When a team is picking in the Top 10, it should be a lot easier to predict who they're going to take than it has been for the Jets at No. 6 this year. There usually aren't a lot of variables. In this draft, though, there are a ton.
The big one, of course, is the Quarterback Question: Will the Jets pick one or pass? There's also the question of whether they'll make the pick at all (word is that GM Mike Maccagnan is listening to offers to trade down). And if they stay put, it's also not completely clear which players will go in the Top 5.
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So let's take those variables one by one:
The Quarterback Question
It seems simple enough, right? The Jets don't have a franchise quarterback, so they should take one if they can. Any NFL executive or coach would tell you that, given that quarterback is the most important position in sports. And while scouts and executives around the league are mixed on this quarterback class, I'm told there are some in the Jets organization that like North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky, arguably the top quarterback in the class.
The question gets a little more complicated, though, by the fact that Maccagnan drafted Christian Hackenberg in the second round last year. It doesn't seem likely that Maccagnan would draft another quarterback high, which no matter how he spins it would be an admission that Hackenberg was a mistake. That would be somewhat stunning for a GM to admit a mistake on a high second-round pick before ever actually seeing him play.
The flip side of that, though, is that if Maccagnan knows he made a mistake, isn't it better to correct it now? Quarterback is so important, if he's got a chance to grab a better one than he has, he's got to do it. In fact, that's what many, many people around the league think will happen -- even as Maccagnan has downplayed his interest.
For what it's worth, though, I'm not buying it. I think Maccagnan is hoping to bait some team into trading up, either with the Jets (which would net him more draft picks) or in front of the Jets (which would push a Top 5 player into his lap). So yeah, I'm calling his bluff on the quarterback talk.
Will they trade down?
Back at the scouting combine in early-March, Maccagnan said he was "open for business" with all his draft picks and laid out a philosophy of hoping to acquire more picks if he could. Since then he's backed off that, especially in the first round, where he now says he's "comfortable" with the choices he has.
That comfort might be another way of driving up the price, though. The Jets have so many needs, I really think they'll gladly trade down -- at least a few spots -- if they can acquire an additional second-round pick, or maybe a third and a fourth. The obvious trading partner would be Cleveland at 12, especially since the Browns apparently want Trubisky. That scenario is a perfect fit.
It takes two to tango and trade, though, so it's much easier to speculate than it is to actually do. The truth is, while a source said the Browns and Jets have had preliminary discussions about the pick, nothing will happen until the Jets are on the clock and everyone knows what their options are. The Browns may get antsy before then and trade up to 5 with Tennessee. But if they don't, it's a lock that the Browns and Jets will at least talk in the 10 minutes before the pick is in.
Who will be available?
It seems likely that Texas A&M's Myles Garrett will go first and Stanford DE Solomon Thomas will go second (though neither of those are locks). After that, it gets a little murky. The consensus next best players are, in some order LSU safety Jamal Adams, Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore, Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen, Ohio State safety Malik Hooker and LSU running back Leonard Fournette. Some people might want to add in Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, too.
The Bears, at No. 3, are probably going to pick someone in the secondary -- Adams, Hooker or Lattimore. The Jaguars could be a spot for Fournette or maybe Allen. Then come the Titans, who could go in a bunch of different directions, including trading down -- which the Jets would love to see. Even if they don't, the odds seem good that at least one of the top 3 DBs -- Adams, Hooker, Lattimore -- will be waiting for the Jets.
One thing to watch, though: Many scouts have told me that Allen, due to shoulder concerns, is the most likely Top 5 player to slip out of the Top 5. If that happens, would the Jets unexpectedly take another defensive lineman the way they did when Leonard Williams fell to them at 6 two years ago? It would have to be discussed.
OK, enough talk. With the 6th overall pick, the Jets will select...
First of all, I do think they will make the sixth pick. It's easy to play fantasy football and create trade possibilities, but they don't often happen when they're expected. I think the Browns are more likely to trade up over the Jets to 5 than they are to trade with the Jets at 6.
I also think that Adams and Fournette will be gone before the Jets pick, taking two strong possibilities out of the equation. Allen could be there, but unless the Jets know they have a taker for Sheldon Richardson, it doesn't make a lot of sense to add to their defensive line glut.
That will leave them to decide between Hooker and Lattimore, and given those two choices it seems simple to me. This might be the deepest draft for cornerbacks in years, but why wait? They will take Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore, the best corner on almost everyone's board.
Now, safety might actually be more of a need for the Jets, and the very late word from several NFL sources on Wednesday was that the Jets were zeroing in on Hooker. They apparently love him and are not scared off by the fact he's coming off hip and hernia surgery. I think most of that speculation is an increased feeling that Lattimore will be gone by the time the Jets pick, either to Chicago at 3 or Tennessee at 5.
And that may be true, but I'm betting on Lattimore sliding through, and I still think that if the Jets end up with a choice between Lattimore and Hooker, they'll go with the cornerback. He's a safer pick, despite a history of hamstring issues. And the Jets have a recent history of building their defense around a talented cornerback. Who knows if Lattimore will even be a fraction of what Darrelle Revis was, but with him in the secondary and Leonard Williams up front, that's a heck of a start for the future.
If Lattimore is gone, bank on Hooker being the choice. If Fournette somehow slips through, he might be the pick over both of them. And if the Jets do trade down a few spots, Howard might be back in the mix (depending on how far they drop), or they could take a long look at Clemson receiver Mike Williams, too.