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Could the Jets Draft Yet Another Lineman in the First Round?

What happens to Mekhi Becton if the Jets draft an offensive lineman in the first round for the third year in a row? Plus, players who could go lower in the draft than expected, the top five QBs in the NFL and more.

Only eight days until the draft. Let’s see what’s on your minds ...

Jets tackle Mekhi Becton during 2021 training camp.

Jets tackle Mekhi Becton during 2021 training camp.

From Aj (@ajtronzano): If the Jets draft [Ikem] Ekwonu at four, could they trade [Mekhi] Becton and what would you expect them to get in return?

There are three things that I think are true here.

One, the Jets really like Ickey Ekwonu, and I expect that, if he’s on the board, he’ll be in the discussion at No. 4. He’s a mauler, can play left tackle and has the ceiling to be the best guard in the league if you play him there.

Two, the Jets have bigger needs than offensive line. They spent a top-10 pick on a lineman two years ago (Becton), a top-15 pick on one last year (Ali Vera-Tucker), and this offseason invested in guard Laken Tomlinson and re-invested in right tackle George Fant.

Three, the Jets have their doubts on whether or not Becton is their left tackle of today, or of the future. And if you’re GM Joe Douglas, and you believe that 2022 is a real corner-turning season, which means you won’t be picking this high again for a while, and rock-solid left-tackle insurance is there for you, with huge guard upside … it’d be tough to pass on it.

If they land Ekwonu? Well, then maybe you can move Becton for a second-rounder, and something else (perhaps a 2023 pick conditional on him playing this year). Or you can hold on to Becton, and if he becomes the Bryant McKinnie type of left tackle he has the potential to be, now you’ve got a champagne problem on your hands, and maybe you look at kicking Vera-Tucker to right tackle and moving Fant, or trying Tomlinson at center.

I know Jets fans don’t want it to be another lineman. I get it. But we’ve seen, over and over again, this sort of investment in an offensive front (Dallas, Kansas City, etc.) pay huge dividends for teams trying to bring along young quarterbacks. And so if the Jets are sitting there at No. 4 and deem Ekwonu the best player, which isn’t an unrealistic scenario, I don’t mind the idea of just taking him and figuring out the rest later.

From Vito Rizzuto (@ShmileC): What do the Jets need to do this draft to become a playoff team in 2023 and have Zach Wilson take off?

Vito, I’d say coming out of it, one way or the other, with the offensive line as a team strength, with one more receiver (somewhere along the way), and a difference-making edge rusher and/or corner. I don’t think they’re that far off. That coaching staff dealt with a lot last year, and I believe they—and the Jets in general—are going to be better off for having gone through it.

From michael christopher (@Bigdogz1318): Who is going to go higher than most people think in this draft and who will go lower?

I’ve banged the drum for a while on Mississippi State’s Charles Cross, to the point where my belief that NFL teams are higher on him than the public knows is well-established. There are smart evaluators who believe he’s not just the draft’s best lineman, but its best player. And I’ve mentioned Penn State’s Jahan Dotson, Boston College’s Zion Johnson, and Georgia’s Lewis Cine, as well quarterbacks Matt Corral and Sam Howell, as guys that would also fit into that “teams like him more than you think” category.

As for the guys who could go lower than people think …

• Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux is polarizing. When teams got face-to-face with him in the fall, he was smaller than they thought he’d be. And the personality/drive questions linger. Maybe it’s unfair. Maybe it’s not. But it’s there. So I think it’s possible he goes as high as fourth overall to the Jets. I also think there’s a chance he slides out of the top 10.

• Arkansas WR Treylon Burks’s 40 time (4.55) was troubling for teams that are having trouble placing him as a big slot receiver. There are plenty that don’t see him on the same tier as the two Ohio State receivers and Drake London.

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• Purdue DE George Karlaftis is another one where, both in the fall and spring, I’ve had a team push back on as a first-rounder. I think he probably goes in the first round, but I’d be surprised if some of the top-10 projections I’ve seen wind up being correct.

So there are three for you, and we’ll have more on this stuff, of course, over the next week.

Georgia draft prospect Travon Walker

Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker (44) rushes a Charleston Southern passer.

From Joey (@YoeyBerg): Is the Travon Walker at 1 hype real?

Joey, I think he’s in the discussion in Jacksonville, yes. I think Aidan Hutchinson, Ickey Ekwonu and Evan Neal are, too. And I think there’s a fair case to be made for each.

With Hutchinson, you’re probably getting Ryan Kerrigan at baseline, and a shot that the ex-Michigan star becomes T.J. Watt (that was his own personal comp for himself, when we talked back in March), with the added bonus that he can absolutely grow into the leader for your defense that Trevor Lawrence is expected to become on offense.

