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Joe Douglas’ Jets haven’t done a lot of winning in his three seasons, but he’s usually earned rave reviews for his performance during the NFL Draft. And his third one running the Jets’ war room might turn out to be his best one of all.
Here’s a look at the Jets’ Class of 2022 with grades for every selection, and an overall grade for the class at the end:
Cincinnati CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner (First round, 4th overall)
They went with the player they thought was the best corner in the draft over the offensive tackle that they seemed to love, which couldn’t have been an easy choice for Douglas. But it’s hard to argue against the cocky, 6-3, 190-pounder who many teams had rated as one of the best players in the entire draft. The Jets were obviously one of them, and so were the Giants, according to another source, who were hoping he’d slip to 5. He is a shutdown corner who never gave up a touchdown in college and has the speed and instincts to cover the NFL’s best receivers. Maybe the only question mark is why the Jets took a player this high from a position that traditionally hasn’t been a premium one in the Robert Saleh defense. The answer is that, while they have an array of young cornerbacks they like, including Bryce Hall, Michael Carter II and Brandin Echols, they still had the NFL’s worst defense last season and the 30th-ranked passing defense. With Gardner and free agent D.J. Reed, they won’t be anywhere near that bad anymore.
Ohio State WR Garrett Wilson (First round, 10th overall)
The Jets looked into acquiring every No. 1 receiver that was even rumored to be available this offseason, but were never able to pull off a blockbuster trade. Instead, they found a potential No. 1 here when they selected what many believe is the most explosive receiver in the draft. The 6-foot-190-pounder ran a 4.38 at the scouting combine and has an elusiveness that one scout compared to a young Odell Beckham, with the way he tends to burst away from defenders once the ball is in his hands. He is somewhat similar in traits to Jets receiver Elijah Moore, but he’s still a perfect fit for the Matt LaFleur offense. When they were looking for a No. 1 receiver this offseason and pursuing Tyreek Hill and Deebo Samuel they weren’t looking for size. They were looking for speedy, slippery players that can be weapons in a variety of ways. They wanted dangerous weapons for young quarterback Zach Wilson, and Garrett Wilson is definitely that.
Florida State DE Jermaine Johnson (First round, 26th overall)
The Jets loved this 6-5, 254-pound edge rusher so much that they had him ranked eighth on their board, discussed him with their fourth pick and considered him at 10. Once he fell to 15, Douglas started furiously working the phone until he could find a trade partner. When he did, sending a second, third and fifth-round pick to the Titans to move back into the first round, he came away with an absolute steal. More than a few scouts and executives felt Johnson was right up there with the best pass rushers in this draft. He certainly was among the most productive, with 11 ½ sacks last season and 17 ½ tackles for loss with the Seminoles last season. His speed and moves around the edge just jump off the film. And Saleh is seriously pumped up about the idea of Johnson coming off one edge while a healthy Carl Lawson comes off the other. It was yet another shrewd move by “Trader Joe” to get Saleh the lineman he's been coveting and a player who could help transform a Jets defense that was the worst in the league last year.
Iowa State RB Breece Hall (Second round, 36th overall)
Even after trading back into the first round for Johnson on Friday night, Douglas wasn’t done. He still wanted Hall, a 5-11, 217-pounder who is considered the best running back in the draft, so he tried to trade back into the first round again to get him too. He couldn’t, but on Day 2 he struck a deal with the Giants to move up from 38 to 36 (for a fifth-round pick) to get his man. He is the total package, with blazing 4.39 speed, a solid build, and quick cuts that make him, as Douglas described him, a “home run threat”. But while he can do it all, that’s not what the Jets need. Their 49ers-style offense needs a diverse running back committee. They already have Michael Carter, whom they seem to love, and now Hall gives them a powerful 1-2 punch – maybe a 1-2-3 if Tevin Coleman can stay healthy. Hall probably has the tools to emerge as the lead back for the Jets, but that doesn’t matter right now. What does matter is they’ve set themselves up to have a very dangerous running game, which should help out their young quarterback even more.
