What do the Jets do if they can’t draft Trevor Lawrence?

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Tyler Greenawalt
·5 min read
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For weeks, it looked all but assured the Jets would secure the No. 1 overall pick and draft Trevor Lawrence. The unquestioned top prospect would wear Green and White and usher in a new age of football in New York. He would also attract a top-tier head coach to fix the franchise and build a brighter tomorrow for the downtrodden Jets.

Those plans took a hit Sunday when the Jets shocked the world by beating the Rams for their first win of the 2020 season. The victory knocked the Jets back to the No. 2 slot in the draft thanks to the strength of schedule tiebreaker favoring the equally 1-13 Jaguars. If the current order holds, the Jets likely won’t have a shot at Lawrence with the QB-needy Jaguars standing in their way.

This would create quite the conundrum for Joe Douglas, with the fallout shaping his career as Jets general manager. There are multiple avenues Douglas and the Jets can go down if Lawrence is not available, each option accompanied by pros and cons. But Douglas will need to ask himself a couple of questions before making a decision.

(Keep in mind, the Jets are guaranteed a top-three pick.)

The first and most obvious question: Should Douglas still draft a quarterback?

Sam Darnold still has another year left on his rookie contract and the Jets front office may want to stick with him for at least one more season if they don’t like any of the other quarterbacks likely to be picked in the top-10. After Lawrence, the only truly viable options at the top of the draft are Ohio State’s Justin Fields and BYU’s Zach Wilson. If Jets scouts believe either of those players have a more promising future than Darnold, they have to take him and move on from the incumbent.

Fields has been undeniably great for the Buckeyes. He threw for more than 3,000 yards and scored 51 touchdowns – 41 passing and 10 rushing – with just three interceptions and finished third in the Heisman voting last year. Fields’ 2020 performance has been more up and down, but he still has 20 touchdowns to just five interceptions and has won all six of his games so far.

Wilson is more of a wildcard. He’s been sensational during his junior year at BYU – 30 passing touchdowns, eight rushing touchdowns and just three interceptions – and looks the part of a legit quarterback prospect with his fundamentals. Wilson hasn’t played many great teams this season, though, except for Boise State – which he torched for 360 yards and four total touchdowns.

If Fields or Wilson aren’t intriguing to the Jets, this poses a second question: Trade or keep the pick?

A franchise that covets one of the non-Lawrence quarterbacks could trade a premium for the opportunity to take one of them. Or, perhaps they like another player at the top of the draft whom they wouldn’t have a shot at selecting, such as Oregon tackle Penei Sewell or LSU receiver J’Marr Chase. Douglas may opt to take a nice package of assets if he owns the No. 2 or 3 picks, move back and fortify the rest of his team instead of sticking with his position. Just look at what the Rams and Browns received when they traded out of the No. 2 picks in the past decade.

But if Douglas decides to keep the pick and select one of those blue-chip prospects instead, who would it be if not one of the quarterbacks? Therein lies the next big question. There are a couple of solid, potentially franchise-altering players at the top of the draft.

Sewell is considered one of the best tackle prospects in recent memory and would help Douglas build that wall of protection for Darnold. He and Mekhi Becton on either side of the line would do wonders for the Jets’ offense for the next four years. Prior to Dak Prescott’s injury, look at how well the Cowboys played behind the best line in football and their fourth-round quarterback.

The speedy Chase is another option, too. He would give the offense a marquee weapon on the outside alongside Denzel Mims. A more outside the box idea would be to draft a cornerback to strengthen the Jets’ porous secondary, someone like Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley or Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II. Or Douglas could grab Miami edge rusher Gregory Rousseau to bring some speed to the Jets pass rush. Rousseau trailed only Chase Young in sacks in 2019 before he opted out of this season because of the pandemic.

Whatever the Jets do in the 2021 draft will have a ripple effect that will chart a course for the rest of Douglas’ tenure as general manager. Drafting a quarterback or trading the pick signals the beginning of a full-scale rebuild of the roster. Drafting an offensive lineman means Douglas is willing to give Darnold another chance while establishing a good foundation for the offense. Drafting a defensive player means the Jets will try to find offensive answers in free agency.

Right now, there really isn’t a wrong answer until the Jets complete their full scouting assessment of the top prospects, the trade block and their current roster. Quarterback is the most obvious choice considering the regression of Darnold and the strength of this class compared to others, but every prospect after Lawrence comes with his own set of flaws and growing pains.

The decisions that have to be made over the next several months leading up to the draft in April are incredibly important for the Jets’ future. The choice might not be so easy now if they aren’t staring at that No. 1 position.