Jets general manager Joe Douglas sat at a table with his assistant GM Rex Hogan answering questions for nearly 25 minutes about a potential trade for Deebo Samuel and this week’s NFL draft. You could tell Douglas couldn’t wait to get back to watching film or meeting with his scouts and coaches to discuss the draft prospects.
Douglas lives for the draft — and this is a big one for him. They all are, but with two picks in the top 10 and four of the first 38, he set up the Jets to add game changers when the three-day NFL Draft opens Thursday night. Douglas needs to do that to keep the Jets from picking this high again next year.
“I think it's everything. It’s huge,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said of the importance of this draft for Douglas. “He's got to hit it in this draft, and he's got the resources to do it. Not just to even stick where he is, he's got opportunities to move around one way or the other and kind of put the master plan together here.”
The master plan is to continue to build around Zach Wilson. But the Jets, who own picks four, 10, 35 and 38, have needs just about everywhere. Wilson needs more protection and weapons, and Robert Saleh’s defense needs an edge rusher and playmakers in the back end.
The Jets could end up drafting two of these players with picks four and 10: edge rushers Kayvon Thibodeux, Travon Walker and Jermaine Johnson, offensive tackle Ickey Ekwonu and Evan Neal, receivers Drake London, Garrett Wilson and Jameson Williams and cornerback Ahmed “Sauce” Gardner.
“I can tell you that we have 10 players on our board that we’d be very excited to add,” Douglas said.
Douglas was hired before the 2019 season, but he didn’t get to put that team together. He inherited former GM Mike Maccagnan’s roster.
The Jets have won just six games over the past two seasons with the rosters that Douglas assembled. He said he expects the Jets to play “meaningful games” in December. This draft could go a very long way toward that.
The results of Douglas’ first two drafts have been mixed.
His first one looked good initially, but there are serious questions about the long-term futures of Mekhi Becton and Denzel Mims, the Jets’ first two picks in 2020.
The rest of the draft produced Ashtyn Davis, Jabari Zuniga, La’Mical Perine, James Morgan, Cameron Clark, Bryce Hall and Braden Mann. Hall and Mann — fifth- and sixth-round picks, respectively — have been the most dependable and productive players from the 2020 group.
Last year’s class looks to be much better.
Douglas took Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore, Michael Carter, Jamien Sherwood, Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, Hamsah Nasirildeen, Brandin Echols and Jonathan Marshall.
All of them but Marshall started multiple games. Wilson, Vera-Tucker, Moore and both Carters and perhaps Echols look like they could be mainstays for the Jets. Wilson’s play will ultimately determine the success of the draft and the Jets.
“This is going to be the draft to piggy-back last year,” said Jeremiah, who worked in the Ravens' scouting department when Douglas was a member of the organization. “I think the early returns from that group are pretty positive.
“I think they've started off well with that one and now they've got to hit it out of the park with this one.”
Jeremiah thinks the Jets should take Gardner, whom he called “a real difference maker,” with the No. 4 pick and grab Johnson or one of the receivers at 10. Either way, the Jets should have plenty of options, including the possibility of moving up, down or trading for a playmaking receiver.
Douglas has positioned himself this year to be in just about any trade conversation, but most believe he won’t part with either first-round pick even for a top playmaker like Samuel. Douglas offered picks 35 and 38 in the package for Tyreek Hill, who chose to sign a long-term extension with the Miami Dolphins instead.
You can never say never, though, if the Jets feel getting someone as versatile as Samuel will really move this team forward and bring out the best in Wilson.
“It’s going to be about developing and helping our young quarterback,” Douglas said. “Outside of that, it’s about adding as many difference makers as you can to the roster and making sure that they fit within the culture and the scheme that we’re trying to provide.”