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The Cincinnati cornerback, a major reason the Bearcats broke through into the College Football Playoff last season, has been selected fourth overall by the New York Jets. He wore a brash bejeweled necklace proclaiming his nickname, and even an accessorized chain with a bejeweled sauce bottle.
“I’m the best cornerback in this draft,” Gardner noted this week. He went second behind LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr., but the Jets certainly liked him, knowing Gardner did not allow a TD reception in his three-year college career.
Edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux of Oregon will be bolstering the pass rush for the New York Giants after being chosen fifth overall in the NFL draft.
Thibodeaux, whose burst off the ball is spectacular, is the fifth straight defensive player taken at the top of these selections. The 6-foot-5, 258-pound mainstay of the Ducks regressed a bit since a terrific freshman season, and dealt with injuries.
But New York, which needs help on the offensive line, saw an opportunity for a disrupter on defense knowing there are plenty of blockers still available.
The Giants have five straight losing seasons and not been to the playoffs since 2016, and the former Bills assistant GM will have nine picks in the draft with Nos. 5 and 7 overall in the first round.
“Probably come in, get a workout in, make some phone calls, call around the league, call other general managers, see if you can get any information on what’s going on in front of you,” Schoen said. “Again, probably take some calls if people are calling or looking to move up.”
Watch full coverage of the NFL Draft on Thursday at 8 p.m. (Round 1) on ABC, ESPN and ESPN Deportes. Then watch rounds 2 and 3 on Friday beginning at 7 p.m. and rounds 4 through 7 starting at noon Saturday, also on ABC, ESPN and ESPN Deportes
The roster has a ton of holes. The offense is desperate for a tackle and later either a tight end or wide receiver. The defense needs an edge rusher and either a cornerback or safety, with much depending on the status of veteran cornerback James Bradberry.
“Having two top-10 picks, it’s definitely a good way to set the foundation, get two really good players early on,” Schoen said. “Again, you’re not sitting at 15 or 20, trying to figure out who is going to be there. The fact that we can list seven players, know that we’re going to get two of them, makes it a little bit easier.”
Schoen is open to moving either up or down in the draft, but he insists any first-round deal would have to blow his doors off. His goal for the Giants is to compete today and build for tomorrow, which makes this draft crucial.
“For (new head coach) Brian (Daboll) and I, it’s our first two picks as New York Giant head coach and general manager,” Schoen said. “In terms of foundational pieces, in terms of being good players, the type of people we want, it’s very important.”
As for the Jets, they have picks Nos. 4 and 10 to give them two selections in the top 10 for the first time.
GM Joe Douglas will get a chance to add two potential long-term starters for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 11 seasons.
Edge rusher will be a priority, and Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux and Georgia’s Travon Walker could be there when New York goes on the clock at No. 4.
Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner could be an option, and the Jets could target a wide receiver at No. 10 if they don’t trade out of the pick.
“I think obviously it depends on who we’re talking about,” Douglas said last month at the league meetings in Palm Beach, Florida. “If it’s the right opportunity, we’ll consider any packages. But ultimately, we want to talk about a package that makes sense for us and gives us the ability to maintain our flexibility.”
In other words, everything’s on the table for the Jets.
And that’s how it should be for a team that has the league’s longest active playoff drought. This is Douglas’ third full offseason as the GM, and the pressure is on to build a roster that will compete for a playoff spot – at least into December.
New York has just six wins during the last two years, but there’s a glimmer of hope after last season’s 4-13 campaign under first-year coach Robert Saleh. There’s some young talent to build around, including recent draft picks such as quarterback Zach Wilson, wide receiver Elijah Moore, running back Michael Carter and offensive linemen Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker.
The free-agent signings of tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin, guard Laken Tomlinson, cornerback D.J. Reed, safety Jordan Whitehead and defensive linemen Jacob Martin and Solomon Thomas will certainly help.
But what Douglas does with his picks this year could very well shape the future of a franchise in desperate need of wins.
“There’s pressure every offseason, but obviously this year, having four picks in the top 38, we do this the right way, it could really be special,” Douglas said. “And where we set ourselves up with free agency and the opportunity here with these top four picks, again, it’s a huge opportunity for us.”
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