The Jets have lived in the top half of the draft for much of the past decade and have picked sixth or higher five times in six years. General manager Joe Douglas hopes that unsightly trend ends Thursday night.
Picking fourth and 10th in the NFL Draft, Douglas has the chance to add two impact players who can help the Jets not only become a more competitive team but also snap their 11-year playoff drought.
The Jets have nine picks overall, including four of the top 38. Douglas expects the Jets to get four starters with their first four picks, but the Jets may not hold onto all four.
They have the flexibility and assets to make a splashy trade for 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel. They also could package their second-round picks (Nos. 35 and 38) into a first-round pick and bolster a position of need.
“Having four picks in the top 38, [if] we do this the right way, it could really be special,” Douglas said.
Cornerback, edge rusher, wide receiver and offensive lineman should be the early-round priorities.
The Jaguars, Lions and Texans are on the clock before the Jets’ first pick. Douglas said there are 10 players on the Jets’ board that they would be “very excited to add” in the first round.
The Jets can help both sides of the football on Day 1. It makes sense to go that way. Douglas used the first four picks last year on offense. He likely will mix it up a little more and grab a defensive player Thursday.
Robert Saleh is in favor of that.
N.C State offensive tackle Ickey Ekwonu, Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and edge rushers Travon Walker (Georgia), Jermaine Johnson II (Florida State) and Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux could be in play for the Jets at four. Receivers Drake London (USC), Garrett Wilson (Ohio State) or Alabama’s Jameson Williams, LSU corner Derek Stingley Jr. and Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton could be targets at 10.
Douglas is enamored with offensive linemen. He’s selected one in the first round the last two drafts. No one would be shocked if he made it a threepeat and took Ekwonu with the No. 4 pick, if he’s still on the board.
Protecting Zach Wilson is of utmost importance, and the Jets have some uncertainty at tackle.
Mekhi Becton is returning from knee surgery and his weight and conditioning are always a concern. Tackle George Fant also is returning from a knee procedure and is in the last year of his deal.
Ekwonu is this draft’s best offensive lineman. If Douglas deems him the best player available when the Jets pick, he could be the choice.
Gardner is seen as a No. 1 corner and could be hard to pass up at four with the Jets facing Stefon Diggs, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle twice a year. Gardner could be a game-changer for a team that needs a shutdown corner.
Edge rusher is another area the Jets need to shore up. Saleh wants his front to be attacking, disruptive and to come at teams in waves. Walker could go earlier, but if he’s there at four he could be the Jets pick.
Thibodeaux and Johnson should be available, though. Thibodeaux was linked to the Jets early, but not as much as the draft neared as questions about his desire and playing hard every down surfaced. The Jets are said to be high on Johnson, but four may be too high to take him and he might not be available at 10.
The receivers start coming into play with the No. 10 pick, especially if the Jets take Gardner or an edge rusher fourth. They want to upgrade the receiving room and give Wilson more and better weapons to help him reach his potential.
Garrett Wilson may be the best receiver. He also may be gone. London, who measured in at 6-4 at the Combine, would give the Jets a dimension they don’t have with his size, length and strength.
The Jets also have needs at safety and linebacker. They’re expected to address just about every position in this draft other than quarterback.