Ranking New York Jets’ possible selections at No. 4 from best to worst
In my view, here is a best-to-worst ranking of the realistically possible picks for the Jets if they stay put at No. 4.
1. Michigan EDGE Aidan Hutchinson
It feels extremely unlikely that Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson will reach the fourth pick, so I doubt this possibility comes to fruition.
If Hutchinson does slip, it would be a dream scenario for New York. Hutchinson is the no-brainer No. 1 prospect in this class for Joe Douglas and the Jets. He offers a combination of elite athleticism, dominant production, and fantastic technique that gives him the potential to become a star edge rusher in the NFL. Douglas will also love that Hutchinson was a team captain.
Hutchinson is the favorite to be taken by the Jaguars with the first overall pick, but there is buzz that Jacksonville could go with Georgia edge rusher Travon Walker or an offensive lineman. If Jacksonville passes on Hutchinson, the possibility exists that Hutchinson slips past the Lions and Texans, who could either draft a quarterback or switch places with a quarterback-needy team. It’s a highly unlikely but somewhat possible scenario.
2. Oregon EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux
Kayvon Thibodeaux is a blue-chip talent that can lead the Jets’ 4-3 defensive front for years to come. Barring a slippage from Hutchinson, Thibodeaux should be the easy pick for New York if available.
Thibodeaux has been seen as a possible No. 1 pick in this draft since way back in 2020 after his breakout freshman season. He didn’t do anything over the next two years to pull his stock down from the apex that was established for him at the beginning of his Oregon career.
Now, Thibodeaux is slowly becoming one of those prospects who slips down the board for silly reasons and goes on to prove teams wrong for overthinking him.
3. Cincinnati CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner
While the cornerback position is far from New York’s greatest need, I just don’t think the Jets can afford to pass up on Sauce Gardner here if Hutchinson and Thibodeaux are gone.
The Jets need to get star players wherever they can, because right now, they flat-out don’t have any. If the potential star yielded by this pick is a cornerback – a position where they already have some nice players – so be it. A star is a star, and this team needs to start racking them up regardless of what position they play.
Gardner is as complete of a cornerback prospect as we’ve seen in recent years. With his size, length, athleticism, dominant production, and excellent technique on tape, it’s difficult to envision him failing. If he puts everything together, he can be one of the best cornerbacks in football. I personally have him as my second-best overall prospect of the class behind Hutchinson.
While I slightly prefer Gardner over Thibodeaux as an overall prospect, I think Thibodeaux and Gardner are close enough for me to view Thibodeaux as the better pick for the Jets due to my personal opinion of EDGE being a greater New York need than CB.
However, Gardner is much too far ahead of prospects like Travon Walker and Jermaine Johnson for me to justify passing on him to fill a positional need with a lesser prospect.
4. Georgia EDGE Travon Walker
I would be okay with the Jets taking Travon Walker at No. 4. It’s not a pick that would make Jets fans pop bottles and plan parades, but it’s one that they should feel optimistic about nonetheless.
Trust me, as an analytics guy, I get the concerns with Walker. He is a massive project. After a three-year college career that featured only 9.5 sacks and a pass-rush win rate that was below-average even for a college edge rusher, it’s clear that he has a lot of growing to do before he can reach his ceiling.
But when I flip on the tape and watch Walker play, I can clearly see that he has the potential to be a superstar in the NFL. The athletic gifts that allowed him to set records at the NFL combine are glaringly obvious when you watch him on the field.
Plus, Walker’s floor is higher than given credit for. He already offers positional versatility, strong run defense, and the ability to effectively execute stunts as a pass-rusher. It’s tough to imagine him being any worse than a league-average NFL defensive lineman. I don’t see a Vernon Gholston scenario in which he is a complete bust.
The question is whether Walker can make the necessary improvements to become a star – which is the type of player you hope to get with a top-five pick.
New York is a good fit to help Walker hit that lofty ceiling. Walker’s best abilities would be emphasized in an aggressive 4-3 defensive front where he could pin his ears back and explode off the edge. His production was limited a bit by his hybrid usage in Georgia’s defense.
Additionally, with the opportunity to play alongside excellent pass-rushing technicians like Carl Lawson, John Franklin-Myers, and Quinnen Williams, Walker would be in a good environment to learn how he can improve his repertoire as a rusher.
You have to trust your coaching staff’s development skills to make a pick like this one. Personally, I trust Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich to get the most out of Walker. Saleh and Ulbrich fielded some respectable production out of the Jets’ young defenders in 2021 and both coaches put together impressive developmental track records before coming to New York.
5. Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
I am not a huge proponent of the idea that the Jets should draft a tackle in the top-10 this year (which I will explain below). However, while it’s still not my preferred course of action, I am starting to come around to the point where I can accept and understand the decision if the Jets decide to go that way.
Ikem Ekwonu is a fantastic prospect and a great scheme fit for the Jets. In my opinion, he’s the fourth-best overall prospect in the class after Hutchinson, Gardner, and Thibodeaux. If I love the prospect and think he’s worthy of being taken fourth overall, I cannot be mad if he ends up a Jet with that pick.
