NY Jets Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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.
Next: 1. Day 1
Round 1, 2nd Overall, NY Jets: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
If Saleh believes in Sam Darnold and thinks he can succeed with some legitimate weapons, that would speed up the roster rebuild. And if they go all-in for disgruntled Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, all bets are off.
A Mekhi Becton/Penei Sewell duo would transform this offensive line. Look at the best teams from this year’s playoffs — they all effectively defended and moved the pile.
Round 1, 23rd Overall, NY Jets: Patrick Jones II, EDGE, Pittsburgh
The Jets have not had a legitimate edge-rusher since the olden days of John Abraham. This powerful Pitt product delivers with relentless run-stopping abilities and is talented enough to see Week 1 field rotation.
Other nasty sack-masters could sway Douglas on Day 1 such as Zaven Collins (Tulsa) or Azeez Ojulari (Georgia).
Remember that defensive coaches Gregg Williams, Todd Bowles, and Rex Ryan all failed with the Jets because downfield coverage eventually unravels without the opposing QB running for their life.
Expect the GM to finally plug this hole.
Next: 2. Day 2
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Round 2, 34th Overall, NY Jets: Trey Smith, OG, Tennessee
An All-Pro caliber interior lineman dealing with blood clots in his lungs. A high-character athlete with all the motivational intangibles, that excels at a position of need.
Trey Smith will be the Jets’ best option at right guard if Alijah Vera-Tucker (USC) or Wyatt Davis (Ohio State) are unavailable. Dangerous, but worth the risk.
Round 3, 66th Overall, NY Jets: Paris Ford, S, Pittsburgh
Paris Ford might be my favorite player in this draft. Similar to fellow Pitt Panther Darelle Revis, Ford posts modest stats because no one dares throw his way.
The Jets need a young, physical stud to run out there at safety with Marcus Maye and Ashtyn Davis. Alternatives include Hamsah Nasirildeen (Florida State) and Richie Grant (UCF).
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Round 3, 87th Overall, NY Jets: Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina
The Jets desperately need a slashing and receiving running back. This UNC underclassman is an ascending prospect with the physical tools to excel on the next level.
You can’t blame the GM if he went with Najee Harris (Alabama) or Travis Etienne (Clemson) at the end of the first round. If it’s a Day 2 pick and Gang Green can’t get Javonte Williams, strong cases can be made for Jaret Patterson (Buffalo) or Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis).
Next: 3. Day 3
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Round 4, 98th Overall, NY Jets: Nico Collins, WR, Michigan
Nico Collins is the big question mark of this wide receiver class. He’s barely played, and never with quality QB, so you’re betting on unlimited potential.
Other tantalizing flankers who could still be on the board include Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State), Sage Surratt (Wake Forest), and Auburn teammates Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz. Any one of these ballers would boost the Jets’ vertical game moving forward.
Round 5, 130th Overall, NY Jets: Elijah Molden, CB, Washington
Elijah Molden flashes the attributes of a classic NFL nickel corner — relentless in coverage and lethal at tackling. He is an instinctive player always in the middle of the action.
If the Jets don’t go for the nickel — or more likely if he’s not available — there should be monster cornerback talents available like Israel Mukuamu (South Carolina) or Deommodore Lenoir (Oregon). Lord knows they need to upgrade the position.
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Round 5, 138th Overall, NY Jets: Phidarian Mathis, iDL, Alabama
This agile 320-pound behemoth anchoring the national champion Crimson Tide defensive line eats up space, creating rushing lanes for his linebackers, while fast enough to close in on explosive ball-carriers. In other words, Mathis will be a handful to contain at the next level.
Khyiris Tonga (BYU) or Levi Onwuzurike (Washington) display similar skill sets and physical beef. But what makes Mathis so intriguing is his NFL-ready frame, improving technique, and work ethic.
Round 6, 162nd Overall, NY Jets: Tyler Vrabel, OT, Boston College
It’s always smart to select NFL pedigree. The son of Titans coach and 14-year veteran Mike Vrabel is a 6-foot-5 mauler with power and strength — and moves the pile with a chip on his shoulder.
Other physical tackles to consider include Missouri underclassman Larry Borom, and 6-foot-10 Drew Himmelman (Illinois State). The big question is — can the scion of a Patriots legend find happiness in the swamps of Jersey?
Next: 4. Undrafted targets
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Undrafted targets for the NY Jets
- Bryan Mills, CB, North Carolina Central
Arguably the top Division-II baller in this draft. If the Senior Bowl invitee goes unchosen, this GM must pounce on Day 3 or in the undrafted singing phase.
- Aubrey Solomon, DT, Tennessee
This nasty Michigan transfer nose tackle could rotate with Quinnen Williams, Folorunso Fatukasi, and ex-mate Kyle Phillips.
- Zach Davidson, TE, Central Missouri
Here’s a versatile prospect with size, speed, and hands. The kid flashes phenomenal game tape.
- Percy Agyei-Obese, RB, James Madison
There’s nothing obese about this third-team All-American. Tough and unpolished, but electrifying.
- Larnel Coleman, OT, UMass
Is this 6-foot-7 Yankee Conference star left tackle the second coming of Vlad Ducasse? There’s a lot to like.
- Zac Thomas, QB, Appalachian State
One of those quarterbacks who does nothing great — all he does is win. A perfect practice squad candidate.
- Hunter Duplessis, K, UTSA
The kicking nadir of Sam Ficken, Sergio Castillo, et al. is over. Are you cool with Chase McLaughlin?