The New York Jets must consider long-term holes when approaching the draft
The NFL draft is not just about filling holes that currently exist on a team’s roster. It’s also about filling holes that haven’t opened yet.
When planning for the draft, teams must look at the long-term structure of their roster and think about the needs they will have in future years. A position that is considered a present-day strength could end up being a weakness in a year’s time. When that time comes, you want to have young players ready to take over.
With that in mind, here are three long-term holes the New York Jets should keep in mind when approaching the 2022 NFL draft.
Let’s be clear: the linebacker position is certainly a present-day need for the Jets. C.J. Mosley is a solid starter, but his projected running mate, Quincy Williams, is a more ideal fit for a backup role.
However, the long-term need at this position is even greater. While New York can tread water with Mosley and Williams for a year, this position’s outlook beyond the 2022 season is extremely bleak.
After the conclusion of the 2022 season, the Jets can cut Mosley to save $15.5 million in cap space while eating only $3 million in dead money.
It currently seems like a no-brainer for the Jets to make that move. Mosley is a good player, but based on his 2021 output, he is nowhere near impactful enough to justify his massive 2023 cap number of $18.5 million (second-highest among LB behind Darius Leonard). Plus, he’ll be 31 years old at that point.
Barring an incredible 2022 season, Mosley will likely be released after this year.
A contract restructure is also possible, but, again, Mosley will be 31. This is a defense that places a premium on athleticism, coverage skills, and range at the linebacker position. New York will probably favor moving on from a 31-year-old Mosley even if a fair restructure is in play.
In addition, Williams will become a free agent in 2023. He’s probably a player the Jets will want to improve upon anyway unless he has a breakout 2022 season.
So, the Jets will likely enter the 2023 league year with zero starting-caliber linebackers on their roster.
New York drafted two linebackers on the third day of the 2021 NFL draft, Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen. Perhaps one or both of those players emerge in 2022 and prove themselves to be a long-term starting option, but as of right now, neither player has proven anything.
Even if just one of Sherwood and Nasirildeen stakes his claim to a 2023 starting role – which is very optimistic in itself – that still leaves a second starting spot that needs to be filled.
The Jets definitely need to think about adding at least one player to the linebacker room who can emerge into a starting role by the time the 2023 season opener rolls around.
In a perfect world, the Jets will get a healthy Carl Lawson this season and enjoy a season of dominant pass-rushing from the sixth-year man.
But it’s far from a guarantee that Lawson will be the guy that the Jets need him to be. Lawson has missed 30 games in his career, playing more than 12 games in just two of five seasons. Coming off a torn Achilles and having already suffered two ACL tears earlier in his career, it’s fair to wonder whether he will ever reach his peak form again.
In 2023, the Jets can cut Lawson to save $15 million in cap space while eating a dead money charge of just $333K. If Lawson fails to live up to expectations in 2022 or struggles to stay healthy, there is a decent chance he’ll be out the door.
The Jets have another quality edge defender in John Franklin-Myers, who just signed a four-year, $55 million extension during the 2021 season. However, Franklin-Myers has proven to be a more dominant pass rusher on the interior than he is on the edge.
If the Jets are dead-set on building an unstoppable four-man pass-rush, Franklin-Myers is not the type of guy they’ll want as one of their two primary three-down edge defenders. Rather, he’s the perfect guy to have inside. New York’s ideal long-term defensive line probably features Franklin-Myers primarily playing DT on pass downs and occasionally moving to the edge on run downs.
With Lawson not quite a lock to return in 2023 and Franklin-Myers arguably projecting better as an interior defensive lineman, there is a chance that the Jets’ current roster features neither of their two starting edge rushers for the 2023 season opener.
There seems to be a high likelihood that the Jets select an edge rusher with one of their two first-round picks. If they can get that done, it would be the answer they need to solve their short and long-term problems at this position.
Offensive line (particularly OT and C)
New York’s starting offensive line for the 2022 season appears to be set:
- LT: Mekhi Becton/George Fant
- LG: Laken Tomlinson
- C: Connor McGovern
- RG: Alijah Vera-Tucker
- RT: Mekhi Becton/George Fant
Becton is entering a crucial third year where he must prove he can stay healthy and consistently play at a high level. While Becton is under contract through the 2023 season with a team option for 2024, the team could look to replace him in 2023 if he has another injury-plagued season.
Fant is entering a contract year and will become a free agent after the season. He must prove he can maintain the outstanding production he provided in 2021, especially considering that it came against a fairly weak schedule of opposing rushers. If Fant ends up starting at right tackle, he must prove that he can play at a high level on that particular side, as his 2021 breakout occurred on the left side.
McGovern is also entering a contract year.
With holes set to open up at tackle and center once the 2023 offseason rolls around, the Jets should make sure to have replacements ready in case any of those three players do not return.
Using a top-10 pick to solve this problem would probably be a bit too rich. Non-quarterbacks selected that high in the draft should be expected to start right away and immediately stake their claim to a long-term starting role.
With all of their present-day needs, the Jets cannot afford to use a top-10 pick on a year-one backup who is not even guaranteed to be needed beyond the 2022 season. He could become a lost cause if things go well for Becton and Fant.
However, the Jets should certainly start thinking about bolstering their offensive line depth as early as the second round. If they trade down into the mid-to-late first round, they could even consider taking Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum or one of the second-tier tackle prospects.