Ahh, draft week. The time where rumors run wild and fans prepare for for both the elation and devastation of the first round. I try to avoid too many mock drafts throughout the season, mostly because there is nothing I loathe more than the forced “hot takes” that tend to come with someone’s 4th or 5th mock. (Re: Currently people are projecting Mike Williams as a top-5 pick…)
With that being said Jets fans, prepare to warm up your “boo’s” for Thursday night with my second mock of the season, a seven round look at not what I think they Jets are likely to do, but what I would do if I sat in GM Mike Maccagnan’s coveted chair. For this I used Fanspeak’s draft simulator along with big boards from ESPN, NFL.com and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller.
Round 1, Pick 6 (6): O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
In this simulation, picks 1-5 were Myles Garrett, Mitchell Trubisky, Marshon Lattimore, Leonard Fournette and Malik Hooker, respectively. That left me with the tough decision of safety Jamal Adams and tight end O.J. Howard. If this is the situation the Jets find themselves in on Thursday, I have no doubt that they’ll grab Adams as quickly as they can to be the centerpiece of the secondary for the next decade. I’d actually love the pick. However, in my opinion, O.J. Howard is a generational talent at his position who would end up having a bigger impact on the franchise than Adams would.
The Jets have a well-documented quarterback problem, and they’re mistaken if they think they’ll solve that with a QB in this draft. Howard is the next best thing, he will become the best friend of whoever starts under center for the Jets. An athletic freak, Howard plays fast like a Wide Receiver, with the size to easily grab contested catches, and cause terror with the ball in his hands. What I love most about him though is that he blocks in-line like a Tackle; he’s not just a pass-catcher like every other tight end who’s come out the past few years, he’s a true Y-Tight End willing to do the dirty work.
For those of you questioning his production, throw on the tape of the last two National Championship games and see how underutilized he was, and how he still was the best player on Alabama’s offense, a theme of his college career. For those who think six is too high for a tight end (a nonsense generalization), if you had the opportunity to draft the next Greg Olsen, Jason Witten or Rob Gronkowski, wouldn’t you? Howard is a high-floor prospect, and a team in a rebuilding phase needs as many can’t miss players that they can get. No other player in this draft other than Fournette will change an offense on Day 1 like Howard will, and he should figure to be a major impact player for the next decade.
So to recap, with Howard you get a high floor prospect, a great route runner that will be a young quarterback’s best friend, a matchup nightmare that will be a safety’s worst nightmare and a quality run blocker in a draft devoid of offensive line talent. I think it’s a slam dunk.
Round 2, Pick 7 (39): Taco Charlton, Edge, Michigan
A little disclaimer, I personally don’t think he makes it into the second round, but the board works in mysterious ways and draft day is always unpredictable so if he falls to the Jets on Thursday like he fell to me, fans should rejoice.
Charlton has the size and athleticism that coaches and scouts crave and the versatility that Jets Head Coach Todd Bowles wants in his defenders. At Michigan, he played mostly with his hands in the dirt as a 4-3 defensive end, but he has shown the ability to play standing up as an outside linebacker, although he needs to improve as a run defender and dropping back into coverage, which he did very little of in college. Charlton won’t be nearly as complete of a player in his rookie season that he will be in years two and three when he’s learned the nuances of the position. However, he will be an immediate pass-rushing force for a team that absolutely needs to get to the quarterback.
Round 3, Pick 6 (70): Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC
This draft is remarkably deep when it comes to the secondary, and in particular, the corner position. In this simulation, there was a big run on corners at the end of the first round which left few CB options worthy of an early second round pick, and pushed talent at other positions down the board; so I opted to wait it out and trust this storied cornerback depth. While, like Charlton, I don’t expect Jackson to be available for the Jets in the third round, I do expect the Jets to find a cornerback of his caliber with this pick. But again, the board has blessed me with a huge value pick in the former USC cornerback and return specialist.
Immediately, Jackson will fill the Jets need for an experienced returner that could regularly flip the field and change the game in an instant. His eight return touchdowns came on four kicks and four punts, and his return averages were both in the top six in all of college football last season. He’s a fierce competitor and a great locker room presence, who will be a vocal leader on a team filled with a few too many quiet, “lead by example” type guys.
But the Jets aren’t drafting a returner in the third round, they’re drafting a cornerback, and a damn good one, to boot. Jackson’s size projects him more as an inside, slot-corner but he has proven ability to play outside and in multiple techniques, frequently playing in press or play off-man coverage. Jackson has natural instincts and ball skills that improved each year and directly correlated to his production, 5 interceptions and 11 passes defended last season giving him 6 picks and 28 PD’s in his three years at USC.
I’m a bit more bullish on the Jets cornerback depth than most, a healthy Morris Claiborne, an improved Juston Burris and Buster Skrine is not a bad grouping and if Marcus Williams can finally show some consistency, the unit could be surprisingly effective. Jackson would slide at least into the #3 slot this season, giving the team great depth and flexibility for 2018 when they eventually cut ties with Skrine and push Jackson primarily to the inside.
