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Joe Douglas has been building for this moment for nearly two years.
The Jets general manager traded the team’s best player, Jamal Adams, to the Seahawks in July 2020 for two first-round picks. One of those picks is the No. 10 pick in this year’s draft. Douglas made a second big move involving this year’s draft last April when he traded quarterback Sam Darnold to the Panthers for a package that included a second-round pick this year (No. 38 overall).
Those big trades have led to this weekend, when the Jets have four picks in the top 38 of the draft — a chance for Douglas to reshape his roster in one night.
“There’s pressure every offseason,” Douglas said. “But obviously, this year having four picks in the top 38, we do this the right way, it could really be special.”
Doing it the right way in the NFL Draft is not something the Jets have done much of. The team’s draft record is abysmal and you can find the viral video of terrible Jets draft picks with ease. Over the last 10 years, the Jets have had so many misses in the draft and that has led to the team’s 11-year playoff drought.
The early returns on Douglas’ 2021 draft are good. Now, he has to stack another strong class on top of that one if the Jets are ever going to get off the losing treadmill.
Here are some of the questions and the answers, based on what we’re hearing, facing the Jets in the first round Thursday.
What is the Jets’ greatest need?
The Jets have holes all over their roster. There are not many positions you can say Douglas should not target in this draft. But edge rusher is No. 1 in my book and it is what most people feel the Jets need most.
Robert Saleh’s defense is predicated on getting to the quarterback. He preaches about everything starting with the defensive line and that unit making those behind it better. The Jets had just 33 sacks last year, more than just six teams.
Here is the problem for the Jets, though, when it comes to edge rushers: There are not many great ones in this draft. There are good ones, but there is no Nick Bosa or Chase Young, players that look like they can’t miss. Georgia’s Travon Walker and Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson are expected to be the first two picks in the draft.
League sources believe the Jets won’t draft Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux. There are concerns about him not being a culture fit with the team. The Jets love Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson II after seeing him up close at the Senior Bowl, but No. 4 may be too early to take him and he may be gone by No. 10. He had one strong season of production in college.
Would they really take a cornerback?
There is a school of thought out there that the Jets would not draft a cornerback in the first round because Saleh values pass rushers more. The 49ers did not invest premium resources at corner. But if it is a choice between the third-best edge rusher or the No. 1 cornerback, the Jets have to take the cornerback.
That cornerback is Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner from Cincinnati. Gardner is a clean prospect. It is hard to find any flaws. He did not allow a touchdown in college. There are no whispers about character concerns and the tape is impressive.
Douglas needs to make the safest pick at No. 4. That could be Gardner, unless …
What if Ickey Ekwonu is there?
It is no secret in league circles that Douglas loves Ekwonu, the N.C. State tackle. Some believe he will take Ekwonu at No. 4 if he is there because he would be the best player available. The Jets do not have a need at tackle. Between George Fant and Mekhi Becton, they are covered in the starting lineup. But Douglas quoted Ozzie Newsome, his mentor with the Ravens, last week saying “a luxury today can be a necessity tomorrow.”
Drafting Ekwonu would be an admission that Becton was not the right pick in the first round in 2020. I can’t see Douglas being ready to make that admission yet.
The Deebo factor
The potential trade of Deebo Samuel by the 49ers looms large over this draft. But sources on Wednesday reiterated they do not believe the 49ers will deal him before or during the draft. One source said it would take an insane offer to pry him away from San Francisco right now and the Jets are not going to give up the farm for him.
If there is no deal for Samuel, the Jets are expected to target wide receiver at No. 10 or in the second round. Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson, USC’s Drake London and Alabama’s Jameson Williams are the top receivers on the board. The Jets should have their pick from at least two of them at 10.