Jets Would Be Smart to Take CB at No. 4

Photo: Albert Cesare / The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

New York Jets General Manager Joe Douglas will make a pair of critical decisions during the first round of Thursday's 2022 NFL Draft. Barring a trade, Douglas and the Jets are scheduled to make two selections in the top-10 (No. 4 and 10 overall). The Jets won't be selecting a quarterback after drafting Zach Wilson last year, but several other premium positions remain on the table. The uncertain future surrounding Mekhi Becton means the Jets could draft an offensive tackle such as Alabama's Evan Neal, NC State's Ikem Ekwonu, or Mississippi State's Charles Cross. Flipping over to the defensive side of the ball, a blue-chip pass rusher such as Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux or Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson could make sense based on the Jets' inability to effectively impact opposing pockets a year ago (they recorded the league's sixth-worst sack total with 33 quarterback takedowns). 

Cornerback represents another likely option, and although the position is generally perceived to carry less importance than offensive tackle and edge rusher, the Jets would be wise to draft a cornerback at No. 4 overall. Recent reports indicate the Jets have interest in Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, who could be an excellent choice with the fourth overall pick. 

Firstly, any line of thinking that doesn't view cornerbacks as a premium position is outdated and stale. The cornerback position carries an increased amount of importance in today's pass-happy league. NFL franchises are currently paying a shocking premium to secure the services of high-end pass-catchers with the wide receiver market experiencing a complete makeover this offseason. The NFL is a copycat league, and every offensive action requires an appropriate defensive reaction. The nature of doing business has forced teams to place an equal amount of emphasis on acquiring cornerbacks that can help eliminate the threats their receiver counterparts pose. 

Secondly, can we strip away the overcomplicating discussions and just agree that Gardner is an excellent prospect? Draft good players. Gardner has been one of the most consistent collegiate performers over the previous three seasons regardless of position and will get drafted awfully early on Thursday. Few destinations make as much sense as the Jets do, and he’s unlikely to remain available when the Jets come on the clock at No. 10 overall.

The Jets entered the offseason with a need to add several high-level cornerbacks to their roster, playing out the 2021 campaign with the most unrecognizable cornerback room across the entire league. Too much was asked of Bryce Hall and Brandin Echols, a pair of inexperienced players that were tasked with doing the heavy lifting in New York’s Swiss cheese secondary. The Jets added former Seahawks cornerback D.J. Reed via free agency and adding Gardner to a cornerback room that remains in transition would fill out the position group rather nicely. 

Head Coach Robert Saleh is a defensive-minded leader that has consistently placed emphasis on receiving high-level cornerback play throughout his coaching career. Saleh firmly believes in the Cover-3 "press bail" coverage scheme he's largely adopted as his own following a successful stint working under Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll and his infamous Super-Bowl winning "Legion of Boom" defense from 2011-13. It requires terrific discipline and talent to effectively pull off. The Jets particularly lacked that defensive talent in 2021 (especially at cornerback) en route to allowing an average of 397.6 total yards of offense per contest. No defense allowed more yards on a weekly basis. New York's underperforming defense also allowed a league-worst 29.6 points per game. An injection of talent is required as better results will be demanded by Douglas and Saleh.

Gardner often did his best work for the Bearcats while thriving in zone coverage, making a potential marriage between team fit and prospect an ideal one. Placing Gardner in Saleh’s preferred coverage scheme would allow him to read the backfield and work his way forward into throwing lanes, which he often did at an extremely high level at Cincinnati. 

An increased importance on shutdown cornerbacks, when paired with understanding Saleh's defensive needs, would make Gardner a sound choice for the Jets.

Written By:

Justin Melo

Staff Writer

Justin Melo is an NFL draft analyst that cut his teeth at The Draft Breakdown and USA Today's Draft Wire. He specializes in interviewing prospects, but also produces big boards, mock drafts, and scouting reports. He also covers the Tennessee Titans nationally for Broadway Sports Media and SB Nation.