What does the New York Jets’ NFL draft needs list look like after free agency?
Look, I get it. When your favorite NFL team’s season concludes, it’s human nature to go straight into mock draft mode, concocting a flawless plan that guarantees your team will reach the mountaintop in the near future.
But every year, it’s the same story: doing mock drafts prior to free agency is essentially pointless. Each team’s list of needs will change drastically between the day their season ends and the day Roger Goodell steps up to the podium amidst a sea of boos.
The New York Jets just wrapped up an active first week of free agency in which they checked off quite a few boxes on their offseason wishlist. Their draft priorities are certainly looking much different today than they did a week ago.
Let’s analyze how the Jets’ NFL draft plans at each position have been affected by the events of the past week.
Positions whose neediness has significantly decreased
Without a doubt, the tight end position is the one that took the biggest slide down the Jets’ draft wishlist.
New York handed out starter money to not one but two tight ends: C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin. The “Uzonklin” duo was handed a combined $15 million per year, with Uzomah fetching a three-year, $24 million deal and Conklin signing a three-year, $21 million deal.
Tight end was a major need for the Jets going into the offseason. Two new tight ends were needed to give offensive Mike LaFleur the ingredients he needed to get cooking with his 12 personnel-heavy offense.
Many figured the Jets would add one tight end in free agency and then another in the draft, specifically with a second or third-round pick. Instead, the Jets have already found their two long-term starters.
New York could still draft a tight end on Day 3 of the draft to build a developmental pipeline, but it’s much more difficult to picture them using a Day 2 selection on a tight end than it was before free agency. That’s a bit early to draft someone who would be stuck behind two expensive players for at least two years.
Offensive line was a popular position for the Jets’ fourth overall pick in mock drafts. Alabama’s Evan Neal and North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu were common picks.
However, with the signing of guard Laken Tomlinson to a three-year, $41.2 million deal, the Jets already have all five projected starters in place: Tomlinson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Mekhi Becton, George Fant, and Connor McGovern. There are no gaping vacancies on their starting-five.
Where would a rookie lineman slide in? Every spot is taken. Any offensive lineman the Jets select in the draft would most likely be a year-one backup who is groomed to potentially take over a spot in the future.
New York absolutely needs more depth and security on its offensive line unit. It remains possible that the Jets could consider strengthening their long-term pipeline by selecting a developmental offensive lineman as early as the second round.
With that being said, the odds of New York selecting an offensive lineman in the first round have decreased. Now that the Jets have a starting-five locked up, it seems like selecting an offensive lineman in the first round would be too much of a luxury pick for a team that has starting spots to fill at other positions.
Positions whose neediness has slightly decreased
The Jets added a new starting outside cornerback in D.J. Reed, who signed a three-year, $33 million contract with New York.
Reed’s entrance leaves Bryce Hall and Brandin Echols in a presumed competition for the other starting spot on the outside.
While the Jets’ need for a cornerback has certainly decreased with Reed aboard, they would still be warranted to jump on a cornerback prospect early in the draft if they love him.
Hall and Echols are intriguing young players, but if the Jets come on the clock at No. 4 or No. 10 in the first round and their favorite available prospect is a cornerback like Cincinnati’s Sauce Gardner, they cannot let Hall or Echols preclude them from drafting a potential star-caliber cornerback.
The Jets certainly aren’t as desperate to draft a cornerback as they were one week ago. With that being said, the cornerback talent on the roster is not proven enough to completely remove the position from New York’s list of possibilities in the first round.
Darrelle Revis’ younger cousin Jordan Whitehead inked a two-year, $14.5 million deal to take over the Jets’ starting strong safety position. New York also re-signed longtime veteran Lamarcus Joyner to provide insurance at the free safety position.
The Jets aren’t as sore for help at this position as they were when Ashtyn Davis was their only viable safety on the roster. With that being said, they still need plenty of help.
Joyner is a decent fort-holder at free safety but the Jets remain on the prowl for a long-term answer there. They can certainly take a free safety as early as they like – although looking at the talent in the safety class, that probably wouldn’t be a consideration until the early second round.
Whitehead decreases the Jets’ immediate need for a safety who can play near the line of scrimmage. His presence potentially takes Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton – a burly 6-foot-4, 220-pound safety prospect projected to go top-10 – out of consideration for New York with the fourth overall pick, although Hamilton is considered talented enough to possibly play any defensive role.
