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Jets hope another solid rookie class makes them contenders again

The New York Jets are in a “good news, bad news” situation.

The bad news? Even with their first win of the season last weekend, the Jets will likely battle Houston for the first overall pick.

The good news? Even if New York ends up with a top-5 pick, the team appears to be headed in the right direction.

New York’s thrilling 27-24 overtime win against Tennessee has to give fans hope for its future, especially after quarterback Zach Wilson – the No. 2 overall pick this year – passed for 297 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

But Wilson isn’t the only New York rookie who is contributing. The Jets’ other first-round pick, former USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, is battling Kansas City’s Trey Smith for the best offensive lineman in his rookie class. Third-round running back Michael Carter “has exceeded expectations,” according to defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. The team’s other Michael Carter, a fifth-round DB from Duke, and sixth-rounder Brandin Echols of Kentucky are already receiving heavy playing time. And wide receiver Elijah Moore, a second-round pick out of Ole Miss, is expected to be back in the starting lineup once he clears concussion protocols.

In other words, this season might be rough for Jets’ fans, but the future looks far more promising than it did a year ago.

And the Jets will have ample opportunity to add to its stable of young talent in the 2022 NFL draft. New York could have as many as 5 of the top 75 picks.

Here’s an early look at some Day 1 and Day 2 possibilities for the Jets:

Round 1

Alabama OT Neal Evan

New York will likely have to choose between a top pass rusher, cornerback and offensive tackle. For argument’s sake, let’s say Oregon Edge Kayvon Thibodeaux and LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. are already taken. That would leave the massive, 6-foot-7, 350-pound Alabama junior as the selection here. Neal and 2020 first-round pick Mekhi Becton would give the Jets one of the youngest, most talented OT bookends in the league – if not also the biggest. Neal is ranked as the No. 4 overall prospect in ESPN’s Mel Kiper’s latest prospect rankings. From Kiper: “He’s an elite left tackle prospect with a massive frame and stellar physical traits. … He is the complete package, excelling as a run-blocker and also in moving his feet as a pass-protector.” Neal would likely kick back out to right tackle, where he played last season at Alabama.

Iowa C Tyler Linderbaum

Would the Jets consider taking an offensive lineman with their first two picks? It’s certainly possible, especially if the team wants to protect its investment in Wilson. The 6-foot-3, 290-pound junior lacks elite size but is likely the top interior lineman in the 2022 draft. Kiper ranks him as his No. 16 overall prospect, saying: “Linderbaum is one of the best center prospects in recent memory. He can do everything, and he excels as a puller to either side. He doesn’t have many weaknesses. ESPN Stats & Information tracks sacks allowed, and has him down for one, which came all the way back in 2019. I’m a huge fan of his game.” It’s also important to note that current Jets starter Connor McGovern has been underwhelming. So why take Linderbaum in the first when you can draft a center in the later rounds who might already be as good as McGovern? Because there’s a huge dropoff at the position after Linderbaum. The next-highest rated center in the Fanspeak-Jake big board, for example, is Arizona State’s Dohnovan West, the No. 107 prospect.

 

Round 2

Ohio State Edge Zach Harrison

New York found a gem in Edge John Franklin-Myers after the 2018 fourth-round pick was waived by Los Angeles Rams. Franklin-Myers now has 5 sacks in his past seven games, but he’s scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the season. Translation: Don’t be surprised if New York drafts a pass rusher high in the 2022 draft. That player could be Harrison, who has ideal size at 6-foot-6, 272 pounds. And he’s been rated fairly high by most evaluators. So why would the true junior still be available near the top of the second round? Production. Harrison thus far hasn’t put up big numbers, with just 12 tackles, 2 sacks and 2 TFLs in four games this season. Harrison has 50 tackles, 11 TFLs and 7.5 sacks for his career, but much of that came while playing behind players like Chase Young and Nick Bosa. Plus, 2022 is shaping up to be a solid year for pass rushers, which could push Harrison down draft boards.

Michigan State S Jaquan Brisker

Brisker has been steadily rising up draft boards and was recently listed by Kiper as the No. 2 safety behind Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton. Incidentally, Hamilton could be a consideration for New York with its first first-round pick, but Brisker would be a nice consolation prize, as Fansided’s Victory Bell Rings called the 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior “the heart and soul of the defense thus far, making two of the biggest plays of the season on that side of the ball in victories over Wisconsin and Auburn.” Brisker has 16 tackles, 3 TFLs and 1 INT this season, giving him 101-6.5-4 for his career. Brisker would also serve as an immediate upgrade over current starters Marcus Maye and Adrian Colbert.

Round 3

Tennessee CB Alontae Taylor

The 6-foot, 195-pound senior is rising up draft boards and might not make it to the Jets in the third round – SI’s FanNation recently had Taylor going in the first round in its recent mock draft. But taking Taylor here would be a coup for the Jets, as he’s started 28 games and played in 42. For his career, Taylor has 122 tackles, 4 TFLs, 3 INTs, 13 PDs and 3 FFs. FanNation called Taylor “a special leader on and off the field and a playmaker,” touting “his physicality, elite mental alertness and football intelligence.”



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