Will the NY Jets draft Evan Neal or Ikem Ekwonu at 4?
On the surface, for some, this scenario could be the least desirable of all the Jets' options at the top of the draft simply because the team has significant draft capital and cap room invested at both tackle and guard.
The Jets drafting Ikem Ekwonu or Evan Neal is an indication that the franchise envisions either player as the team's long-term left tackle for the next 5-10 years.
You don't select Neal or Ekwonu at this spot unless you believe that either will be stalwarts at the most crucial position on the offensive line immediately. You also don't commit a top-five pick and significant cap space to tweener guards or right tackle prospects.
The drafting of Ekwonu or Neal suggests that George Fant and or Mekhi Becton's days are numbered in a Jets uniform. Fant, one of Joe Douglas' best free-agent signings since his tenure began, is entering the last year of his contract, and he is on the hook currently at $10 million.
Fant would be a very expensive swing lineman for New York, mainly because he was the Jets' best offensive lineman a year ago. It's not likely that he returns in 2023 if the Jets draft Neal or Ekwonu at four.
The selection of an offensive lineman by the Jets at four could also spell the end of Mekhi Becton. Depending on what the Jets' long-term plans are with Fant, it would certainly, at the bare minimum, end Becton's days as the team's long-term answer at left tackle.
And quite frankly, drafting someone else to play the role Becton was supposed to fill would be an indictment on Joe Douglas and his choice of the former Louisville standout only two years ago.
There's no dancing around the issue — Joe Douglas' 2020 draft has been a disappointment thus far, and the lack of positive returns from that class is one of the reasons the team is still lagging in the rebuilding phase.
Players like Denzel Mims, Ashtyn Davis, Jabari Zuniga, La'Mical Perine, and former Jets like QB James Morgan look like wasted picks. Could Becton be thrown into that forgetful pile?
After all, the drafting of Becton hurts even more when you consider that similar players from his draft class, like Jedrick Wills and Tristan Wirfs, are elite players. If Douglas selects Ekwonu or Neal, it's an admission that he botched selecting a premier offensive lineman a mere two years ago.
It's not the equivalent of drafting a new franchise quarterback in 2023 to replace Zach Wilson after year two, but it's in that neighborhood. If the Jets draft one of these top two offensive linemen, they have to pan out and be on the level of someone like Trent Williams.
When you pick an offensive lineman in the top five, that's the level of return your franchise has to receive for the pick to mean something in the long run. Selecting Ekwonu or Neal suggests that the decision to draft Mekhi Becton didn't.