If you are a Jets fan like me, the upcoming 2018 NFL draft has been circled on your calendar for weeks, if not months. That three day, pandemonium-filled offseason event has the potential to make or break the current rebuild Gang Green is enduring. It will also play a significant role in determining acting General Manager Mike Maccagnan’s future.
The Jets went into this season with the consensus worst roster in the league, and as they played to the tune of a five-win season, the importance of this year’s draft has become ever apparent. As someone who is always anxious about what my team is going to do next, I decided to see what I would do in the Jets war room.
The following mock draft was completed on Fanspeak, using their very own big board and team needs. Of course, to add a sense of realism, or at least as real as you can get with a pre-combine mock draft, I also used the most difficult setting.
Round 1 Pick 6: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
With both Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield off the board, the sixth overall selection came fairly easily. Christian Hackenberg is one of the worst picks in the league’s history, Bryce Petty is a career backup, and Josh McCown is closer to a quarterback coach than he is to being a quality quarterback in the NFL.
The Jets haven’t won a playoff game since Darnold was 13 years old and they haven’t had a true franchise quarterback during his lifetime. Darnold has all the tools that one looks for in a face of the franchise type passer: poise, arm talent, leadership qualities, a clutch factor, and a calm demeanor. The Jets should be taking a swing at anyone they feel could come close to returning them to competition and getting them out of the cellar.
An added bonus, the Jets have had great luck with the sixth overall pick in recent memory, including the selections of cornerstones Leonard Williams and Jamal Adams. A winning team is led by a quarterback, a position the Jets have lacked for what seems like an eternity. Step one in building a championship level team is finding a franchise quarterback, and Sam Darnold could be that guy.
Isaiah Oliver in coverage in 2017 pic.twitter.com/1cVGFlT6a2
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) February 2, 2018
Round 2 Pick 5: Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
Due to the extreme depth of this cornerback class and the plethora of possibilities any team can examine on draft day, Oliver can certainly slip into the second round. He is viewed as a top cornerback talent by many, especially by the hosts of the Breaking The Draft Podcast, who have declared him CB1. Anyhow, the Jets have struggled in pass defense since Darrelle Revis initially left for Tampa Bay, and it is just starting to develop. Obviously, the consecutive safety picks of Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye have shored up the safety positions, but the Jets’ corners have remained inconsistent and vulnerable. Morris Claiborne signed a one year prove it deal and held up pretty well. If he stays, the Jets secondary would immediately become one to fear if this selection also occurred. If not, Oliver would have to step up into the number one cornerback role and immediately face off against some of the league’s toughest receivers; a task he is well-equipped to face.
Uchenna Nwosu is my absolute lock to outplay his draft position.
— Steve (@SteveDraft_) February 2, 2018
Round 2 Pick 17: Uchenna Nwosu, EDGE, USC
Furthermore, one factor in the Jets’ demise last season was their atrocious lack of a pass rush. With more premium picks being spent on other spotlighted flaws, Nwosu fits the bill as a qualified edge rusher, but he adds more than just a few sacks in the box score. Nwosu, along with a later pick, is versatile enough to fight through the Jets’ scheme indecisiveness and excessive amount of holes on defense.
Ideally, Nwosu would split starting reps at both 3-4 outside linebacker (a pass rusher) and a 4-3 off-ball linebacker, a more coverage-defined role. Depending on which package they come out in, his role will change to fit the situation. The Jets will most likely continue flip-flopping between a 4-3 and a 3-4, so the athletic linebacker can move around to wherever he is needed.
This versatility is rare for a predominant pass rusher and can truly add to this linebacking corp. A linebacking group consisting of Nwosu, Darron Lee, Jordan Jenkins, Demario Davis, and Kemoko Turay [see the Jets’ 4th round selection] would help out not only in pressuring the quarterback but in coverage and in opposing the run game. This former Trojan defender has proven he is a leader of men and is a captivating personality his teammates can rally around.
Good locker room presences like Nwosu are hard to come by and should be acquired as often as possible.
When Frank Ragnow was on the field in 2017, he was as dominant as they come pic.twitter.com/JLu2jtdQ96
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 30, 2018
Round 3 Pick 8: Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas
One of the most frustrating problems the Jets faced during their ugly, yet promising 2017 campaign was the inconsistencies in the run game and the substantial amount of interior pressure allowed. With two quality guards in Brian Winters and James Carpenter, the blame falls on Wesley Johnson, the center.
Ideally, the Jets can pick Billy Price, my current fourth-best prospect, with their second pick, but with his stock rising, that is not very likely. However, with the league’s undervaluing of the center position, a quality prospect in Frank Ragnow can certainly fall into their hands at 72. The former Razorback was an elite pass blocker last season, allowing only two pressures and keeping Austin Allen clean.
Though not as dominant, Ragnow is more than adequate as a run blocker and is capable as a pulling lineman and a gap blocker. This selection would solidify the interior offensive line group for the New York Jets, improving both their run game and hopefully their quarterback play.
Ragnow is well-equipped to handle each and every responsibility that falls on the center’s shoulders and he can truly lead this group. There are large shoes to fill after Nick Mangold’s departure and if Ragnow even sniffs Mangold’s level of consistency and utter dominance, the Jets will have a much easier path to being competitive.
