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The 2022 NFL draft is Joe Douglas’ ultimate NY Jets-navigation test

Joe Douglas, New York Jets, 2022 NFL draft, Aidan Hutchinson, Ikem Ekwonu, Jermaine Johnson, Jordan Davis
Joe Douglas, New York Jets, 2022 NFL draft, Aidan Hutchinson, Ikem Ekwonu, Jermaine Johnson, Jordan Davis, Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

The 2022 NFL draft brings an uncertainty of options for Joe Douglas and the New York Jets

No, it’s never actually easy—that much is certain.

Whenever a big-boy general manager heading an NFL front office is thrown into the rigors of the NFL draft, nothing could precisely be defined as “easy.”

Joe Douglas‘s decision to select Mekhi Becton 11th overall two years ago must be defined as a difficult one. Arriving at the conclusion that former No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold was not the man to take the New York Jets back to the playoffs had to similarly cause some sleepless nights. Ultimately deciding to go all-in on baby-faced Zach Wilson was anything but a walk in the park.

Yet, interestingly and excitingly—for those who bleed what was once known as Gang Green (now featured in a shade called Gotham)—the 2022 NFL draft comes in the form of a much different animal.

Unlike Becton, when Douglas said, “Enough of this nonsense” (that saw the organization not select a first-round offensive lineman since 2006), and dissimilar to Wilson, when the franchise needed a fresh face at quarterback, the 2022 iteration offers the uncertainty of options.

Which route this Joe Douglas-led front office ultimately takes on the night of Thursday, April 28, 2022, will reverberate in Florham Park, NJ for years to come.

Remember who Joe Douglas is

The most critical thing to keep in mind—when prognosticating about the Jets’ future—is to always remember who Joe Douglas is as a football team-builder.

On day No. 1 of his reign, Douglas did something the previous front office boss failed to do over the course of five NFL drafts. He declared a tried, tested and true fundamental football philosophy as his regime’s backbone …

“It starts with the quarterback and both lines,” the then-newly-minted Jets general manager said in his introductory presser.

Not only did Douglas make that proclamation on day No. 1, but he also backed it up. Becton represents his first-ever big-boy NFL draft pick (No. 11 in 2020), while Alijah Vera-Tucker arrived a year later (No. 14 in 2021), making it two first-round offensive linemen is as many drafts.

Despite Douglas’s former stature as an offensive lineman for the Richmond Spiders, the defensive side of the equation will never be ignored.

“This game is about protecting your quarterback, giving him weapons and then affecting the other team’s quarterback,” Douglas told the media in late March 2022. “The best way to do that is with (the) pass rush.”

Remember, New York’s free-agent class of 2021 focused heavily on the defensive line. What looked to be an incredibly deep position in the summer thinned out once the likes of Carl Lawson and Vinny Curry were lost for the season.

And also remember who the head coach is, none other than Robert Saleh, a man who also believes it begins up front with a deep rotation of edge players and interior defensive linemen.

Remember just how poor the Jets defense (and run defense) was in 2021

Sure, not having Lawson and Curry on the field certainly hurt the Jets’ defense, but that wasn’t the only thing that led to an NFL-worst 397.1 yards allowed per game.

Foley Fatukasi—now in Jacksonville—felt out of place in Saleh’s gap-attacking 4-3 scheme. Quinnen Williams never displayed the consistency his talent allows. And the unit found itself continually gashed on the ground.

In fact, a great argument could be made that the team’s greatest need is that of a true 1-tech defensive tackle.

Where’s the beef?

Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins make for a nice duo inside, but only on paper or in subpackage situations. Neither player is a true 1 or 2i-tech that could be counted upon to plug things up and stand up with offensive linemen on a frequent basis. Meanwhile, John Franklin-Myers can kick inside on passing downs, but again, there is no true 1/2i-tech on this roster.

It’s a major problem and an issue that has not received nearly enough attention.

Although the name of Jordan Davis at No. 10 would send fans into a wild frenzy, the big 341-pound IDL should not be ruled out of the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering Douglas could trade down a few spots and perhaps still snag him.

The only real question surrounds scheme fit. Does the coaching staff believe Davis can fit Saleh’s base 2i-tech spot? (And in terms of drafting a two-down player this early, that idea shouldn’t bother anybody; the defensive line is a position that should be viewed as at least eight deep via starters.)

