The New York Jets have battled dysfunction since their last playoff appearance in 2010. With Adam Gase leading the team into 2020, that unfortunate fate is likely to continue. Sam Darnold has provided optimism thus far, though middling results through year two force the walls to close in, or at least start to. Thankfully, Joe Douglas received the keys to the franchise and is entering his first full offseason as general manager. His selections this spring could change the path of Gang Green for the better, or emphasize the mess Mike Maccagnan made. Thus, his first draft is of utmost importance, and at pick 11, New York can go in a myriad of directions. So why not speculate with a Jets seven-round mock draft?
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Darnold’s growth is paramount if the Jets want to sniff the playoffs in the next half-decade, but the depth chart doesn’t portray that same sense of urgency. Le’Veon Bell is easily the best player on the offense, but at a position that fails to return value upon investment, his play was predictably poor last year. The offensive line has been outright horrible, leaving him hopeless on numerous occasions, seemingly every drive. Chris Herndon played well in year one but barely saw the field in 2019. Despite Robby Anderson’s talent and Jamison Crowder’s slot ability, a true number one target has eluded the Jets, and so has consistently adequate receiver play in general. A lack of depth, combined with injuries and a prerequisite of minimal talent, has squandered any offensive potential Darnold could bring to the table. That, unequivocally, needs to change.
On the other side of the ball, New York presents a compelling case of poorly managed talent. Jamal Adams is an elite young safety, complemented by Marcus Maye, who, when on the field, has proven to be a reliable starter. At inside linebacker, Avery Williamson and C.J. Mosley are similarly talented starters, but injuries riddled this positional group useless before the trade deadline. Quinnen Williams leads a defensive line that topped the league in run defense. However, strong play against the run is futile when compared to containing today’s passers, and two massive areas of need relate directly to that: pass rushers and cornerbacks. While switching to a 4-3 would mitigate particular needs in the front seven by unlocking Williams’ pass rush potential, Gregg Williams will most likely stick with the defensive front that showed up on early downs.
Anyhow, Brian Poole is a potential free agent. Still, a quality slot corner, but every other cornerback on the roster is either far below league average or destined for a new employer in 2020. Jordan Jenkins, like Poole, is a good player with an upcoming payday, but a real number one edge rusher hasn’t dressed in green and white since John Abraham.
Subsequently, it makes sense to separate these needs into tiers, where they can be interchangeable, yet still provide some semblance of order. Tier 1 needs are paramount to be addressed, Tier 2 needs demand consideration, and Tier 3 needs would appreciate the upgrade, but don’t require the attention of the prior tiers.
Tier 1: Offensive Tackle, EDGE Rusher, Wide Receiver, Cornerback
Tier 2: Interior Offensive Line, Running Back
Tier 3: Tight End, Defensive Line, Quarterback, Safety, Linebacker
Round 1, Pick 11: CeeDee Lamb, WR Oklahoma
CeeDee Lamb is an undeniable talent at wide receiver and a natural candidate to be the next X receiver for New York. The DeAndre Hopkins comparisons are well-deserved and indicative of what he can do as a route runner, at the catch point, and with the ball in his hands. Lamb is a solid route runner, but maximized his frame to do dastardly things to defensive backs, and embarrass them after the fact. Anderson is far from a guarantee to be back next year, but Lamb’s presence is one that can change the dynamic of an offense. Let him step in from day one and become Darnold’s best friend and reap the benefits of an improved offense.
Lamb is arguably the best receiver in the class, and could very well be available at 11. Demanding extra attention opens up more opportunities for others, and Lamb can act as a catalyst for an offense that has been stuck in neutral for a decade. If Anderson is retained to be their primary deep threat, Lamb can thrive at any level of the field. His diversified route tree can make even the most inept of play callers (looking at you, Coach Gase) look competent. His ability to hide the flaws of others would play a significant role in helping Darnold develop.
As always, when picking as high as the Jets have come accustomed to, other talented options will present themselves. Protecting Darnold is a must, and Andrew Thomas would be a step in the right direction, filling in at left tackle. At wide receiver, Henry Ruggs III was also on the board, and his relentless speed is game-changing. A.J. Epenesa and K’Lavon Chaisson would be talented pass rushers to help a mediocre defense as well, though their skill sets are quite different. All in all, Lamb won out due to his polished play and the ripple effect he could have on the offense.
Round 2, Pick 48: Lucas Niang, OT TCU
Thankfully, at pick 48, quality pass protectors are still available. Lucas Niang ended his senior season early due to injury but showed many tools worthy of a top-50 selection. He can handle any type of EDGE rusher and moves well for his size. His footwork is excellent, and while his hands are not a finished product, they are rather clean and enough to inspire confidence in his development. His anchor is of quality, and he does enough at the second level to make him scheme-independent as well.
