A year ago, the Jets were scheduled to have four of the top 38 selections in the 2022 NFL Draft, including two in the top 10 (Nos. 4 and 10). GM Joe Douglas needed to hit a home run and he did, landing what looks to be a transformative class. Now two-plus weeks away from the 2023 NFL Draft, the Jets own three of the top 43 picks, but the landscape has significantly changed in the team's offseason approach and needs.
The Jets were one of the NFL's most active teams in free agency last spring, inking deals with CB D.J. Reed; G Laken Tomlinson; TEs C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin; S Jordan Whitehead; DT Solomon Thomas; DE Jacob Martin; and K Greg Zeurlein. WR Braxton Berrios, RB Tevin Coleman, DT Nathan Shepherd and OL Dan Feeney also re-signed. This spring, after nearly doubling their win total, the Jets signed a group that included WRs Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman Jr.; and OL Wes Schweitzer and Trystan Colon. LB Quincy Williams agreed to an extension, Douglas traded for S Chuck Clark while Thomas, Zuerlein and RB Ty Johnson all re-signed.
"Young roster, very young roster, so it's O.K. to add a few veterans," HC Robert Saleh said. "The guys we've added are pretty young, but you always want to have that mixture of really good, solid veterans who've done it the right way, who've still continued to work and appreciate this and love the process from rehab and all that stuff -- working out, meetings, practice. So, you always want to build that mixture of veteran leadership along with that youthfulness of athleticism and juice."
Several former Jets have found new homes. Berrios, Feeney and QB Mike White flew south to the Dolphins, while RB James Robinson joined another division rival, the Patriots. Thomas re-signed to provide depth on the defensive interior, but Sheldon Rankins (Houston) and Nathan Shepherd (New Orleans) left in free agency. C Connor McGovern and LB Kwon Alexander, starters in 2022, remained unsigned.
See NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah's top 50 prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft.
With the draft approaching, the Jets have an immediate need at center and long-term need at defensive tackle. Outside of Quinnen Williams, the Jets' youngest interior D-lineman is Thomas (27). The Green & White recently added veteran Quinton Jefferson (30), who enters his eighth year in the NFL after a career-high 5.5 sacks in 2022 with the Seahawks. The team also has Tanzel Smart (28) under contract.
Injuries decimated an offensive line that saw the Jets start nine different combinations last season and many pundits believe the Jets will take a tackle with the 13th overall selection in the draft. This tackle class is headlined by Paris Johnson (Ohio State), Darnell Wright (Tennessee) and Broderick Jones (Georgia). Some believe that Northwestern's Pete Skoronski, an excellent tackle at the collegiate level, will ultimately shift inside to guard. If the Jets elect to go with a tackle in the second round, Dawand Jones (Ohio State), Anton Harrison (Oklahoma) and Matthew Bergeron (Syracuse) could get consideration.
"That's definitely a position where we'd like to create some more stability and continuity, especially with the injuries we sustained last year," said Douglas at the NFL Combine. "Duane's [Brown] under contract, Max Mitchell's coming back. Max is doing great, another player that's recovering. Mekhi [Becton] is doing great. So, you know, feel good about those three guys coming back. Duane, he just had a procedure on his shoulder and he's recovering well. But again, O-line, D-line are going to be a high priority for us always and so if there's an opportunity to upgrade tackle, center, guard, D-tackle, D-end — we're always going to look at doing that."
At center, McGovern started 48 games for the Jets from 2020-22. Douglas told reporters that the Green & White have interest in former Titans C Ben Jones, but no meeting scheduled. Two centers from the Big 10, Joe Tippman (Wisconsin) and John Michael Schmitz (Minnesota), are likely to receive Day 2 consideration from teams, while Steve Avila (TCU) performed at a high level at both guard and center in college.
Flipping to the defensive interior, the Jets could be in an interesting position early in the draft. Star Georgia DT Jalen Carter reportedly won't go on any visits to teams outside the top 10 after he pled no contest to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing. Pitt's Calijah Kancey is an explosive penetrator, but he's not the biggest guy and the Jets have one of the best three-techniques in the NFL in Quinnen Williams. There could be a run on DTs in the second round, but teams could wait to find value later in the draft.
"We're excited about the group that we have," Saleh said of the defense. "Last year, our defense, for the most part, we're bringing them all back. We still need to take care of our defensive tackle positions."
In addition to the needs in the middle, Douglas may address linebacker and safety, and he again said that you can never have enough weapons on offense. After trading WR Elijah Moore and a third-round pick to Cleveland for a second-round pick (No. 42 overall), the Jets currently own the 13th pick in Round 1 and a pair back-to-back in Round 2 (Nos. 42 and 43). Douglas has had "productive conversations" with the Packers about a potential trade for QB Aaron Rodgers. If an agreement comes before the draft, pick compensation will be part of the swap. But the Jets, who have had discussions with WR Odell Beckham Jr., will continue to add to a group that has the potential to be one of the NFL's top rosters in 2023.