New York Jets’ brass downplays unfamiliar praise for NFL draft class

By | April 30, 2022

FLORHAM PARK, NJ — The New York Jets, who haven’t done too many things right over the past decade, found themselves in an unusual position near the conclusion of the NFL draft on Saturday.

On the receiving end of universal praise.

Instead of taking a bow, coach Robert Saleh shrugged it off.

“I’ve also been in places where we were universally mocked,” said Saleh, recalling his time as a Seattle Seahawks assistant coach in 2012. “We took Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson in the first three rounds and we got a D grade, if I remember right.

“It doesn’t matter. We’ve got to develop these young men. They have to come in and they have to perform. We’ll know in about three years.”

The Jets walked away with seven players, including four of the top 36 picks. They used their original first-round picks on Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson, and they traded into the bottom of the first round to select Florida State defensive end Jermaine Johnson II. They traded up in the second round for Iowa State running back Breece Hall.

Gardner, Wilson and Hall were regarded by many draft analysts as the best players at their respective positions.

General manager Joe Douglas accumulated extra draft capital by trading safety Jamal Adams and quarterback Sam Darnold in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Going into the draft, he said the Jets had an opportunity to do “something special.”

Douglas didn’t want to call it that when it was over, but he was clearly satisfied.

“A few things have bounced our way in terms of the draft, but we also made the most of our opportunities in adding quality players,” said Douglas, who completed his third draft as the GM. “Ultimately, we’ll see how it plays out in the next couple of years.

“Nothing ever goes perfectly with the draft, but I feel like the last two years, things have gone our way and we’re making the most of our opportunities.”

The Jets needed an influx of talent after finishing 4-13, their 11th straight season out of the playoffs — the league’s longest active drought.

After the top four picks, the Jets added tight end Jeremy Ruckert in the third round, capping the draft with a pair of fourth-round picks — tackle Max Mitchell and defensive end Michael Clemons. They started with nine picks but were left with a total of seven selections after trades that allowed them to move up for Johnson and Hall.

One question that remains is the status of 2020 first-round pick Mekhi Becton, who is coming off knee surgery and isnt participating in the offseason program. Speculation about him has been swirling for months. Saleh publicly lobbied Becton, who has dealt with weight issues, to rejoin the team.

“You want all your guys to be here,” Saleh said of the offensive tackle. “It’s voluntary, but I know he’s working his tail off in Dallas. We have tabs on him. We know exactly what he’s doing and we know where he is in his rehab.”

Glancing at a TV camera, Saleh, smiling, said, “We would love to have you back here, buddy. We’ll take care of you.”

Saleh put Becton on notice at the end of the season, saying he would have to compete with George Fant to win back the left tackle job. On Saturday, he was evasive when asked about Becton’s role, hinting there’s a chance they could move him to the right tackle.

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