Jets GM Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh walked triumphantly into the press conference after the first round on Thursday night.
Douglas and Saleh’s slick suits screamed business and there was a swagger to their struts.
When they sat down Saleh grinned and pointed at Douglas while whispering, “he’s awesome,” as his bright smile shined bright close to midnight.
And as the co-CEOs of the franchise fielded questions, they knew what was obvious.
The Jets hit a Barry-Bonds-in-2001-into-the-water-home-run on the first day of the NFL Draft.
Douglas’ excitement resembled a child who received their favorite present on Christmas as he couldn’t stop smirking every time Saleh answered a question.
Douglas’ three gifts to Jets nation: Cincinnati cornerback Ahmed “Sauce” Gardner, Ohio state wideout Garrett Wilson and FSU defensive end Jermaine Johnson.
Can’t get much better than that. This league is about playmakers and Gang Green managed to address three premium positions with elite talent.
Let’s start with Gardner.
The physical 6-2, 190-pound corner was viewed as the highest-rated CB prospect in the draft. He possesses all of the traits required to be a great in the NFL. He has elite speed to prevent explosive plays, he’s twitchy, he has ball skills as he finished with nine interceptions during his collegiate career. He has a dog-like mentality that’s required for the position.
That’s why Gardner never allowed a touchdown in college. Adding “Sauce” to Saleh’s defense should change the flavor of the Jets defense.
“He’s a great zone corner, he can play man, he can do it all,” Saleh said. “Football still comes down to third down, third and four, game on the line, everyone knows you’re in man coverage, everyone knows the ball is being thrown and who’s going to win. Sauce can do everything. He can play zone, he can play man, he can win in crunch time, he can run with the fastest guys, he can defend the biggest guys. He’s elite and really fortunate that we got him at four.”
The second playmaker is Wilson who has Michael Jackson-like dance moves off the line of scrimmage that tormented Big 10 cornerbacks. Then when he settled into his routes, his elite quickness caused defensive backs trouble.
Ask Purdue’s defense who Wilson barbecued for 10 catches for 126 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s another speed guy, he’s got the whole repertoire in terms of the route tree, he’s got great body control and he’s a lot stronger, you see him, and he looks a little slight, but he’s actually very strong,” Saleh said. “He plays the game very strong, he’s got great range, he’s got really good speed. So, he’s another guy that he can win one-on-one, which, obviously, when you look at Buffalo, New England, Miami, they’re man-to-man coverage teams and being able to add him to Corey [Davis] and Braxton [Berrios] and Elijah Moore and the rest of the receiver core.”
And the final playmaker is defensive end Johnson who was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2021 after finishing with 7.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. The Jets had a top 8 grade on him and was in the mix with the No. 10 overall pick.
They went with Wilson, but as they watched Johnson fall, they knew they had a shot.
“We were very surprised he was there in the late 20′s,” Douglas said. “Coach and I got together and, probably around 15, let’s start trying to make a move to get him.”
Pick after pick brought them more time to find a trade partner to get Johnson.
And when the Ravens selected Iowa center Tyler Lindenbaum with the No. 25 overall pick, Douglas swooped in and traded the No. 35, No. 69, No. 163 overall picks to the Tennessee Titans for the No. 26 and No. 101 overall picks.
And they selected their edge rusher, who should improve the Jets pass rush that netted only 33 sacks in 2021.
The Johnson selection put a bow on a beautiful night that even the most optimism Jets fan couldn’t have predicted.
And to be frank, there were 32 teams involved in the first round and Gang Green lapped the field as if they were Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt.
There isn’t a single team in the NFL who can fix their mouths to say they had a better first round than the Jets.
You can’t win a championship in the offseason, but it sure feels like the Jets did something groundbreaking as it appears Gang Green has supercharged their rebuild.
Ladies and gentlemen: welcome to competence. These are not the same old Jets.