January's Reese's Senior Bowl afforded the Jets' coaching staff a unique opportunity, a kind of reward in reverse since the coaches for that game are from teams that had recently completed challenging seasons. The Green & White, particularly general manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh, were quick to recognize that interacting on and off the field with some of the players among the more than 18,000 vying to be noticed ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft gave them a leg up, so to speak, on the rest of the league.
And according to Rex Hogan, the assistant general manager, their up-close introduction to Florida State edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II had a huge impact on the trajectory of the Jets' draft. As we all know, the team ended up with three picks in the first round -- CB Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner at No. 4 overall, WR Garrett Wilson at No. 10 and Johnson at No. 26 after Douglas traded back into the first round.
"It was awesome to get what we saw as four first-round picks," Hogan told Eric Allen, the Senior Director, News Strategy and Reporter, on the newest edition of "The Official Jets Podcast," adding that RB Breece Hall, a second-round pick, was also high on the Jets' draft board.
After landing Gardner and Wilson, the Jets draft room watched with mixed emotions as Johnson went unselected as the first round wound down.
"We start talking about guys still on the board and where we value them," Hogan said. "We had targets and Jermaine was one we saw slide. We started making all kinds of calls reaching out to teams, starting with the 15th pick and struck out until 26 with the Titans when it came together quickly. There was a celebration in the room when we made the pick."
Douglas ended up trading three picks (No. 35, No. 69 and No. 163) to Tennessee and nabbed Johnson, moving back into the first round, and adding a third-round pick (No. 101), who turned out to be Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert.
"It was a unique moment," Hogan said. "Joe was on the phone with Jon Robinson [the Titans GM and executive VP]. It was wild, almost surreal. Did it really happen? Three first-round picks. We had Jermaine in our top eight in terms of value. To get one of our top eight players at 26, it was electric. Joe was elated. We saw the emotion."
Part of that desire to make the move from Johnson, Hogan said, grew out of the coaching staff's interaction with the players at the Senior Bowl.
"We were coaching up the National squad, Johnson was playing for the American, but we saw him at practice a couple of days," Hogan said. "When we saw him, it was cool. We got meeting space in the same area as where the Lions [who coached the American team] met, staying in the same hotel. We were eating in the same place, and we would see these guys, bump into them and have small conversations. His personality just jumped out, a natural guy. We had good conversions. Seeing him on the field was awesome, to have access on the field instead of just sitting in the stands. On the field, you could feel his energy and love of game, the speed, positioning and agility and it really jumped out. That's when we realized this is a real dude."
Some other quick hits from the "Hogan File":
• On Sauce Gardner: He's a unique personality he has this ... he's the Sauce, the nickname. You think this is going to be the personality, but what he's got is this genuine, humble, modest personality. He's comfortable in who he is and what he brings to the team. He's unique for a corner drafted that high with that skill set and that mentality and personality. We're fired up about Sauce."
• On Jeremy Ruckert and tight ends: "We were trusting the board and valuing the board. We signed C.J. [Uzomah] and [Tyler] Conklin, and [Kenny] Yeboah and [Trevon] Wesco. When we got to the third round, Jeremy stood out. He fell a lot because of a foot injury at the Senior Bowl. But he's a New York kid, a Long Island kid and he's a great story. He didn't get much pop at Ohio State, but the guy stuck it out. He will do the dirty work, be attached to the line and will block. He can make adjustments and can stretch the field."
• On competition: "There's strength in numbers. The depth now is different from when it was in 2019. The turnover has been crazy, we now have seven guys who were on the roster from the 2019 team. We added depth across the board. Robert is happy, we're happy, the coaching staff is happy. It's a good problem to have. We'll see how guys compete and fight for reps.
Hogan talked about the options at wide receiver -- Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Braxton Berrios, Denzel Mims, Jeff Smith and the addition of Garrett Wilson -- and the two tight ends signed in free agency. That depth also carries over to the offensive and defensive lines, and extends to the defensive backfield, Hogan said.
"It's going to be an incredible competition, not only to see who starts, but the back end of the competition for the 53 [on the final roster]."
• On Zach Wilson entered Year 2 in the NFL: "Robert said it best when, right after the draft last year, he told Zach, 'You don't have to worry about raising up the organization, we're going to raise you up. We will build around you, add playmakers and help you become the best player you can be.' He's going to take a step in Year 2, you can see it already how he's built up his body in the offseason. He's showing it right now on the field."
Hogan said he is convinced that there's something special happening at One Jets Drive.
"We really do, we focus on getting younger players, guys hungry, guys who are driven and want to develop," he said. "As a group we focus on it, the coaching staff, the personnel staff, the player performance staff -- we all acknowledge and understand that to build a great team you have to do it with player development. Everybody is on the same page. We understand these are young guys who are are going to make mistakes, but they're going to do it fast and with a love and excitement for the game. You feel in the building every day. That's what creates culture. Guys buying into being developed and want to have a growth mindset to prove who they are and who we are as a club."