During the first round of last year's NFL draft, the Jets picked a key offensive playmaker along with an offensive lineman.
Could they take the same approach in the first round this April?
In Pro Football Focus' latest mock draft, Trevor Sikkema has the Jets adding these two contributors to their offense, providing second-year quarterback Zach Wilson with protection and a weapon.
Here are Sikkema's picks with his analysis:
4. New York Jets: OT Ikem Ekwonu, NC State
I believe the Jets will look to bring the beef with their first of two selections in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. If Alabama’s Evan Neal is gone, I expect this pick to be N.C. State’s Ikem Ekwonu, and vice versa. The Jets have to protect franchise quarterback Zach Wilson a lot better than they did in 2021. Adding Ekwonu to an offensive line that already includes Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker is a great way to do that.
10. New York Jets (via SEA): WR Drake London, USC
London seems like a match made in heaven for the Jets. No wide receiver recorded more contested catches this season, and that’s with him only playing eight games due to injury.
But if you ask me, he’s more than that. I believe he’s more athletic than people are giving him credit for, and his mentality for yards after the catch is proof that he’s not just a “win in the air” guy.
He’s the big target player quarterback Zach Wilson would feed every week.
Both Ekwonu and London have been mocked to the Jets before this offseason. Just a few days ago, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. linked the Jets to London with the No. 10 overall pick in his first mock draft of 2022. NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah mentioned that he was tempted to predict the Jets will take Ekwonu with the fourth overall selection, calling the tackle the best offensive lineman in the draft.
You can certainly make the argument that New York needs to focus on defense in the first round, addressing their league-worst unit with at least one of their first-rounders. Surely general manager Joe Douglas and his team will consider that logic.
With plenty of cap space to work with, and trades possibly on the horizon, New York could instead take the best players available in the first, snagging the contributors they believe will help the most right away.
London will instantly provide a spark to New York's wide receiver room, another talented target alongside Elijah Moore and Corey Davis. In this mock, London is the second receiver off the board (Treylon Burks goes eighth to the Falcons).
Meanwhile, Ekwonu bolsters New York's offensive line. No matter where he ends up playing—and what the future holds with Mekhi Becton—this high-upside lineman will play a huge role up front.
Again, it's interesting that New York hypothetically leaves top-ranked defenders available in this mock. The Jets have a chance to take pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux fourth overall and instead choose the offensive lineman. Then, New York skips cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and other defenders like Devin Lloyd, George Karlaftis, Trent McDuffie and Nakobe Dean in order to snag London.
With several months to go until New York is actually on the clock with the fourth overall selection, expect plenty of speculation as to how Douglas and the Jets will act in the first round.
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Who Should the Jets Select Fourth Overall in the 2021 NFL Draft?
Kyle Hamilton, Safety, Notre Dame
New York could secure their safety of the future by picking Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton. The fourth overall selection might be a little high for a safety, but Hamilton is one of the top-ranked prospects from this draft class, a defensive back that has the versatility to play center field in the secondary or step up to stop the run in the box. The safety had eight interceptions over three years with the Fighting Irish and would be an immediate replacement for Marcus Maye if he departs in free agency.
Derek Stingley Jr., Cornerback, LSU
Derek Stingley Jr. only played in three games in 2021 due to a foot injury, but his potential was on full display earlier in his career at LSU. As a freshman in 2019, the corner had six interceptions in 15 games. The injury concerns are certainly going to be factored in with a player like Stingley and not every first-round corner will be the next Darrelle Revis, but it’s hard to ignore the deficiencies in New York’s secondary. Stingley with Bryce Hall, Brandin Echols, Michael Carter II and more has the makings of a strong defensive back room heading into the 2022 season.
Evan Neal, Offensive Tackle, Alabama
There’s a good chance Evan Neal comes off the board before New York is on the clock at No. 4, but with Mekhi Becton’s future uncertain, this left tackle deserves a mention. General manager Joe Douglas has made it clear how much he loves to draft offensive linemen, building a strong unit up front to protect his rookie quarterback. Neal is viewed by many as the top-rated lineman in this class, a behemoth that has plenty of experience facing talented pass rushers from his time with the Crimson Tide.
Aidan Hutchinson, Defensive End, Michigan
Speaking of prospects that likely won’t be available fourth overall, Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson may very well be the best player in this draft class. Hutchinson racked up 14 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss in 2021, finishing his four years at Michigan with 17.5 sacks and 27.5 tackles for loss. There’s always a chance a player like Hutchinson could slip down a few selections (if some quarterbacks come off the board early or other teams draft based on their internal needs). Head coach Robert Saleh is surely crossing his fingers that a defensive lineman of Hutchinson’s caliber will be available.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, Defensive End, Oregon
Alright, one more player that’s expected to be selected within the top three selections of the NFL draft. Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux also produced some monster numbers in college, sacking the quarterback 19 times and recording 35.5 tackles for loss over three seasons with the Ducks. Again, odds are Thibodeaux, Hutchinson and Neal will come off the board before the Jets have a chance to pick at No. 4, but one quarterback or one surprise selection would give New York a shot to draft one of those top-ranked prospects. Saleh and Douglas would certainly pounce at an opportunity to add a high-upside pass rusher to their defensive front that already includes Carl Lawson, John Franklin-Myers and Quinnen Williams.
George Karlaftis, Defensive End, Purdue
Even if Hutchinson and Thibodeaux are unavailable fourth overall, there’s another edge rusher that the Jets could select. George Karlaftis had 29 tackles for loss and 14 sacks over 26 career games at Purdue, wreaking havoc up front for the Boilermakers. If New York is set on bolstering their pass rush early in the first round, Karlaftis would be a tremendous addition. Place a stud like Karlaftis in Saleh’s scheme and he’s bound to recognize his potential at the next level.
Ikem Ekwonu, Offensive Tackle, NC State
While some view Neal as the best tackle in this class, others are picking NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu as their LT1 in 2022. The offensive lineman is dominant in the run game, another option to either replace Becton on the left side or provide more protection for Zach Wilson at another spot up front. Sure, Ekwonu could be an option for the Jets 10th overall, but he could also be the first offensive lineman off the board if teams fall in love with his power, technique and upside.