Since the entire football world knows the Jets are drafting BYU’s Zach Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick, the focus has shifted to what the club will do with their second first-round pick (No. 23).
The two biggest areas of need for Gang Green are finding offensive line help to protect Wilson and addressing the cornerback spot.
Last year, Pro Football Focus rated the Jets offensive line 29th in the NFL after the unit allowed 43 sacks and the unit struggled to consistently create running lanes. But with offensive coordinator Mike LeFleur implementing a west coast offensive scheme, the offensive line should improve. Assistant GM Rex Hogan is also confident in the current group.
“With Coach LeFleur coming in and [O-line coach John] Benton, they’re gonna install the wide zone scheme so we’ll focus more on offensive linemen who fit in that in the future as we continue to build and build the line,” Hogan said. “But we feel good about the group we currently have right now and their ability to make the adjustment to this new scheme.”
That sounds good, but the Jets better add talent to the offensive line. Last thing the team needs is Wilson taking an excessive amount of hits due to poor protection.
The Jets will address the offensive line, how early is to be determined.
Later in the first round, offensive tackles like USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker, Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins and Notre Dame’s Liam Eichenberg could be available.
The Jets love Vera-Tucker, but most mock drafts have Vera-Tucker going in the Top 20. If he falls, I could see him being the pick.
Most mock drafts say Jenkins will be available and that’s who the Jets should draft to give Wilson better protection. He could compete for a starting spot at guard or tackle.
But if the Jets go in a different direction and address the cornerback spot, they can use their second-round pick to address the offensive line. Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey, Alabama tackle Alex Leatherwood or center Landon Dickerson could be viable options at No. 34 overall.
On the defensive side, head coach Robert Saleh’s No. 1 desire in a cornerback is clear.
“First and foremost, whether or not they can win in man coverage,” Saleh said. “That’s the big thing. Every single game comes down to 1-on-1 situations. So, obviously, foot speed and all that stuff. There’s a million different ways to skin a cat. Like, Richard Sherman is 6-3, 32-inch arms or 33-inch arms — whatever it is — and you guys see he’s a big, lanky guy.
“And then you’ve got Jason Verrett who’s this little, itty bitty guy. Completely different body types and skill sets, but they both win in man coverage. … So there’s a million different ways to skin a cat. But the end result of winning in man coverage and getting off of those money downs are what’s important.”
Last season, the Jets cornerbacks struggled as Gang Green allowed 275.6 passing yards per game, which was 29th in the league.
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Bryce Hall and Lamar Jackson struggled in their rookie season. When quarterbacks targeted Hall, they completed 75% of throws, had a passer rating of 103.6 and allowed two touchdowns, per PFF. When Jackson was targeted, quarterbacks had a passer rating of 140, threw five touchdowns and completed 66% of their passes.
Bless Austin led the Jets cornerbacks in total snaps (701) in his second year, but also struggled in coverage. Quarterbacks completed 69% of their passes against him, had a passer rating of 103 and he allowed three TDs.
There’s a solid group of corners in this draft that thrive in man-to-man that could be available at No. 23. Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley, Northwestern’s Greg Newsome and Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr.
The Jets can’t go wrong with addressing offensive line or cornerback when they are on the clock the second time on Thursday night.