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Ranking Jets' most likely NFL Draft Outcomes: Trades, Targets and the Aaron Rodgers Factor


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By Zack Rosenblatt

The NFL draft is in a month, and for the first time in a long time, Jets fans aren’t as rabidly interested in what the Jets might do. They’ll pick 13th in the first round, a spot that has produced a number of quality players — including Rashawn Slater, Tristan Wirfs, Christian Wilkins and Haason Reddick in recent years.

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The Jets’ offseason has been dominated by two topics — if they would be getting Aaron Rodgers from the Packers in a trade, and (now) when they’ll be getting him.

Even if he’s not on their roster yet, Rodgers will be at some point. The Jets’ draft plans — assuming the trade happens before the draft — will crystalize once he’s in the building. But they obviously have to start planning now.

So in lieu of a traditional draft board, ranking players the Jets are most likely to draft, I decided to do a different spin on the concept.

Here’s a draft board projecting the 13 most likely outcomes for the Jets in the first two rounds, starting with the most likely — and, as always, using Dane Brugler’s latest Top-100 rankings for reference:

1. Draft an offensive tackle in the first round

This remains the most likely outcome at No. 13, especially if one of the draft’s top three prospects at tackle falls to them.

Those three prospects: Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski (No. 6 overall in Brugler’s rankings), Ohio State’s Paris Johnson (No. 12) and Georgia’s Broderick Jones (No. 15), with Tennessee’s Darnell Wright (No. 24) also graded as a first-round prospect.

Jones has been the most frequently mocked to the Jets, though it’s not guarantee he falls to No. 13 since some teams have him ranked as the top tackle. He was the only SEC tackle to not allow a single sack in 400 pass-blocking snaps last year. Jones would slot in nicely as the right tackle in 2023 and possibly as a long-term option to replace Duane Brown at left tackle. He’d be an upgrade over Mekhi Becton and Max Mitchell, two young players coming off serious injuries.

Skoronski’s ability to play guard or tackle is appealing, though there are some questions about his length. He is athletically impressive and was dominant against quality opponents in college.

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Johnson seems best suited to play left tackle in the NFL, though he did get some snaps at guard in college too. It seems more likely that Jones or Johnson are available at No. 13 than Skoronski.

2. Trade a second-round pick to the Packers

The Jets left Arizona still without a deal for Rodgers, but they do have two second-round picks now after the Elijah Moore trade — and back-to-back too at No. 42 and No. 43. It feels like a safe bet (especially since the Jets no longer have a third-round pick) that one of those seconds is included in the Rodgers deal, plus picks in future drafts.

3. Trade back from No. 13

Depending on how the board plays out, it would make sense for Douglas to trade back — for the first time as Jets general manager, too. The Jets are likely going to be giving up a few picks in the Rodgers deal so it wouldn’t be the worst idea to replenish the draft capital with a trade-back (especially if a top quarterback falls to No. 13) and get some more ammo to either add a veteran player of note or more rookies to fill out the depth chart.

If Skoronski, Jones and Johnson are all gone at No. 13, this feels like a real possibility — depending on if someone shocking fell that far.

By trading back to later in the draft, the Jets could turn their focus to positions that would be a bit of reach at No. 13, like center, safety, wide receiver or defensive tackle.

4. Draft a defensive tackle in the first two rounds

This is the Jets’ biggest need on defense right now, especially after losing Sheldon Rankins and Nathan Shepherd and striking out in their pursuits of Calais Campbell (Falcons) and Fletcher Cox (Eagles).

There’s only one defensive tackle prospect that Brugler has valued as worthy of the No. 13 pick (Georgia’s Jalen Carter, ranked No. 3 overall), and it feels like a longshot that he’d still be there. If the Jets fall in love with Clemson’s Bryan Bresee (No. 22) or Pittsbugh’s Calijah Kancey (No. 26), perhaps they’d be an option at No. 13 or in a trade-back.

