This week, we begin the 2022-23 season as Joe Douglas embarks on his third draft season with the New York Jets. Once again, Dylan’s Dimes takes a unique approach: I decided to give “Draft Resolutions” to Douglas and grant him some advice on how to approach a draft with four projected top 40 picks.
Resolution 1: Don’t Go Secondary With An Early Pick
Robert Saleh has proven to have a legitimate secondary development acumen. Looking back to his secondary in San Francisco, Saleh showed the ability to develop under the radar players and tailor them to fit his scheme. Look no further than Ahkello Witherspoon, who ranked as the sixth best CB by PFF in 2020 and started 33 games in his four seasons under Saleh. Jason Verrett was another example of development but, in his case, he joined Saleh later in his tenure and the former pro bowler resurrected his career to put together a strong 2020 season starting 13 games with two interceptions, 60 tackles and 7 PBUs. K’Waun Williams was a speedy slot corner who Saleh recognized could make plays in space and be dialed up as a blitzer. The list goes on and on, but in San Francisco Saleh made the most of what he had and then some.
Then, as a head coach, Saleh built a staff that could also bring the most out of young talent. The team drew some negative attention in the preseason for opting to take late round fliers to fill out their secondary rather than sign proven talent in free agency or address the position early. Instead, the team has trotted out Michael Carter Jr., Brandin Echols and Bryce Hall for the majority of this season. Carter has shown flashes of a capable starting slot cornerback for the future, while also flashing impressive instincts in key pass breakups or sacks like the one this past Sunday. Brandin Echols has racked up back to back interceptions in the past two weeks with one returned for a score against the Dolphins. He also has 8 PBUs and has proven to have the wheels to hang with some of the better vertical threats the team has faced this season. Perhaps the most impressive development can be seen in Bryce Hall, a late round flier from Douglas’s first draft class that has taken a huge step forward. With 16 PBUs and 78 tackles, Hall has shown range as a tackler and, although being beat at times, his coverage against top weapons from opposing teams has been incredibly encouraging. As a unit, although far from perfect with their 28th in pass defense ranking, the secondary has taken a massive step forward under Saleh and his staff’s leadership.
Prospects like Derek Stingley Jr. and Kyle Hamilton are tempting, and I believe both can be potential pro bowlers: however, with the developmental acumen that Saleh has shown and the depth of the defensive back class, if the team utilizes their inevitable top five pick on one of the two it would be disheartening. If the team opts to trade down to the middle or late first round and one of the top defensive backs on the board is there, then yes, it’s worth a thought. With the lack of depth and talent on this tea, though, Douglas should focus on adding blue chip prospects in areas like the edge rush, offensive line or receiving corps.
If the team can add depth to the secondary with later round picks and set out to develop them, that approach has been tried and somewhat true for Saleh. I also like the idea of adding a complimentary veteran in free agency similar to a lower tier outside swing like the 49ers took on Verrett to help aid Echols and Hall’s development. The area of priority for the Jets in the secondary needs to be safety though and, although a guy like Hamilton is tempting, this safety class is strong and adding depth to the room later in the draft to prevent bringing guys up from the practice squad week in and week out is a much better goal. Prioritizing positional value with their earlier selections and allowing Saleh’s developmental skills to shine should be an ideal for Douglas to continue upon in the 2022 draft.
Resolution 2: Address Previous Mistakes
Early returns of the 2021 draft class have been fruitful. Despite early hiccups, Zach Wilson has begun to take strides, go through his progressions at a quicker pace and show more confidence. When healthy, the trio of Alijah-Vera Tucker, Elijah Moore and Michael Carter have looked like franchise building blocks and future stars. I also mentioned Echols and Carter Jr. who have both shown flashes of being impact defensive backs for the squad moving forward.
Unfortunately, the 2020 draft has been hardly as successful. The team drafted a large mauler type left tackle in Mekhi Becton and passed on Tristan Wirfs, who has since become a pro bowler. Becton has shown glimpses of being a dominant tackle but has missed just about all of this season, went down in games last season, and proven to have a hard time staying conditioned. Denzel Mims, a second round pick from Baylor, has been an utter bust. Despite the young receiver showing up late in his rookie season, a bout with food poisoning and an inability to pick up the playbook has produced a season that’s seen him slide down the depth chart dramatically. In two seasons, Mims has 31 receptions for 490 yards and no touchdowns. He’s been a dud and a headache for the team, and moving on from him could be in the cards this offseason. This list goes on as Jabari Zuniga and James Morgan have been released, Cameron Clark got hurt over the summer, and Braden Mann has looked spotty in the punt game. Ashtyn Davis has come on in recent weeks and, with a legitimate compliment alongside him at safety, he could be salvageable. However, aside from Bryce Hall, the class has been disappointing. Now, Douglas holds ample capital to correct his mistakes, and he must choose to do so.
Resolution 3: Support Zach Wilson, Now and In the Future
The final resolution for Douglas is to prioritize the support of his young quarterback, now and down the road. The Jets have likely two picks in the top ten and four in the top 40. Trading down from those selections, even if not far, can help accumulate selections for future drafts, particularly the 2023 class that already has taken attention away from this one. Still, this team is one that can take a step forward by adding players in this draft as well. Getting more talent like AVT, Michael Carter and Elijah Moore that can grow with Wilson is crucial. Just like last year, this is a deep receiver class and the team could look to add one of the top guys there. I also think adding a tight end should be in the cards in order to accommodate Zach and aid his struggles to see the middle of the field. Overall, the priority needs to be on making sure Wilson can continue to grow, develop and have the most optimal situation for success.