3 surprising positions NY Jets could target in draft6 min read
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By: Michael Nania
Ditch your draft blueprints: The New York Jets could flip the script by targeting one of these surprising positions
Every year, NFL fans, media members, and mock-draft junkies craft solidified pre-draft shopping lists for each team, complete with the specific positions they will target at each of their slots in the draft. And, every year, we see teams subvert these expectations by targeting positions that nobody expected them to target. This is an inevitable occurrence, and yet, it feels as if the football media world still hasn’t adjusted.
Who had the New York Jets taking Breece Hall in the second round last year? Almost nobody. The consensus among Jets fans and media was that New York would look to fill an important defensive hole with that pick – either defensive tackle, linebacker, or safety. Because of Michael Carter’s breakout rookie year, running back was chalked up as a non-need that the Jets would definitely not target in the second round. It was such a far-fetched idea that it was barely even discussed among Jets fans and media.
Alas, the Jets went against the grain – and it seems like that was a good thing considering Hall ended up playing like a star while Carter declined to the production of a replacement-level player.
And who had the Jets drafting a tight end in the third round after signing two tight ends to starter-level contracts in free agency? Once again, hardly anybody. After New York signed C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin, there was nary a mock draft in Jets land that featured a tight end at any spot of the draft, let alone the third round. Yet, the Jets drafted Jeremy Ruckert in the third round anyway.
I also don’t think many people expected the Jets to take a second edge rusher near the start of the fourth round after already trading up to draft Jermaine Johnson in the first round. But the Jets clearly believed Micheal Clemons was the best available prospect on their board, so they took him, regardless of what position he played. That turned out to be a good move, as Clemons played well in his rookie year and was arguably just as good as Johnson (some would argue he was even better).
The point is, we cannot sit here in the pre-draft process and craft perfectly mapped-out blueprints for what NFL teams will do throughout the draft. That’s not how the draft works. Teams create their boards, and for the most part, they stick to them. They will typically draft the best player available while slightly leaning toward positions of greater need. Coming up with specific plans – i.e. “the Jets will draft position A with this pick and position B with this pick” – is foolhardy.
Without further ado, let’s try and project this year’s surprise picks for the Jets. Which positions might they target earlier than expected?
Despite already making a surprise pick at tight end with Jeremy Ruckert in 2022, I think tight end is worth including as a candidate to be a surprise pick once again in 2023.
You can never have enough weapons in the modern NFL, especially when you’re going all-in for a Super Bowl-or-bust season with 40-year-old Aaron Rodgers. Sure, the Jets have a nice tight end room with Tyler Conklin, C.J. Uzomah, and Ruckert, but do any of those guys scare opposing defenses? No, they don’t.
The 2023 tight end class is widely considered to be one of the strongest in recent memory. If the Jets fall in love with a prospect who they think offers the potential to become a top-flight pass-catcher at the position – especially one with elite athleticism – I could see them pulling the trigger.
Do I think it is likely the Jets select a tight end early in this draft? Absolutely not. Conklin and Uzomah have backloaded contracts that could keep them on the Jets into 2024, while Ruckert barely got a chance to prove himself in his rookie year and deserves a greater opportunity in 2023. It’s a crowded room.
But remember: We’re trying to project surprise picks. No, I don’t see the Jets drafting a tight end early, but the idea has enough credence to where I think there is a non-zero chance they will do it.
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The Jets’ edge unit is deep and strong. John Franklin-Myers and Carl Lawson project to retain their starting spots while Bryce Huff, Jermaine Johnson, and Micheal Clemons back them up. This is one of the best position groups on the roster.
However, the Jets’ long-term outlook at this position is a bit murky. Come 2024, Lawson and Huff will be free agents.
It’s also important to note the Jets’ defensive line philosophy: They love to rotate and keep everyone fresh. When a team operates with this mindset, its depth becomes especially important.
The Jets might be happy with their group from one-to-five as it stands, but considering how much they rely on the back half of their depth chart, they might still be on the prowl for a sixth talented player. Remember, the Jets kept six edge rushers on their opening 53-man roster in 2022.
This Jets regime has shown with its roster construction throughout the past two years that it will always be hungry for more talent on the edge. As long as Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich are in town, I don’t think the Jets will ever be truly satisfied with their edge unit. Do not be surprised if they draft an edge rusher earlier than you expected.
The Jets know Aaron Rodgers will not be around for long. Whether he gives them one year or two years remains a mystery, but either way, the Jets must prepare themselves for the post-Rodgers era at quarterback.
No matter how many optimistic comments they may make about him, it’s obvious the Jets no longer have faith in Zach Wilson. This has been clear since the very start of the offseason, when Joe Douglas, Robert Saleh, and Woody Johnson all openly declared the team’s intentions to pursue a veteran quarterback.
Usually, teams will try to disguise their disappointment in their young quarterback. They’ll praise him as much as possible while remaining non-committal and saying they’ll “explore all options to improve the roster” or other cliches of that nature. Every cookie-cutter answer in the book will be deployed to try and veil the team’s true feelings about the player.
But the Jets just came right out after the season and blatantly stated that making a big move at quarterback is their number one priority. They did not make any attempt to hide their feelings about Wilson.
Read between the lines: They’re done with Zach Wilson as a potential long-term answer.
It’s also worth noting that New York has an almost completely revamped offensive coaching staff. None of the team’s top offensive coaches (Nathaniel Hackett, Todd Downing, and Keith Carter) were with the team when Wilson was drafted. He’s not their guy.
Considering Wilson is not the long-term answer and the current offensive staff does not have its own handpicked young quarterback on the team, the Jets could very well decide to use a surprisingly early draft pick on a quarterback who they think can be groomed to take over for Rodgers in the future, be it 2024 or 2025. If they really love a certain guy, it could happen as early as the second day.
The Jets’ 2025 quarterback is not on the roster yet. Don’t rule out the possibility of the Jets trying to find him in this year’s draft.
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Originally posted on Jets X-Factor