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Key NY Jets weakness makes draft evaluations difficult

Olu Fashanu
Olu Fashanu, Getty Images

The New York Jets have a key weakness that makes the draft messy

By now, the New York Jets’ two key needs in the draft are clearly defined: offensive tackle and receiving weapon. The overwhelming consensus is that they will take one of those two positions in the first round of the draft. There’s a good chance they’ll go with the other in the third or fourth round.

I’ve been looking through many of the potential third and fourth-round receivers to evaluate the Jets’ options. One thought keeps coming to mind: this player could be good in the right situation.

The problem is that the Jets may well not be that situation, and not because of their roster construction.

With every prospect, the prominent question is can the Jets’ coaching staff get the most out of this player? It’s difficult to say yes considering what we saw in 2023.

Offensive tackles

Under Joe Douglas, the Jets have had a poor track record with offensive tackles. Mekhi Becton’s potential in the NFL was derailed by knee injuries. Still, his career has largely been a carryover from his draft concerns, specifically concerning his weight and mindset. Max Mitchell has not developed the play strength that was a primary concern coming out of college. Although Carter Warren was supposed to redshirt his rookie season, his putrid technique carried over to the NFL.

Furthermore, the implosion of Laken Tomlinson with the Jets raises questions about the team’s ability to coach up offensive linemen. Even Connor McGovern’s play with the Jets was worse than his prior track record with Denver.

Keith Carter coached all these players in 2023. Even before injuries hit, only Alijah Vera-Tucker’s steadying presence saved the unit from complete futility.

Therefore, when evaluating tackle prospects, the question is if the Jets can get the most out of them. There is a lot to like on tape for Olu Fashanu, J.C. Latham, Taliese Fuaga, and even Troy Fautanu, but can the Jets harness the strengths and correct the weaknesses?

For example, Fashanu is likely the best pass-blocker in the class, but his run-blocking is raw. Can the Jets develop him into a competent run-blocker? Latham has issues with oversetting, Fautanu with a lack of control. Can Carter correct that? It’s hard to have any sort of confidence in that.

On the flip side, Joe Tippmann’s promising rookie season amidst the chaos of the Jets’ offensive line is a feather in Carter’s cap. Many draft prognosticators were shocked to see the Jets take Tippmann over John Michael Schmitz, but Tippmann outplayed Schmitz significantly. Perhaps this shows that Carter can develop a player if the proper raw tools are there. Warren and Mitchell were significantly lacking as prospects compared to any of the first-round tackles, putting them in a different development category.

Receiving weapons

Other than Garrett Wilson, the Jets’ track record with receiver prospects has been atrocious for a long time. Even players who showed promise as rookies regressed in their second years and flamed out. The same pattern follows at tight end, where Chris Herndon could not follow up his strong rookie season and Jace Amaro was a bust.

If the Jets draft Marvin Harrison Jr. or Malik Nabers, they can expect a top receiver immediately. However, all the other receiver prospects either require development or can succeed in a specific role.

If the Jets draft Rome Odunze, will they be able to teach him route-running nuance and varied releases? Can they help him defeat press coverage? Otherwise, he’ll rely exclusively on his contested catch ability at the NFL level. Even Mike Williams, who has made a living as a contested-catch king in the NFL, took until his third season to break out and is far more physical as a receiver than Odunze.

Brock Bowers has even more questions in a Jets role. Can Nathaniel Hackett scheme him open the way Georgia’s offense did? Can the Jets develop his ball-tracking and route-running? Would they try to foist him into an in-line tight end role?

Whether the Jets trade down in the first round, acquire a second-round pick to take a receiver, or take a receiver in the third or fourth round, the rest of the receiver prospects all have more niche roles. Will the Jets properly scheme to utilize their skill sets? Furthermore, considering that most of the prospects past the first round are slot-primary players, are the Jets willing to use those players in the slot rather than pigeonholing them into playing outside more often?

For example, Xavier Gipson played 61.4% of his snaps from the slot in 2023. While that was the 17th-highest out of 102 receivers with at least 35 targets, it was far lower than his 95.1% slot rate in college. Players like Malik Washington (87.9%), Malachi Corley (85.9%), Roman Wilson (68.7%), Ricky Pearsall (56.5%), and Jalen Mcmillan (89.2%) play their best in the slot, but would the Jets take them and force them outside so they could get Garrett Wilson in the slot more often?

In other words, as lethal as Wilson is out of the slot, the Jets’ overall resources may dictate using him outside more often. Are they willing to adapt to their personnel?

Of course, the Jets could prefer prospects like Xavier Legette (34% slot), Ja’Lynn Polk (41.1%), or Javon Baker (27.1%) because they have inside-outside versatility. But if those receivers aren’t as good as the slot-only ones, is it worthwhile for the Jets to take one of these players just for the sake of keeping Wilson in the slot?

It’s difficult to trust the Jets to draft the right guy and put him in the best place to succeed. Players like Rashee Rice, Puka Nacua, Tank Dell, Zay Flowers, Josh Downs, and Jayden Reed succeeded as rookies because they were used correctly. Rice is a perfect example of coaching elevating a player, as he moved to the slot after not playing there in college.

Now that the Jets have built a strong roster on paper, their coaching will be more critical than ever in determining their success. The track record is not strong. Still, perhaps taking prospects who don’t need to step into prominent roles immediately can help the coaches and players succeed.

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