If the surprising Davis-to-the-Jets scenario does not happen, the Jets will still have to draft a true 1/2i-tech on Day 2 or Day 3 of pure desperation. It’s simply that much of a need at the moment.

But what about wide receiver and cornerback?

What about it? Naturally, an organization that just suffered through a decade of horrid drafting and personnel evaluation will have many needs—and both wide receiver and cornerback fit that bill.

Again, though, it would be completely unlike Douglas and Saleh to stray from their inside-out philosophy—even in this day and age when skill players are enjoying much more of an impact (courtesy of the discriminatory rules that are forcing kids away from volunteering to play defense).

The franchise would love to bring in a little Sauce (Ahmad Gardner). It would greatly enjoy hyping up the fanbase to the tune of a Garrett Wilson or Drake London. But in this Douglas-Saleh world of patient but max-potential team building, those spots are the icing on the stable cake, the cherry on top of what first should be the fully-baked cake base—as bland as it tastes and as yellow as it looks.

One comes before the other, as far as this regime is concerned, and where they’re slated to draft—No. 4 and 10—there are plenty of cake-base options to select.

Besides, wide receiver is as deep as any position in today’s game—courtesy of the new-age rules that promote offensive explosions at every turn. Everywhere the NFL fan looks, they see non-first-round wide receiver studs: Cooper Kupp (Round 3), Tyreek Hill (Round 5), Davante Adams (Round 2), Stefon Diggs (Round 5) and others.

Douglas, a value-driven personnel man, would have to believe a Garrett Wilson or Drake London is beyond special (separation from the pack) in order to pounce on a skill-position player that early. Moreover, the depth just isn’t there when other positions are considered.

The true wild card: Mekhi Becton

The first wild-card in prognosticating what will occur on Thursday night is a big one …

How do the Jets currently view Mekhi Becton? Do they trust him? Do they believe his 2021 campaign represents the exception to his rule or a sign of things to come?

It really begins there.

Far too often, fans get in the habit of plugging holes based on starter numbers only. As it pertains to the New York Jets, this means Douglas can’t draft a tackle at No. 4 or No. 10. I mean, why would he, when Becton and George Fant are both in the house?

That’s not the way the NFL works. That’s now the way real football teams operate. This isn’t Madden.

Trust, reliability and professionalism go a long way. And right now, it’s hard to believe New York trusts Becton in the reliability department—something the Jets must get straight considering how many games they have lost due to injury over the last few seasons. (As a side note, reliability and football instincts are much more critical than position need, but that’s another column for a different day.)

Ikem Ekwonu or even Evan Neal is still possible at No. 4. In fact, I believe Ekwonu will be the pick at No. 4 unless Aidan Hutchinson—the new betting favorite to be selected by the Jets—actually does fall.

If it’s Ekwonu, Becton could be on the trade block for a mid-round pick (perhaps even a second if a team is desperate enough).

Yes, that’s awful value for a kid who went No. 11 overall just two years prior, but value must be viewed against what production is expected to come (in the future). And if Douglas believes the worst is ahead, the idea that he’d actually cut bait with his first-ever pick and not showcase stubbornness—as so many general managers tend to feature—would be a tremendous sign.

Ekwonu could even be the guy at No. 4 while the team intends to hold on to Becton. No franchise in this league can ever have too many quality offensive linemen—especially in a Mike LaFleur-led offense that oftentimes uses six big heavies on the field at once.

The Deebo Samuel noise

The Deebo Samuel noise may just turn out to be exactly that … noise.

Think about the situation for a moment. What is the true reason Samuel wants out of San Francisco? In spite of reports that claim he’s unhappy about his usage a year ago—too many snaps as a ball carrier—there really isn’t much else.

If Deebo’s disgruntled nature dealt with anything other than money, we would probably already know about it. Therefore, any noise coming from the Bay Area is simply posturing—until proven otherwise.

Besides, dishing out the No. 10 pick for an oft-injured guy who may command $30 million a year doesn’t sound like a Joe Douglas move, no matter the obvious talent at hand.

