Robert Saleh Addresses Idea of Jets Drafting ‘Unicorns’ Top 10

Kyle Hamilton

Getty Notre Dame safety prospect Kyle Hamilton makes a play on September 18, 2021.

On this week’s edition of our Heavy on Jets mailbag column, we debated whether Gang Green should consider drafting “unicorn” safety prospect Kyle Hamilton.

Jets media must have heard us and fellow fans because they asked head coach Robert Saleh a pretty direct question on the topic during his press conference on March 2.

“There’s always the debate about positional value for the draft,” New York Post reporter Brian Costello began, “what’s your feeling on safety? Would you be okay taking a safety in the top 10, or is that a position you think you wait later in the draft for?”

Considering there’s only one safety prospect that might be selected near the top 10 of this draft class, Saleh and everyone else immediately read between the lines. The real question was: Would you consider drafting Hamilton in the top 10? And the answer was very intriguing.

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‘You Can Never Say No to a Unicorn’

"We Feel Great About Where We Are" | HC Robert Saleh Press Conference (3/2) | New York Jets | NFLHead coach Robert Saleh speaks to the media during combine week to provide an update on the offseason. Subscribe to the New York Jets YT Channel: For more Jets NFL Action: #NewYorkJets #Jets #NFL For more Jets action:

“Depends on how good he is,” Saleh started in what became a pretty in-depth response. He continued:

I call [them] unicorns. I would never want to take a linebacker in the first round but Tremaine Edmunds was sitting there [in 2018] and I wore his jersey to the draft. He’s a unicorn in the linebacker world, right? Same thing with a safety, if he’s — I remember there was a hard discussion on Derwin James and the guy is phenomenal, so you never want to say no to any position group. Obviously, there’s premium positions when you look at quarterback and edge rusher and corner… and O-line, all of them. Those are the easy ones to check off but you can never say no to a unicorn and someone who’s got a tremendous talent and who’s clearly the best possible player that you can take at that particular time, so you never want to be stubborn to your thought process. To answer your question, taking a safety, if he’s worthy of it [he will] definitely be in the discussion.

My immediate thought after reading that again is, Saleh is learning how to handle the media in New York. That long and detailed answer said so much but really gave no hint on whether the Jets would consider drafting Hamilton at all.

It was an elaborate sidestep by the HC, that displayed the grace and awareness of his growth in the CEO role. Sure, Saleh said you can never rule out drafting a unicorn but he never actually answered whether Hamilton or a linebacker like Nakobe Dean is one in his staff’s opinion.

That’s really what it comes down to. The Jets have no problem picking Hamilton or Dean if they are “clearly the best possible player” available but that all depends on how the organization views a prospect like Kayvon Thibodeaux or Ikem Ekwonu at four, as well as the long list of wide receivers, edge rushers and cornerbacks at 10, among other positions.

GM Joe Douglas seconded Saleh’s message later in the afternoon. “Where I’ve come from, you take the best player available,” he voiced. “Had a lot of success being around that mindset and that philosophy. If there is a player, regardless of position, that we feel can come in here and be that type of difference-maker, yeah we need to talk about it.”

These statements may not have provided a final answer on Hamilton — other than that the Jets are taking all players into consideration — but they did provide some clarity on the franchise’s school of thought.

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Shots Fired at Linebacker

Although the question asked about safety, Saleh’s explanation seemed to bury the linebacker position in terms of priorities.

To be fair, he did note that he was a fan of Edmunds when Buffalo drafted him in 2018. Who knows, maybe he’s a fan of Dean or Devin Lloyd this year — but it feels like the stars would have to align for Saleh to agree to draft LB in the first.

A second or third-round target like Chad Muma or Brandon Smith makes much more sense but that may also be too high for this staff. They appear to like C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams, despite the unit’s struggles in 2021.

They also like Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen long-term.

Of course, it would also go against team philosophy to sacrifice $17.5 million in cap space on a linebacker — the largest contract on the roster. No matter how much the Jets like Mosley as a person and a leader, this only supports the theory that they will release him in 2023.

If that’s the case, the Green & White must find his successor sooner rather than later and they have too many picks in 2022 to ignore the position outright.

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