge rushers in 2021, according to Pro Football Focus, generating a mark of 23.6%. For comparison, Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson ranked fourth at 24.8% while Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux ranked sixth at 23.1%.
By drafting Karlaftis, the Jets could move John Franklin-Myers back to the three-technique defensive tackle position, which is where he has been at his best in the NFL.
Round 1, Pick 10: Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
The Jets were neither a zone-heavy team nor a man-heavy team in 2021, so they need corners who can play both man and zone coverage effectively. Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner can do that.
In 2021, Gardner allowed a 16.7 passer rating on throws into his coverage when playing man coverage and a 32.1 passer rating when playing zone coverage. Those marks ranked second and eighth-best, respectively, out of qualified FBS cornerbacks.
Round 2, Pick 35: Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn St.
New York needs everything at the safety position. There isn’t a single facet of the position the Jets cannot improve upon.
That makes Jaquan Brisker – who handled many roles at Penn St. – a great option.
In 2021, Brisker played 58.7% of his snaps in the box, 21.9% as a deep safety, and 19.4% in the slot.
Brisker has some tackling questions to answer after missing 10 tackles in 2021, but his coverage is excellent. He allowed only one touchdown over 970 career coverage snaps with the Nittany Lions while picking off five passes.
Round 2, Pick 41: Jordan Battle, S, Alabama
Care to double-dip, anyone?
The Jets complete their safety duo of the future by adding Alabama’s Jordan Battle.
Battle gives the Jets another versatile safety, although his responsibilities leaned more toward the deeper parts of the field than Brisker, so the two complement each other well.
In 2021, Battle played 42.5% of his snaps as a deep safety, 29.2% of his snaps in the box, and 28.3% of his snaps in the slot.
Battle is an efficient tackler and shined in coverage this past season, allowing only 140 yards on 32 targets (4.4 per target) while collecting three picks and three pass breakups.
Round 3, Pick 69: Damone Clark, LB, LSU
LSU linebacker Damone Clark has the tackling efficiency and coverage skills that the Jets’ linebackers lacked in 2021.
Clark had a missed tackle rate of only 6.1% in 2021, ranking fifth-lowest among Power-5 linebackers. In coverage, Clark allowed 6.2 yards per reception, which ranked fourth-lowest (two spots behind first-round prospect Nakobe Dean of Georgia, who had a mark of 5.8).
Round 4, Pick 108: Terrel Bernard, LB, Baylor
Terrel Bernard of Baylor gives the Jets a linebacker who matches the smaller, quicker build they targeted with their 2021 additions at the position, standing at 6-foot-1 and 222 pounds. Clark has a more traditional linebacker frame at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds.
Bernard needs to get the missed tackles down after whiffing 17 times in 2021, but he never allowed a touchdown pass into his coverage over his entire Baylor career. Benard is also a highly effective blitzer – he tied for third among Power-5 linebackers with 36 pressures.
Round 4, Pick 114: Zachary Carter, DT Florida
Defensive tackle is an underrated position of need for the Jets.
At 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds, Florida’s Zachary Carter is a tweener between DT and EDGE, and he even played both spots regularly in 2021. He had a great year as a pass rusher in his hybrid role, collecting 7.5 sacks and 30 pressures in 2021.
The Jets could either have Carter bulk up and become a plus-athlete penetrator as a defensive tackle or ask him to remain at his current weight so they can utilize his versatility, employing him both inside and outside.
Round 5, Pick 144: Akayleb Evans, CB, Missouri
Akayleb Evans is a tall, lengthy, and physical corner at 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds. He will need time to develop in coverage after allowing five touchdowns on only 47 targets in 2021, but the tools are there, and he also offers great tackling (just 2 missed tackles from 2020-21).
Round 5, Pick 161: Bryan Cook, S, Cincinnati
The Jets grab Gardner’s teammate in the Bearcats secondary, Bryan Cook, to add yet another piece to the safety room.
Primarily playing in the box or in the slot, Cook had an outstanding season in coverage for Cincinnati. He gave up no touchdowns over 452 coverage snaps while collecting two interceptions and nine pass breakups.
The complete New York Jets all-defense mock draft
Here is what our all-defense draft class looks like:
- R1, P4: George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
- R1, P10: Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
- R2, P35: Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn St.
- R2, P38: Jordan Battle, S, Alabama
- R3, P69: Damone Clark, LB, LSU
- R4, P108: Terrel Bernard, LB, Baylor
- R4, P114: Zachary Carter, DT, Florida
- R5, P144: Akayleb Evans, CB, Missouri
- R5, P161: Bryan Cook, S, Cincinnati