Sports

Jets want to keep lucky 13th pick — a usual gold mine for bigs

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:

1. Sweet spot for linemen: The Jets don’t want to surrender their first-round pick for Aaron Rodgers, and it’s not hard to see why. While the 13th overall selection isn’t as high as usual for them — it’s their lowest pick since 2016 (Darron Lee, 20th) — it still holds considerable value. Based on recent history, it’s one of the sweetest spots in the first round.

In the last 10 drafts, the 13th pick has produced as many Pro Bowl players (eight) as the No. 1 pick, according to data from Pro Football Reference. No other slot in the first round has that many. Those eight players at 13 have combined for 21 Pro Bowl seasons and eight All-Pro selections, compared to 17 and two at No. 1, respectively.

Traditionally, the 13th spot is a jackpot for offensive and defensive linemen, which happen to be the Jets’ top two needs. Consider some of the recent 13s: Rashawn Slater (2021), Tristan Wirfs (2020), Daron Payne (2018), pass-rusher Haason Reddick (2017), Laremy Tunsil (2016) and Aaron Donald (2014).

The Jets have nailed it with the last two players they drafted 13th: pass-rusher John Abraham (2000, made All-Pro in his second season) and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (2013, won defensive rookie of the year).

Unlucky 13? Ha!

Top prospects sometimes fall out of the top 10 because of off-the-field concerns (Tunsil) or size/scheme questions (Donald) or get pushed down because of an early run on quarterbacks, according to draft experts. That so many land at 13, as opposed to 12 and 14, might be a quirk. Either way, the Jets should come away with an outstanding player.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said that spot has added value in the Jets-Packers trade talks based on the assumption the Jets would improve with Rodgers, meaning a lower pick in 2024. In Kiper’s view, the Packers, who already own the 15th pick, want to double-down with Nos. 13 and 15, which would provide them with tremendous flexibility.

As for the Jets, they should stay put and draft an offensive tackle, according to Kiper. In his latest mock draft, he has the Jets picking Broderick Jones of Georgia.

“The Jets don’t want to give up 13. To me, it’s that offensive lineman, whether it’s [Ohio State offensive tackle] Paris Johnson Jr. at that point or whether it’s Broderick Jones — somebody like that on the offensive line,” Kiper said. “If you get Aaron Rodgers without the offensive line improving, you would prefer to have Aaron Rodgers with an elite, young offensive lineman coming in. That’s why they have to work that all out.”

2. Curious trade: The Elijah Moore trade marked a first for general manager Joe Douglas — his first trade involving one of his draft picks.

He hasn’t been shy about trading picks made by the previous regime, most notably former first-rounders Sam Darnold and Jamal Adams. It speaks volumes that he bailed on Moore after only two seasons, considering his team-building philosophy.

“We’ve never been a team that’s given up on talent early,” Douglas said at the end of the season.

He made that comment in reference to quarterback Zach Wilson, but it certainly applies to Moore, drafted 34th overall in 2021. He was so electric in his first training camp, and later in his rookie season, that he was regarded as a foundational player. Things soured last season when Moore, upset with his targets, requested a trade.

In his introductory news conference with the Cleveland Browns, Moore made it sound like he no longer wanted out of New York, saying the trade came “out of nowhere.” The Jets haven’t commented.

The Rodgers situation was a factor, for sure. With two years and only $3.4 million left on his rookie contract, Moore was their most tradable asset (not counting defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and anyone from last year’s draft class). With the second-round pick they received from the Browns, the Jets now have two picks in the second round (Nos. 42 and 43) — extra ammunition to complete a Rodgers trade.

3. Chilly drafts: In light of Moore’s departure, a sobering stat from the 2020 and 2021 drafts:

Of the five players chosen in the first and second rounds, only one — guard Alijah Vera-Tucker — is a lock to start in 2023. Tackle Mekhi Becton is a possible starter. Zach Wilson and wide receiver Denzel Mims will be backups.

4. Shades of ’10: The Jets are showing interest in wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and defensive tackle Calais Campbell, and they’re reportedly drawing interest from running back Ezekiel Elliott — all former Pro Bowlers, 30-and-up. It triggers thoughts from the 2010 offseason. Thinking they were one or two players away from a Super Bowl, they signed two future Pro Football Hall of Famers, running back LaDainian Tomlinson and pass-rusher Jason Taylor. Once again, they’re big-name hunting.

5. Lucky man: Mecole Hardman went from a two-time MVP (Patrick Mahomes) to a four-time MVP (Rodgers, assuming the trade gets done). For a wide receiver, that’s like hitting the lottery — twice.

“They can make throws other quarterbacks can’t make,” said Hardman, who caught 151 passes in four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. “Once you get that on your team or around you, it just makes you a better receiver overall.”

Hardman, who signed a one-year contract, hopes to expand his game with the Jets, showing he can do more than jet sweeps and bubble screens. They see him as a vertical threat who can dictate coverage. Hardman, who underwent core-muscle surgery last month, said he hopes to be on the field by the end of the offseason program.

6. Four score: Hardman’s versatility is intriguing. The man has scored four different ways — receiving (16 touchdowns), rushing (two), punt return (one) and kickoff return (one). He’s timely, too — eight go-ahead TDs and two game-tying TDs.

7. What if? Hardman could’ve been a Jet in 2019. That year, GM Mike Maccagnan tried to trade up for him, but the Chiefs stayed put and took him near the bottom of Round 2 (56th). Twelve picks later, in the third round, the Jets chose pass-rusher Jachai Polite, who got cut in training camp.

8. Watching the wallet: Except for Rodgers, one of the biggest stories in the NFL, the Jets have taken a low-key approach this offseason. They’ve made only one financial splurge — wide receiver Allen Lazard (four years, $44 million). Otherwise, they’ve doled out modest one-year contracts for new players, focusing on depth pieces.

They still need starters at defensive tackle and center, and the options are dwindling. The free agent market is thinned out (former Tennessee Titan Ben Jones is a possibility at center) and you have to figure that at least one draft pick will go to the Packers for Rodgers. It’s a precarious position.

9. Double A: If they go defensive tackle at No. 13, a sleeper to watch is Northwestern’s Adetomiwa Adebawore, according to Kiper, who called him “a red-hot prospect.” The No. 1 defensive tackle is Georgia’s Jalen Carter, who is facing intense scrutiny because of an arrest and poor pro day. Kiper said he still expects Carter to be drafted no later than 10th, but added: “Warren Sapp dropped to 12 when he came out (in 1995), so you never know.”

The Jets infamously passed on Sapp.

10. The last word: “Going through four quarterbacks I feel like was a huge blessing for me because I got to see what that’s like. Now with being with someone like Deshaun (Watson), it will just make life way easier.” — Moore on going from the Jets to Browns

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