This article also appeared in the New York Jets Special Advertising Supplement that was published in Thursday's New York Daily News.
Any good poker player knows when to go all in and when to fold, and Jets general manager Joe Douglas played his hand well in the 2022 NFL Draft in Las Vegas.
For the first time since the "Four Aces" in 2000, the Jets made three first-round selections, starting with CB Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner at No. 4 overall.
After not allowing a touchdown in over 1,000 snaps at Cincinnati, Gardner was not targeted once in the Jets' preseason and was named a starter following the preseason finale against the Giants. Gardner, the unanimous AAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2021, alternated first-team reps with CB Bryce Hall throughout training camp.
"However they want to use me, I'm willing to be versatile," Gardner said. "I'm willing to do whatever it takes to win. They want to play zone, they want to play man, they want to blitz me, they want to put me at linebacker — I don't think that's going to happen, but I'm willing to do whatever it takes.
"I came here just to be the best teammate I can be and focus on football. I just want to do whatever it takes so we can turn the organization around."
Six picks later, the Jets selected home-run-hitting WR Garrett Wilson, who had four plays of 50-plus yards his last season at Ohio State (three receptions, one rush) as part of his 1,058 yards and 12 TDs. He also ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at the Combine. Wilson has uncanny body control and made plays in training camp regardless of who was under center.
"I've just always tried to do a great job of doing my role," he said. "When I got to Ohio State as a young dude, that was my role, to come in and make some plays every now and then. I just wanted to be as good as I could be at that. That doesn't change here. Whenever my opportunity does come, whenever the ball is in the air, I want to make that play. I expect to keep that same mindset."
For the Jets' third Round 1 selection, Douglas reshuffled the deck and made his move. He tried to execute a trade with every team from 15-25 before successfully doing so with the Titans. He moved up to nine spots, from No. 35 to No. 26, to select pass rusher Jermaine Johnson.
Johnson, whose collegiate career started at Independence Community College before he transferred to Georgia and then in 2021 to Florida State, was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year last season after leading the conference with 12 sacks and 18 tackles for loss.
"He's learning how to use his power, which has been an area of emphasis for him because he's got all the wiggle," head coach Robert Saleh said. "He can go outside, he can go inside. It's the power game that still has to go with him. He's doing a great job on teams. He's going to be a definite help this year in all facets of football."
One Hall of a Second-Round Pick
Douglas kept his foot on the gas to start Round 2, moving up two spots, from 38 to 36, to select Iowa State RB Breece Hall as the praise continued for the expert way the Jets were playing their '22 draft hand.
It's paradoxical that someone who ran the 40 in 4.39 seconds could have overlooked speed, but offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur described Hall's speed as sneaky. There was nothing coy, however, about Hall's camp. In addition to vision and speed, the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in 2020 and 2021 showed natural hands out of the backfield.
"It's similar to what I did at college, but there's a lot more nuances and a lot of little things that I'm still learning," Hall said. "I'm a rookie, so I still mess up trying to go a thousand miles per hour, sometimes overthinking everything. But it's coming along for sure. I like where I'm at. I just know that I've been practicing OK and I'm not playing my best football right now but I feel like I've been pretty good."
In the third round, the Jets benefited from the fruits of their labor coaching the Senior Bowl in January. Douglas selected Ohio State TE Jeremy Ruckert, whom the team coached during their week in Mobile. Ruckert, whose prowess is as a blocker, first practiced with the Jets Aug. 3 after dealing with a foot injury.
"Love his movement, love his athleticism," Saleh said. "He's everything we thought he was going to be. Now it's just a matter of him catching up to the playbook, so that he can play without thought."
Two for the Trenches in Round 4
OL Max Mitchell and DL Micheal Clemons, a pair of fourth-round picks, rounded out the Jets draft.
Mitchell, who played mostly right tackle at Louisiana, was thrown into the fire early in camp after Mekhi Becton sustained a season-ending injury. Mitchell worked in with the first team mostly at RT and in the preseason started two games and led the team with 124 offensive snaps.
"It's not how I would've planned it for Max, but I think the jump he took between Week 1 and Week 2 was extraordinary," OL coach John Benton said. "I'm thinking specifically going into the [first] preseason game and then he took a big step up. He's still got a ways to go, but he is progressing very well."
Clemons is a violent, late-blooming defensive lineman with a relentless motor. He started playing the position in 2015 at Cisco CC before transferring to Texas A&M and collecting 12.5 career sacks. With the Jets, he's learning multiple positions.
"As a player, I have a lot to work on," Clemons said. "I try to show up every single day, come out here and get a little bit better. It's a credit to my coaches and my teammates for helping me out since I've been here and putting me in the best position to be successful. But I'm nowhere near where I need to be."