NFL draft options to rebuild Jets’ troubled defense

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No one expected miracles from Robert Saleh in his rookie season, not with a rookie franchise quarterback enduring the predictable growing pains. But no one expected his defense to show up like this, wondering out loud why no one respects the Jets. 

Jets fans have witnessed a cringeworthy product that is the polar opposite of, say, Joe Klecko and Mark Gastineau sacking the quarterback with Darrelle Revis intercepting the quarterback behind them. 

Only five games remain, mercifully, in another miserable season that leads directly into another winter of discontent for these long-suffering masochists, five more months before what amounts to the Jets’ annual Super Bowl, otherwise known as the NFL draft. 

Because it is there, starting on Super Bowl Thursday night, when GM Joe Douglas gets a huge opportunity to get his rookie head coach the goods to validate his vow to change the Same Old narrative and flip the Same Old script. 

Hope springs eternal for the Jets … every spring! 

Douglas, as Jets fans monitoring the draft weekly on pins and needles fully know, owns a pair of top-five picks — shoutout to Jamal Adams and the Seahawks here — and a pair of picks in the second round on Super Bowl Friday night. 

Joe Douglas, Derek Stingley, George Karlaftis, Aidan Hutchinson
Joe Douglas will have plenty of options at his disposal in the NFL draft to improve the Jets’ defense.
Bill Kostroun, AP, Getty (2)

Saleh talked Monday about the growth and improvement of his young players, but for him to field a defense that does not surrender 31 points or more in five of the past seven games, he will require an impact cornerback opposite emerging Bryce Hall and an impact edge pass-rusher bookend to Carl Lawson when he returns in 2022. 

And here’s some good news for Jets fans: The 2022 draft favors teams picking in the top 10 because of a shallow talent pool. 

“Right now, you got eight, maybe 10 at tops that have solid first-round grades,” said Tony Pauline, draft analyst at ProFootballNetwork.com. 

Asked if this draft was the weakest at the top — bad quarterback crop — he has seen it, Pauline said: “In a long, long time.” 

“Usually, you’re looking at 24 guys that have solid first-round grades,” said. 

LSU’s Derek Stingley is the top-rated cornerback. 

“The problem with Stingley is he played great in 2018, he was up-and-down in 2019, and he was OK this year before he got hurt,” Pauline said. “So if you’re getting the Stingley that you had in 2018, you’re getting a true shutdown corner. If you’re getting the guy that’s played the last year-and-a-half … Which guy are you getting?” 

LSU
Derek Stingley forces a fumble during LSU’s 49-21 win over Central Michigan.
AP

If Stingley isn’t on the board or if Douglas passes for whatever reason, he might have to strike in the second round. 

“A lot of people like Ahmad Gardner of Cincinnati, whose OK,” Pauline said. “I like Roger McCreary of Auburn, who was one of the highest-rated seniors coming into the season. He’s probably a Day 2 pick. If he runs in the 4.4s, with corners being selected as early as they are, I think he’s good value. If he runs in the 4.5s, you gotta wonder whether or not they’re gonna take him.” 

Both are big, physical corners. 

“McCreary’s smart, he’s got excellent ball skills, he’s instinctive,” Pauline said. “The problem with him is deep speed is maybe a concern. He got exploited by the Alabama receivers in the Iron Bowl. Gardner struggles making plays with his back to the ball, which could be an issue.” 

Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux is the current favorite to be the first-overall pick, but Douglas could be staring at a couple of appetizing edge options: Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and Purdue’s George Karlaftis. 

Pauline likes Hutchinson’s intensity, smarts and the fact that he is fundamentally sound. 

“My concern about Hutchinson is he’s sort of a ‘Put your head down and bull rush the offensive tackle off the ball,” Pauline said. “You can do that on Saturday, it’s not gonna come as easily on Sunday. As opposed to say his teammate, David Ojabo, who’s probably gonna go first round as well. Ojabu is a lot more as they like to say ‘quick twitch.’ He’s a lot more explosive, he’s a lot more sudden. And Ojabo is probably a better fit for the Jets. Now, I don’t know that Ojabo is gonna be a top-12 pick.” 

Pauline sees Karlaftis as a better system fit for the Jets than Hutchinson, who is more of a traditional 4-3 defensive end. 

“He’s a sort of a Lawrence Taylor-type and he’s got that body, you stand him over tackles, he comes out of a three-point stance. … The problem with him is he’s not a real big guy, he’s not a real strong guy,” Pauline said. “He’s a former water polo guy.” 

Purdue
George Karlaftis celebrates a sack.
AP

A second-round edge? “ 

“The Anderson kid from Georgia [OLB Adam Anderson] would be a perfect fit, but you don’t know what’s gonna happen with him with all the off-the-field stuff [charged last month with rape], whether it’s true or not,” Pauline said. “Colby Wooden is a guy to consider. He’d probably be a good fit for the Jets. He’s like the [Bryce] Huff kid, but he’s much more athletic and explosive.” 

Pauline sees Alabama tackle Evan Neal as the lone offensive lineman who could entice Douglas in the first round. He could play left and right tackle. 

Free agents? CBs Carlton Davis and J. C. Jackson are enticing. Edge? Haason Reddick and Harold Landry Jr. perhaps. 

Douglas should and will take the best players on his board. Remember that his first four picks last season were on the offensive side of the ball. Two of his first four picks next time better be devoted to a blue-chip corner and edge to help your head coach field the defense he craves, and the respect the franchise craves. 

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