How The New York Jets Aced The 2022 NFL Draft

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2022 NFL Draft
LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 28: Garrett Wilson, Ohio State University is selected as the number ten pick by the New York Jets during the NFL Draft on April 28, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The 2022 NFL Draft has come and gone. The New York Jets came into this draft with some holes to fill. They aced the draft and are being given props by the national media pundits. Joe Douglas and his scouts deserve a ton of credit for finding great value and making his team better. This might be the best Jets draft I’ve ever seen in my lifetime watching football.

The New York Jets Nailed the 2022 NFL Draft

Round 1, No. 4 Overall: Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Cornerback, Cincinnati

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The Jets started the 2022 NFL Draft by bringing the sauce to add some flavor to the secondary. This came as a shock to me, and here’s why.

What analysts know very well is that Robert Saleh’s defense is predicated on getting after the quarterback. The focus is solely based on the front seven, primarily the defensive line. During Saleh’s time in San Francisco as defensive coordinator, the highest the 49ers drafted a cornerback was in 2017 when the team took Ahkello Witherspoon. Most of the other defensive backs, including the 2021 Jets draft, were taken in the fifth and sixth rounds.

I also thought the Jets felt satisfied with their cornerback group of Michael Carter II, new acquisition D.J. Reed, and Bryce Hall. There were reports during the offseason that the team seemed to be concerned with Bryce Hall’s ball skills. Hall was atop the NFL in pass deflections but didn’t showcase good enough hands to create turnovers. The New York Jets ranked at the bottom of the league in turnovers in 2021.

Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner changes that and has the potential to be an elite cornerback in this league. Bryce Hall’s ceiling is a low-end CB1/high-end CB2. The Jets viewed Gardner as the best player available. Some fans were upset at the time that the team didn’t take Oregon edge rusher, Kayvon Thibodeaux. Well, when you have a division with receivers like Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and Stefon Diggs, you need a shutdown cornerback, no matter the scheme or philosophy.

Sauce Gardner brings length and size to the Jets cornerback room, standing 6’3” and weighing 190 lbs. Gardner dominated at the college level, not allowing a single touchdown throughout his college career. Some say that he didn’t face the best competition in college football but put those rumors to bed with an excellent performance against Alabama in the Cotton Bowl.

The Jets taking Gardner also makes sense because they primarily play man coverage on third down. Gardner fits that but also can play in the Jet’s zone defense. He’s a good route disruptor with his hands, being able to press at the line of scrimmage. Gardner can also rack up turnovers with his good ball skills. Expect the Jets’ turnover count on defense to increase in 2022.

I was originally down on drafting a cornerback in the first round because I was content with Hall, Carter II, and the new acquisition of Reed. But it grew on me more and more as AFC teams began receiving influxes of talent at the wide receiver position. The Jets brought in a superior talent at the cornerback position.

Grade: A-

2021 Statistics (13 games): 40 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks, three interceptions, four pass defenses

Round 1, No. 10 Overall: Garrett Wilson, Wide Receiver, Ohio State

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The New York Jets were in talks with the San Francisco 49ers about wide receiver Deebo Samuel. The Jets offered the 10th overall pick and a fifth-round pick in return for Samuel and a second-round pick. There was nothing the Jets could do as the 49ers just wouldn’t budge.

The Jets kept the 10th overall pick and had to decide between Florida state edge rusher Jermaine Johnson and Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson. They chose the latter and general manager Joe Douglas played his cards right.

Wilson has excellent body control and movement ability at his tall stature. He’s also phenomenal at creating separation and being explosive downfield. Wilson recorded 12 touchdown receptions last season, with six of them on vertical routes. With the offense’s philosophy of building off of play-action, expect more plays drawn up for the rookie if he’s freed up.

He’s also improved his route-running which is critical to Mike LaFleur’s offense. He’s just another receiver with big-play ability as he can create yards after the catch.

At the next level, Garrett Wilson’s speed to separate will translate but he did show some struggles against press coverage in college. Wilson will need to get a tad stronger.

Grade: A+

2021 Statistics (11 games): 70 receptions, 1,058 yards, 12 receiving touchdowns, four rushing attempts, 76 yards, one rushing touchdown

Round 1, No. 26 Overall: Jermaine Johnson, EDGE, Florida State

Trade:

Titans receive: 35th overall pick, 69th overall pick, 163rd overall pick
Jets receive: 26th overall pick, 101st overall pick

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One could argue the New York Jets singlehandedly won the first round and maybe the entire 2022 NFL Draft with this pick. Per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Joe Douglas reportedly called each team that picked from 15th overall to 26th about trading with the Jets. Douglas said in the offseason that if he saw the right opportunity to bolster the roster, he’d be aggressive and take the chance.

Amazingly, the Jets got three of their top eight players on their draft board at fourth, 10th, and 26th overall. The fans also were able to breathe a sigh of relief and burst into excitement.