With Walker, you’re betting on the comp. Physically, he’s built like Myles Garrett. He also plays his ass off, so the football character piece checks out. The issue is that there’s not a lot of evidence he can be what you’d be drafting someone with his physical profile to become—a dominant edge-rusher. He’s actually better pressuring the quarterback from inside, and most of his splash plays come in situations where he’s simply chasing someone down, rather than putting any sort of moves on a tackle.

With the tackles, are we sure Cam Robinson takes you off the market for a left tackle? Really? I mentioned this in the MAQB and it bears repeating—it’s not easy to find great players at that position, and so if they think Neal or Ekwonu or Charles Cross is going to be Trent Williams … You really can’t let the fact that you tagged Robinson stand in the way of taking one. Especially when you consider Doug Pederson’s history with dominant lines.

From Nate Rau (@tnnaterau): How confident are you the Packers will draft a WR in round one?

Nate, not confident. I think they take one with one of their four picks in the top 60. Maybe they even take two. But there certainly could be a scenario where all the guys they value as first-rounders at the position are gone by the time they’re up, which might make them believe that waiting to take one at 53 or 59 is the better play. Remember, that’s the range in which, over the years, they found Greg Jennings (52), James Jones (78), Randall Cobb (64) and Davante Adams (53)—and in varying roles, GM Brian Gutekunst was there for those picks.

Also, it’s fair to say that if you look at recent draft history, the value of taking a receiver in the second round is pretty close to the same as the value of taking one in the first round. So if Thursday wraps with the Packers not having taken a receiver … don’t panic.

From Brandon Sneide (@Brandon_Sneide): When will the #Packers sign Jaire Alexander to an extension??

Brandon, I think it’s coming. Since his number is already north of $13 million for 2022, the Packers have flexibility to work with him (it can be more difficult to do such extensions with non-first-rounders who’ll go from a small cap number to a much bigger one). And Alexander, if you look at the corners to come into the league since he did in 2018, is right up there with Denzel Ward, and more recent picks like A.J. TerrellTrevon Diggs and Patrick Surtain II, among the best of them.

That there are just a handful of names there (obviously, guys like Jeff Okudah and Jaycee Horn could come along with a little more time) from the last four classes that have established themselves as top corners only underscores why Green Bay almost has to take care of Alexander—it’s not easy to find a great one, so if you have one, you take care of him.

Like I said, I believe the Packers will.

From Daz (@daz_blue): Do The Browns bring back [Jadeveon] Clowney?

Daz, I think it probably depends on what happens in the draft. And with the Browns holding just one pick in the top 75 (and that one is 44th overall), chances are the need for edge-rushers to play opposite Garrett will remain in early May.

After that, I think it really becomes a matter of timing. The other thing is that, regardless of how you feel about him personally, landing Deshaun Watson, for sure, helped boost the desirability of Cleveland as a football destination for players. It’s a reason why you’re seeing renewed interest from Jarvis Landry in coming. And it’s why there’s been this assumption out there that, unless he can find a contender to play for close to where he grew up in the South, there’s a good chance Clowney’s back in Ohio in the fall.

As for the spring and summer? We’ll see how much of the team’s offseason program and training camp he feels like taking in.

From Giants Realist (@GiantsRealist): Who’s the giants starting qb by the end of the 2023 season.

Giants, this is a big cop-out from me—it’s really anyone’s guess at this point. I do think Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen want to give Daniel Jones a real look. And what becomes of that look is hard to figure, because all we’ve seen from the sixth pick in the 2019 draft is born of an incredibly awkward transition from Eli Manning his rookie year, playing for a coach who was about to be fired, then a tumultuous two-coordinator turn under Joe Judge.

Daboll brings bona fides to the table from his work with Josh Allen in Buffalo. I think sometimes we don’t give Allen enough credit for growing as much as he did over the last four years, but there’s no question that Daboll built a scheme conducive to what Allen does best while gradually patching holes with him on what he wasn’t doing well early on.

There’s no reason to think Daboll won’t be able to help Jones, too. I’d expect Daboll to build an offense that fits Jones, and also the guys around him—and I think any technical help will come, too. That said, I don’t know that Jones has had the flashes that Allen had early on, where you wondered what would happen if it all came together—and it’s fair to wonder about his play’s place in all the upheaval of the last couple years.

Regardless, we’ll know soon.

Brian Daboll Introductory press conference with Giants

Brian Daboll at his introductory press conference with the Giants.

From Sue Ledwith (@SueLeddie): Asked you this before -with Daboll heading to NYG, do you think the Bills will still be as good on offense?

Sue, I think one thing that should ease the fears of Bills fans here is a simple look at the tenure of the guys the Bills have on offense. Allen’s in his fifth year in Buffalo, Dion Dawkins has been his left tackle the whole time, and slot Isaiah McKenzie arrived Allen’s rookie season. Mitch MorseDawson Knox and Devin Singletary are in their fourth year there, and Stefon DiggsGabriel Davis and Zack Moss are entering their third seasons as Bills.

