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What positional traits should NY Jets prioritize for draft picks?

Peter Skoronski, NY Jets, NFL Mock Draft
Peter Skoronski, NFL Draft, New York Jets, Getty Images

As the draft approaches, the New York Jets should have clarified which specific traits they want at each position and not reach for a flashy name

It’s finally almost here.

The NFL draft is a few days away, which means you only have a few more days of predraft content and mock draft mania to survive. It is likely that the New York Jets‘ draft board is long since set.

However, this year’s draft is somewhat different for the Jets than in years past. While in the past the Jets were looking for blue-chip players who fit the scheme, this year’s team is seeking immediate contributors. The picks from the first few rounds must fit specific team needs.

We’ve discussed the different players that the Jets could possibly take and the reasons for and against many of them. The question is how the players fit the Jets’ immediate needs, not just their long-term profiles.

What are those traits that the Jets must seek at positions of need in order to best fill their current weaknesses?

(Note: best fits list only realistic targets for the Jets and consider strengths in the area mentioned, not overall scheme fit.)

Offensive line: Pass blocking

There is a fairly good chance that the Jets’ first two picks will both be offensive linemen. For years, we’ve discussed how any offensive line candidate fits the Jets’ zone scheme. This year, though, it’s time for the team to prioritize pass-blocking.

The Jets were 22nd in pass-blocking efficiency last season, per Pro Football Focus, and Mike White likely saved them from being even worse than that. The line leaked pressure constantly, particularly up the middle.

If the Jets were simply looking to fit the zone scheme, they’d likely bring back Connor McGovern. However, McGovern has always been weak in pass protection. It is about time that the Jets brought in someone who’s stronger in the passing game.

The same applies to the tackle position. When Duane Brown, Mekhi Becton, and Max Mitchell are healthy, all three hold up at least reasonably well in the run game. It’s in pass protection where all of them have questions, to varying degrees. Even if the Jets want to gamble on one of those three players starting, they need a rock-solid pass protector on the other side.

For both center and tackle, pass protection is key in true pass sets (plays with no screen or play action with the ball released between two and four seconds after the snap) and play action. The Jets’ offensive line ranked 21st in pressure rate on true pass sets (8.48%) and 22nd in pressure rate (allowed on 36.1% of dropbacks) on play-action passes last year.

As bad as the Jets’ run-blocking was last season, it will improve significantly with the return of Alijah Vera-Tucker. If Becton can also start, the run-blocking will be set with two blue-chip maulers. Regardless, blocking for a 40-year-old quarterback is the No. 1 priority.

Best Fits: Joe Tippmann, Luke Wypler, Peter Skoronski, Broderick Jones, Darnell Wright

Defensive tackle: Run defense

Quinnen Williams is a dominant interior defensive lineman against both the run and pass. He eats up double teams highly effectively. However, he can’t do it all on his own; Sheldon Rankins held up his part of the bargain reasonably well in run defense, which helped the Jets’ run defense improve in 2022.

Currently, the Jets do not have another defensive tackle on their roster besides Williams who can defend against the run. Although they may bring in Al Woods for that, it would behoove them to find another starter rather than rely on the rotation so heavily.

Although Calijah Kancey’s capabilities as a pass rusher fit the Jets’ defensive scheme, the team already has John Franklin-Myers and Micheal Clemons, both of whom can be dangerous pass rushers from the inside. What they need is better run defense in the middle.

Best fits: Mazi Smith, Kobie Turner

Safety: Deep coverage (especially zone)

It does not appear that there is a true free safety at the top of this draft, but that’s what the Jets need. It makes it far less likely that the Jets draft a safety even on Day 2. The team already has two safeties who play closer to the box in Jordan Whitehead and Chuck Clark; Tony Adams is their only safety who really has the range to cover deep. The problem is that this was one of the Jets’ biggest defensive weaknesses last season.

If there’s no safety who can play deep coverage, the Jets should pass and sign a veteran free agent, such as John Johnson. Perhaps they can draft someone later and develop them to replace Whitehead and Clark, both of whom are free agents following the season.

Best fits: Ji’Ayir Brown, Chris Smith

Wide Receiver: Contested catches

The Jets have speed (Garrett Wilson and Mecole Hardman), size (Corey Davis and Allen Lazard), a deep threat (Hardman), versatility (Wilson, Lazard), and blocking (Davis, Lazard) in their receivers. What they do not have is someone who wins contested catches.

A slot receiver to replace Elijah Moore might be nice, but Hardman was signed to fill that role. It’s also easier to find a shifty slot receiver than it is a receiver with strong hands at the catch point. That’s something that Wilson has not mastered yet. Getting a Davis replacement would make the most sense.

If they can’t get a contested catch player, another deep threat would be helpful. Just getting another shifty slot guy would defeat the purpose of signing Hardman, especially with Wilson’s YAC ability.

Best fits: Quentin Johnston, Josh Downs, Michael Wilson

Linebacker: Zone coverage

As Michael Nania stated, the Jets tend to use their linebackers primarily in zone coverage. C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams are solid run defenders at linebacker, but both struggle in coverage. Kwon Alexander was the team’s best cover linebacker last season, but he remains unsigned.

Even if the Jets do re-sign Alexander, they could still use more coverage depth at the position. Alexander is prone to injuries and will also likely take another one-year deal.

Taking another run-first defender at linebacker would be a waste of resources. What the Jets need is coverage.

Best fits: Jack Campbell, Daiyan Henley, Dorian Williams, DeMarvion Overshown

Edge defender: Two-way capabilities

Selecting an edge rusher is not high on the Jets’ priority list for 2023. The team truly has other weaknesses that should be addressed to make a run this season. If, for whatever reason, the team wants to select an edge rusher, it should only be one who can truly both rush the passer and stop the run.

The reason for this is simple: the Jets’ primary backup edge defenders, Jermaine Johnson and Micheal Clemons, are excellent edge-setters. Bryce Huff is a pass-rush specialist. The only reason the Jets would need another player is if they’re a future two-way starter. They can replace Huff next offseason if necessary; only a true Carl Lawson replacement would make sense, and Lawson did a better job as a two-way player last season than he’s usually given credit for.

In other words, I find it unlikely that the Jets draft another edge player at all.

Best fits: Lukas Van Ness

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Matt Galemmo
1 year ago

I have three questions:

  1. Why was Dawand left off the pass protection list? I thought he led the league in pressure rate, and didn’t allow a single sack or QB hit.
  2. Ditto Joseph on the deep safety list–I thought he was a prototypical center fielder
  3. Josh Downs is a contested catch guy too? I think I love this guy.