Entering his third draft as Jets general manager, Joe Douglas' overall vision for Gang Green will begin to take shape in 2022.
With the Jets holding a top-five draft pick for the fourth time in five years, the 2022 NFL Draft is a pivotal one for Douglas as the pressure to improve begins to mount. Equipped with four draft picks within the top 40, there's ample opportunity to provide supporting talent for second-year quarterback Zach Wilson, whose own development may coincide with the advancement of Douglas' plan.
Following an up-and-down rookie season, one in which Wilson threw more interceptions than touchdowns, Douglas remains confident in the 22-year-old and points to his play down the stretch as a positive end to an otherwise lost season.
"I 100 percent see greatness," Douglas said of Wilson on The Michael Kay Show on Friday. "I see a young quarterback that really went through the ringer to start the year, and what was most encouraging about Zach was when he came back, he maybe had one turnover over the last six games. He was taking care of the football, he was playing within the scheme.
"You really saw him take a step within the season after going through a lot of adversity early, getting injured, coming back and not having our top two receivers in Corey [Davis] and Elijah [Moore] and playing with a lot of backups at the skill position but still executing the offense at a high level. And so, seeing that, seeing his resiliency and his perseverance through that and keeping it all together -- it gives you a lot of hope."
In 13 starts, Wilson ended his rookie campaign with 2,334 passing yards, nine TDs and 11 INTs while adding 185 yards and four scores on the ground. As evidenced by his 55.6% completion rate, Wilson struggled to connect on short passes but showed flashes of his great arm strength when throwing downfield. The Jets' lowly pass protection (53 sacks allowed) and inconsistent ground attack (98.1 rushing yards per game) didn't help Wilson's cause as the team finished with the seventh-worst offense (306.4 YPG) and churned out a meager 18.2 points per game.
Douglas' biggest splash in free agency this offseason was signing guard Laken Tomlinson to bolster the offensive line and help improve the ground attack. Although Wilson's top receiver Jamison Crowder (led Jets with 51 receptions in 2021) was lost in free agency, Douglas added tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin to serve as safety valves for his young QB.
"It's about keeping the main things the main things, and it's going to be about helping develop our young quarterback," Douglas said one week ahead of the draft, via the team's website. "Outside of that, it's about adding as many difference makers as you can to the roster. And making sure they fit within the culture and the scheme. Then keeping those guys healthy and keeping them on the field."
The Jets hold two top-10 selections in the 2022 NFL Draft (Nos. 4 and 10 overall) and a pair of early second-round picks (Nos. 35, 38). With a deep WR class incoming and the recent trade request from 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel churning the rumor mill, the Jets are poised to add an offensive playmaker for Wilson one way or another.
Perhaps best of all, Douglas has enough draft capital to also add a top defender for head coach Robert Saleh's aggressive defense. To this point, the Jets GM has used all five of his first- and second-round picks on offense the past two years, and a game-controlling defense has the potential to become a young QB's best friend as he develops.
"I think when you're building a team, balance is important," said Douglas. "You don't want to invest too much on one side of the ball. But at the same time, keep the main thing the main thing. I think we've been pretty consistent about the importance of the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball."
With an improved roster and options aplenty ahead of the draft, Douglas' comments may suggest selecting the best player available. But there's no mistaking Douglas' confidence in Wilson as he enters Year 2.