The catch with Niang is that he will likely to continue his football career at right tackle, which many teams around the league value less than his counterpart opposite him on the offensive line. However, today’s NFL features elite pass rushers on both sides of the ball and varied enough play calling (from a progression standpoint) to warrant high-end investments at right tackle. The talent is there for the TCU product, and it would be ill-advised to let a somewhat arbitrary boundary keep him off next year’s Jets roster.
Rounding out the top-50 lends itself to some tough questions, with so much talent still available. Whether it was Cesar Ruiz, Prince Tega Wanogho, Noah Igbinoghene, or J.K. Dobbins, quality starters were available at multiple positions of need. Niang wins out in part because of his positional value, but also due to his consistency as an anchor on the right side of TCU’s offensive line.
Round 3, Pick 68: Tyler Biadasz, OL Wisconsin
Earlier this year, selecting Biadasz early in the third round would’ve been unheard of, as he was a seeming lock for the first round. However, after a down year and the league-wide realization that he is rather scheme-dependent, his stock has been in free fall. After getting beat by Davon Hamilton twice this year, his flaws have crept out of the woodwork. There are movement concerns that are only amplified by technical issues that are yet to be cleaned up. The Jets still need a center, and Biadasz still has a good amount of talent to his name, so he becomes a pretty easy selection at 68, even with names like Matt Peart, Bradlee Anae, Zack Baun, and Nick Harris still available.
Round 3, Pick 79: Zack Moss, RB Utah
While he was a positive locker room presence last year, drama found Bell once again, both with Gase and the front office. As an aging, expensive running back, there is no certainty in his future with the Jets, opening the door for his replacement, even if he is used as a complementary piece for any of the next three years. Moss has garnered some top-50 hype, as his contact balance and prowess on third down has drawn comparisons to Kareem Hunt. He is a high-floor prospect that can fill multiple roles. Without a high-cost investment, Moss makes a lot of sense in the early part of the third round. When compared to Evan Weaver, Logan Stenberg, Jabari Zuniga, and Michael Pittman, Moss’s versatility and floor give him the edge.
Round 4, Pick 110: Kenny Willekes, EDGE Michigan State
At this point, the Jets need anyone they can get in terms of pass rushers. Kenny Willekes presents an interesting case as he can ease the transition into a 4-3 front if need be, but is not locked into any one spot. His play against the run is his biggest strength, though his development as a pass rusher is adequate as well. Somebody I’ll end with a top-100 grade on, Willekes is likely to outplay his draft slot. For these reasons, I took him over Essang Bassey, Markus Bailey, Anfernee Jennings, and Anthony Gordon.
Round 5, Pick 140: Devin Duvernay, WR Texas
Like Willekes, Devin Duvernay is another prospect likely to outplay his initial investment. In a deep wide receiver class, it is more than likely Duvernay falls, but the Texas product has his share of fans, and rightly so. He can step in and start in the slot and has no problem creating opportunities for himself. He had the third-most catches in college football, along with nine touchdowns. He can stretch the field or make plays underneath with his athleticism and after the catch abilities, potentially creating a successful relationship with Darnold. Again, helping Darnold is the most significant aspect of this offseason, so investing in another receiver takes precedence over the likes of Jared Pinkney, Hakeem Adeniji, Julian Blackmon, and Ezra Cleveland.
Round 6, Pick 171: Francis Bernard, LB Utah
New York’s lack of depth at linebacker was repeatedly tested last year after a flurry of injuries not only to starters but to primary backups as well. It became a glaring hole over the middle of the field on Sundays, but with Mosley and Williamson set to return, linebacker takes on a lesser priority. Francis Bernard was the leader of a Utah’s defense that rattled PAC-12 opponents, with talent at all three levels of the field. Bernard is a smart, athletic player that can hold his own in coverage and is not as raw as many of the inside linebacker prospects this class has to offer. Therefore, he was selected over J.R. Reed, Justin Strnad, Calvin Throckmorton, and Levonta Taylor.
Round 7, Pick 202: Lavert Hill, CB
The aforementioned slot cornerback position is not an area of weakness for New York, but Poole is a free agent, and depth is necessary at defensive back. The Michigan product can play close to the line of scrimmage or in zone, and I’m confident in his ability to create turnovers with enough snaps at the next level. The Jets need cover corners badly, and Lavert Hill may be limited subsequent to his size. Still, his talents are an easy pick this late, even over prospects like Antonio Gibson, Zach Shackelford, Dane Jackson, and Michael Divinity Jr.