The New York Jets are expected to draft at least one edge rusher in 2022, even if they sign one in free agency.
It’s supposed to be a very deep class at the position and head coach Robert Saleh knows that you can never have enough pass rush. His entire defensive philosophy depends on getting to the quarterback quickly and Gang Green did not do that in 2021.
The Jets ranked 16th in the NFL in pass rush win-rate according to ESPN analytics and 23rd based on their accumulative pass rusher grade on Pro Football Focus. That’s not terrible, but when you take into account that the defensive line was supposed to be the strength of Jeff Ulbrich’s unit, these sub-par numbers help explain their last-ranked finish.
Saleh’s pass rush needs to be top 10, minimum, top five if you want to turn into a serious contender. On March 2, the Jets HC provided some breadcrumbs as to how the franchise might address these concerns in the draft.
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Saleh Talks Pass Rush, Deep EDGE Class
During a zoom press conference on March 2, Saleh spoke on the upcoming NFL draft and free agency.
“I think pass rush is universal,” the head coach stated when asked about drafting an EDGE in the top 10. “[We look at] your ability to win one-on-one, your ability to win three ways — win with speed, win with counter moves, win with power — and there are some really cool prospects at the top of the draft. I get that there’s not that splash name like a Nick Bosa or Chase Young but these guys are really good, they’re really really good and it’s going to be exciting to continue to dive deep in all these guys to figure out the directions that we go.”
Saleh added that the class is “very deep too,” telling reporters not to “count out those guys who fall out into the late-first [and] early-second [rounds].”
This was an interesting comment from the defensive mind and it came just moments before he told the media that “you can never say no to a unicorn” talent at any position. Saleh does not put Aidan Hutchinson or Kayvon Thibodeaux on that Bosa-Young level, which means he does not view either of them as “unicorns.” Does that mean the Jets could go a different direction at No. 4 and hit on EDGE with their second first-rounder — or one of the day two picks?
It’s certainly possible, considering the depth of the class. The other popular directions at four would most likely be the offensive line, cornerback, and do-it-all prospect Kyle Hamilton.
At the very least, don’t expect Saleh and Douglas to trade up for a prospect like Hutchinson.
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Drafting EDGE After Four
So, let’s say hypothetically the Jets pass or miss out on Hutchinson and Thibodeaux, who’s next on the list at edge rusher?
Side note: Keep in mind, Joe Douglas could still trade back from No. 10 or trade-up into the tail-end of the first round from No. 35. The former is more likely than the latter being that three first-rounders would be expensive long-term, but don’t consider any range off-limits to NYJ.
These pass rushers could go top 10, at 10, or within the range of a minor trade down. The first is Florida State riser, Jermaine Johnson II.
Three months ago, the Seminole wasn’t projected in the first round but now he seems like a lock for the top 10 after a dominant Senior Bowl performance. Johnson is known for his “relentless” motor, length, and get-off explosiveness.
Right there with him is the 6-foot-5, 275-pound Georgia Bulldog — Travon Walker. The former five-star recruit flaunts rare traits that would fit the Saleh draft mold that usually combines unique size and athleticism. Walker has both and “primarily wins with quickness and speed-to-power as a pass rusher.”
Walker reminds me of that Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers type of athlete that could mesh well as a part of this group and another player that might fit is power-rusher George Karlaftis. Either of these two bullies would make sense across from the more technical speed-rusher in Carl Lawson.
The last name in this tier is Hutchinson’s partner-in-crime at Michigan, David Ojabo. Some like the high-upside Nigerian-born prospect for the Jets but I’m not positive his 3-4 outside linebacker style will translate over to Saleh’s 4-3 base. Ojabo provides less of an every-down option as a projected pass-rushing specialist.
Saleh labeled this second grouping and there are plenty of players to watch in this section so we’ll go rapid fire.
Cincinnati’s Myjai Sanders is an intriguing prospect that CBS Sports analyst Chris Trapasso ranked third in the class because of his upside. After hiring former Bearcats defensive line coach Greg Scruggs this week, don’t be shocked if Sanders switches from red and black to green and white.
Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie is another sleeper to some, with four years of collegiate experience and steady improvement. Then there’s the long and lanky Boye Mafe, another 3-4 OLB prospect with burst.
A more versatile piece in the run game could be San Diego State D-lineman Cameron Thomas, or there’s the energetic tweener EDGE out of Oklahoma, Nik Bonitto.
A few more potential targets for the Jets in this range are Kingsley Enagbare (South Carolina), Drake Jackson (USC), and Josh Paschal (Kentucky) among others.