Jets GM Joe Douglas needs to master the 2022 NFL Draft — or else

Joe Douglas is on the clock.

The Jets general manager, who is more than halfway through his six-year contract, begins his third NFL draft Thursday night as Woody Johnson’s player acquisition lieutenant.

And Douglas desperately needs to nail that design. He owns fourth and tenth overall first-round picks, and with two second-round picks he has four of the first 38 picks in this draft.

Not only does that have to produce four instant starters, but at least two of those players have to be franchise-switching talent. Anything else is considered a big mistake.

If that draft doesn’t translate into the Jets’ playoff contests this season, Douglas shouldn’t be very confident of leading a fourth draft for the Jets a year from now.

“The expectation is that these four players will be Impact players for us,” Douglas said last week. “You expect these players to be starters for you in the first two rounds.”

Douglas came to the Jets with a reputation as a strong talent judge and high recommendations from his former Baltimore boss and one of the best in the business, Ozzie Newsome. He’s spent most of his first three years making maneuvers to make room for salary caps and racking up draft picks.

This will be Joe Douglas' third draft for the Jets.
This will be Joe Douglas’ third draft for the Jets.
Bill Kostron

Selling disgruntled and underperforming safety Jamal Adams in 2020, Douglas was praised for shaving the Seahawks with a move that gave the Jets two first-round draft picks.

Douglas was showered with praise again when he received three draft picks, including a second and fourth round pick in this week’s draft, for quarterback Sam Darnold, who the team was poised to move away from.

When he was selected in the fourth round by the Vikings for tight end Chris Herndon, who had caught just 71 passes for the Jets in three seasons and caught four balls for Minnesota last season, some league executives were limp.

In more than three seasons, we know Douglas is good at it: racking up draft picks and making room for salary caps.

That’s what this draft capital and salary cap space has produced so far under Douglas’ watch: a 13-36 record.

Mekhi Becton, a 2020 Jets first-round pick, has been struggling with weight and injury issues.
Mekhi Becton, a 2020 Jets first-round pick, has been struggling with weight and injury issues.
Getty Images

Draft capital and salary caps have so far only given false hope to Jets fans.

Draft capital and salary cap space don’t throw touchdown passes or keep opposing teams out of the end zone.

These things don’t win games. Good players do that.

Douglas’ first draft with the Jets produced left tackle Mekhi Becton, who was struggling to stay on the field and keep his weight down due to injuries. If the Jets use the No. 4 overall for a tackle, it will be a significant indication of what they think of Becton.

The pick for the second round in this 2020 draft was receiver Denzel Mims, unable to play his way onto the field. Safety Ashtyn Davis was selected in the third round and was a rotation player at best.

The final preparations for the 2022 NFL Draft are being made.
The final preparations for the 2022 NFL Draft are being made.

The pivot of last year’s draft is quarterback Zach Wilson, who was selected second overall and is the key to everything for Douglas and the Jets. Wilson’s rookie year was hardly a resounding success, marred by injuries and inconsistent play. This draft is designed to build more offensive help around him.

Guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, the Jets’ second first-round pick last season and an immediate starting XI, was great. Third round receiver Elijah Moore looks like source material. Running back Michael Carter was a nice find in the fourth round.

So Douglas’ second draft was much better than his first. This one has to be better than the first two.

Douglas Jets’ tenure has been unique – a time fraught with distractions that have led to an extended honeymoon period.

He was drafted after the 2019 draft, so that was like a redshirt year for him. The failure of former head coach Adam Gase, whom Douglas did not hire, kept him on edge in 2019 and 2020. And then the hiring of Robert Saleh last year and the call-up of Wilson created more distraction.

If the Jets remain irrelevant in 2022 and are miles from the playoffs again by Thanksgiving, it won’t (and shouldn’t) be Saleh taking over the Heat. It should be Douglas. Because he’s the person who oversaw this operation, and he’s the person who sold hope to desperate Jets fans.

“We expect to play significant games in December,” Douglas said. “We feel like we’re a better team now than we were at the end of last season and we’re going to get better here in a few days [in the draft]. Look, we expect it to get better.”

Getting better can’t mean going from 4-13 in 2021 to 5-12, 6-11 or even 7-10 this season. It has to be better. Or but.

One of Douglas’ GM sayings refers to “make the main thing the main thing”.

The only “main thing” that matters is that the Jets win football games. That starts with this week’s draft and those four picks in the first 38.

Douglas is on the clock. Jets GM Joe Douglas needs to master the 2022 NFL Draft — or else


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