Jermaine Johnson enjoyed his one-year stint at Florida State, winning ACC Defensive Player of the Year and also became a team captain. Originally projected as an early second-round pick, the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine only raised his stock. Plus, the Jets coaching staff got to take a close look at him in the Senior Bowl. Robert Saleh told Jermaine Johnson during his draft phone call that the team tried to trade up for him, and they did.

What sticks out about Johnson is his strong motor and incredible speed. He plays with urgency and fight, something the Jets lacked out of some of their veterans last season. Johnson possesses a long frame with long arms which makes him consistently take control of blocks. He’s also a good run defender which should improve a unit that ranked bottom of the NFL in stopping the ground game. He’s also got a repertoire of pass rush moves that can assist him in moving blockers.

Speed on the edges is what a Robert Saleh defense emphasizes on a 4-3 front. Now, the Jets got even better with their pass rush. Johnson will now start opposite Carl Lawson with Quinnen Williams and John Franklin-Myers lining up inside. The depth at the edge rusher position got even better throughout the offseason.  This defensive front will wreak havoc at the line of scrimmage. That’s for sure. What a crafty move made here by Joe Douglas. This could be argued as the steal of the first round.

Grade: A+

2021 Statistics (12 games): 70 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one defensive touchdown, two passes defended

Round 2, No. 36 Overall: Breece Hall, Running Back, Iowa State

Trade:

Giants receive: 38th overall pick,
Jets receive: 36th overall pick, 146th overall pick

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For the second time in the 2022 NFL Draft, Joe Douglas got aggressive and traded up for his guy. This pick was also a surprise to me as the Jets got the best running back in the draft.

The Jets added more firepower to their offense with Iowa State running back Breece Hall. Hall immediately comes in as the best running back on the Jets roster and will share touches with Michael Carter.

The touches that Breece Hall got in college define him as a true NFL three-down back. Hall is a home run hitter when he finds the hole. His patience allows him not to be too greedy when the hole isn’t there. Hall’s balance and strength allow him to break arm tackles easily and keep his footing to create yards after contact. Hall can also catch passes out of the backfield and can extend his arms away from his body to make the diving catch.

Hall was a good pass protecting back during his days at Iowa State but will have to adjust to more complicated pass protection schemes and redefine his technique at the next level. His route tree is also limited to screens and check-downs.

Luckily, the Jets’ offense utilizes a running back by committee system which will keep Breece Hall’s legs fresh. It’s also beneficial for Hall to have a running back as good as Michael Carter by his side.

Grade: A-

2021 Statistics (12 games): 253 rushing attempts, 1,472 rushing yards, 5.8 yards per carry, 20 rushing touchdowns, 36 receptions, 302 yards, three receiving touchdowns

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Round 3, No. 101 Overall: Jeremy Ruckert, Tight End, Ohio State

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This is the best of both worlds. Long Island native Jeremy Ruckert gets to play for his favorite team growing up and he gets to reunite with fellow Ohio State alumn, Garrett Wilson. Tight end was not necessarily a need for the Jets but Joe Douglas decided to add more power in the passing attack for the offense.

Ruckert’s size offers the ability to play as a true Y tight end in the NFL. He’s also a solid blocking tight end who loves to mow down smaller defenders. As a route runner, Ruckert also offers the ability to sink and bend on his routes with his sizeable speed. His size allows for good hands and the ability to make the spectacular catch away from his body.

Due to being underutilized at Ohio State, Ruckert’s route tree was limited and his production was fairly low compared to the other tight ends in this draft. Ruckert tends to go too aggressive into blocks where he completely misses.

As for his role on the team, the Jets may utilize him as the H-back of the offense which could leave out Trevon Wesco. Other than that, I don’t see a ton of reps coming for Jeremy Ruckert with new acquisitions Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah ahead of him on the depth chart. But I would like to see a mix of all the tight ends being utilized since they are all very good options as opposed to the room the Jets had at the position last season. General manager Joe Douglas did a nice job of righting his wrong of neglecting the tight end room by getting some nice security blankets for Zach Wilson.

Grade: B+

2021 Statistics (11 games): 26 receptions, 309 yards, three receiving touchdowns

Round 4, No. 111 Overall: Max Mitchell, Offensive Tackle, Louisiana

With their second-to-last selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, the New York Jets opted to add depth to the offensive line. Joe Douglas loves building through the trenches.

Max Mitchell offers versatility as he’s played both tackle positions and he can slide into guard as well. It’s also best to play it safe to add a pipeline tackle because George Fant will be a free agent in 2023. Mitchell doesn’t offer too much power at his size but has the mobility to keep up with blockers, which helps him fit the Jets’ wide-zone scheme like the one he played in college under Billy Napier. He’s a better pass protector than run-blocker.

On the downside, Mitchell tends to strike late with his hands on the outside which leaves him susceptible to chops and losing the corner quickly. He doesn’t consistently root his feet into the ground due to too much bounce. Mitchell will need to add some more strength to his frame at the next level so he can balance out his movement more.

It’s always good to add depth to the offensive line. I also thought the Jets could’ve drafted a safety or linebacker here to start the fourth round. Names like Brandon Smith, Verone McKinley, Leon O’Neal Jr, and Smoke Monday were available. All fill positions of need and can start almost immediately.

