Jets must live on edge with Nick Bosa or Josh Allen at No. 3 in NFL draft
All the New York Jets have to do is show up for the NFL draft, wait their turn and walk away with one of the top three defensive prospects — Josh Allen, Nick Bosa or Quinnen Williams. It’s a mathematical certainty, as they pick No. 3 overall in this potentially historic defensive class. The Jets can’t lose, and when was the last time you could say that about them in, well, anything?
Ah, but it’s not as simple as it might appear. Even though it’s no-lose, it probably won’t be a no-brainer. Chances are, they will have to choose between two of the top prospects, creating the potential for a sizzling debate among the “best-player-available” purists and the “draft-for-need” realists.
Allen or Williams?
Bosa or Allen?
Williams or Bosa?
This, of course, is based on the presumption that quarterback Kyler Murray will be picked first by the Arizona Cardinals. Most mock drafts have the San Francisco 49ers taking Bosa with the second pick, but that is no gimme. In all likelihood, the Jets will get a crack at the No. 2 defensive player, assuming there are no trades in the top three picks.
The best choices for the Jets are Bosa, Allen and Williams, in that order. That opinion is based on a variety of factors, namely:
The Jets finished the 2018 season in 29th place in scoring defense and 25th in total defense, so you could argue they need help just about everywhere on that side of the ball, but their greatest need is edge rusher. A difference-maker on the perimeter would force teams to stretch their pass-protection schemes, creating one-on-one opportunities for interior players Leonard Williams and Henry Anderson. This is a passing league, and you need players who can affect the quarterback.
Bosa and Allen would bring that element to the defense. According to Pro Football Focus, they ranked first and third in the nation in pass-rushing “win” percentage — 28.2 and 21.6, respectively. (Oshane Ximines, considered a second-round prospect, ranked second at 22.6 percent.)
Quinnen Williams, too, can be an effective rusher in his own way — from the interior. In 2018, the Alabama defensive tackle led the nation with 52 quarterbacks pressures, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Thing is, the Jets already have two highly paid players at similar positions, Leonard Williams and Anderson.
Many talent evaluators say all three prospects are closely rated, with Bosa and Williams slightly ahead of Allen. Drafting for need can be a dangerous way to do business, as it ultimately will result in a roster of mediocre players, but only if you’re reaching for inferior players. Not one of the three would be considered a reach at No. 3. General manager Mike Maccagnan says he believes in the “best-player” philosophy, yet he traded up last year to address a glaring need at quarterback. There’s a difference between “best player” and “best player for the Jets.”
Advantage: Bosa and Allen
Quinnen Williams is a well-built defensive tackle out of Alabama who rarely loses one-on-ones.
Allen would be a plug-and-play outside linebacker in Gregg Williams’ 3-4 base front. He played the same position at Kentucky, where he recorded 17 sacks last season in the killer SEC. From a scheme standpoint, it would be an easy transition. Allen is 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, but he’s adept in pass coverage. Under Williams, he could be a Swiss Army knife, lining up in different places.
Memo to the Jets: Don’t look a gift rusher in the mouth.
Clearly, they covet an edge linebacker with a versatile skill set. The Jets tipped their hand in free agency with the pursuit of Anthony Barr, whom they were willing to pay $15 million a year. When he reneged on his agreement with the Jets, they re-signed starter Brandon Copeland to a modest, one-year contract. He’s considered only a stopgap player.
“Josh is an excellent pass-rusher,” one NFC coach said. “He’s still a little bit raw, but he hasn’t reached his potential yet. He can bend, he can play the run. He has some pass-rush moves; it’s not just straight-ahead speed. His upside is tremendous.”
Quinnen Williams can play in any front — 3-4 or 4-3 — but the question is where he would fit with the Jets. They’re paying $14 million to Leonard Williams this season and $17 million to Anderson over the next two, so it would be foolish to put them on the bench. Gregg Williams is a creative defensive coordinator who probably could create a way to get all three players on the field at the same time — Quinnen at nose tackle? — but you wonder if they would be able to live with that look over the long haul.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, for one, believes Williams would be the right pick at No. 3. He said Allen would be “the easier choice” because he would fill a need, but he added, “I just think Quinnen is special, I really do. You can move guys around. … I just think if you get an opportunity to draft a difference-maker, the way I think Quinnen can be in the league, you have to take advantage.”
Bosa is an interesting case. He was a 4-3 defensive end at Ohio State, so he would be required to make a position switch to either a 3-4 end or 3-4 outside linebacker. That can be a dicey proposition. This much we know: He would contribute immediately as an edge rusher in the nickel package, which usually is at least 50 percent of the snaps.
Josh Allen is an edge rusher out of Kentucky with a quick first step and great closing speed.
There’s no such thing as a sure thing, but these three players carry minimal risk. They’re among the cleanest prospects in the draft, with no off-the-field red flags.
For the nit-picking crowd, we could point out Williams was a one-year wonder at Alabama. Prior to last season, he had only 20 tackles and two sacks in 151 snaps. Bosa, too, didn’t play a lot in college, but for a different reason. He left school last October after season-ending surgery for a core-muscle injury, finishing his career with only 30 games (10 starts). From all indications, he’s healthy now.
Allen was a four-year player and had no major injuries. The only knock, if you can call it that, is that he comes from a school that doesn’t produce much NFL talent. Since 2003, Kentucky has had only two first-round picks — linebacker Bud Dupree (Pittsburgh Steelers) and defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson (Jets), who was a bust.
In terms of ceiling, scouts are fascinated by Williams, who has rare athletic traits for his position. Alabama teammate Jonah Williams called Quinnen a “300-pound bar of soap.” He blew up the scouting combine, running the 40-yard dash in 4.83 seconds — at 303 pounds, mind you. Humans aren’t supposed to move that fast. Some teams reportedly consider him the best prospect in the draft.
“When I got done evaluating the tape, I thought he was the best defensive player in all of college football this year,” McShay said.
Allen posted a 4.63 and a 1.61 in the 10-yard split, almost identical to those of Chicago Bears star Khalil Mack (4.65 and 1.61). When evaluating pass-rushers, scouts pay close attention to the 10-yard split. While Bosa didn’t run a scintillating 40 (4.79 at 266 pounds), his 10-yard split (1.60) opened eyes. Bosa’s explosive burst, combined with his flawless technique, leverage and flexibility, make him an outstanding overall prospect. He was on his way to a monster 2018 season (four sacks in three games) before his injury.
The bottom line is that all three prospects have great potential, but Quinnen Williams is unique because of the “freak” factor.
The right man
There’s no wrong choice here because all three players have star potential, but the best choice for the Jets is Bosa or Allen, based on the positions they play. They could trade the pick, which makes the conversation moot. But if they stay put at No. 3, they will have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to add a player who could actually lead the league in sacks one day.