It’s the age-old question in the NFL draft — when a team has an obvious need at a non-premium position, how high do you target a solution?
The New York Jets defense was downright pathetic against the run in 2021. Jeff Ulbrich’s unit allowed 100 yards rushing in every game but three, and allowed 150-plus yards rushing six times (200-plus twice).
No outing was worse than the Thursday Night Football game against the Indianapolis Colts, in which the Jets got steamrolled for 260 yards on the ground. Head coach Robert Saleh was very blunt after that loss, stating: “When you can’t defend the run, good luck.”
This offseason, the Jets let their top run-stuffer — Foley Fatukasi — walk in free agency. It would be the ultimate form of negligence if Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas don’t fill this void before training camp and this new front office does not appear to be negligent.
That begs the question once again, how early should Gang Green prioritize a run-stuffing 4-3 defensive tackle in the draft?
ALL the latest Jets news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Jets newsletter here!
Don’t Rule Jordan Davis out at No. 10 Overall
In an exclusive Heavy on Jets interview, our very own Paul Esden Jr. caught up with Pro Football Focus director of content Austin Gayle. The two discussed a good deal of potential Jets targets but there was one comment that stood out at the defensive tackle position.
“I think it could be at 10,” Gayle responded after Esden asked how early Douglas might draft a DT. “If they wanted to go Jordan Davis at 10, I wouldn’t be surprised by that.”
Gayle continued: “Jordan Davis is a one-of-one… Jordan Davis is not going to be in every draft class so I could see them prioritizing it as early as 10. If not, second round, Travis Jones of UCONN. You go into day three, Neil Farrell of LSU. There are some big, two-gapping, run-stuffing, defensive tackles that I think would compliment Quinnen Williams really well. I think they could go both ways.”
Most fans seem to prefer that the Jets target a defensive tackle in round two, or sometime on day three of the draft. Davis would likely put an end to any defensive concerns against the run, however.
The Georgia gap-clogger was elite versus the ground game, as a rare 6-foot-6, 340-pound prospect with 4.78-speed during his 40-yard dash.
NFL draft expert Lance Zierlein wrote: “Davis has anchor and quick-shed talent to eviscerate single blocks and successfully occupy double teams, allowing linebackers to thrive in pursuit of ball-carriers. He plays upright, lacking agility and reactive quickness to mark up a stat sheet with any consistency, but that’s not what he’s asked to do.”
If the Jets selected Davis, it would be a gritty decision that shows they’re committed to winning every battle in the trenches. The “mountainous” D-tackle won’t get a ton of sacks and he probably won’t play on third-downs, but he does help take away the third-and-short or the first-down gainer.
What Douglas and Saleh have to determine is — can another prospect do what Davis can do at a less expensive price tag? That’s where Gayle’s second suggestion takes centerstage.
Follow the Heavy On Jets Facebook page, where you can weigh in on all the latest NYJ-related daily content, analysis, features and more!
2nd-Round Alternative Has Regional Roots
When speaking with Esden, the PFF analyst did personally lean towards the Jets selecting wide receiver Drake London at No. 10, suggesting that Douglas and Saleh draft Jones in round two — assuming he’s available. Gayle noted that the UCONN product and DT is one of his “favorite players in the draft.”
“If [Jones] falls that far, I think that’s a monster win for this team,” he added.
A New Haven, Connecticut native, Jones is a slight downgrade in size at 6-foot-5, 333 pounds. Like Davis, he’s more of a nose tackle that isn’t known for his ability to pressure the quarterback — although both should provide some pass rush next to Williams.
His job would be run defense, and he performed that role well at UCONN. “He was a standout on a bad defense and more than held his own against the toughest competition he faced,” scouted Zierlein. “Jones has the demeanor, traits and overall ability to become a successful run-plugger and potential starter in a two-gapping scheme.”
Some have Jones being drafted at the tail-end of round one. If the Jets fear this could happen, they could attempt to trade back into the first round to target an area of need.