For the first time in what seems like forever, there's reason for Jets fans to be hopeful. Head Coach Robert Saleh's first year showed some promising results and rookie QB Zach Wilson showed a lot of promise in the second half of the season.
With a possible foundation to build around, the Jets can make great strides towards building their team into a playoff contender by drafting wisely this spring. With the 4th and 10th overall picks in this year's NFL Draft (thanks, Seahawks), there's a huge opportunity to jumpstart the rebuilding process.
While many betting sites, including those on the list of New York sportsbooks recently made available to the betting public, give Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson the best odds to go first overall, Gang Green should still have plenty of great options to bolster their roster. Let’s take a look at five realistic options that the Jets front office should take a hard look at in this year's draft.
Evan Neal OT, Alabama
When the Jets selected Mekhi Becton in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, surely they didn't think they'd end up here. After a promising rookie season, Becton's sophomore year was riddled with an injury that sidelined him for almost the entire season and there have been reports that his weight ballooned up to 370 lbs, making his knee injury even worse.
Now, rumors are swirling that the Jets coaching staff is done with him. If they do want to move on from Becton, Evan Neal would be a great choice with the 4th overall pick in this year's draft. Neal projects to be a versatile offensive tackle, with experience on the left and right sides of the line in college. He has all the size, talent, and experience you want out of an offensive tackle prospect.
Joe Douglas has historically loved to build from the line of scrimmage out on both sides of the ball. With Becton possibly on his way out, the Jets will need another pass protector to keep Zach Wilson upright and healthy moving forward. Evan Neal would be a high-upside pick for this role.
Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
While the front office has historically done a good job finding spare parts in the secondary, it's still an area where the Jets can improve. A true #1 lockdown corner to build around could be exactly what the doctor ordered for this defensive back unit.
This is where Derek Stingley Jr comes in. At LSU, Stingley played in both zone and man coverage schemes. He has the frame of an NFL cornerback already at 6-1, 190 lbs. When you factor in his playmaking ability, he could be a fantastic fit in Saleh's zone-heavy defensive scheme.
As it currently stands, Stingley will almost definitely be available at 4 and even has the chance to slide down to the 10th pick. New Yorkers will be happy if they can steal one of the Draft's best corners with their second pick of the night.
Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
It's been a few years since the Jets chose Jamal Adams with an early first-round pick. The results of that selection were great, with Adams becoming a great player for New York, allowing the Jets to flip him to Seattle for a king's ransom that included two first-round picks.
Still, fans might be wary of selecting another safety with a top 10 pick just a few seasons later. Don't be - Kyle Hamilton is the real deal. At 6-4, he has the size of a linebacker but is as nimble and athletic as a cornerback, pretty much your prototypical safety. Hamilton will excel in zone coverage and can use his size to keep up with some of the athletic tight ends that are taking over today’s game.
Although a knee injury robbed Hamilton of most of his final season with the Fighting Irish, Hamilton will be ready to go in time for training camp, hopefully in Florham Park. Hamilton's projection has been more volatile than most other prospects here, with some mocks having him as high as third overall or as low as tenth. If he is there at 10, the Jets would be wise to make sure he doesn’t fall any further.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
You may be surprised to find Thibodeaux so far down on this list. Rest assured, the only reason he is near the bottom is due to the fact that he may not even be available as he is currently projected to go right behind Hutchinson, and there is even debate about which pass-rushing prospect will go first.
Thibodeaux is a long, athletic edge rusher with lots of obvious athleticism. Combine this with his strength and all the tools are there for a potential All-Pro pass rusher. At the next level, these strengths should also make him versatile, which will be necessary if he suits up in Gotham Green next year. Saleh runs his defense out of a base 4-3, while Thibodeaux projects as more of a stand-up rusher in a 3-4 system. While this distinction doesn't matter as much as it used to, it's still worth pointing out that the Oregon product may have an adjustment period.
It looks unlikely now, but as Draft season rolls on, more quarterbacks will probably shoot up the board and projections change after the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine. If he makes it to the 4th pick, Joe Douglas should make Kayvon Thibodeaux a New York Jet.
Ikem Ekwonu, OL, NC State
The case for picking Ekwonu is about the same as the case for taking Neal, so we don't need to rehash all those points again. Between these two, it's about who Joe Douglas and the front office like more and who will be available at the fourth pick (neither will be there at 10).
I'm a bigger fan of Neal's but there is a case to be made for Ekwonu as well. At NC State, Ekwonu was a dominant force on the offensive line, being named second-team All-ACC at guard and tackle in 2020. His massive 320-pound frame and elite athleticism for his size mean Ekwonu could probably fit into either role at the pro level, but most project him to start out at left tackle, the position he started at for 11 games as a member of the Wolfpack last season.
If the Jets are dead-set on taking an offensive lineman with the fourth overall pick, the decision will probably be made for them. Evan Neal of Ekwonu would both be great picks.