Jets Free-Agent Spending Provides Clear Game Plan for NFL Draft

Kayvon Thibodeaux, Drake London

Getty Oregon pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux (left) and USC wide receiver Drake London (right) represent positional favorites for the New York Jets in round one of the NFL draft.

My favorite thing about the New York Jets offseason so far has not been a specific free-agent signing, or a reunion like Braxton Berrios. It wasn’t even the trade heist that somehow sent a draft pick in return for LB Blake Cashman.

No, the best part has been the blueprint from GM Joe Douglas and HC Robert Saleh. For once, this Jets front office has followed a clear game plan and if anything, their free agency haul has been extremely telling of which direction they’re leaning in the NFL draft so far.

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EDGE & WR Stock Are High

Don’t get me wrong, this could still change at any moment with another big move like a blockbuster trade or signing, but going into Thursday morning it’s all about EDGE and wide receiver in the 2022 draft.

Both areas of need had been ignored throughout the early stages of free agency — until a recent depth addition at defensive end — and part of that was circumstance. For example, the Jets were reportedly very interested in Calvin Ridley and Mike Williams, but due to the former’s suspension and the latter’s extension, they had to pivot and go with the flow.

That recalibration led to a decision — either target an Allen Robinson type or look to the draft. So far, Douglas and Saleh have pushed this position to April.

The same goes for defensive end, although ESPN’s Rich Cimini recently claimed that the Jets “desperately want to add an edge rusher.”

If those pursuits fall short as they have so far, it’s almost a guarantee that Gang Green spends their top draft pick on the EDGE that they love the most. Some potential names at No. 4 would be Aidan Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Travon Walker, Jermaine Johnson II, and George Karlaftis — depending on who is available.

As we’ve said many times, this has been described as a “flavor” draft class and depending on what each coaching staff prefers, there’s not as large of a gap between these prospects as some may think.

There are still different contingents of fans that are holding out hope for a specific talent — generally safety Kyle Hamilton or cornerback Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner in 2022 — but defensive back always felt unlikely in the first round based on Douglas’ philosophy of trench warfare and signings like D.J. Reed Jr. and Jordan Whitehead may have sealed the fate off these targets.

Is it still possible? Yes, but the odds plummeted significantly.

The final contender at four is still offensive line, based on Douglas’ track record. The Jets GM is never satisfied when it comes to building the wall but it’s more likely he focuses on the defensive one this time around.

The Jets were bullied by the run in 2021 and they lost their top run defender in Foley Fatukasi. This is a major weak point and the NYJ brain trust is well-aware that it must be addressed.

As for WR1, the stars are aligning on a top-10 selection. The Jets could very well have their pick of the litter at No. 10 but even if one is snagged before that, they should have one or two solid options to choose from.

This offense has its veterans in place with weapons like Corey Davis, Braxton Berrios, C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin. That allows more confidence in trusting a Drake London or Garrett Wilson selection early in the draft.

It’s fair to mention that Jordan Davis stock has also been on the rise. The Georgia DT would fill that massive run-stuffer hole with a 6-foot-6, 340-pound frame.

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Day 2 & so On

After EDGE and WR, beat reporter Connor Hughes listed the next most likely draft targets as IDL (DT), CB, OL and TE, but that was pre-Conklin. Michael Nania of Jets X-Factor provided a revised ranking after the March 16 transactions.

The only change was linebacker in place of tight end, cornerback and offensive line. Nania also added later that the Jets could be in the mix for another free safety in round two, now that TE Trey McBride seems less likely.

Some other potential needs in the later rounds — aside from the ones listed above — are depth at offensive tackle, running back, tight end, wide receiver (double-dip), and kicker.

Douglas and Saleh are off to a tremendous start this offseason. They have filled multiple roster holes with predominantly young, rising talents in their mid-twenties, and unlike the Jacksonville Jaguars or New England Patriots last year, they haven’t had to break the bank to do so.

The more they continue to bolster this roster, the more it sets them up in the draft to target the top prospects on their board. As of March 17, the agenda has shifted, but there’s still plenty of time between now and late April.

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