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Are the Jets leaning toward defense at No. 23 in the NFL Draft?

Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau wears the turnover

Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau wears the turnover chain during a 2019 game against Central Michigan.  Credit: TNS/Michael Laughlin

Robert Saleh likes the improvements the Jets made to the defensive line in free agency, but he left no doubt that the work’s not done.

"It’s a cool start," Saleh said of the additions of Carl Lawson, Sheldon Rankins and Vinny Curry.

It could be an indication the Jets will add an edge rusher with one of their early picks in this week’s NFL Draft or make a deal to get one.

BYU quarterback Zach Wilson is the odds-on favorite to be the Jets’ pick at No. 2 on Thursday night. After that, all options are on the table with their next nine picks — as they should be after a 2-14 season and with holes throughout the roster.

General manager Joe Douglas said teams have already started "greasing the skids" and doing the "groundwork" to trade up or back. The Jets certainly have as well, with five picks in the first two days and 10 total.

Currently, the Jets have pick 23 in the first round, 34 in the second and 66 and 86 in the third. On Day 3 of the draft, the Jets hold one pick in the fourth round (No. 107), two in the fifth (146 and 154) and two in the sixth (186 and 226).

"We put ourselves in a position for flexibility with the number of picks that we have this year and next year as well," assistant general manager Rex Hogan said. "Depending on the options we have when we’re on the clock or moving forward throughout the draft, we’ve given ourselves the freedom to move."

Cornerback, edge rusher, an interior offensive lineman and a dual-threat running back for new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s scheme are areas of need.

The Jets could fill two of them at 23 and 34 and address all of them by the end of Friday night.

The Jets have to strike a balance between picking the best player on their board and making sure they get Wilson weapons and protection. Saleh, a defensive coach, could put more of a premium on players on that side of the ball.

"It’s good news, bad news," NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. "The bad news is you got a bunch of needs. The good news is they got a bunch of picks. They’re going to be able to go in a different direction depending how it falls."

Pairing a young edge rusher with Lawson on the outside and Quinnen Williams at tackle could give the Jets a disruptive front for many years. The edge rushers projected to go in the 15-35 range include Miami’s Greg Rousseau and Jaelan Phillips, Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari, Penn State’s Jayson Oweh and Washington’s Joe Tryon.

Rousseau and Tryon are among many players in this draft who opted out last year. More than ever, teams are reviewing game film from the previous year since many prospects either played on teams or against ones that weren’t at full strength due to concerns over COVID-19.

"There’s obviously a challenge," Douglas said. "In some ways you can argue that there is more value in watching the ’19 tape."

The Jets didn’t add a cornerback in free agency and should options be there at No. 23. Saleh said he likes taller cornerbacks, but the most important trait is that "whether or not they can win in man coverage."

Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II and South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn are expected to be gone. But Northwestern’s Greg Newsome II and Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley could be available.

They both have some injury concerns that the Jets’ medical staff would have to feel comfortable about before drafting them. Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr. or Kentucky’s Kelvin Joseph could be a possibility at 34 if the Jets go with an offensive lineman or edge rusher at 23.

"We’re in a good position with the picks we have inside the top three rounds," Douglas said. "We’re going to be able to let the board come to us and make a lot of good decisions."

Defensive players Jets could target

Greg Newsome II, Northwestern, CB: Only had one interception in college but wasn’t thrown at much. Possible cause for concern: Newsome missed 16 games in three seasons.

Greg Rousseau, Miami, Edge rusher: Opted out last year after finishing with 15.5 sacks the previous year, second in the country behind Chase Young.

Azeez Ojulari, Georgia, Edge rusher: He led the SEC with 9.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and was second with 12.5 tackles for loss.

Jaelan Phillips, Miami, Edge rusher: After transferring from UCLA, he had 6.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss in final four games with the Hurricanes. Injury history could result in him falling.

Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech, CB: Big, long and athletic, which are traits Robert Saleh wants in his cornerbacks. Farley could slip after opting out in 2020 and recently undergoing back surgery.

New York Sports