The New York Jets’ best-case scenario draft includes a big first-round trade
Anticipation is at an all-time high as the 2023 NFL draft looms a mere one week away.
For New York Jets fans, that anticipation is two-fold. They not only wait to find out who the next members of the Gang Green family will be, but they also have been waiting over a month for Packers QB Aaron Rodgers to officially be traded to New York, following the four-time MVP announcing his intentions to join the team.
While the New York faithful braces the darkness ahead of Rodgers’s arrival, they can look to the light of their 2022 draft class, which based on early returns, looks poised to shine for years to come.
The Jets became just the third team in league history to draft both the eventual Offensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year, in 10th overall pick Garrett Wilson and fourth overall pick Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner.
On top of the two award winners, New York also added a superstar running back in Breece Hall, who lead the NFL in yards-per-carry before suffering a torn ACL in Week 7, two exciting defensive end prospects in Jermaine Johnson and Micheal Clemons, a potential swing tackle in Max Mitchell, and a potential future starting tight end in Jeremy Ruckert.
The 2022 draft went as well as the Jets could’ve possibly hoped. But will 2023 be the same?
With time still remaining before the cold winds of reality begin to blow, Jets-X-Factor has crafted an ideal 2023 draft for the New York Jets, starting with official trade parameters for acquiring Aaron Rodgers.
New York Jets’ best-case 2023 mock draft
The best-case scenario for New York is to keep all of their 2023 picks and push back any capital given up a year down the road, and that’s exactly what happens here. New York sends Green Bay a 2024 fourth-round pick and a conditional second-round pick in 2024 that can become a first-round pick if Rodgers commits to playing for the Jets for a second season before the 2024 draft starts.
Besides saving 2023 picks on Rodgers, the Jets would also be wise to try and add more picks by trading down in the first round.
Accordingly, our dream draft also includes a trade down, as the Los Angeles Chargers make a deal with the Jets to acquire the 13th overall pick and select receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, sending New York the 21st and 85th picks in 2023, as well as a first-round pick in 2024.
To add a sprinkle of realism, player availability was determined using MockDraftDatabase.com’s Consensus Big Board, which averages the placement of all prospects across a collection of over 140 different big boards and over 2000 different mock drafts to form an average consensus ranking for each player. Players were only considered if their ranking on the big board is equal to or lower than New York’s position at each draft slot.
With the explanations of the way, now we can get to the real fun: the player selections themselves.
21st overall: Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee (Database Ranking: 23)
Tennessee tackle Darnell Wright has seen his stock steadily rise throughout the draft process, starting with an excellent showing at the 2023 Reese’s Senior Bowl and continuing with a better-than-expected performance at the NFL Combine.
At 6-foot-5 and 333 pounds, Wright ran a 5.01-second forty-yard dash and posted a 9-foot-7-inch broad jump. Both marks rank above the 90th percentile for all offensive tackles to enter the league since 1999, an impressive feat considering his 89th percentile weight.
On the field, Wright uses his immense size and strength to create movement at the point of attack in the run game, knocking defenders on their backs with ease.
He’s developed in pass protection as well, using his strength to absorb power rushes and matching speed to the edge with his previously noted movement skills.
Darnell Wright flat out winning against Jalen Carter pic.twitter.com/bfXeOf02WE
— Willie Lutz (@willie_lutz) April 12, 2023
Beyond his athletic talent and great tape, Wright is also experienced at both tackle spots and at guard, starting multiple games at all three positions during his time in Knoxville.
Best of all, Wright has played some of his best football against the best competition, shutting down top edge prospects Will Anderson Jr. from Alabama and BJ Ojulari from LSU in his matchups with the talented rushers.
The Jets desperately need to find some stability at offensive tackle if they want their investment in Rodgers to pay off.
Duane Brown is entering his second season with the team at 37 years old, fresh off of nearly retiring before his first season began.
Mekhi Becton looks to be in great shape based on his numerous post-workout pictures, but having only played a single half of football over the past two years, he can’t be fully trusted until he proves he can stay on the field.
Rookie Max Mitchell held his own in his limited action before being sidelined with a blood clot condition, but with the risk to Mitchell’s health, his first priority should be making sure he’s fully safe before worrying about putting on his helmet again.