Grade: B-

Round 4, No. 117 Overall: Micheal Clemons, EDGE, Texas A&M

Rounding out the 2022 NFL Draft for the New York Jets, the team decided to add another edge rusher to the fold. Going into the draft, I was high on the idea of adding two edge rushers just in case Carl Lawson doesn’t return to form. In that case, you could potentially have Jermaine Johnson and Micheal Clemons striking fear into quarterbacks for years to come. That’s if Clemons can stay on the field without issues.

Clemons was arrested in September 2021 on charges of carrying an unlawful weapon, giving false information, and possessing two ounces of marijuana with an invalid driver’s license. This pick was the riskiest by far. Clemons has the talent to succeed at the next level but his draft stock fell due to legal issues. The hope is that entering a very player-friendly environment like the New York Jets will humble him.

Clemons features various pass-rush moves in his arsenal. He mixes in a thunderous punch, two-hand swipes, spin moves, bull-rush moves, and inside counters along with his best weapon being the rip-and-dip around the edge. His weapons are assisted by his good bend around the edge and flexibility. When watching him play, Clemons is truly violent off the edge which makes quarterbacks worry about a potential big hit on the way.

Clemons has the skillset and the passion to succeed at the next level. What will make this a risk or reward is if he can stay on the field and keep away from distractions. Because with Clemons on the defensive line, whether as a starter or rotational piece, the Jets’ pass rush unit will be feared once and for all.

Like the last pick, the Jets didn’t have to take the risk on Clemons with better players available that filled positions of need like linebacker and safety.

Grade: B-

2021 Statistics (10 games): 32 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, seven sacks, two pass defenses, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, one defensive touchdown

Draft Overview and Final Grade

I think the New York Jets stole the show in the 2022 NFL Draft. The trade-up for Jermaine Johnson was my favorite thing they did this entire draft. More importantly, the Jets filled in some key holes.

Zach Wilson got more help with the selections of running back Hall, wide receiver Wilson, and tight end Ruckert. The offense is now loaded with three good tight ends, a potentially top-10 offensive line, two excellent young running backs, and three good wide receivers. General manager Joe Douglas corrected the errors of his predecessors by properly building around his young quarterback.

As for the defense, the New York Jets got better with the addition of Gardner and Johnson. Gardner has top-five cornerback potential and Johnson makes the Jets defensive line even more vicious with his speed and arsenal of moves. If Clemons stays on the field, he can be another productive pass-rusher in the defensive line rotation.

Although I am giving the Jets high praise, the linebacker and safety positions do worry me a little bit.

C.J. Mosley had an excellent bounce-back year last season after playing one game combined between 2019 and 2020. But who else is good enough on the linebacker depth chart to slot in next to him? New acquisition Marcell Harris moved to linebacker last season with the San Francisco 49ers and the team got a mixed bag of results from the hybrid. Quincy Williams is a solid playmaker on defense but is not good enough in pass coverage to earn a starting spot. Sophomore linebackers Hamsah Nasirildeen and Jamien Sherwood are question marks because of injuries and limited playing time. Del’Shawn Phillips is best suited in a rotational role as well.

I’m all for trusting in the young core but not when Nasirildeen and Sherwood are unknowns. The linebacking core outside of Mosley was very much responsible for the team’s defensive woes last season, especially when defending the run.

If I’m Joe Douglas, I’m going out and signing Kwon Alexander. The team met with him in April but they didn’t sign him. In the 4-3 defense, Alexander can play the WILL linebacker spot. He immediately gives the Jets a linebacker who can cover tight ends.

I’m not too worried about the safety position but the room could use one more veteran player. LaMarcus Joyner and Jordan Whitehead make a formidable duo. Joyner is the ideal centerfield safety the Jets need when they run single-high. A player that would solidify the safety rotation would be ex-49er Jaquiski Tartt.

Tartt is on the lower tier of safeties but a much more proven asset than what the Jets have behind Joyner and Whitehead. Signing Tartt would allow both incumbent starting safeties to keep their legs fresh. He also is substantially better in coverage than Jordan Whitehead. Tartt’s versatility also allows him to get a good amount of snaps in the box. Because of that, all three safeties could be on the field at the same time.

With this draft class, I felt general manager Joe Douglas hit this one out of the park. The results have yet to manifest but Douglas did his absolute best to put weapons around Zach Wilson. Douglas also filled some key holes by taking the best cornerback and one of the top pass-rushers in the 2022 NFL Draft. Now, one could argue this Jets team can win about eight or nine games. I prefer them to add one of the aforementioned available free agents. But, the way the 2022 season goes for the Jets will largely depend on Zach Wilson’s progression as a young quarterback and Robert Saleh’s progression as a second-year head coach.

Final Draft Grade: A

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Drew Crabtree, Managing Editor

The Jets have had a bonkers off-season from Free Agency through the draft. They had, to me, one of the strongest drafts.

I wouldn’t sleep on them to challenge for a wild card spot…