The New York Jets should have plenty of needs to fill in the 2022 NFL draft as Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh continue their extensive rebuild.
One major hole is a long-term replacement for MIKE-backer C.J. Mosley, who is expected to play his final season with the Jets in 2022 — if not sooner — based on the 2023 “out” that is built into his contract.
If Douglas cuts Mosley before June 1, 2023, he saves $15.5 million. If he releases him after June 1 of that offseason, he’ll save an even $17 million.
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Analyst Suggests Penn State Product
If the Jets choose to replace Mosley in the draft, one clear candidate could be Devin Lloyd out of Utah but he would cost a first-round pick. Douglas has two to work with so this is definitely a possibility but Jets analyst Matt O’Leary suggested a potential second-round target.
According to PFF College Football on Twitter, Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith has officially declared for the 2022 draft. O’Leary noted that he could be a “top of the [second] round target for the Jets.”
A former teammate of Micah Parsons in 2019, Smith is declaring a year early at age 20. He is skipping his senior season and he turns 21 in April.
Draft analyst Oliver Hodgkinson of Pro Football Network described Smith: “As a former five-star recruit with incredible athletic ability, Brandon Smith certainly has the profile to replicate previous Penn State linebacker success if he declares for the 2022 NFL Draft.”
The Nittany Lions are famous for producing linebackers and if Smith is anything like Parsons, he’ll have a successful transition into the NFL.
Hodgkinson highlighted Smith’s “destructive speed” on blitz packages and his “impressive lateral agility,” as well as his athleticism, play strength and football intelligence. He also wrote that the Penn State product needs to refine his “technique as a tackler” and ball-tracking in coverage.
Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network concurred with much of this assessment and compared Smith to a lower-status Isaiah Simmons. The linebacker prospect could be a good fit for the Jets but based on this analysis, I’m not sure he’s a fix at MIKE.
Smith totaled 81 tackles in 12 games this season with two sacks, one forced fumble and five passes defended.
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Finding a Stud MLB
If there’s one thing about the successful versions of this 4-3 Saleh scheme, it needs at least two reliable linebackers that can hold their own in both run defense and coverage.
The San Francisco 49ers had Fred Warner paired with players like Dre Greenlaw and Kwon Alexander. The Seattle Seahawks flaunted a duo of Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright for one-year shy of a decade. Even a similar system like the Jacksonville Jaguars utilized Telvin Smith and Myles Jack when they made it to the AFC championship in 2017.
I’ll repeat, this scheme needs two sturdy linebackers and right now, the Jets are accepting job applications. Assuming Mosley is gone in 2022 or 2023, here are the main candidates on the roster.
- Quincy Williams: Displaying potential but fits more of the Robin (Wright) role than the Batman (Wagner) position. 25 years old.
- Jamien Sherwood: Coach Saleh claimed the rookie fifth-rounder reminds him of Warner but he still has much to learn. He also has to put on weight after recovering from a torn Achilles. 21 years old.
- Hamsah Nasirildeen: Definitely not a MIKE but could compete with Williams for the secondary role. The rookie sixth-rounder looks like more of a third option at this point, however, and needs to bulk up like Sherwood. 22 years old.
- Del’Shawn Phillips: Major longshot and favorite of DC Jeff Ulbrich, but Phillips is unlikely to ever become more than a substitute that excels on special teams. 25 years old.
The explosive prospect, Smith, actually reminds me of a lankier Williams while Sherwood is the only clear MIKE candidate on the Jets roster long-term.
Douglas and Saleh have plenty of options as they come to a decision on this important matter. Only time will tell which route they choose.