NEW YORK — The New York Jets have been here before — too many times.
They head into the NFL draft needing a quarterback, hoping to find the face of the franchise who can develop into a star and lead them to sustained success.
The focus is now on “the next one” — and that will come in the form of the No. 2 pick on Thursday night. The overwhelming favorite to hear his name called then is BYU’s Zach Wilson. Ohio State’s Justin Fields also remains a slight possibility.
“I don’t look at it from a legacy viewpoint,” said general manager Joe Douglas, on the verge of making what will likely be a career-defining choice. “I feel like every decision we make has risk. Obviously the pick at No. 2, there’s a huge spotlight on that and we understand that with every decision, you try to take the information you have at hand to make the best possible decision that you can for the team moving forward.”
New York has been searching for someone who can finally emerge from the massive shadow of Joe Namath, whose impact on the Jets and the league will likely never be truly surpassed.
But a few generations of frustrated fans have been waiting to feel like champions again since Broadway Joe delivered on his guarantee and won the team’s only Super Bowl appearance in 1969.
That’s, well, a long time ago.
Since Namath’s final game with the Jets in 1976, there have been 34 players to start under center for the franchise. Several of them were high draft picks with huge hopes and expectations: Richard Todd, Ken O’Brien, Chad Pennington, Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith and Sam Darnold.
Sure, they had some success, but not nearly enough.
The Jets thought they got it right with Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick just three years ago. And for various reasons, they were left disappointed. Douglas, who wasn’t on the job when New York made that pick, shipped Darnold to Carolina on April 5 for a sixth-rounder this year and second- and fourth-rounders next year.
That ended months of speculation on social media and sports talk radio whether the Jets and new coach Robert Saleh would keep Darnold, move on from him or even let him compete with their new draft pick for the starting gig.
Douglas pressed reset on the franchise and he’ll be tied to whomever he selects at No. 2. And Jets fans will keep their fingers crossed.
Judging from just about every mock draft available, it seems a sure thing the Jets will take the big-armed Wilson. The fact Douglas, Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur were all at BYU to watch him in person at his pro day seemed to seal that sentiment.
But Douglas provided no hints when asked what he thought of Wilson, saying he preferred to keep his assessments of prospects to himself until after the draft.
“We don’t want to give everyone the answers to our test,” Douglas said.
After the Jets make their first pick, there will still be plenty of intrigue around their next selection at No. 23, which they got from Seattle in the Jamal Adams trade. If they stay at that spot.
With so many holes remaining on the roster after a 2-14 season and the Jets holding 10 picks, they’ll have lots of options. Trading up is one of them.
“It’s a good news, bad news (situation),” said NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former pro scout. “The bad news is you’ve got a bunch of needs. The good news is you’ve got a bunch of picks, so they’re going to be able to go in different directions, depending on how it falls.”
If they go cornerback, Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley, Northwestern’s Greg Newsome II or Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr. could be the guy. But with offensive line also high on the list of needs, Jeremiah thinks one player would be a steal at No. 23: USC tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker, who could slide to guard in the NFL.
“If somehow Vera-Tucker were to get there,” Jeremiah said, “that’s the home run of all home run picks.”
If Douglas and the Jets plan to build a core through the draft, New York needs to end a vicious cycle in which its first-round selections don’t make it to a second contract.
The Jets have had 11 first-rounders over the past 10 drafts, and none since defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (2011) has been extended from the rookie deal. Of those 11, only the most recent two remain with the Jets: defensive lineman Quinnen Williams (2019) and left tackle Mekhi Becton (2020).
The Jets have selected No. 2 overall just twice previously in the NFL draft — and haven’t fared well.
They traded up in 1980 to take Texas wide receiver Johnny “Lam” Jones, a speedy but raw Olympic gold medal sprinter. He had just 138 catches and 13 TDs in seven seasons, sitting out all of the last two with injuries.
New York drafted Penn State running back Blair Thomas 10 years later and injuries and inconsistency limited him to only 2,009 yards rushing and five TDs in four years. Both are considered among the draft’s biggest busts.
As for No. 23, the Jets have picked in that spot just once: in 1982, when they took linebacker Bob Crable. The former Notre Dame star was solid, but knee injuries ended his playing career after just six seasons.
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