Joe Douglas has one job in this week’s NFL draft, which begins with Thursday night’s opening round: Go offense or go home.
The Jets’ general manager, after he selects BYU quarterback Zach Wilson with the second-overall pick, must do for Wilson what he failed to do for Sam Darnold before mercifully shipping him off to Carolina this month. He needs to build an offense around Wilson so he can succeed. And he needs do it quickly, because barring any unforeseen setback, Wilson will be the Jets’ Day 1 starter.
Douglas — in what I truly believe was an earnest gesture — promised Darnold’s parents, Mike and Chris, when he first met them before a preseason game in August 2019: “I’m going to do everything in my power to take care of Sam with protection and playmakers.’’
Douglas failed to make good on that promise, which is why he’s about to draft Darnold’s replacement just 20 months removed from that vow to his parents.
Now, for the good of the franchise he was given a lucrative six-year contract to build and oversee, Douglas must make good on that for Wilson, and he needs to do it immediately … as in using the team’s No. 23-overall pick on another offensive player then the No. 34-overall pick on another offensive player, and maybe even the No. 66-overall pick on another offensive player.
Never mind the “best player available’’ and “staying true to the board’’ GM and coach cliché-speak. Draft offensive players who will help make Zach Wilson NFL-ready and the star the Jets believe he can be, and do it on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week.
In nine of the past 11 drafts, the Jets have selected a defensive player with their first-round pick. Darnold (2018) and left tackle Mekhi Becton, last year’s first-rounder, were the only exceptions. Of those past 11 drafts, only Becton and defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (2019) remain on the team.
Of 25 different current mock drafts examined Tuesday — ranging from the analysts from ESPN, NFL.com, Peter King, CBS Sports, Sporting News and a number of others — 19 projected the Jets taking a defensive player at No. 23.
Don’t do it.
There are going to be some tempting defensive players available at 23. Some of them will play cornerback, which is a significant area of need for the Jets, and may include Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley and Northwestern’s Greg Newsome II.
There, too, will be edge rushers, another perennial need for the Jets, with Michigan’s Kwity Paye, Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari and/or Miami’s Gregory Rousseau likely available at 23.
Avoid the temptation and build the offensive line with that 23rd pick with USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker or Virginia Tech tackle Christian Darrisaw or Oklahoma State tackle Tevin Jenkins, if they’re available.
There are enough offensive skill-position players in this draft, particularly at receiver, that the Jets can find a good one at No. 34 overall, where they may see Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman, Mississippi’s Elijah Moore or Purdue’s Rondale Moore.
There surely will be running backs available at both No. 34 and No. 66, with Clemson’s Travis Etienne an intriguing possibility for new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s version of the Kyle Shanahan offensive system that utilizes multiple running backs.
This urge to add offensive players in this draft is not to say that the Jets are, by any means, set on defense. It’s about fixing one thing at a time and doing it right. The Jets ranked dead last in offense the past two seasons, and they’re about to center their entire franchise around Wilson at quarterback.
If they have to go into the 2021 season deficient in some areas on defense, so be it. Head coach Robert Saleh was hired, at least in part, for the great things he did as the 49ers defensive coordinator. So, he should be good enough to scheme around some personnel deficiencies while the team builds around the quarterback.
This brings us to Douglas’ one job in this draft: Go offense or go home.