The Jets under Joe Douglas have always valued offensive linemen who can play multiple positions, and with his clean tape and battle-tested resume to match, Darnell Wright is an ideal prospect to help cement the present and future of New York’s offensive line.
42nd overall: John Michael Schmitz, C, Minnesota (Database Ranking: 47)
The Jets currently do not have a starting center, as former starter Connor McGovern remains unsigned as an unrestricted free agent. The team has met with free agent veteran Ben Jones, but with no signing imminent for either player a week before the draft, center is a massive need for New York.
Minnesota’s John Michael Schmitz has been anointed as the 2023 class’s top center ever since his dominant showing at the Senior Bowl, becoming the apple of many Jets fans’ eyes in the process.
“JMS” is an experienced, well-rounded blocker who could excel in any scheme, but would particularly thrive with the Jets in their wide-zone rush attack. The Golden Gophers themselves deploy a similar zone-heavy rushing offense, giving JMS plenty of reps in the scheme he’ll ultimately run in MetLife Stadium on Sundays.
John Michael Schmitz rolls out of bed reaching frontside DTs.
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) April 14, 2023
In the pass game, JMS is smart and aware, properly setting the protection calls pre-snap and quickly recognizing any blitzes or stunts from the defense post-snap. He’s more than ready to handle starting as a rookie, even if he’s snapping to a long-time veteran like Rodgers.
Pairing John Michael Schmitz and Darnell Wright would ensure Aaron Rodgers has plenty of clean pockets to throw from. It would also give the Jets a cornerstone tackle and center to anchor their offensive line for years to come, just as former Jet greats D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold did when they were drafted with back-to-back picks in the 2006 draft.
43rd overall: Antonio Johnson, SAF, Texas A&M (Database Ranking: 53)
Antonio Johnson from Texas A&M is the best safety left on the board for the Jets at 43rd overall, and he comes with a killer instinct that New York head coach Robert Saleh will adore.
First play of Antonio Johnson film pic.twitter.com/eOfk9MAcYP
— Tyler Browning (@DiabeticTyler) April 12, 2023
Johnson lined up all over the field for the Aggies, spending time at strong safety, free safety, slot cornerback, outside cornerback, and linebacker.
Standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 197 pounds, Johnson is a big safety who plays like a big safety, fully capable of tossing away blockers and laying crushing hits on ball carriers, while also being far more experienced than most other safeties in coverage due to his varied usage.
In order to play so many positions, Johnson had to first understand the requirements of each position he intended to play. The fact that his college coaches trusted him to play so many roles is a testament to his obvious work ethic and football IQ, two paramount traits in the Jets’ scouting room.
In New York’s defense, safeties are routinely expected to play man-to-man coverage against wide receivers and tight ends. The Jets love to blitz on third down, and when they do, their safeties are often left one-on-one with a smorgasbord of dangerous pass catchers. New York’s safeties will have to play man-to-man, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.
That’s where Johnson’s unique skill set becomes even more valuable.
Having spent quite literally hundreds of snaps at slot and outside corner, Johnson is no stranger to playing man coverage against wide receivers. He could slide right in at either safety spot for the Jets and instantly fit in their defense with no need to adjust to a new style of play.
Antonio Johnson’s rare combination of box safety size, aggression, and hitting ability, and cornerback-level man coverage skills, make him a tailor-made fit for the Jets’ defense. The fact that he also fills one of the last remaining holes on their roster, and already has a friend on the team in former A&M teammate Micheal Clemons, is just icing on the cake.
85th overall: Zacch Pickens, DT, South Carolina (Database Ranking: 93)
The Jets only have three notable defensive tackles under contract for this season: 2022 All-Pro Quinnen Williams, who is currently holding out of voluntary team activities while he negotiates a sure-to-be monstrous contract extension, Solomon Thomas, a second-year reserve player, and Quinton Jefferson, a newly-signed 29-year-old veteran who manned Seattle’s second-string in 2022.
For a team that values the defensive line so highly, New York’s DT group is severely lacking quality long-term starting talent, besides the incredible Williams of course.