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Per TruMedia, Bresee pressured quarterbacks on 11.8 percent of his pass-rush snaps in 2022, which ranked 14th among defensive tackles. He has battled injuries in his career, though, which is likely why he’s not ranked higher. Kancey isn’t huge (6-foot, 275) but he’s a freak athletically, running a 4.67-second 40-yard dash at the combine and impressing at Pittsburgh’s Pro Day, too. He had 27.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks combined in the last two years at Pitt.

In the second round, the Jets have some other defensive tackle options, too, including:
• Michigan’s Mazi Smith (No. 38): He’s big (6-3, 323), strong, athletic and was No. 1 on Bruce Feldman’s freaks list in 2022.
• Florida’s Gervon Dexter (No. 54): He’s athletically gifted and productive as a tackler.
• Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton (No. 56): He has the versatility to play pretty much anywhere on the defensive line.
• USC’s Tuli Tuipulotu (No. 68): He’s smaller (266 pounds) but led the country in sacks (13.5). He can also line up anywhere.

Whoever the Jets add at defensive tackle will play a role right away on defense.

5. Draft a center in the second round

The Jets have yet to add a center of note this offseason, though they have admitted to having interest in signing Pro Bowl center Ben Jones as a free agent. Still, Jones will turn 34 soon so the Jets should be looking for a long-term solution here. One of the most popular prospects among Jets fans in this process has been Minnesota’s John Michael Schmitz (No. 58), who was a standout at the Senior Bowl. He graded out as the nation’s top run-blocking center by PFF on zone schemes and gap schemes last season.

Joe Tippmann (No. 43) is abnormally tall for a center (6-foot-6) but is considered a quality athlete which makes that less of an issue. He’s the highest-rated center on The Athletic’s board.

Tippmann allowed one sack in 625 career pass-block snaps as a Wisconsin starter. (Michael Allio / Getty Images)

Some prospects listed at guard with the ability to also play center: TCU’s Steve Avila (No. 40) and North Dakota State’s Cody Mauch (No. 45).

6. Trade up for a top prospect

Douglas has never been afraid to go up and get a prospect he likes in the NFL draft. He’s done that plenty of times in recent years, including to go get defensive end Jermaine Johnson and running back Breece Hall last year, plus guard Alijah Vera-Tucker in 2021. The Jets are in win-now mode, so if there’s a prospect in the top 10 that can help them on their quest for the Super Bowl — Douglas won’t hesitate to make a move, even if it depletes their draft capital.

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The prospects that would be the most appealing if they fall far enough for the Jets to go get them:
• Georgia DT Jalen Carter: There are some maturity and off-field questions with Carter, but nothing about talent. Brugler had Carter ranked No. 1 overall in the previous rankings when he wrote that Carter has a “rare combination of body control, quickness and power.”
• Northwestern OT Peter Skoronski: He’s viewed as a Pro Bowl-caliber player at both guard and tackle.
• Florida QB Anthony Richardson: If the Jets are looking for a quarterback of the future for whenever Rodgers retires, Richardson would be an ideal choice as someone who could use some seasoning for a year or two anywhere. He’s a freak athlete with great size (6-4, 232) and tools worth developing.

7. Draft Brian Branch at No. 13

Douglas has generally made it clear that he’s not going to overspend on a safety — in free agency or the NFL draft. The earliest he’s drafted a safety so far is the third round (Ashtyn Davis, 2020). Branch is a head above the other safety prospects in this class, though, and his presence would allow the Jets to move on from Jordan Whitehead for $7.25 million in cap savings, especially since they acquired veteran Chuck Clark this offseason.

Branch is ranked 16th overall. The next best safety: Texas A&M’s Antonio Johnson at No. 76.

He’s an ideal fit for the Jets, too, since he’s talented in coverage and can line up at multiple spots on the defense, drawing comparisons to Steelers star Minkah Fitzpatrick.

8. Get Aaron Rodgers another weapon

If the Jets’ pursuit of Odell Beckham fails and they eventually move on from Corey Davis, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to find another high-quality talent to pair with Garrett Wilson, Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman. If the goal is to make Rodgers happy, grabbing one at No. 13 might at least enter the conversation. Those options would include USC’s Jordan Addison (No. 19) and Wilson’s former Ohio State teammate, Jaxon Smith-Njigba (No. 21).

