The hottest NFL draft rumor coming out of the scouting combine could have a major effect on the Jets in next month’s draft and create an interesting decision for general manager Mike Maccagnan.
What began as a whisper last week has now turned into what feels like a consensus that Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray could be the Cardinals’ selection with the No. 1-overall pick in the draft.
For the Jets, this would be thrilling news because it would push the second-best non-quarterback in the draft into their laps at the No. 3 pick.
The likelihood is that Nick Bosa, universally considered the best player in the draft, would be taken at No. 2 by the 49ers. Then, the Jets would face a fascinating decision between Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams and Kentucky outside linebacker Josh Allen.
The Jets desperately need an edge rusher, so Allen would seem like a logical selection after recording 17 sacks last season. But Williams is viewed as a better overall player after a breakout season with the Crimson Tide when he had 19.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks.
In his latest mock draft, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay had the Jets selecting Williams.
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“That was a tough one for me,” McShay said on a conference call Wednesday. “For me, I look at it in tiers almost in terms of talent. I think this year Nick Bosa and Quinnen Williams are kind of that top, elite, elite tier. Then Josh Allen is right behind them, basically in his own next tier. I just think there’s a little bit of a difference between the first two and Allen.”
The Jets have been searching for an edge rusher for more than a decade. Their last outside linebacker to record double-digit sacks was Calvin Pace in 2013. For them to pass on an elite pass rusher would be surprising, but McShay says Williams is that good.
“I realize and recognize that the Jets would prefer, I’d think, an edge rusher. That’s been an issue for a while now,” McShay said. “But I have a hard time passing up Quinnen Williams there when you have the opportunity. If Quinnen doesn’t go three to the Jets, he’s very likely going to go four to the Raiders. It’s kind of splitting hairs a little bit, but I went with the better player over what probably for the Jets would be a slightly bigger need.”
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Taking Williams probably would not go over very well with Jets fans despite how highly rated he is coming out of Alabama. The Jets have taken four interior defensive linemen in the first round over the past decade. Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson both made impacts but ended up not working out with the Jets for various reasons. Quinton Coples was a total bust. Leonard Williams has proven to be a good player, but with just 17 sacks in four seasons has not had the impact everyone expected when he went sixth overall in 2015.
Then there is the Alabama factor. Joe Namath, the greatest player in franchise history, played for Bear Bryant at Alabama, but it is the more recent draft picks from the Crimson Tide that Jets fans remember most. Cornerback Dee Milliner was a first-round pick in 2013 and a total flop. The team took receiver ArDarius Stewart in the third round in 2017, and he did not last two years with the team.
Williams may become a more attractive pick for the Jets if they land an edge rusher in free agency. They are expected to actively pursue one next week. Nevertheless, it is hard to find impactful edge rushers in free agency. You usually have to draft them, which is another argument for taking Allen.
Maccagnan has been shown to be a “best player available” guy in the draft rather than drafting for need. This year, that could be tested if he has a choice between Williams and Allen.