How Jets can have a perfect 2020 NFL Draft, starting with prioritizing pass protection for Sam Darnold

The New York Jets entered the 2020 offseason with a laundry list of roster holes to fill, but those who expected them to be more aggressive in free agency wound up disappointed. However, they shouldn’t have exactly been surprised. It’s not in the DNA of general manager Joe Douglas to spend big in free agency even if that means entering the third season of Sam Darnold’s rookie contract (a salary cap bargain) with a roster that hasn’t addressed nearly every need.

From the outside perspective, it appears Douglas used a quantity over quality approach to rebuild his offensive line via free agency. With the exception of Connor McGovern, who took over for Matt Paradis and performed well as Denver’s starting center in 2019, the remainder of his free agent signings (George Fant, Greg Van Roten) should be considered depth signings to compete with incumbent linemen whose 2019 play can best be described as average.

Douglas spent a little at wide receiver — another key area the Jets need to upgrade — but signing Breshad Perriman and letting Robby Anderson walk can be considered a wash — at best. The same can be said at cornerback, where the Jets essentially swapped Pierre Desir for massive free agent bust Trumaine Johnson.

Entering the 2020 NFL Draft, the Jets still have major needs they will have to consider addressing at cornerback, offensive tackle, offensive guard, wide receiver, and EDGE rusher. The good news is that by having more roster needs to address, the Jets have a better chance of doing what every general manager wants to accomplish in the draft — matching need with value. With that in mind, we developed a perfect step-by-step blueprint for the Jets to follow in the draft.

Step 1: Keep it simple, stay put and draft an OT on Day 1

The Jets should be tempted by Cee Dee Lamb (my WR1) and Jerry Jeudy, it’s only natural, but they need to suppress that temptation and remain focused on drafting one of the big four offensive tackles — Jedrick Wills, Tristan Wirfs, Andrew Thomas, or Mehki Becton. For starters, an offensive tackle class with four clear-cut top prospects like this doesn’t come around often. On the flip side, the wide receiver class is viewed as arguably the best ever in large part due to its depth. NFL starters could be available for needy teams like the Jets all the way through the beginning of Day 3 — that’s how deep the class is. A strong case can also be made that building the offensive line is more beneficial for Darnold — or any franchise quarterback — than building through the skill positions. 

The Jets probably won’t have their pick of any offensive tackle in this class, but they can’t go wrong with any of the big four considering they can stand to upgrade at both offensive tackle positions. Regardless, they will be adding a player who can immediately make life easier for Le’Veon Bell — who saw fewer open holes than almost any running back in 2019 — and for Darnold as well.

Step 2: Double-dip at WR on Days 2 and 3

The Jets own an extra Day 2 pick thanks to the Giants’ surprising decision to trade for impending free agent Leonard Williams during a lost season and they should use that by drafting into the strength of the class. The strength of the class on Day 2 will undoubtedly come at the wide receiver position. The Jets currently own picks No. 48, 68, and No. 79. They would be making a wise decision to double-dip at wide receiver — if not with two of these picks than with one pick on Day 2 and another on Day 3. I wouldn’t advise this for every team, because wide receiver is a position you can find late or in the UDFA pile, but the Jets have one of the five shallowest rosters at this position so it makes sense for them to improve on that.

A few of my favorite targets in Round 2 for the Jets specifically under Adam Gase’s offensive system — and factoring in Perriman, Quincy Enunwa, and Jamison Crowder already on the roster — are: Brandon Aiyuk (Arizona State), KJ Hamler (Penn State), and Michael Pittman (USC). If they wait until the end of Day 2 (in Round 3), Tyler Johnson (Minnesota) is an excellent fit.

Step 3: Target athleticism on the EDGE

The Jets have neglected their EDGE rusher positions for far too long and they still have a long way to go when it comes to upgrading — even after re-signing Jordan Jenkins. While Jenkins creates pressure with hustle plays, the Jets should look to target an EDGE who can create pressure with athleticism — even if takes some time to develop. Jabari Zuniga (Florida) and Alex Highsmith (Charlotte) are my favorite targets for the Jets as they look to upgrade off the edge. 

Step 4: Don’t force a CB in any round

The Jets have a glaring hole at cornerback, but forcing a pick to fit this need could be disastrous. Remember, the draft is for targeting value while teams should be using free agency to fill needs. The cornerback position dries up a bit after the middle of Day 2, so if the Jets skip out on it early, they might be best off waiting until Day 3 to target a player who best fits Gregg Williams’ defensive system.

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