The Jets had one of the best wide-receiver tandems in the league only two years ago. But with Brandon Marshall’s free-agent departure to the Giants and Eric Decker still rehabbing from shoulder and hip surgeries, the team is desperate for an explosive playmaker.
The offense regressed significantly last season under former coordinator Chan Gailey, going from 13th in passing yards per game (253.6) in 2015 to 27th (216.6). The Jets also went from averaging 24.2 points (11th) in 2015 to 17.2 (30th).
But it’s been almost a decade since the organization addressed offensive needs in Round 1 of the NFL Draft. In 2009, general manager Mike Tannenbaum moved up 12 spots to select quarterback Mark Sanchez fifth overall before taking running back Shonn Greene and offensive lineman Matt Slauson in the second and third rounds. Since then, a slew of defensive players — Kyle Wilson, Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples, Dee Milliner, Sheldon Richardson and Calvin Pryor — were made first-round picks, while the Jets saved offensive targets for later. That trend continued with Mike Maccagnan, who drafted Leonard Williams at No. 6 in 2015 and Darron Lee 20th last year.
The Jets, with obvious needs in the secondary, again hold the No. 6 pick, and there are plenty of offensive playmakers for Maccagnan & Co. to choose from in the early rounds.
Big-name prospects such as running backs Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook; tight ends O.J. Howard, David Njoku and Evan Engram; and receivers Mike Williams, John Ross and Corey Davis have earned much of the attention heading into draft week. But there are plenty of less discussed guys who could produce. East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones is a high-character guy who set the NCAA record for career receptions (399) and the single-season record (158) in 2016. His uncle, former NFL quarterback Jeff Blake, was a sixth-round pick of the Jets in 1992.
Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara isn’t a consensus first-round talent like Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon, but Kamara averaged more than 6 yards on 210 carries and scored 16 touchdowns during two seasons with the Volunteers. Kamara also caught 74 passes for 683 yards and returned punts.
Regardless of which playmaker the Jets have in mind in Rounds 1-3, they have to make sure they hit on an impact player. Should they choose not to target the offense, they’ll have to rely on Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson and free-agent signee Quinton Patton to shoulder the pass-catching load until Decker returns. Oft-injured Devin Smith, their 2015 second-round pick, will have to prove he can contribute, along with Jalin Marshall and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, both of whom will serve suspensions to start the season.
The Jets have gone defense in the first round every year since 2009, when they traded up to get Mark Sanchez. If GM Mike Maccagnan wants to break tradition, there are plenty of offensive playmakers worth taking in the early rounds.
Leonard Fournette, RB
Matt Forte is 31, and Bilal Powell turns 29 in October. Fournette is a 230-pounder with speed and the ability to bowl over defenders.
O.J. Howard, TE
Draft experts believe he’s a can’t miss first-round talent. Howard can run-block and be a potent receiver. He’s an immediate game-changer.
David Njoku, TE
The Cedar Grove, New Jersey, native is raw, but he has the height (6-4) and athleticism to be dangerous anywhere you put him.
Isaiah “Zay” Jones, WR
One thing Jones has that most other prospects don’t: an NFL pedigree. His father, Robert, was a linebacker and three-time Super Bowl champion with the Cowboys. His uncle Jeff Blake was a quarterback who was drafted in the sixth round by the Jets in 1992.
Alvin Kamara, RB
He doesn’t possess Joe Mixon’s rare blend of gifts, but Kamara has explosive burst, pass-catching ability and he can be used on special teams. His circuitous path took him from Alabama to Hutchinson CC (Kansas) and Tennessee, but he’s managed to impress NFL teams despite splitting touches with other backs.