But with Whitehead on a mere two-year deal, the Jets could snag a box safety and add him into the mix as a developmental prospect who can take over down the line, in the meantime contributing in a sub-package role or taking his shot at free safety.
Expect New York to continue eyeing the safety position, although they will not be as pressured to force a pick at the position as it seemed they would be prior to free agency.
Positions whose neediness has remained the same
New York re-signed Joe Flacco and gave Mike White the original-round restricted free agent tender. White has yet to sign the one-year tender, so he can still negotiate with other teams, although his return is very likely. A new team would have to give up a fifth-round pick for White and the Jets have the right to match any deal he signs.
Let’s be blunt: the Jets aren’t drafting a quarterback.
I guess it could be on the table if Mike White somehow doesn’t return, but as long as White is back, the Jets have no incentive to select a quarterback at any point of the draft. They have a franchise quarterback, a veteran backup, and a relatively young backup. That’s all you can ask for. Using a draft pick on a fourth quarterback would be a waste.
Running back has always been at the bottom of the Jets’ needs list and remains there. Michael Carter is in place as the Jets’ future RB1 and the team has too many bigger fish to fry for backup running backs to be a priority.
New York can still work on its depth, though, and has already started to do so. Tevin Coleman was re-signed, joining Carter and Ty Johnson on the roster.
The Jets shouldn’t stop there. They should try to look for an improvement over Johnson, who had enormous problems with drops and pass-blocking last season.
It would be reasonable for the Jets to start thinking about drafting a running back once the third day of the draft rolls around.
Positions whose neediness has increased
With the positions that have been addressed sliding down the needs ranking, the positions that haven’t been addressed are climbing up. Each of the remaining four positions has not seen a new starter added in free agency.
New York is yet to add a new off-ball linebacker. The only move made at the position was the trade of Blake Cashman to the Houston Texans for a 2023 sixth-round pick (a fleece by Joe Douglas).
C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams remain the Jets’ projected starters here. Second-year players Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen are the lead backups.
The Jets need a lot of help at this position.
Mosley is a solid starter but is not playing up to his contract ($17.5 million cap hit in 2022, $18.5 million in 2023 and 2024). Barring a contract restructure, there is a high chance the Jets will cut him after the 2022 season to save $15.5 million in cap space while eating $3 million in dead money. So, a future replacement is needed.
Williams was a great pickup off waivers during the 2021 season and provided some splashy moments but is too inconsistent to be considered a shoo-in starter. He’s best suited in a sub-package role for now. Penciling him in as a starter without looking for an upgrade seems overly complacent. New York can certainly do better.
Few were talking about the Jets using one of their first-round picks on a top linebacker prospect like Georgia’s Nakobe Dean or Utah’s Devin Lloyd. It now looks like a more realistic possibility with other needs addressed and the linebacker hole still sticking out like a sore thumb.
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New York added former Houston Texans edge rusher Jacob Martin to play a situational pass-rushing role in their defensive line rotation, signing Martin to a three-year, $13.5 million contract.
As evidenced by his contract, Martin does not fill the Jets’ need for a starting edge rusher. To execute their dream vision of a dominant four-man rush in their attacking 4-3 scheme, they still need another dynamic pass-rusher to place on the left edge opposite right-side defensive end Carl Lawson.
John Franklin-Myers is the Jets’ current left-side defensive end. While Franklin-Myers had a very solid season in the role last year, the 6-foot-4, 288-pounder is at his absolute best as a pass-rusher when playing defensive tackle, where his athleticism is a plus against slower guards. He’s a better athlete and pass-rusher relative to his position when playing inside versus on the outside.
Moving Franklin-Myers inside is the ideal path for New York to accomplish its vision of a defensive line filled with explosive athletes who can win one-on-one as pass-rushers. The Jets can find someone on the edge who is speedier and bendier than Franklin-Myers, and they won’t find many players at the defensive tackle position who can rush the passer better than Franklin-Myers.
The best way to utilize Franklin-Myers would be to employ him in a hybrid role similar to the one that the San Francisco 49ers use for star defensive lineman Arik Armstead. Franklin-Myers should primarily line up inside while occasionally kicking to the edge in rushing situations, where his size makes him a stronger run defender than he is on the inside.
