Yes, New York Jets fans: Kayvon Thibodeaux or Aidan Hutchinson could still end up in green
When the New York Jets defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars by a score of 26-21 the day after Christmas, it was a bittersweet moment.
On one hand, a win is a win, and those are especially important for a young, developing quarterback like Zach Wilson.
But on the other hand, New York seemingly kissed goodbye any chances of landing either of the 2022 NFL draft’s two elite EDGE prospects.
Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux and Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson are widely expected to be the first two picks of April’s draft. Both are seen as elite prospects with incredibly high ceilings.
It’s no secret the Jets have been searching for an elite edge defender for quite some time. Landing in a position to claim one of them would have been, simply put, a dream come true for Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh.
The Jets were on track to earn a top-two selection and the chance to select either Thibodeaux or Hutchinson, but the win over Jacksonville sent them tumbling down the draft board. New York’s first-round pick ended up landing in the fourth overall slot – seemingly out of range for the two star prospects.
But fear not, Jets fans: All hope is not yet lost. There is still a long way to go until draft night, and there is certainly more than one scenario that could see Gang Green winding up with either Thibodeaux or Hutchinson when it’s all said and done.
Scenario 1: Trading up
The first and most obvious way that Joe Douglas gets his hands on one of Thibodeaux or Hutchinson is by trading up.
The sample size is no longer small at this point; we can pretty definitively say that Douglas is very good at working out trades.
The obvious example is Douglas receiving two first-round picks, a third-round pick and a starting safety for Jamal Adams back in 2020.
However, Douglas has displayed his trade prowess on more than just one occasion.
Douglas got a third-round pick in exchange for Leonard Williams, who had virtually no production to begin the 2019 season prior to being traded. And let’s not forget how Douglas acquired starting right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif midseason this year – by giving up a backup tight end he ended up re-signing a couple weeks later.
The point is, a certain amount of faith can be afforded Douglas when it comes to making trades. If he can manage to trade up with a team like Jacksonville, who could very well be eyeing a left tackle instead of an edge rusher with their first draft pick anyways, Saleh will almost certainly have his new version of Nick Bosa locked and loaded for 2022.
It’s not clear what it would take to move up, but Douglas has four draft picks in the top 40 at his disposal. Trading up in a year without a stud quarterback prospect would also, in theory, be cheaper than other years.
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Scenario 2: Team trades up for a QB
At the risk of sounding like a broken record to NFL draft readers, this quarterback class is nothing special. There just isn’t any signal-caller who appears to be worthy of a top pick.
But it happens every year: Quarterback-needy teams will wind up really liking a prospect, and if the Jets are lucky, a bidding war will ensue for the three draft picks ahead of them.
For the sake of making an example, let’s say Washington, Pittsburgh and Denver all fall in love with quarterback Kenny Pickett. Maybe Washington, in that case, gets nervous that either Denver will grab him ahead of them, or that Pittsburgh will jump them in the draft order.
That may prompt Washington to trade up to, say, Houston’s pick at third overall, to ensure they get their guy. Pair that with the very real possibility of Jacksonville selecting a left tackle first overall, and one of KT or Hutch would fall to the Jets at four.
Something like this is obviously completely hypothetical, but it’s a much more real possibility than people are giving it credit for thus far. This holds particularly true if Pickett shows out at the Senior Bowl.
Scenario 3: George Karlaftis tests incredibly at the combine
While Thibodeaux and Hutchinson have seemingly locked down the top two edge defender spots, the consensus No. 3 EDGE of this draft class might have something to say about it before April rolls around.
Purdue’s George Karlaftis, who himself would be a fantastic pick at fourth overall for the Jets, is not that far behind the other two when it comes to defending the edge. In fact, if not for the existence of the other two, Karlaftis would likely be in the conversation for the number one overall pick — that’s how special this edge class is. There are even some (Jets X-Factor’s Andrew Golden among them) who see Karlaftis as better than Hutchinson.
It might not seem that likely right now, but if Karlaftis were to turn some heads at the combine, there’s a chance he could vault himself into that top-two conversation, potentially pushing one of the other two down to the Jets.
What’s so exciting about draft season is how much can change over the course of just a few weeks. While the prospect of New York landing Thibodeaux or Hutchinson might seem like a reach now, that viewpoint could easily be different with just a little time.