What if the New York Jets got another crack at the 2018 draft with the benefit of hindsight?
Regardless of how the other five players panned out, the Jets’ 2018 draft class could have been a success if they just hit on their franchise-altering selection at No. 3: quarterback Sam Darnold.
Obviously, that pick did not work out. Darnold only lasted three years with the Jets before being dealt to the Carolina Panthers.
What if the Jets could do it all over again? Knowing what we know now, who would the Jets take at No. 3?
In this hypothetical re-draft scenario, let’s say the Cleveland Browns select quarterback Josh Allen with the first overall pick and the New York Giants select quarterback Lamar Jackson with the second overall pick.
Who would the Jets take?
Here are a few players who would be in consideration.
LG Quenton Nelson (Original pick: R1, P6, Indianapolis)
Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson was selected by the Indianapolis Colts with the sixth overall pick – which was originally owned by the Jets. New York sent the pick to Indy in the trade-up deal that put them in position to select Darnold at No. 3.
Nelson was one of the most highly-regarded interior offensive line prospects in recent memory, and he has lived up to the hype. Already considered the best left guard in football, Nelson has made the Pro Bowl in all four of his NFL seasons. He also earned First-Team All-Pro honors in each of his first three.
For his career, Nelson has given up only four sacks. That includes just two sacks over the past three seasons.
The New Jersey native would have been a tremendous building block to kickstart the rebuilding of a fledgling Jets offensive line that was arguably the league’s worst from 2018-19.
LB Darius Leonard (Original pick: R2, P36, Indianapolis)
The Colts absolutely crushed the 2018 draft, securing two franchise cornerstones with their first two picks. After snagging Nelson in the first round, they scooped up superstar linebacker Darius Leonard in the second.
Leonard was not taken with one of the picks that Indianapolis received from New York in the Darnold trade. However, he was selected one spot ahead of a second-round pick the Colts did get from the Jets (No. 37, Braden Smith), so there’s a possibility that the Colts might have approached this pick differently if they did not have the luxury of back-to-back picks afforded to them by the Darnold trade.
Like Nelson, Leonard is a three-time First-Team All-Pro. Leonard and Nelson are the only players from the 2018 draft class with that distinction.
A playmaking machine in every facet of the game, Leonard has amassed 538 tackles, 15.0 sacks, 17 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries, 30 passes defended, and 11 interceptions in his career.
S Minkah Fitzpatrick (Original pick: R1, P11, Miami)
Minkah Fitzpatrick has established himself as a star safety in the NFL, bursting onto the scene with the Dolphins before carrying his impact over to Pittsburgh.
Fitzpatrick has earned two First-Team All-Pro appearances, joining Nelson and Leonard as the only multi-time First-Team All-Pros in the 2018 class. He’s already racked up 352 tackles, 36 passes defended, 13 interceptions, and four touchdowns.
QB Baker Mayfield (Original pick: R1, P1, Cleveland)
Baker Mayfield has been significantly outshined by Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson. Overall, he has not been what the Browns hoped he’d be when they took him first overall in a loaded quarterback class. His Cleveland career appears to be nearing its end after four seasons.
With all of that being said, Mayfield hasn’t necessarily been terrible. If he put up the same numbers with the Jets that he has for the Browns, he’d already be one of the most productive quarterbacks in team history.
Mayfield’s career totals of 92 touchdown passes and 14,125 passing yards would each rank fourth-best on the Jets’ all-time franchise leaderboard, trailing only Joe Namath, Ken O’Brien, and Richard Todd in each category.
Of course, the Browns had a much better supporting cast in place for Mayfield than he would have had in New York, so he probably wouldn’t be as productive with the Jets.
Mayfield is far from worthy of the No. 3 pick in this re-draft when it comes to his performance relative to his position, but when you consider positional value, I think he’s worthy of being included as an option. He’s shown enough potential to inspire confidence that he can be salvaged. I could see some people loving Mayfield enough to be willing to see what would happen if the Jets ended up with him instead of Darnold.
The Jets desperately needed a young franchise quarterback in 2018 – it’s why they traded up to No. 3. With the knowledge we have today, would it be worth taking a shot on Mayfield instead of Darnold? Or would the Jets be better off passing on a quarterback and focusing on improving their supporting cast?
I think the latter answer is definitely the way to go. But, again, I figured Mayfield was worth mentioning anyway.
While Darius Leonard and Minkah Fitzpatrick are enticing options, I believe the best choice here for New York would be Quenton Nelson.
As we sit here in 2022, one thing is clear about the Sam Darnold era in New York: the Jets were not ready to support a young quarterback. Their decrepit roster would have ruined almost any quarterback prospect who walked through the doors in Florham Park. I’m certain that even Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson would have gone down the drain if they were thrown into that situation.
In hindsight, the Jets would have been better off using the 2018 season to build up their roster while waiting until later to invest in a quarterback. Obviously, if they were to take such an approach, then it goes without saying that the smart move would have been to avoid making the big trade with Indianapolis in the first place.
But, for the sake of the hypothetical proposed in this article, I think it is clear that the best re-draft pick for the Jets at No. 3 would have been Nelson. He’s a bona fide superstar who would place the Jets on the right track toward building a nucleus that could support a young quarterback.