Why the New York Jets Are the Linchpin of the 2019 NFL Draft

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystApril 24, 2019

New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan speaks to reporters in Florham Park, N.J., Monday, Dec. 31, 2018. After firing Todd Bowles on Sunday night, the New York Jets are focused on bringing in someone who will be able to lead a franchise that has missed the playoffs for eight straight seasons but has a promising young quarterback in Sam Darnold and expects to be busy in free agency this offseason. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Seth Wenig/Associated Press

The 2019 NFL draft is shaping up to be the opposite of last year's.

In 2018, the buzz leading up to draft day was all about what the Cleveland Browns would do at No. 1 overall. The Arizona Cardinals may surprise everyone with this year's first overall pick, but Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray appears to be their guy.

If that's the case, the No. 2 pick is all but a done deal. San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch will flash the speed from his playing days to turn in a card with Ohio State edge-rusher Nick Bosa's name on it.

Then things get interesting.

At No. 3 overall, the New York Jets can go in several directions. Whichever route general manager Mike Maccagnan chooses will cause a ripple effect that'll reverberate throughout the rest of the top 10 and beyond.

If the Jets have made up their minds about what they're going to do, they aren't telling.

The clubhouse leader in the mock draft community has been the same guy for some time now: Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams. The 6'3", 303-pounder is the No. 1 overall prospect on many draft boards. 

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

B/R's Matt Miller recently explained why he has Williams atop his big board:

"A first-year starter as a redshirt sophomore, Williams played well enough that he should have received serious Heisman Trophy consideration in 2018. His eight sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss showed his dominance, and at only 21 years old as of December 21, Williams is still growing and developing as a player. 

"... With Williams, there is no known ceiling. He has the athleticism, work ethic and strength to continue to improve. You hear the term 'maxed out' in scouting. Bosa is maxed out. Williams is just getting started."

This is the safest route the Jets could take. Although Williams wouldn't address New York's need on the edge, he looks like a difference-maker on the D-line from day one.

The Jets have a few other options at No. 3, though. Since they're keeping their 3-4 front under new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, one of their most pressing needs is pressure off the edge. At 6'5" and 262 pounds with 4.63 speed, Kentucky's Josh Allen appears tailor-made for that role.

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White recently said as much to Al Iannazzone of Newsday:

"He provides that edge presence that they're looking for, a guy that can go after the passer. I think he provides them a guy that will be strong in the run game, a guy that will be able to hunt, and he also provides them a chess piece.  

"Gregg Williams is a guy that likes to attack from a lot of different angles. He provides you the ability to do multiple things, and I know Coach Williams likes to do that. I think he becomes a really valuable chess piece in that regard."

However, Allen isn't viewed as the "can't-miss" prospect Williams is. According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, some in the Jets front office view Williams and Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver as being "on a higher plane" than Allen, with one large exception.

That exception is Maccagnan.

Mehta also reported "Oliver has strong support in the organization from those who believe that he has the tools to wear a gold jacket one day." Although 6'2", 287-pounder wasn't especially productive in college, that's because the Cougars often lined him up at nose tackle. But after turning in a short shuttle time at Houston's pro day that was faster than Le'Veon Bell's, Oliver's otherworldly athleticism is drawing comparisons to two-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.

Michael Wyke/Associated Press

"He's an alien," one team source told Mehta.

Both Allen and Oliver are immensely gifted players with sky-high ceilings. But neither is a finished product, and Oliver isn't nearly as refined as Donald was coming out of Pittsburgh.

Allen and Oliver could go to multiple Pro Bowls, but they also could get Maccagnan fired.

The Jets have a third option, which Ralph Vacchiano of SNY reported is Maccagnan's real preference: trading back from No. 3 to "at least recoup" the second-round pick they gave up last year while trading up for Sam Darnold.

"They seem to really, really want to move down," one NFL executive told Vacchiano. "Maybe they're just keeping their options open, but it sure seems like that No. 3 pick is for sale."

If Maccagnan can flip the No. 3 pick, still get Oliver or an edge-rusher and add more picks that he can use to address the team's other needs, then more power to him. But that path has potential pitfalls, too.

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

First, he'll need to find a trade partner willing to sacrifice enough draft capital to make a deal worthwhile. The Colts had a Jets team desperate for quarterback help to play Let's Make a Deal with in 2018. If the Giants think they can get whichever quarterback not named Murray they want at No. 6 and the Broncos believe Drew Lock will be there at No. 10, finding a dance partner might not be as easy in 2019.

Teams rarely give up substantial draft capital unless it's for a signal-caller. And selling the No. 3 pick for 70 cents on the dollar makes little sense.

The second problem is hindsight. If the Jets trade the No. 3 pick and that player goes on to be a star, it won't reflect well on their front office. The same goes for if Maccagnan misses on the pick the Jets drop to.

Those possibilities aren't conducive to Maccagnan's job security. And if the Jets fire their GM, they'll essentially be hitting the reset button…again.

The Jets also can't trade the No. 3 pick until knowing how the top two selections unfold Thursday. If Bosa somehow falls past the 49ers, it's a dream scenario for them. If Murray does, the value of the pick would shoot through the roof. Neither is likely, but the Jets have to wait just in case.

But the longer they wait, the less time they'll have to finalize a deal. And with each pick, New York's bargaining position could weaken, if only slightly.

Assuming Murray and Bosa are the first two picks, Williams should be the call at No. 3. Low risk. High reward. Minimum overthink.

But the other courses of action make sense, too. 

How Maccagnan proceeds at No. 3 could not only make or break his tenure as GM, but it also may effectively dictate how the first half of Round 1 goes.

No pressure, Mike.

     

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