The problem is that it would be difficult to project exactly how and when Ekwonu would break his way into the Jets’ starting lineup with Mekhi Becton and George Fant already in place. With a pick as high as No. 4 overall, if I were an NFL team, I would prefer to draft a player that I know can immediately be penciled into a long-term role, which is why I have Walker ranked higher on this list despite seeing Ekwonu as the better prospect.
I know that may sound a tad short-sighted, but it’s not my impatience that gives me pause. I’m more concerned about the scenario where Becton and Fant both work out.
It may be an unlikely scenario, but if Becton and Fant do indeed both have successful 2022 seasons that lock up their 2023 starting roles (let’s say the Jets extend or franchise-tag Fant), then Ekwonu would become a surplus asset. He’d either be a backup or the Jets would have to trade him for a lesser pick than the one they used to select him. Neither is a good use of the fourth overall pick.
Additionally, this would be New York’s third straight year using a top-15 pick on an offensive lineman, which isn’t the best allocation of resources.
The years of first-round neglect will begin to add up in other spots. The Jets have not drafted a defensive player in the first round since Quinnen Williams in 2019 and they have not drafted a defensive player in the second round since Marcus Maye in 2017 – and we saw the effects of that with a league-worst defense in 2021. They’ve got to start investing premium assets into that side of the ball. The O-line already has tons of money and draft capital placed into it. Make it work with what you’ve got.
With all of that being said, we need to be brutally honest; the odds are fairly strong that the Jets will come out of the 2023 season looking to replace either Becton or Fant in the starting lineup. The scenario in which both players pan out is an optimistic outcome with a low chance of occurring. If the Jets plan ahead and grab Ekwonu this year, they can have an in-house solution at the ready when they need a tackle next year.
Selecting a player at this position with the fourth pick is still not my preferred plan. But I can understand the logic behind it. Above all, what matters most is that I see Ekwonu as a good enough prospect to warrant going this route.
Picks I would struggle to justify at No. 4
Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
From my viewpoint, any of the five players above could be argued as a strong pick for the Jets at No. 4. This section will highlight the players who I think would be difficult to justify selecting in that slot.
I cannot get on board for Evan Neal with the fourth overall pick. While Ekwonu is talented enough for me to overlook some of my concerns regarding positional needs and resource allocation, Neal is not at that level in my personal opinion.
Neal is a solid prospect, but it would never even cross my mind to consider taking him over Thibodeaux, Gardner, Walker, or most importantly, Ekwonu. I think the NC State product clearly stands out as the better of the two tackle prospects, boasting much better movement skills and hand placement. Ekwonu is also the better scheme fit for the Jets.
Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
With the 10th pick, sign me up for Kyle Hamilton. But at number four? I can’t take him over any of the top five prospects listed above. Hamilton is certainly a great prospect but I’m not as high on his film as others, and his mediocre performances in speed and agility drills were a cause for concern.
Jermaine Johnson, EDGE, Florida State
Like Hamilton, I can get on board for Jermaine Johnson at No. 10, but I am not taking him over whoever is left of the five prospects listed above.
Johnson is an older prospect at 23 years old and failed to take advantage of that in college as he still had mediocre pass-rushing efficiency at Florida State last year. While I like his run defense and the potential bestowed by his overall athleticism, he does not offer the ceiling of someone like Walker and does not match the proven ability of someone like Thibodeaux, Gardner, or Ekwonu.
If the Jets do not go with an edge rusher at number four, I’d be on board for Johnson at 10. But I don’t see how you can take him over Thibodeaux or Walker if you’re looking for an edge rusher with the fourth pick, and I think it would be a huge reach to pass on Gardner or Ekwonu for Johnson just to get an edge rusher.
Any wide receiver
At the 10th slot, the Jets should get the chance to choose from at least two options out of four wide receivers that I would be on board with at 10: Drake London, Jameson Williams, Garrett Wilson, and Chris Olave.
I think taking a wide receiver with the fourth pick would be a major reach to fill a need. None of those receivers are better overall prospects than the five players I mentioned at the top (in my opinion).
The Jets can hang tight at No. 10 and grab a wide receiver there. They shouldn’t bypass better overall prospects at No. 4 when there is a very high chance they will be able to choose from multiple similarly-graded wide receivers just six slots later.
Of course, all of this is contingent on my personal rankings of these prospects. If the Jets love a wide receiver enough to rank him on their board as a guy worthy of the fourth pick, and they do not want to risk losing him between picks four and ten, then sure, go get him at four.
But based on my evaluation of these players (and I think many people would agree), it would definitely feel like a fairly big reach if Roger Goodell called a wide receiver’s name during his fourth trip to the podium.
Anybody else not mentioned
I don’t see anyone else who could warrant a pick in this slot.
I love me some George Karlaftis and would be happy to see him taken at 10 if the Jets do not get an edge rusher with the fourth pick. I’m not taking him at No. 4, though.
Derek Stingley was a mock-draft favorite for this pick before Sauce Gardner’s rise up the boards. Stingley had a good combine and appears healthy but the injury concerns are too great for me to even remotely consider taking him at No. 4, especially when you consider his production decline over the past two years.
There aren’t any other players that I have seen mentioned as a possible option for this pick, so anybody I have not mentioned yet would certainly be considered a reach by myself and many others.