If you want specific data that supports the aforementioned conclusions on Franklin-Myers and showcases how he performs in different roles, this breakdown lays it all out.
Ultimately, the Jets’ dream four-man rush in 2022 likely looks like this: Lawson, Franklin-Myers, Quinnen Williams, and a rookie on the opposite edge.
Lineup gymnastics aside, another part of the reason the Jets need an edge rusher is the sobering fact that they might be replacing Lawson after this year.
The Jets can cut Lawson after this season to clear $15 million in cap space with almost no dead money ($0.3 million). If he struggles to stay healthy or does not come back strong from his Achilles injury, they’ll be back on the market for a star pass-rusher next offseason. They could get ahead of the curve by drafting Lawson’s heir one year in advance.
Many consider the EDGE class to be the most talented group in this year’s draft. New York will have great options available to them at both the No. 4 and No. 10 slots in the first round.
If the Jets picking an edge rusher seemed likely before, it’s even more likely now that other needs have been checked off and this one remains unaccounted for.
New York allowed free-agent defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi to walk. Fatukasi joined the Jaguars on a three-year, $30 million deal.
The Jets have yet to do anything to replace Fatukasi. They re-signed Nathan Shepherd but the defensive tackle depth chart still looks the same as it did last year, just without Fatukasi.
As we discussed above, the Jets could add Franklin-Myers to the defensive tackle unit if they slide him inside after picking up a new edge rusher. However, as a defensive tackle, Franklin-Myers’ specialty is pass-rushing. He’s a strong run defender on the edge but not inside. New York needs to replace the interior run-stuffing ability that Fatukasi brought.
Quinnen Williams is the only defensive tackle on the roster who could be considered a good run defender. The Jets’ need for a run-stuffing defensive tackle is quietly dire.
Williams and Franklin-Myers would be the Jets’ primary defensive tackles in the event that a new edge rusher is added. They need someone to take Fatukasi’s shoes as the third wheel who plays about half of the snaps and specializes as a run defender.
Prior to free agency, people recognized that the defensive tackle position was a potential need for the Jets, but it was not considered a prime need due to the presence of so many other issues. Now that some of those holes have been plugged, DT stands as one of the Jets’ biggest needs.
Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis is coming off one of the greatest Combine performances of all time and could be in play with New York’s 10th overall pick. There are also a bunch of defensive tackles who are projected to be taken early in the second round. Perhaps that is where the Jets will strike.
Jets fans are still suffering from defensive tackle fatigue after watching their team select four of them in the first round from 2011-19. A defensive tackle selection will probably not be popular, but it’s a more important need than many are realizing.
The Jets’ only move at wide receiver has been re-signing Braxton Berrios.
With Keelan Cole and Jamison Crowder on the free-agent market, New York’s wide receiver position is shallow right now. Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, Braxton Berrios, Denzel Mims, and Jeff Smith would probably be the five wideouts to suit up for the Jets if they played a game today.
Wide receiver has been considered one of the Jets’ top needs since the beginning of the offseason. Its neediness has certainly increased with the position remaining fairly unaddressed at the moment.
There is a decent chance that the Jets will have their choice of any wide receiver prospect when they come on the clock at No. 10, although with this year’s wide receiver class lacking star power at the top, a wide receiver may not be the best player available in that slot.
However, with the Jets’ increased desperation for top-end talent at wideout, there is a greater chance that the Jets decide to pass on a more highly-regarded defensive prospect at No. 10 in favor of a wide receiver. USC’s Drake London and Ohio State’ Garrett Wilson are the two most commonly-mentioned candidates for the Jets’ 10th overall pick.
If the Jets do not select a wide receiver with one of their first two picks, there is a great chance that they select one with either of their high second-round picks. This year’s wide receiver class is better known for its depth than its headliners, and there will be plenty of excellent values available at the start of the second round.
New York could even trade into the low-first round if they love a wide receiver enough.
Wherever the selection comes, it seems very likely that the Jets will draft at a wide receiver in one of the first two rounds of this year’s draft. There was a solid chance of this occurring before, but that chance has increased significantly now that the Jets have passed on the majority of the starting-quality veteran receivers available through free agency or trade.