A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
We’ve been hyping this draft class for 12 months, especially the quarterbacks — and now we’re only four days away from the most anticipated draft in recent memory. So here you go, mini-mock 2.0.
1. Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC. I have to admit, I’m less confident than last week because the drumbeat for Josh Allen is getting louder, but Darnold is the safer choice. Safe should appeal to the Browns, considering how many quarterback picks they’ve screwed up.
2. Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State. New general manager Dave Gettleman said Barkley “is one of those guys my mother could’ve scouted. She could’ve figured that one out.” (Side note: In 1990, Jets GM Dick Steinberg made a similar comment about another Penn State runner, Blair Thomas, who never lived up to expectations.) If Darnold is available, the Giants could go quarterback.
3. Jets (via Colts): Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. With a choice between Mayfield, Allen and Josh Rosen, the Jets opt for the short guy with the big game and big personality. Risky? Yes, but there are flaws in each of the top quarterbacks. The Jets appear to prefer Mayfield and Rosen over Allen, whose accuracy is a concern. It’s a tough call between Mayfield and Rosen. Each has support within the organization.
2018 NFL DRAFT
When: April 26-28
Where: Arlington, Texas
NFL draft coverage » | Full order: 1-256 »
•Insider Kiper vs. McShay three-round mock »
•Insider Kiper’s ‘Grade: A’ mock » Favorite guys »
•Insider McShay’s ‘Grade: A’ mock » Tier rankings»
•Insider McShay’s top five needs for every team »
•Insider Prospects every team should target »
•Insider Football Outsiders’ draft guides »
•Insider Dueling two-round mock drafts »
• Barnwell’s 2018 All-Trades Mock Draft »
• How ’18 QBs grade vs. first-rounders »
• How Barkley grades vs. elite running backs »
•Insider Pos. projections: QBs » WRs » RBs » DEs »
4. Browns (via Texans): Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State. You can bet the Browns will get some tempting trade offers for this pick, but Chubb is the best defensive player in the class and the idea of him and Myles Garrett as bookend pass-rushers is too good to pass up.
5. Bills (via Broncos): Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming. Trade! Desperate for quarterback help, the Bills jump up seven spots to grab the strongest arm in the draft — and maybe the last 10 drafts.
6. Colts (via Jets): Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame. The Colts need help everywhere, but protecting Andrew Luck — he of the surgically repaired shoulder — is priority No. 1.
7. Dolphins (via Bucs): Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA. Trade! The Dolphins could sit at No. 11 and hope Rosen falls to them, but VP Mike Tannenbaum isn’t one to sit around and wait. The Dolphins, looking for an heir apparent to Ryan Tannehill, have done a lot of work on the top quarterbacks.
8. Bears: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia. The Chicago defense allowed only 17 touchdowns last season, tied for second-fewest in the league. (Bet you didn’t know that.) Smith will make them even better.
9. 49ers: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State. Ward is the top corner in the class and the Niners, who should be a fun team to watch in 2018, need someone to play opposite Richard Sherman.
10. Raiders: Vita Vea, DT, Washington. Jon Gruden invokes the “Planet” theory for his first draft pick. As former Giants GM George Young declared many years ago, there are only so many people walking the planet with the size and athleticism to play on the offensive and defensive line. The 347-pound Vea is one of those guys.
So there you have it. On Monday, general manager Mike Maccagnan will hold his pre-draft sitdown with reporters. There is no chance — zero — he will tip his hand. The buzz around the league points to Mayfield. In four days, we’ll see if it was just an elaborate smokescreen.
2. Mixed opinions on QBs: This group probably won’t match the celebrated Class of ’83 in terms of overall impact, but it could be the most polarizing class in history. Opinions on the top four vary widely. This is truly a “beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder” decision for the quarterback-needy teams.
Some insiders believe the Jets have narrowed their choices to Mayfield and Rosen, assuming Darnold is off the board. That, according to NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, isn’t a great decision to have.
“My two top quarterbacks are Darnold and Allen,” he said. “If I’m the Jets, I’m struggling telling you I would take Mayfield or Rosen, in all honesty. I don’t have either of them rated that highly.”
Elaborating, Mayock said, “From a Jets perspective, will they embrace the swagger of Mayfield, which is pretty significant? And he might play really well if he’s successful on Broadway. Rosen, for me, it’s more the durability issue than anything else.”
Other talent evaluators prefer Mayfield and Rosen over Allen, who could be the No. 1 pick. That’s what makes this draft so fascinating.
3. Leo’s contract: As expected, the Jets have exercised Leonard Williams’ fifth-year option for 2019, but it’s not clear yet if he will be designated a defensive end or defensive tackle because he moved around the line. There’s a fairly significant difference. By rule, his 2019 salary will be the average of the 10 highest-paid players at his position — $14.2 million for an end, $11.4 million as a tackle.
In situations like this, the league reviews every snap from last season and makes a determination. The expectation is that Williams will be considered a defensive end. The Jets list him as “DL,” although they typically nominate him as an end for the Pro Bowl. Per ESPN Stats & Information, he lined up mainly as an interior lineman, but there’s some subjectivity involved because of different fronts.
The whole thing could be moot if they sign him to an extension before 2019, which is a possibility. Williams is due to make $2.975 million this season.
4. Three’s a charm? With the No. 3 pick, the Jets are guaranteed to get an absolute stud, right? Well, there’s no such thing as a guarantee in the draft, but they’re in a potential sweet spot. Since 2000, the No. 3 pick has produced three future Hall of Famers — Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Joe Thomas.
As far as the Jets are concerned, it’s all about the quarterbacks. In that case, the picks have been all over the map: Very good (Matt Ryan), average (Blake Bortles) and poor (Vince Young and Joey Harrington). Akili Smith, drafted in 1999, was a total bust.
5. Closer look at schedule: One of the hidden aspects to the regular-season schedule is the number rest days between games. This is especially important to coaches and players. In the Jets’ case, it’s a split — three games in which they will have more rest than the opponent and three games in which they will have less rest.
The Jets will have the advantage against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans. They face the Jaguars after a mini bye (Thursday night game), which should help against a tough opponent.
On the flip side, the Jets will be at a disadvantage against the Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins (both games). That it happens twice against a divisional opponent can’t thrill the Jets. In Week 2, they will be coming off a Monday night road game. In Week 9, the Jets will have regular rest, but the Dolphins will be playing after a mini bye.
The Jets’ Week 12 meeting against the New England Patriots should be interesting, as both teams will be playing after full bye weeks. It’s worth noting that Bill Belichick is 13-5 in games after the bye. So there’s that.
6. Centers of attention: Nick Mangold’s expected retirement served as another reminder that the Jets have been blessed with a tremendous run at the center position. They’ve had some cracks here and there, but they’ve basically had only five centers since Super Bowl III — John Schmitt (1969-1973), Joe Fields (1976-1987), Jim Sweeney (1988-1994), Kevin Mawae (1998-2005) and Mangold (2006-2016).
Now if they could only pick quarterbacks like that.
7. Broadway Joe gives back: They get overshadowed by his athletic achievements and celebrity, but Joe Namath’s philanthropic efforts deserve attention. In 2017, he started the Joe Namath Foundation, which raises money for children’s charities, neurological research and educational opportunities.
“Through the years I’ve grown to understand how important it is for all of us to try to lend some time to the folks who are less fortunate,” Namath told me during an interview the other day.
Kudos to old No. 12.