Big Q needs a Robin to match his Batman, and he finally gets one at 85th overall in the form of South Carolina’s Zacch Pickens.
Pickens fits the Jets’ preferred mold of explosive interior defenders who do their best work when free to attack, rather than hold their ground and control gaps.
He had an excellent showing at the NFL combine, posting a 4.89-second forty-yard dash and putting up 22 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press, at a rocked-up 6-foot-4 and 291 pounds.
Pickens is lightning-quick off the ball, exploding out of his stance like a smaller defensive end, not a near-300-pound tackle, usually leaving offensive lineman grasping at air, or his jersey, in the process.
Zacch Pickens with the quick swim, forcing Van Pran to hold on pic.twitter.com/lpbQ623Gqa
— EJHolt_NFLDraft🏈 (@EJunkie215) September 21, 2022
Pickens isn’t just a penetrator though, he’s stout and sturdy when defending the run, only taking a risk and shooting a gap when he knows he can get into the backfield, and is great at shedding blocks with his 85th percentile 34-and-three-eighths-inch arms.
Being so scheme-specific has pushed Pickens down the board a bit, but the Jets’ scheme in particular is exactly the type of scheme Pickens is built for.
While not the case for every team, for New York at least, Pickens profiles as a starting-level defensive tackle prospect with the potential to become an above-average starter if he develops properly, and at the end of the third round, the Jets couldn’t ask for anything better.
112th overall: Eric Gray, RB, Oklahoma (Database Ranking: 138)
A running back in the fourth round may be surprising to some, but considering the lack of comparable talent available at other positions (like LB and WR) and the uncertain future of Breece Hall following his recovery, Oklahoma’s Eric Gray is the best player the Jets could add with the 112th overall pick.
Gray is a dynamic runner who constantly churns out positive yards regardless of how well his offensive line blocks for him.
His compact 5-foot-9, 207-pound frame gives him a low center of gravity, allowing Gray to pirouette through arm tackles with fantastic contact balance and make defenders look silly with video-game-like jukes.
Eric Gray sending #1 into the shadow realm pic.twitter.com/ELk94W4kUo
— Daniel Harms🏈 (@InHarmsWay19) April 10, 2023
On top of his quicks, Gray is the embodiment of the term “running angry”. He never shies away from contact, instead welcoming and seeking out tacklers to put his shoulder through, with a drug-store-receipt-long list of players he’s put in the dirt.
Gray’s sudden cuts, raw power, and “never-say-die” demeanor make him incredibly difficult for a single defender to bring down. He lacks real home-run speed but shows plenty of burst through the hole, and with his variety of tackle-breaking options, Gray can create explosive runs in bunches.
Breece Hall is an elite runner who will no doubt be the Jets’ lead back once he’s fully healthy. However, the talent behind Hall doesn’t inspire much confidence, especially given how much New York’s rushing offense struggled in Hall’s absence.
If Hall takes longer than expected to recover from his injury, the Jets will need a capable player who can fill that lead back role in the meantime. Even if Hall is one-hundred-percent ready to go to start the season, the Jets need another body who can spell Hall and prevent him from being overworked.
Drafting Eric Gray provides New York with Breece-insurance in both the short and long terms, allowing them to feel comfortable letting Hall recover at his own pace, and giving them a dangerous runner to pair with Hall when he eventually does get back.
143rd overall: Ivan Pace Jr., LB, Cincinnati (Database Ranking: 147)
While not quite valuable enough to be the pick at 112 (especially with Gray still available at that spot), Cincinnati linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. is a great fifth-round choice to provide New York with some much-needed linebacker depth.
A Cincinnati native, Pace was a standout at Miami University of Ohio for three years, leading the Mid-American Conference in tackles and winning the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2021, before joining his hometown Bearcats to play with his younger brother Deshawn.
Not only did Pace continue to thrive in his new (and former) home, he got even better, ending the year with 137 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks, and two forced fumbles, as well as being named a unanimous First-Team All-American.
Pace is extremely small, even for modern pro linebackers, measuring in at the combine with a first-percentile height of 5-foot-10⅛, a third-percentile arm length of 30¼ inches, and a 19th-percentile weight of 231 pounds.
