Once the Jets won two of their last three games of the 2020 season, all eyes turned to the Jaguars locking up the first pick. That pick will almost 100% result in Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence heading to Duval. With that being (virtually) known at this point, all attention should turn to the team picking second overall, the New York Jets.
This isn’t a typical second pick overall team in a loaded QB draft class; the Jets just selected QB Sam Darnold at third overall in the 2018 draft. We’ve seen a recent case of this with the Cardinals selecting Kyler Murray first overall just one year after selecting Josh Rosen 10th overall. Or a slightly different case with Washington selecting Dwayne Haskins 14th overall and cutting him less than two years later.
This situation feels very different though. Rosen always felt like a reach, and Murray was a can’t-miss prospect with his athleticism and arm talent. Haskins had many problems on and off the field and the new coaching regime never saw a future for him on the team. Darnold played for two years under one of the worst coaches in recent history in Adam Gase. He doesn’t look like a bust, just someone who was drafted into a bad situation and still has a ton of untapped potential.
There lies Option Number 1 for the Jets this offseason: keep Darnold and build around him. This option leads into a fork for the Jets: keep the second overall pick, or trade down in the draft. Let’s go into each one before we list their other options.
Option Number 1A:
The Jets keep Darnold, and keep the second overall pick. They could use that pick to draft an offensive tackle or a wide receiver. Having Mekhi Becton already and pairing him with Penei Sewell (my top ranked OT in this class) would create a fearsome OT duo for the next 10 years. Or, selecting a wide receiver like Ja’Marr Chase or DeVonta Smith would give Darnold the true number one receiver he needs.
This option results in two big ripples: other teams hoping to trade for Darnold either as a starter or to learn behind someone for a year (Pittsburgh, despite the Haskins signing); and other teams wanting to trade into the second spot to guarantee the QB they want in the draft.
The Jets keep Darnold, but trade back in the draft from the second spot. If this were to happen, some of the teams to trade with the Jets could be the Panthers at 8, the Broncos at 9, or the 49ers at 12. Any of those spots could still result in an offensive tackle in Rashawn Slater or Christian Darrisaw; or a receiver like DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle. Plus whatever extra picks the Jets get to further bolster their roster around Darnold. The big ripple is obvious: a QB is selected second overall, and a trade is executed to make it happen, meaning a shake up in the draft order and potentially a QB-needy team leapfrogging another QB-needy team.
The Jets trade Darnold and select a QB second overall. The Jets reset the money timeline on paying a QB by three years, while potentially getting a better talent than Darnold. The downside here? The Jets will most likely only get a third round pick, maybe late second at best, for Darnold, meaning they won’t get a top talent in this draft to surround their QB with. The affect of this move is two-fold: a QB comes off the bird at second overall, and Darnold either fills a starting spot somewhere else, or he’s a backup next year.
The Jets trade Darnold for another QB. The two obvious ones here are Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson. Obviously this would also mean the second pick, among other picks will be on the move. If either Seattle or Houston trades for Darnold, they would most likely flip the second overall pick for a few more picks, resulting in something similar to Option 1B. This would be the biggest shake-up move, with one of the best QBs in the league king to the Jets, Darnold going back in return, and another team trading up for the second pick in the draft to take a QB.
The Jets trade Darnold and trade for Wilson or Watson, but in two separate trades. Maybe Seattle or Houston doesn’t want Darnold back and they intend to use the second overall pick on a QB. In that case, the Jets would have to give up more picks, or different players, instead of Darnold. However, they could get a late second or third round pick back with dealing Darnold to another team. This would be the second biggest shake-up, but the second overall pick wouldn’t be traded.
Those are all the options on the table for the Jets. But which one do they pursue? If I were the shot-caller in New York, my first option would be either 2B or 2C. To get a talent like Wilson or Watson, is a complete game-changer. Seattle didn’t listen to the Bears’ offer for Wilson, but Chicago didn’t have a QB to send back, and their first pick in this draft is 20th overall. The Jets have much more firepower.
However, if Seattle and Houston remain firm on not wanting to trade their respective superstar QBs, the next best option is 1B. Like I said earlier, Darnold’s first three years in the league were under a terrible head coach and offensive mind. He now has a new coach in Robert Saleh and the supporting cast around him is already better. If the Jets can trade back a few spots and still end up with an offensive tackle or a true number one receiver, plus multiple other picks, the Jets have to pull the trigger. Darnold can remain in the same city and with the same team and continue to grow, with a much better roster around him. I do not believe Darnold is a bust, but you never know if Zach Wilson or Justin Fields will be one