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More likely: The Jets would add a rookie wide receiver after a trade-back, in the second round or later. The top options in a trade-back/second round: Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt (No. 27), TCU’s Quentin Johnson (No. 29), Boston College’s Zay Flowers (No. 39), North Carolina’s Josh Downs (No. 42), Cincinnati’s Tyler Scott (No. 48) and Tennessee’s Cedric Tillman (No. 55).

9. Draft another edge rusher early

The Jets are pretty set at edge rusher, especially if Robert Saleh meant what he said when he insisted Carl Lawson isn’t going anywhere. The Jets also drafted Jermaine Johnson in the first round last year, Micheal Clemons in the fourth, John Franklin-Myers is back and Bryce Huff was tendered at a second-round level as a restricted free agent.

There’s not much space for another rookie to play much if that’s the group, though if Douglas views a pass rusher in the first- or second-round as a potential game-changer, he likely wouldn’t hesitate to make that move. You can’t have too many quality pass rushers.

Brugler has Alabama’s Will Anderson (No. 1), Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson (No. 8), Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness (No. 10), Georgia’s Nolan Smith (No. 11) and Clemson’s Myles Murphy (No. 18) graded as first-round prospects, with LSU’s B.J. Ojulari (No. 33) right behind them.

Of that group, Van Ness might be the most intriguing potential first-round target, both in terms of likelihood that he’s there at No. 13 and his skill set — Van Ness has impressive size (6-5, 270) and athletic traits. He didn’t even start for Iowa last year and still led the Hawkeyes in tackles for loss (11) and his ability to line up inside or outside falls in line with what the Jets like out of their defensive ends (see: Franklin-Myers, Clemons.)

Some options in the second round: Ojulari, Kansas State’s Felix Anudike-Uzomah (No. 44), Iowa State’s Will McDonald (No. 46), Georgia Tech’s Keion White (No. 47) and Auburn’s Derick Hall (No. 49).

10. Draft a quarterback

This might rile up some Jets fans, but even if they are all-in on this year with Rodgers — there is no guarantee he’ll return in 2024, and certainly not beyond that. The quarterback of the future is not currently on the roster. If they sign Ben Jones and/or Beckham, they’ll have much fewer immediate needs to address in the draft, and if the Rodgers experiment works out as much as everyone expects — they won’t have as much of an opportunity to draft a top quarterback prospect next year.

So if one of the four quarterbacks rated highly — Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis or Florida’s Anthony Richardson — falls to No. 13, it shouldn’t be completely ruled out.

Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker (No. 65) is the only other quarterback ranked in Brugler’s top 100, so he’d be an intriguing choice in the second round, too.

11. Trade for a veteran wide receiver

Again, the Jets are all-in. So if they don’t get Beckham in free agency, maybe Douglas would be interested in moving the pick for a veteran wideout available on the trade market — or at another position of need like on the O-Line, D-Line or at safety.

The list of potentially available wideouts worth targeting includes DeAndre Hopkins (Cardinals), Courtland Sutton (Broncos), Jerry Jeudy (Broncos) and Mike Evans (Buccaneers). Adding any of them to a group that already has Wilson, Lazard and Hardman would give the Jets one of the most talented wide receiver rooms in the NFL.

12. Add another linebacker

The Jets re-signed Quincy Williams and brought back C.J. Mosley. Kwon Alexander is still a free agent but the third linebacker spot isn’t quite as much of a priority for Douglas or Saleh. It wouldn’t be the worst idea to draft a linebacker to develop to eventually replace Mosley, but the first or second round might be too early.

13. Trade No. 13 to the Packers

The Packers might’ve thought they had a shot at the Jets’ first-round pick when the Rodgers negotiations started, but that is unlikely to happen.

(Top photo of Paris Johnson: Joe Robbins / Getty Images)

https://theathletic.com/4362908/2023/03/31/jets-mock-draft-rankings-nfl-aaron-rodgers?source=user-shared-article

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