Ohio State TE Jeremy Ruckert (Third round, 101st overall)
The Jets offense is starting to become an embarrassment of riches as they continue to load up on weapons for their young quarterback. In this case, they used a Day 2 pick on a player who, at best, figures to be their third tight end. Maybe that’s not the best use of draft capital, but that’s how deep the Jets suddenly are. And the 6-5, 250-pound Long Island native could turn out to be a very good one, even if he has to spend some time sitting behind the Jets new tight ends, C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin. NFL scouts say Ruckert was badly underused as a receiver for the Buckeyes, which isn’t surprising since they had two receivers taken in the Top 11, including Garrett Wilson who went No. 10 to the Jets. The belief is that he has the speed and the hands to be a very good receiving tight end in the NFL. The Jets think he could be better than very good. In fact, some have compared him to George Kittle, as a tight end who didn’t really take off until he got a bigger opportunity in the NFL. That surely was an attractive point for Saleh and LaFleur, who were with Kittle in San Francisco for years. Time will tell if Ruckert will get the same opportunity in what is suddenly a very crowded offensive huddle for the Jets.
Louisiana OT Max Mitchell (Fourth round, 111th)
It really had to hurt Douglas not to take an offensive lineman in either of the first two days of the draft. So of course the Jets were going to take one quickly on Day 3. The 6-6, 307-pounder isn’t a threat to anyone’s starting job, which means it’s safe now to pencil in both George Fant and Mekhi Becton for the Jets’ first-team tackle spots. But since both of them have uncertain futures, Mitchell could be developed to take over in 2023. He’s got the size, power and toughness. He was considered a leader for the Ragin’ Cajuns too. And he’s got time to prove he can step up in class and become a contributor in the NFL.
Texas A&M DE Micheal Clemons (Fourth round, 117th)
The Jets’ last pick was their first real risk, mostly because he comes with some red flags, including an arrest last August on several charges, including marijuana possession, unlawful carrying of a weapon and driving with an invalid license. All that led to a one-game suspension. He’s also dealt with foot and ankle injuries during his college career. In the 10 games he did play last season, though, he had seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss and an astounding 46 quarterback pressures (according to Pro Football Focus). If he stays healthy and out of trouble he could be a sneaky good part of the Jets’ pass rushing rotation. The Jets have taken risky players before and more often than not they haven’t worked out. But Douglas has done such a good job of fixing their roster and adding their depth, they can afford those risks a little more now.
OVERALL CLASS OF 2022
Douglas’ third draft with the Jets really seems like a masterpiece. It’s hard to find anything not to like about what he did. Yes, it’s probably impossible to mess up two Top 10 picks – and he certainly didn’t with Gardner and Wilson, a lockdown corner and a No. 1 receiver.
But it’s really what happened after those picks that made this so impressive. He saw a player he loved falling, so he got aggressive and used the draft capital he had accumulated over the years to get back into the first round for Johnson. And just like that he had three of the Top 8 players on his board, one of which he landed at No. 26. And he tried to trade back in again to get Hall, whom he ended up trading up for anyway on Day 2.
And no one is going to remember what he gave up for those players. That’s what good GMs do. They don’t stress about a draft pick they have to give up. The see a player they love and they find a way to go and get him. Because of that aggressiveness he added four starters and impact players in the first two days. I’m not sure there’s another team in the NFL that had a better first two days than that.
The rest of the draft wasn’t bad either. Ruckert may not have much of a role this year, but his upside is enormous. He got a developmental tackle in Mitchell, which is good and adds to their line depth. And in Clemons he took a risk that could pay off big, because he’s a fierce edge rusher if he can stay out of trouble and on the field.
Seriously, what’s not to like about this? We’ll see, of course, if all these players match their hype and live up to their potential. But on paper, it’s one of the best drafts the Jets have had in years.