This one might just come down to the following: “I’m unhappy with my current contract situation until I’m ecstatic because you gave me exactly what I wanted.”

What I think the Jets want to see happen

PickHeadshotBest-CaseFallback No. 1Fallback No. 2Fallback No. 3Fallback No. 4
🚨4Aidan HutchinsonAidan Hutchinson, EDGE-MichiganIkem Ekwonu, OL-NC StateJermaine Johnson, EDGE-Florida StateEvan Neal, OT-AlabamaAhmad Gardner, CB-Cincinnati
🚨10Jordan DavisTrade Down: Jordan Davis, IDL-GeorgiaJermaine Johnson, EDGE-Florida StateJordan Davis, IDL-GeorgiaGarrett Wilson, WR-Ohio State
Drake London, WR-USC
George Karlaftis, EDGE-Purdue

Think football instincts, think availability, and think professionalism that fits within a culture. Both Aidan Hutchinson and Jordan Davis left college as seniors, and both are incredibly well-spoken while each oozes leadership qualities.

Also think about which positions were helped in free agency: guard, tight end, cornerback and safety. Although positional need is never the tell-tale sign of what’s to come—especially as it relates to the top 10—what Hutchinson and Davis bring to the table perfectly fit the Jets regime’s mission statement via personnel evaluation (above and beyond need).

I don’t believe the Jets are in the Kayvon Thibodeaux business. For whatever reason, I believe Douglas and company aren’t sold on his value within the culture they’re attempting to build.

I also don’t believe the Jets are in the skill position business at No. 4—no matter how tempting Sauce Gardner’s traits are.

The perfect scenario sees the Detroit Lions passing on Aidan Hutchinson at No. 2, only to have the Houston Texans go cornerback at No. 3. This would provide the Jets with a huge decision between Ikem Ekwonu and Aidan Hutchinson.

If not for Hutchinson, I think the pick is Ekwonu. In that case, they would then look for an edge at No. 10. If Jermaine Johnson slid, they’d hop all over him—but it’s doubtful he gets past the Seattle Seahawks at No. 9.

Are you still with me, or have you veered off the Garden State Parkway while listening to this? (Of course Jets X-Factor offers a free audio version, located at the bottom of every article for subscribers.)

If you veered off a bit, it’s understandable. The number of options to go along with two top-10 picks is enough to make anybody’s head spin.

Unlike the previous two years, the 2022 NFL draft presents a hell of a lot of drama in a much more versatile fashion. The Jamal Adams trade allowed it to take shape the way it has—two top-10 picks—but the fresh “leak-proof” ways of this new regime also force pundits to throw out that many more guesses.

My grandma always wondered aloud, “Why is it that we drive on the Parkway yet park in the driveway?” Considering all the potential highway names at New Jersey’s disposal, it really doesn’t make much sense.

Neither would a cornerback at No. 4 and/or a wide receiver at No. 10—not for this regime at least.

By no means is wide receiver or cornerback at No. 10 out of the realm of possibility, but the first step in a transparent mission statement that’s been repeatedly delivered has yet to come to fruition. The New York Jets trenches still need attention.

Think offensive line and defensive line. Think trenches. Think Ikem Ekwonu, Aidan Hutchinson, Jermaine Johnson, Jordan Davis and maybe even George Karlaftis.

Until this Joe Douglas-led franchise proves otherwise, there’s no reason to go searching for unlikely outcomes that fly in the face of the organization’s own public words.

Either way, what Joe Douglas does this year may just define his tenure as New York Jets general manager.

It’s this moment, one that culminated from a host of prior moves with an eye toward the future, that Joe Douglas and the New York Jets must capitalize on.

It’s the 2022 NFL draft, the one where the possibilities are many with a difficulty level turned up to the max, that’ll allow the organization’s future routes to open seamlessly or tighten with too many roadblocks to count.

Are they steadfast in their trenches first, inside-out philosophy? Or, have they altered the route thanks to a myriad of hurdles and hard truths that have shown face as of late?

It’s officially (and finally) time to find out the answer. At the very least, nothing about 2022 is as obvious as it was in 2020 and 2021.

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Peter Buell
2 years ago

Trade down to sprinle tge Sauce on Edge and WR

2 years ago

Cutting through the noise, great article, outstanding chart, thanks