The New York Jets are in position to dominate the NFL Draft and these five players could be excellent fits for Robert Saleh’s team in 2022.
It may seem odd to describe the New York Jets as potential kingmakers in any context but the franchise is in position to rule the NFL Draft. A litany of savvy trades by GM Joe Douglas has given the Jets the most valuable collection of picks entering the 2022 draft, including a pair of first-round picks that landed inside the Top 10.
That is fantastic news for New York, which has a lot of holes to fill and can use those picks to either select potential franchise building blocks or deal them for more picks to increase their arsenal for this year and beyond. While the Jets’ free-agency plans will impact a lot of what they do in the draft, here are five players that could be good fits for New York in the first round.
5. Players the New York Jets should draft in Round 1 – Kayvon Thibodeaux
There is no question that one of the biggest needs for the Jets is getting better production from their pass rushers. New York hasn’t had a true threat off the edge since trading John Abraham back in 2005 despite spending a ton of free-agent dollars and high draft picks to attempt to solve this problem.
The latest solution appeared to be Carl Lawson, who was flashing in training camp after coming over from the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency before he tore his Achilles’ tendon and missed the entire 2021 season. A healthy return from Lawson would be a big boost for the Jets’ defense but the potential of adding an elite edge rusher with the fourth pick would make New York’s defensive line a terrifying group that could rival the Sack Exchange.
The best edge rusher who could be available for the Jets at No. 4 is Kayvon Thibodeaux, who has excellent potential and is in play for the Jaguars with the top overall pick in the draft. If Thibodeaux does slip past the top three teams in the draft you can bet that Douglas will have the Jets’ card turned into the podium faster than Thibodeaux can beat an elite tackle around the edge.
4. Players the New York Jets should draft in Round 1 – Derek Stingley
Any Jets’ fan will tell you that the biggest area of concern on the defense is in the secondary. New York opted not to add a free agent to the cornerback room last offseason, preferring to let youngsters like Bryce Hall and Brandin Echols get as many reps as possible in order to develop.
The strategy did pay off as the Jets developed some solid depth in their secondary but nobody in house emerged as a true No. 1 corner that can shut down the opposition’s top receiver. The draft does have a few options to address this need with the best player available being LSU’s Derek Stingley.
Scouts took notice of Stingley when he was a freshman at LSU and racked up six interceptions to help the Tigers win the national championship. Injuries have been a question mark for Stingley too as he played in just three games in 2021 after undergoing foot surgery in October.
The Jets could look to secure a veteran cornerback in free agency, which would take them out of play for Stingley or another corner like Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. Stingley would be a bit of a reach at No. 4 but the Jets could get good value by scooping him up at No. 10 if Stingley’s medicals check out.
3. Players the New York Jets should draft in Round 1 – Garrett Wilson
While the defense needs some major help this offseason, the Jets also cannot forget about putting pieces around second-year quarterback Zach Wilson. New York made some good choices to build a foundation for Wilson by signing Corey Davis and drafting Elijah Moore last season, but the Jets’ wide receiver room still needs a top receiver.
The best receiver in this year’s class is Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson, who had a monster year for the Buckeyes. Wilson caught 70 passes for 1,158 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2021, numbers that are strong despite the presence of plenty of NFL prospects like fellow prospective first-round Chris Olave.
The 6-foot wideout is lauded for his explosiveness and hands, making Wilson a more dynamic weapon than any the Jets have had since letting Brandon Marshall go after the 2016 season. Drafting Wilson to pair with Davis and Moore would also give New York a talented trio of pass catchers that should really help their young quarterback reach his full potential.
Drake London would also fit the receiver bill here for the Jets, who could look at a pass catcher with the No. 10 pick. This need could also be filled via trade or free agency but the Jets could do a whole lot worse than picking Wilson in the first round.
2. Players the New York Jets should draft in Round 1 – Kyle Hamilton
This pick will be a controversial one with the Jets’ fan base, which is still salty after how their last first-round safety played out. New York did hit a home run taking Jamal Adams with the No. 6 pick in the 2017 draft but didn’t want to pay a box safety top of the market money, instead dealing him to Seattle for a pair of first-round picks, including one that became this year’s No. 10 pick.
Safeties usually don’t go high in the first round unless they are exceptional players and Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton fits that bill. Hamilton has received tremendous accolades from scouts, some of whom have gifted him with the “generational” label that was affixed to tight end Kyle Pitts in last year’s draft.
Pitts became the highest-drafted tight end ever when he went No. 4 overall to the Atlanta Falcons and became a star almost immediately. The Jets definitely have a need at safety as both Marcus Maye and LaMarcus Joyner are set to test free agency after season-ending injuries, making Hamilton a great option for a team that has to acquire two starters in 2022.
Rumors have already started to emerge about the Jets’ interest in Hamilton, who has been mocked to New York by ESPN’s Mel Kiper recently. It remains to be seen if Douglas will use a premium draft pick on a safety but Hamiton has all the tools necessary to become a star in Robert Saleh’s defense.
1. Players the New York Jets should draft in Round 1 – Ikem Ekwonu
The number one focus for Douglas since he took over as the Jets’ GM has been to rebuild the offensive line. New York has spent first-round picks on the line in each of the past two years, adding Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker to the fold, but the Jets still could use help at several positions.
One of the best offensive line prospects on the board is NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu, who has emerged as a lock to get picked inside the Top 5 of this year’s draft. Ekwonu is a big man at 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds and has experience playing all along the line, which is a good fit for the Jets since they still aren’t sure of how they want to deploy their personnel.
Becton missed nearly all of 2021 and isn’t guaranteed his job back at left tackle so Ekwonu could potentially be a plug-and-play option at either tackle spot, pushing George Fant back to a swing tackle role. New York could also leave their current tackles alone and draft Ekwonu to play at guard now with an eye towards kicking outside when Fant’s contract expires after the 2022 season.
Improving the offensive line is another way to help Wilson’s development since better protection would give him more opportunities to grow as a passer. Alabama’s Evan Neal or free agent pickups could address this need as well but the best-case scenario for Douglas would be for Ekwonu to slide down to the Jets at No. 4.