A few major themes developed for the Jets over the course of the three days of the 2022 NFL Draft.
One theme from the outside looking in was the perception of the team after three days of drafting and trading. The critics were praising rather than preying on the Jets' efforts. From the A-grades seemingly distributed all around the Internet to glowing reports on ESPN, NFL Network and the New York TV news shows, the Green & White were being celebrated for their first five picks. And the full draft should receive similar kudos on Sunday morning.
Head coach Robert Saleh, at his and Joe Douglas' end-of-draft news conference, was happy, of course, yet under no illusions.
"That's for you guys," the head coach said with a smile when a Jets reporter asked how all the positivity felt. "I've also been in places where we've been universally mocked. I think we took Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson in the first three rounds and got a D-grade."
That was when Saleh was Seattle's defensive quality control coach and Pete Carroll and company were assembling the team, with Wilson, Wagner and Irvin in the forefront, that produced five consecutive 10-win playoff seasons and played in two Super Bowls, winning one at MetLife Stadium, from 2012-16.
"It doesn't matter," Saleh said. "We've got to help them, we've got to put them in the best position possible. We'll know in three years."
But in the short term, in the past three days rather than the next three years, maybe the outside people are warming to what the inside people are doing.
"I feel like we're a better team now than we were going into this weekend," Douglas said. "I feel like we're a better team now than we were to start the entire offseason. A lot of that credit goes to Coach and his staff, Rex [Hogan, assistant GM], all our personnel staff working together. It's just a real team effort to give us this chance to go into a season improved at some different spots, adding quality depth to the team, adding some guys that we feel can be explosive, dynamic playmakers for us."
Douglas and Saleh know there are no quick fixes, just a lot of people doing their jobs to the best of their abilities all the time, while working together all the time.
Douglas, for instance, should surprise no one anymore that he knows how to maneuver up and down the draft board like a hardened commuter on the Cross-Bronx at rush hour. His trades with Seattle for Jamal Adams and Carolina for Sam Darnold, as tough as they were in letting those first-rounders depart, helped set this year's stage, especially for the drafting of WR Garrett Wilson at No. 10, formerly held by the Seahawks.
And his lower-round maneuverings, while leaving the Jets with no picks after Round 4, helped Douglas put together packages to move up and grab edge rusher Jermaine Johnson in Round 1 on Thursday and hop up a mere two spots in Round 2 to get RB Breece Hall and keep him from being snatched up by another team.
See images of all seven members in the 2022 draft class.
When the smoke cleared, the Jets had used only one of the original seven picks they once held for this draft, on No. 4 overall pick Sauce Gardner The last time that happened was 2009. Whether it was the big aggressiveness to get Johnson or the small aggressiveness to jump up and secure Hall, Douglas was true to his word, and the word was "aggressive," as he said Thursday night: "We wanted to be aggressive in terms of guys we really liked at the top of the draft."
Douglas' team isn't done working, but now the football's in Saleh's court. The GM praised his HC and Saleh's assistants for persevering through coaching up arguably the youngest roster in the NFL in 2021. The coaches' work may get a little easier with that year of collective experience under their belts, but it won't ever stop. There's still that AFC East gap between the Jets and the Bills, Patriots and Dolphins that has to be closed.
"It's not necessarily comparing us to what they have," Saleh said. "It's just building a roster that we have a vision for, that can execute our schemes, that can execute the character we want, that can execute the things we need to get done. The idea of closing the gap isn't necessarily trying to combat what they have, it's trying to get better with what we have, adding pieces, adding players, developing those players.
"I think there's a clear vision for every single player we've brought in, from free agency to the draft. Now it's just going on the field and implementing that vision and getting those guys to play to the best of their ability."
If that happens, wins will surely follow. And the people inside the Jets and outside the Jets can then be happy together.