— DLineVids (@DLineVids) January 27, 2018
Round 4 Pick 7: Kemoko Turay, EDGE, Rutgers
This pick is where I suspect the most criticism and confusion. A second edge rusher, this one seemingly extraneous, doesn’t sound like the best selection for a team with needs all over the place. This pick is based on the same attribute as the prior Nwosu selection: versatility. While the former Trojan can play both inside linebacker and edge rusher, Turay can play both defensive end and edge rusher. Once again, the Jets’ multitude of packages comes into play here. As a fourth-round pick, the pressing need to start him is absent, but he can come in as a rotational player and find significant amounts of playing time. Nwosu, Turay, Lee/Davis, and Jordan Jenkins makes a mean 3-4 linebacking corp and when in a 4-3, Nwosu, Davis, and Lee can stay on the field, and Turay can either rotate in or start, depending on where Wilkerson, if present, and Leonard Williams, are playing. This added versatility opens the door for a myriad of new play calls and packages to intimidate opposing offenses. To add, substitutions can be chaotic in the NFL, and if the Jets use that to their advantage, it just adds another factor that could help them win, even if it is just a slight improvement. We saw Turay at the Senior Bowl where he impressed in a decent amount of drills over the course of the week. He is an impressive prospect and depending on the future scheme, could be Wilkerson’s replacement.
Round 5 Pick 20: Tre’Quan Smith, WR, UCF
A productive target from the Floridian faux champions is Tre’Quan Smith, a playmaker with a lot of recent hype. His stock isn’t very high and he can be that day three guy that becomes a starter quickly. Last year, Gang Green selected ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen to help out the wide receiving corp. Between the two, not much upside, market share, or playing time was found. While you can’t cut ties on young players too early, just ask the Redskins, it makes a lot of sense to upgrade without spending much. Additionally, the Jets’ receivers show a lot of potential, but the group can find themselves dispersed throughout the NFL before the upcoming draft. Quincy Enunwa headed into a contract year as the team’s expected number one target, but a neck injury quickly ended his season. To fill his shoes, Robby Anderson came in and played really well, becoming a relevant deep threat and a big play waiting to happen. Unfortunately, his off the field antics could lead to his departure, especially if character is stressed in a young and exuberant locker room. This leaves Jermaine Kearse and ArDarius Stewart to help whatever passer ends up at MetLife. Tre’Quan Smith is a low cost, high upside prospect who can immediately step in and find ample playing time in the green and white. Newly promoted offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates would work wonders with Darnold and Smith, a combination that could add to and up and coming Jets roster.
Round 6 Pick 5: Cole Madison, OT, Washington State
As a unit, the Jets’ offensive line was not very good last year. Brandon Shell didn’t live up to expectations at right tackle and Kelvin Beachum is a below average veteran starter… the Jets knew exactly what they were getting. Personally, unless a new tackle is acquired via trade, free agency, or day one of the NFL draft (not happening), I would keep both Beachum and Shell as starters. Shell has room to grow but we have already seen his flashes of greatness from his rookie season two years ago. Moreover, Madison is a high floor, low ceiling tackle who can be manageable at either tackle spot, but for the time being is a backup. The current backup tackles don’t impress me a whole lot, and eventually, Madison may become the starter. Unequivocally, the offensive line will be an exceedingly important part of [in this case] Darnold’s development. When a young passer isn’t constantly harassed and feels secure in the pocket, they tend to flourish. Blindside pressure could kill a quarterback and the Jets should do whatever they can to make the best surrounding cast possible for their young passer. At Washington State, Madison did an adequate job of protecting Luke Falk and though he won’t dominate at the next level, his tools translate relatively well.
Ito Smith pounding it between the tackles pic.twitter.com/wIH0Eu3pet
— The Mick Nartin™ (@themicknartin) January 24, 2018
Round 7 Pick 17: Ito Smith, RB, Southern Mississippi
I’ll be honest this might have been my favorite selection of this mock draft. Bilal Powell is just getting the reigns to the offense and going into his age thirty season, he isn’t the franchise back. Aging veteran Matt Forte would be a surprise to see on the roster next year, adding to the list of Maccagnan free agent signings that simply didn’t work out.
On the flip side, Elijah McGuire showed flashes of competence and as a runner, I wouldn’t mind giving him a decent amount of carries, especially if he becomes more consistent on outside runs. The Jets also gave Jeremy Langford a contract, yet another player that has fallen from a brief period of relevance.
As we can quite clearly see, the Jets don’t have much of a rushing attack. As a heavy believer in the “don’t buy a running back, draft one” philosophy, I simultaneously feel that a back is not necessarily the most valuable selection with a premium pick. Smith, a small school prospect that hides under the big names across this class, will most definitely be here at the 235th overall selection.
Ito Smith has drawn comparisons to the great LeSean McCoy and it is easy to see why. His agility, burst, and overall athleticism is up there with the best of them, and the rest of his game doesn’t fall off too far. He has a knack for creating big plays and he rarely has to rely on his offensive line to gain yardage. Smith could start right away and add to this remodeled Jets offense.
If he pans out, Darnold would have a playmaking back, similar to Ronald Jones at USC, that he can rely on and can use to take pressure off of the shoulders that would carry the weight of the Big Apple media. Smith could be Darnold’s greatest ally in a battlefield of controversy, harshness, and demandingness. The Southern Mississippi back may be the biggest key in helping Darnold deliver the Jets to the promised land.
So, that wraps up a pre-combine mock for the New York Jets, a team that could use a pivotal draft more than just about any franchise in the league at the moment. If the right quarterback is selected and developed, relevancy would come back to MetLife; though any true achievement would be supported by the rest of this draft class.
Adding to this young Jets’ core is fundamental and paramount when building this team and growing them into a contender. If Maccagnan wants to save his job, he will need to deliver during this next draft. If not, the Jets’ seemingly inevitable despair will continue to circulate around this franchise for the foreseeable future.