That’s a rock-solid foundation with a ton of institutional knowledge, which has been supplemented with names like Rodger Saffoldundefined and Jamison Crowder.

And I’d never say the whole thing runs itself, but with new well-respected coordinator Ken Dorsey also now having been in-house for three full seasons, the Bills are hardly starting from zero. The one unknown there is how Dorsey will be a play-caller, and no one knows how that’ll play out until it plays out. But chances are, he’ll be able to lean on that experience with the guys, just like they’ll be able to lean on each other.

So in the short-term, I wouldn’t be overly worried. Over time? We’ll see. Dorsey could wind up being a head coach down the line, too, which means it’s fair to believe it goes one of two ways—either it works, and you’re back here again; or it doesn’t … and you’re back here again. For now, though, I bet the Bills will be fine.

From AllenQ (@trubillsfan86): Who’s you top 3 QBs in the league right now? And is Allen one of them…

I need more time to think about this, but I think I’d have a group of five quarterbacks who I think will be in the top tier when the 2022 season’s been played—Allen, Tom BradyJoe BurrowPatrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers (in alphabetical order, before anyone freaks out). So my answer would be … there’s a good chance Allen is in my top three at the end of the year. And I’d bet he’ll be in the top five.

Last year, loyal readers will remember, when we polled a group of 63 execs, scouts and coaches and asked them for who they believed would be the top 5 quarterbacks in football at the end of the year, Allen came in third in voting. They were right, and they’ll continue to be right. Allen’s firmly in that class until further notice.

From Joe Compitello (@compyesquire): Do you see the Cardinals drafting a WR in the first round? If not, are they in on the trade market?

Joe, my radar is certainly up for Arizona to take a receiver at 23, and maybe even trade up to get one. I do think if Alabama’s Jameson Williams were to drop there (and I don’t think he will), the Cardinals wouldn’t stay on the clock for very long. Maybe they’ll even move up to get him—I’ve heard what I’ve heard on their interest, but there’s easy logic here too, and that’s that DeAndre Hopkins generally needs a burner alongside him (that’s why Houston drafted Will Fuller in ’16, and why Andy Isabella has gotten so many chances in Arizona).

So yeah, I think Arizona’s in the market, and my guess would be they’ll be looking for guys who can run.

You’d think that’d make Ohio State’s Chris Olave, and maybe Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore and Memphis’s Calvin Austin people of interest to them. And sure, if that doesn’t work out, they could go out on the trade market, even if it’s for a reclamation project like Jalen Reagor should the Eagles take a receiver in the first round for the third straight year.

From Justin (@Millerman213): How much longer do you think Bill Belichick will coach?

We sort of addressed this in the Monday column, and outlined the things that I think are keeping Belichick coaching. Here’s the list, truncated (you can go back to the MMQB to see it in full form).

  1. Belichick still loves the job. Everyone around him knows it.

  2. He’s got the Patriots’ operation now to where he can still do what a guy in his 70s would want to do outside of work, while giving the time he needs to in order to make the Patriots go.

  3. Two of his three kids work with him.

  4. Don Shula’s all-time wins record is clearly in sight.

So if you ask me to take a stab at it, let’s say four more years, if he keeps winning. By then, he’ll likely have passed Shula, and he’ll be past Mac Jones’s rookie contract, and so another major hurdle for whoever the next guy is will have been cleared. And if Jones washes out, and he doesn’t pass Shula by then, we’re probably talking about something else entirely.

So I say Bill walks away after the 2025 season, at 73 years old.

(That’s a guess, just to be completely clear.)

From Lee Bromfield (@LeeBrom): Bucs pick at 27. Trade back or select an OG if Johnson or Green are still there?

Lee, I think you’re on the right track. The last few years, Tampa’s been in a most interesting position, in trying to draft guys who could help Tom Brady win in the here and now—and they certainly accomplished that with Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield Jr. in their championship season. So I think the first thing you gotta do when you look at what the Bucs do at 27 is see where there might be a role for someone right away.

Where I see it is on either side of the line of scrimmage. Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul are still free agents, and even if they come back Tampa could use some young depth on their defensive front. And there’s no question, with Alex Cappa and Ali Marpet gone, guard is a spot to watch. I don’t think Zion Johnson makes it that far, but if he does, taking him would make all the sense in the world. And Kenyon Green is logical too.

From Brian Murphy (@A1Murph): How is the food on the plane and do you have a mask?

Had pretzels, Murph. Mediocre. And no, I didn’t wear I mask, but I don’t begrudge anyone who did, and lots of people had them. I’m good following what they tell me to do, and minding my own business.

And while we’re here, last time I checked, you guys had over 250 questions for me for this week’s mailbag. So I’m hoping to answer some more on Thursday, and any other questions you might have on Twitter Live. More on that on my timeline in the morning. 

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