Despite his small stature, Pace is a ball of energy on the field, out-playing his size with unmatched effort and instincts.
Cincinnati LB—Ivan Pace Jr is an interesting prospect to study. He doesn’t meet the physical thresholds at Mike LB.
— Full-Time Dame 💰 (@DP_NFL) April 6, 2023
Pace flies around the field like a heat-seeking-missile, taking on blockers or meeting running backs in the hole at full speed with reckless abandon. He uses that same speed in coverage to match up with tight ends and backs in man-to-man or bracket slot receivers in zone, and while his lack of height and length make him susceptible to giving up contested catches, he at least is always around the ball.
Robert Saleh has always targeted small linebackers with exceptional speed and tenacity, and Ivan Pace Jr. is one of them. Two of New York’s three starting backers in 2022 will be back for 2023, Quincy Williams and C.J. Mosley, but their third starter, Kwon Alexander, is currently an unsigned free agent.
If Alexander is brought back, Pace can be his immediate backup as a rookie while learning under the former Pro Bowler in hopes of taking over the job himself in the future. If Alexander goes elsewhere, Pace can compete with 2020 draft picks Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen for the right to be Alexander’s replacement.
207th overall: Davis Allen, TE, Clemson (Database Ranking: 209)
The end of the draft isn’t about filling needs. It’s about adding the best talent left available regardless of position, allowing for the highest possible chance that a late-rounder can outplay their draft status and become a valuable asset.
Like Eric Gray two selections earlier, Clemson tight end Davis Allen is by far the best player available with the 207th pick, and while his position may not be considered a need right now, that could change sooner than most fans realize.
Both of the Jets’ starting tight ends, Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah, are on the older side, with Conklin turning 28 before the 2023 season begins and Uzomah turning 30 this past January.
Their third tight end, 2022 rookie Jeremy Ruckert, was injured for most of his first training camp, barely saw any action during the regular season, and at this point in time is mostly an unknown.
Davis Allen is a throwback to the classic tight ends of yesteryear who played primarily on the line of scrimmage, blocked like extra offensive linemen in the run game, and acted as security blankets their QBs could look for when under duress.
Allen shines when attacking the ball in the air, using his 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame to box out defenders at the catch point and come down with the ball.
Clemson TE Davis Allen is one of most “under talked-about” prospects in this year’s draft class. One longtime @ClemsonFB staffer told us @davisallen17 is best TE in Dabo Era, which includes former first-rounder and longtime NFL starter Dwayne Allen. pic.twitter.com/ZHvTqWaQpW
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) December 4, 2022
On top of his contested catch skills, Allen runs crisp routes and understands where to settle into the holes of zones to create passing lanes. He knows how to get open, but can make plays even when he’s covered.
The Jets have their tight ends of the present set in stone, but their tight ends of the future are much less clear.
Spending the 207th pick on Davis Allen is a no-risk, high-reward move to perfectly end the Jets’ 2023 draft.
At worst, New York burns a sixth-round pick, hardly a crushing blow for an NFL franchise. At best, Allen challenges Ruckert to be the Jets’ TE1 a few years down the road, forming a potent tandem along the way.
Most likely, Allen will be a quality TE2 the Jets can use as a weapon in the run game and in the red zone, and considering the impact teams get from most sixth-rounders, it will be a pick well spent.
- Round 1, Pick 13: Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
- Round 2, Pick 42: John Michael Schmitz, C, Minnesota
- Round 2, Pick 43: Antonio Johnson, SAF, Texas A&M
- Round 3, Pick 85: Zach Pickens, DT, South Carolina
- Round 4, Pick 112: Eric Gray, RB, Oklahoma
- Round 5, Pick 143: Calvin Pace Jr., LB, Cincinnati
- Round 6, Pick 207: Davis Allen, TE, Clemson
Chances are New York’s actual 2023 draft will not go as well as our dream scenario here. However, given the unfathomable success of the 2022 class, anything is possible.
With some quality scouting, hard work, and a little bit of luck, the Jets’ 2023 draft could end up being just as much of a dream come true as their 2022 class.
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