The NY Jets made a great hire in new head coach Robert Saleh. Now they have to get him the type of players he needs.
General manager Joe Douglas deserves credit for his first major move to transform this moribund franchise. Most encouraging was that he hired a head coach he didn’t know from his previous jobs in Baltimore or Philadelphia.
That means there was no nepotism involved — the man he identified as the best candidate got the job.
Saleh is a proven leader of men. But he will need players who fit with and will buy into his coaching vision.
For instance, the Jets run a 3-4 defense while in San Francisco, Saleh perfected a 4-3 front. A strong 4-3 requires a rotation of at least six defensive linemen and five linebackers.
As of now, the starting front-four would consist of Bryce Huff, Quinnen Williams, Foley Fatukasi, and Jabari Zuniga. The three linebackers would be some mix of Harvey Langi, Neville Hewitt, the ever-injured Blake Cashman, and C.J. Mosley.
For what it’s worth, underwhelming free agents Henry Anderson and Jordan Jenkins made their marks elsewhere in a 4-3.
Then there’s the QB situation. Saleh and his dynamic offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur apparently buy into their former boss Kyle Shanahan’s assessment of Sam Darnold’s “untapped potential.” If that’s the case, they must build strongly around him in the draft and in free agency.
In other words, there’s much work to be done.
The good news is that free agents will want to play for Saleh. Expect some combination of 49ers free agents cornerback Richard Sherman, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, defensive end Ronald Blair, and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon to join the Florham Park pile-on.
Joe Douglas faces great pressure to make all the right moves. He got this job due to his stellar reputation for talent evaluation. But objectively speaking, his 2020 NFL Draft grades a “B” at best.
Sure, the GM brought in NFL talent with left tackle Mekhi Becton, wide receiver Denzel Mims, cornerback Bryce Hall, and punter Braden Mann. That alone makes it the most productive NY Jets draft over the past decade.
But question marks abound over running back La’Mical Perine and safety Ashtyn Davis, while Jabari Zuniga, Cameron Clark, and developmental quarterback James Morgan remain far behind the curve.
They traded a sixth-rounder for Colts cornerback Quincy Wislon who got cut and now plays for their MetLife mates Big Blue (making it a de facto swap for equally ineffective cornerback Corey Ballentine).
The Jets may want to trade down and select a right tackle to bookend with Becton. The top tackle in this draft is a franchise left tackle who would have to be moved — which may not be the worst decision with all of Becton’s rookie injuries.
Don’t be surprised if the Jets trade down from the No. 2 spot for extra picks, and then take a road grading, scheme-diverse right tackle like Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater.
But if they stay put, here are some sensible moves to address roster weaknesses, and Saleh’s sensibilities.