FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The New York Jets made history Thursday night and got faster on both sides of the ball. With two top-10 picks — a franchise first in the common draft era — the Jets selected Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner with the fourth pick in the first round and followed six picks later with Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson.
The Jets then traded back into the first round, acquiring the 26th overall pick from the Tennessee Titans to add a needed pass rusher in Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson, who had 12 sacks for the Seminoles last season. To acquire the pick, the Jets sent a second-round pick (35th overall), a third-round pick (69 overall) and a fifth-round pick (163rd overall) to Tennessee, who sent a third-round pick (101st overall) to New York.
The Wilson pick suggests the Jets have moved on from the idea of trading for disgruntled San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel. The Samuel speculation sparked intense drama, but the Jets decided to keep their draft picks and build through the draft.
Gardner will join a revamped secondary that includes two free-agent additions, cornerback D.J. Reed and safety Jordan Whitehead. The secondary was a weakness last season, as the Jets finished 30th in pass defense and managed only two interceptions from the cornerback position.
With AFC East loaded with fast receivers, including the Miami Dolphins’ new addition Tyreek Hill, the Jets wanted to improve on the back end. They haven’t had a true shutdown corner since Darrelle Revis, a first-round pick in 2007. They made first-round investments in 2010 and 2013 with Kyle Wilson and Dee Milliner, respectively, but neither came close to reaching expectations.
Gardner brings a glittering résumé to the Jets, an All-American who owns the uncanny distinction of never having allowed a touchdown pass in college. That covers three seasons and more than 1,000 snaps in coverage. He was so feared that he was targeted only twice per game last season. For his career, he finished with nine interceptions, 27 passes defensed and three sacks.
He also has unusual size (6-foot-3) and long arms (33½), traits that will help against bigger receivers. The one question surrounding Gardner is that he was primarily a press-man corner in college; the Jets run a zone-based defense.
Gardner’s nickname will certainly make him popular among New York headline writers. He got the nickname “Sauce” from a youth coach at the age of 6. The original version was “A1 Sauce Sweet Feet Gardner” because of his affinity for fast-food dipping sauces.
Gardner became only the third former Cincinnati player to be picked in the first round in the common draft era, joining defensive tackle Bob Bell (1971) and quarterback Greg Cook (1969).
The Jets didn’t get Samuel, but Wilson provides plenty of potential — and a Wilson-to-Wilson connect, quarterback Zach and Garrett.
The selection of Wilson, picked with the draft pick the Jets acquired from the Seattle Seahawks for Jamal Adams, was applauded by Jets quarterback Zach Wilson.
Wilson tweeted: “What’s better than 1 Wilson? 2 Wilsons. Let’s gooooooooo!!!!!!!”
What’s better than 1 Wilson? 2 Wilsons. Let’s gooooooooo!!!!!!! https://t.co/KAjJbDJp5u
— Zachary Wilson (@ZachWilson) April 29, 2022
Known as a home-run threat at Ohio State, he averaged 15.1 yards per reception last season — 70 catches for 1,058 yards. Of his 12 touchdowns, six came on vertical routes, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The only knock is that he dropped six balls.
Wilson improved his draft stock with a torrid finish, recording six touchdowns and averaging 124 yards per game over his final three. He decided not to play in the Rose Bowl. He solidified his NFL standing with a strong scouting combine — 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
A shade under 6-feet tall, at 183 pounds, Wilson is somewhat slender for the position. He joins a receiving corps that is undersized except for Corey Davis (6-foot-3). The other receivers are Elijah Moore (5-foot-10) and Braxton Berrios (5-foot-9). The Jets’ primary goal this offseason is to improve the talent around second-year quarterback Wilson, who struggled as a rookie. Garrett Wilson becomes the marquee addition. In free agency, they signed tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin and guard Laken Tomlinson.
Hurt by a lack of explosive plays, the Jets finished 28th in scoring.
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