Round 3, Pick 43 (107): Desmond King, FS, Iowa
With the brutal injury to Marcus Gilchrist last season, the Jets should be looking at securing a solid safety to fill his spot. There’s a high chance they do that in the first round if either Jamal Adams or Malik Hooker are there for them at six, but if not, they have the opportunity to close out Day 2 by taking an intriguing prospect like King.
King played cornerback at Iowa, but projects as a safety in the NFL due to his size and lack of elite speed, although he answered the major concerns about his speed after running a 4.51, 40 at his pro-day. What King does have, in spades, is instincts and ball skills, which led to huge production at Iowa — 14 interceptions and 33 PD’s. King does everything he can to read the quarterback and get to the ball, he has unteachable instincts that are hard to overlook. Bowles will love his grit and press ability at the line of scrimmage, he’ll use those cornerback skills to come down and jam receivers, knocking them off their rhythm.
Within this deep and talented safety class, there aren’t many free safeties that jump off the screen in the mid-rounds, the board is much deeper when it comes to strong safeties and I’m not ready to ship off Calvin Pryor, just yet. The Jets are making the right move waiting until after the draft to address his fifth year option, something I think they will elect to use if they don’t grab up a strong safety with one of their first four picks. Pryor played really well in 2015 and impressed the new regime, but his struggles last season put his future with the Jets in jeopardy. He’ll have at least another year to prove his worth, and a second if they exercise his option. In the meantime, King will be a solid contributor on the back end with the ability to develop into a key anchor in the secondary.
Round 5, Pick 6 (150): Connor Harris, LB, Lindenwood
On day three of the draft you’re looking to find players to not only round out your depth chart, but heavily contribute on special teams and add character to your locker room. In other words, you’re looking for football players. Connor Harris checks all of those boxes and gives you the added bonus of a high ceiling and the chance to become a quality inside linebacker.
Harris has an undeniable motor that, to me, is even more impressive considering he was much more talented than any of his Division II opponents. When you outperform the competition on a weekly basis, it’s a lot easier to rest on a play every now and then: Harris did nothing of the sort. But what stands out most is his elite production, he was involved on nearly every single play, breaking the NCAA all-time tackles record (in any division) and was named the 2016 top defensive player in all of Division II, III and the NAIA.
People will rightfully question the competition level, but if you check out his tape, he plays with the quickness and power that will let him compete at the next level. Consider these stats, in 48 games, Harris had 633 tackles, 34 tackles for loss, 20 PD’s and 9 sacks. That type of production is impressive at any level, and what you would expect from an NFL caliber player in Division II. Harris could benefit greatly from a year behind Jets stalwart David Harris (no relation) and eventually prove himself to be the heir apparent, allowing Darron Lee to remain as the Jets’ Will linebacker. Until then, Harris will earn his stripes on special teams, pairing up with fellow LB Josh Martin to hopefully give life to the recently beleaguered unit.
Round 6, Pick 7 (191): Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina
With Matt Forte and Bilal Powell, the Jets have an above average running back tandem that will likely combine for over 2,000 scrimmage yards again in 2017. However, the running back corps is unusual in that it lacks both a home-run threat and a power back. Forte and Powell are both shifty, gritty runners who can break tackles and are spectacular in the passing game, but neither have true breakaway speed or punishing power.
At this point in the draft, you aren’t going to find many home-run threats that have a well rounded game, however, you could definitely find a thumper and that is what Elijah Hood will be. The Jets explored the idea of adding a full back in free agency so the interest is there for someone who can lead block and lend a hand in the pass protection game, both of which Hood has proven more than capable at. He also is a decisive, between the tackles runner who can punish a defender if they aren’t fully squared up.
Don’t mistake this pick for a fullback though, Hood showed production worthy of at least a #3 option during his time as a Tar Hell, especially in 2015, where he rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns. In his three years at UNC, he averaged 6 yards per attempt and notched 29 scores. He also made a decent impact in the passing game as a check-down/dump-off option but more so as a willing and capable blocker in pass protection. Hood is a three-down back that would be a great short-yardage compliment to the Jets running back group.
Round 7, Pick 6 (224): Jeremy Clark, CB, Michigan
Coming off of an ACL injury in Week 4 of last season, teams are going to have to do a bit of risk assessment when it comes to Jeremy Clark. Before he went down he was playing well and looking to build off his solid performance in 2015 where he caught three interceptions in just seven starts.
Clark is a long, physical press corner with the ability to play on special teams, he also has the potential to outperform his draft slot if he stays healthy. That’s just what the Jets should want from their seventh round pick, and the exact gamble they took on WR Charone Peake last year in the seventh round. Clark fits Bowles’ style on the defensive side of the ball, with his ability to intimidate in press coverage and enough athleticism and ball skills to allow him to play off-man as well. He is a versatile piece who has experience against top notch competition. If he can stay healthy — which is a big if — his floor could be as a key special teams contributor and a solid depth piece at corner.