The Jets had their eyes on offensive lineman Max Mitchell for quite some time.
Chris Nolan, one of the team's college scouts, spent some time in Lafayette, LA, watching practices and observing him in one-on-one drills.
"That bled to the Senior Bowl and the Combine and Zoom meetings," Mitchell said after the Jets used one of their Round 4 picks (No. 111 overall) in last weekend's 2022 NFL Draft, the sixth of their seven overall selections. "I knew they had some interest. I wasn't surprised [they picked me], but I was excited."
Mitchell, 22, a four-year starter at Louisiana, adds depth to the Jets' offensive line. He has played left and right tackle, and left guard and now joins a unit that is poised to provide protection for second-year QB Zach Wilson and block for the running backs in OC Mike LaFleur's wide-zone scheme.
The Jets are not the first organization to recognize Mitchell's talent, drive and versatility. Mitchell (6-6, 307) has built up his body nicely over the years after starting out his high school career at Neville HS in Monroe, LA, as a 6-2, 165-pound freshman. He drew modest interest from lower-division schools before Louisiana's offensive line coach Rob Sale saw something in this "late bloomer."
"Whenever he came in, Coach Sale would say 'we're going to have a freshman player next year,' " guard Ken Marks told The Acadiana Advocate. "Whenever we looked at Max, we didn't think that. Max was always like this clumsy guy — goofy-looking guy — but when he got in and Coach Sale drilled him and we got into fall camp, we were like, 'Oh, he can actually play.' "
He showed that over four years playing for the Ragin' Cajuns. He started and played in 37 games the past three years. Twenty-nine of those starts, including all 13 this past season, were at right tackle, with 7 at LT and 1 at LG. He was named All-Sun Belt Conference second team in '20 and to the first team after last season.
"I'm versatile, I'm tough, I'm athletic and I'm resilient," he told reporters after being drafted on Saturday. "I don't quit. I'm a hard worker. I'm here to contend. I'm ready to go."
Mitchell joins a room that has been strengthened via the signing in free agency of Pro Bowler Laken Tomlinson, who will line up at LG. Alijah Vera-Tucker will transition to RG, George Fant and Mekhi Becton are set to battle at LT and Connor McGovern returns at center. GM Joe Douglas also re-signed Dan Feeney while Chuma Edoga, Greg Van Roten and Isaiah Williams provide additional depth. Mitchell may need to bulk up a bit to deal with the demons on opponents' defensive line, but he's quick and he's a fast learner, which could be a perfect fit for the Jets' scheme.
"Max has played a lot of football," his college coach Billy Napier said. "He's worked hard in the weight room, he's worked hard at nutrition. He's got some position flexibility. He's played guard and both tackles for us. To have the intelligence to do that and certainly the unselfish approach and character to do that is impressive. His play speaks for itself. He'll play at the next level."
During this year's draft, the Jets added four players on offense -- Mitchell, WR Garrett Wilson (No. 10), RB Breece Hall (No. 36) and tight end Jeremy Ruckert (No. 101).
"We feel like Max can be a versatile piece on our offensive line," Douglas said on Saturday. "The guy was at the Senior Bowl [where the Jets' coaching staff oversaw the National team and got an advance look at the talent]. He's very competitive. He's been practicing at tackle and guard and snapping the ball at center. We feel like he could be another versatile piece to put on the offensive line."
Mitchell, a native of Monroe, LA, was asked if he'd ever been to the New York metropolitan area before he travels north for the Jets' rookie minicamp.
"No sir, I haven't," he said in response. "I'm excited for a new step in my life. It's the next step for me and I couldn't be happier to be taking that step. Dreams do come true."