Sam Darnold will be about 3,000 miles away from Joe Douglas on draft night, but the quarterback will be very present in Douglas’ mind.
The Jets need to further bolster the offensive line to protect Darnold, but they also need to get him some weapons.
Douglas, in his first draft as a general manager, may have a difficult decision to make with the No. 11 pick Thursday night. He can select a big tackle with the potential to keep Darnold safe for the next 10-plus years or pick an athletic can’t-miss receiver who can stretch the field and cause matchup nightmares for defensive coordinators.
At this point, wide receiver is more of a need for the Jets. Douglas will address it, but it’s just a matter of whether he does it during the first round Thursday or during Day 2 with the No. 48 pick.
Former Ravens coach and current NFL Network analyst Brian Billick, with whom Douglas worked when he was a Baltimore scout, said it’s dangerous to draft based on need. Some draft experts believe the drop-off in talent between tackles who can be taken in the first round and second round is greater than the gap in receivers.
ESPN longtime draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. thinks the Jets would be smart to go tackle first and wait until Day 2 to take a receiver.
“What tackle are you going to get in the second round that’s as good as a receiver you can get?” Kiper said. “You look at your grades of the first-round receiver, what's the grades of the second-round tackle going to be? But if you go with the grade of the first-round tackle as opposed to the second-round receiver, I think it's going to be better taking the tackle first and the receiver second. I think most teams would agree with that.”
We’ll see if Douglas agrees. But he’s a former offensive lineman who has been very transparent about emphasizing a strong line.
In free agency, Douglas signed five offensive linemen and one receiver (Breshad Perriman). It wouldn't be surprising if he took an offensive lineman Thursday, but it will depend on his draft board and how he rates each player.
The top four tackles are Alabama’s Jedrick Wills Jr., Louisville’s Mekhi Becton, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas. If the third- or fourth-rated tackle on Douglas’ board is there and his No. 1-rated receiver, perhaps Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb, is still available, that’s when it could get interesting — or difficult.
Lamb would help Darnold tremendously, as would Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III. If the Jets bypass them and take a tackle in the first round, they could go with one of these wide receivers in the second round: Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool, TCU’s Jalen Reagor, USC’s Michael Pittman, Clemson’s Tee Higgins or Baylor’s Denzel Mims.
Former Cowboys executive Gil Brandt, currently a SiriusXM radio host, said that unless all four tackles are gone by the time the Jets pick, he would wait until the second round to take a receiver.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of difference between the four tackles in this draft,” Brandt said on a conference call. “They are all very good. I probably would take a tackle because I think you’re going to go into the second round and be able to get a good wide receiver. You won’t get the same type of offensive lineman in the second round value-wise as you would a wide receiver.”
If the Jets come out of the first two rounds with Becton and Pittman, or Wirfs and Claypool, or Wills and Higgins, or some combination of tackle/receiver like that, it will be a nice draft haul for Douglas.
“At No. 11, if they end up taking a Wills from Alabama or Wirfs from Iowa or Thomas from Georgia — how great would that be?” Billick said. “A chance of one of the three falling to No. 11 is pretty good and would be a great choice. Certainly no one could accuse them of reaching if one of those three would sit there at 11 and they were to take him.”
DEAL OR NO DEAL
The Jets have the No. 11 pick in the NFL Draft, and there is always the chance that GM Joe Douglas could trade it. The last time the Jets dealt their first-round pick was in 2009:
The scenario: The Jets, fresh off the Brett Favre experiment, had the No. 17 pick in the first round. They needed a quarterback.
The transaction: Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum found a trading partner in the Cleveland Browns. He sent the No. 17 pick and his second-round pick, No. 52, along with DE Kenyon Coleman, S Abram Elam and QB Brett Ratliff, to the Browns for the No. 5 pick.
The result: At No. 5, the Jets selected USC QB Mark Sanchez. Supported by a stout defense and a strong running game, Sanchez helped to lead the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship Games in his first two seasons.