FLORHAM PARK, NJ – A preview of what’s going on around the New York Jets:
1. Rare Trifecta: Coach Robert Saleh called this first round a “dream”. It was one for the ages, according to a scouting service.
The Jets became the first team in the history of Scouts Inc., which rates ESPN.com prospects since 2004, to select three players with a rating of 92 or better (on a scale of 100) in the same draft .
Cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner: 93
Wide receiver Garrett Wilson: 93
Defensive end Jermaine Johnson II: 92
It’s a very good run for the Jets, given that only 14 players received a 92 or better.
“I think they had a great [first day]”, said a scout for an opposing team. “You can argue that these three guys were the best at their positions this year.
A year ago, general manager Joe Douglas drafted three players with a rating of 90 or higher, which hadn’t been done since the Miami Dolphins in 2008. We’re talking about QB Zach Wilson (93), G Alijah Vera-Tucker (91) and WR Elijah Moore (90).
On paper, it looks like they’ve stacked up two good drafts (let’s not talk about 2020), but we all know that ratings and rankings and post-draft applause really don’t mean anything. Promising, yes, but nobody receives from Lombardi in April.
2. Breathtaking Fall: One of the big stories in the first round was Johnson falling to 26. What happened? It was widely projected as one of the top 10 picks. I checked with some people in the league and they pointed out a few factors.
First, no leading runner was chosen between No. 5 (Kayvon Thibodeaux, New York Giants) and No. 26, so need (or lack thereof) may have played a role. Second, Johnson was an eight-month-old wonder. After a juco stoppage and two indescribable years at Georgia, he crushed his only season at Florida State (12 sacks), played well in the Senior Bowl and passed the combined drug tests. Teams can be wary of players with a small body of work. And Johnson didn’t interview some teams well during the pre-draft process, according to multiple scouting sources.
“He was a divisive prospect among scouts,” a scouting source said. “But I’m glad the Jets were able to get back in the first and have him. Some scouts think he could end up being one of the best, if not the best rusher in the draft.”
He’s a good pattern for the Jets, who can use him as a 9-pass wide passer.
3. Scouts say: Here is a sampling of scout comments on Gardner, Wilson and Johnson:
On Gardner: “I like the way he’s wired. He’s got that swag, that’s what you want in cornerbacks. He’s a springy, long athlete with a good burst. Some people think he is the best player in the draft. … He’s got the tools and the confidence. He’s got a lot going for him. … You like his size and his competitiveness. I think he’ll be good against the bigger receivers, but I don’t think he can handle the fast, fast guys. I gave him a late grade in the first round.
On Wilson: “He’s more dynamic than the (other wide receivers). I think his skills will translate very well in the league. … I have Jameson Williams as the best wide receiver in the class, but Wilson is clearly no. 2. After him there’s a stall. … Tremendous body control. I think his route needs to improve a bit. … Wilson and (former Ohio State teammate) Chris Olave are very close, but I think Wilson is more explosive.”
On Johnson: “He’s got a lot of traits that translate into the NFL. … He’s a player. He’s competitive. He’s tall, kinda skinny, with long arms. He’s got good instincts. He’s a good pick. … He’s ready for the pros as a running defender. He’s got a lot of moves as a pass thrower. He’s creative and has good hands. He doesn’t repeat the same move twice. He has a wide repertoire.”
4. Did you know? Not only was it a productive draft for the Jets, it was unusual. Consider:
They picked a wide receiver, running back and tight end in the first three rounds for the first time in the common draft era (since 1967). … Wilson is their first first-round receiver since Santana Moss in 2001. … Breece Hall (No. 36) is their most drafted running back since Blair Thomas in 1990.
5. Hall of a deal (almost): The Jets were so high on Hall that they tried to trade him at the bottom of the first round, which would have given them four first rounds. It’s only happened once in NFL history – the 2000 Jets.
6. Big Ticket Stays: So much for those rumors of the Jets leaving LT Mekhi Becton. They didn’t draft an offensive lineman on Days 1 or 2, so should that be seen as a vote of confidence for the big man? Sort of because they could have easily taken OT Ikem Ekwonu with the fourth pick.
Saleh, who previously said Becton would rival George Fant at left tackle, backed down on Saturday, hinting Becton could move to right tackle. Saleh was unusually vague. When asked if Becton could switch to the right side, Saleh replied: “We’ll see as soon as we can get him back here healthy, and he’s ready to roll, and he’s on the pitch.”
Typically, teams aren’t allowed to criticize players for skipping practices on purpose, which Becton does, but Saleh has made it clear he’d like him on the offseason schedule. At one point, the coach looked at the camera and said, “We’d love to see you again, mate. We’ll take care of you.”
The Jets are hoping Becton won’t let them down because they no longer have a Morgan Moses insurance policy.
7. Extreme Makeover: Zach Wilson showed up to the program this offseason with a different demeanor, according to a teammate. Says Fant: “My guy came back with a little more swag. … He definitely came back with a little something different.”
It’s been a huge year for the sophomore quarterback, who now has a supporting cast that stands a chance of being good enough. That horrific Adam Gase-led offense from 2019, which included failed and overpaid RB Le’Veon Bell, is completely gone. Every starter projected on the current offense was acquired in 2020, 2021 or 2022.
Success won’t happen overnight as there is still a lot of inexperience, but the pressure is on Wilson to take a big step and grow with this group.
“I appreciate their confidence in me, and I think they understand that quarterback effectiveness in this league…that’s how you win games, that’s how you’re explosive on offense. “Wilson said last week. “So I have to do my part. I have to improve. I have to let the guys around me make the plays they were brought in for.”
8. Tough Battle: The addition of Garrett Wilson certainly creates questions about Denzel Mims projecting himself as the WR5 at best. The fact that he doesn’t play against special teams, a virtual must for a receiver in that role, doesn’t help his chances. The prediction here is that the Jets bring him to training camp and give him the opportunity to turn the arrow up. At least it could increase its commercial value. If he sputters, adios.
9. Sam and Adam: A final tally on Jamal Adams and Sam Darnold’s trades to the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers, respectively:
The Jets turned Adams picks (2021 and 2022 first-rounders and a 2021 third-rounder) into guard Vera-Tucker and Garrett Wilson, two longtime potential starters. They used that third-round pick to trade for Vera-Tucker.
They got three picks for Darnold — a sixth-round pick in 2021, plus second- and fourth-rounders in 2022. They split them into four players — DB Jason Pinnock, DT Jonathan Marshall, Hall and OT Max Mitchell.
Having that extra pick in Round 2 created flexibility, allowing them to use one (#35) to trade for Johnson. This needs to be factored into the equation. On paper, the Jets have done well with both trades.
10. The Last Word: It happened in the Green Room Thursday night at the Las Vegas draft. After fulfilling his media obligations, Gardner saw Garrett Wilson wearing a Jets cap while speaking to reporters. That’s how he found out they picked Wilson. Gardner thought, “Oh, man, this is going to be crazy.” Then, during a phone conversation with cornerbacks coach Tony Oden, Gardner learned that they had traded for Johnson.
Said Gardner: “I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah, this team is going to be special. “”