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NFL Draft Preview: New York Jets hope for franchise quarterback, Giants look at best available

NEW YORK (WABC) — The 2021 NFL Draft begins Thursday night, and both the New York Jets and New York Giants have their eye on top talent with high picks.

The Jets hold the second pick and are widely expected to draft BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, a case bolstered by the offseason trade of last season’s starter Sam Darnold.

Trevor Lawrence is the consensus number one pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Ohio State’s Justin Fields remains a slight possibility for Gang Green. But for a team desperate for a franchise quarterback, Wilson is the odds on favorite.

You can watch the first round of the NFL Draft on Channel 7. Coverage starts at 8 p.m. and continues Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at noon.

The Jets also own the 23rd pick in the first round, while the Giants — who have a lot of needs themselves — will be looking to see which top talent falls to them at number 11.

As many as five quarterbacks are expected to be picked in the first 10 slots, meaning at least one of four top pass catchers, two top cornerbacks and two top offensive linemen will be available.

More on the Jets:

The Jets head into the draft hoping for that franchise signal caller who can develop into a star and lead them to sustained success.

The focus is now on “the next one,” expected to be Wilson.

“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.

RELATED | New York Jets GM Joe Douglas says draft pick, finances informed decision to trade Sam Darnold

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.

As always.

TIGHT-LIPPED

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.

WHO’S NEXT?

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.”

SHORT-TIMERS

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).

NUMBERS GAME

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.

More on Giants:

The New York Giants spent the two months leading up to the draft in a somewhat unexpected dip into the free agency market that filled holes at wide receiver and cornerback, and narrowed their positional needs.

So with the No. 11 pick overall, the Giants (6-10) would likely take an edge rusher or an offensive lineman, probably someone to play on the right side.

While it makes sense, don’t count on it. Most draft picks after the first few can change drastically with either a trade or an unexpected choice, and general manager Dave Gettleman never gives an inside look at the Giants’ plan.

All that is certain is the Giants made a ton of moves in preparation for the draft and Joe Judge’s second season. Salary cap space was created by cutting guard Kevin Zeitler, wide receivers Golden Tate and Cody Core, and linebacker David May. The contract of tackle Nate Solder, who opted out of last season, was reworked.

RELATED | New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley on track to be ready for start of season, sources say

With the money, the Giants signed 16 free agents, highlighted by the additions of playmaking wide receiver Kenny Golladay and cornerback Adoree Jackson. Most of the free agents got one-year deals, but Golladay (five years, $72 million) and Jackson ( three years, $39 million) were big investments.

They are not without risk. Golladay, who had 1,000-yard seasons in 2018 and ’19 and caught 16 touchdowns overall, was limited to five games last season by a hip injury. Jackson has played in 14 games over the past two seasons because of foot and knee issues. They passed the team physicals before signing, but missing time is always a caution sign.

Those concerns could put the Giants in the market for either a wide receiver or cornerback in the first round. Alabama receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle could be available at No. 11 along with South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn.

If the choice does turn out to be an edge rusher or offensive tackle, the competition is tight. There are so many edge rushers the Giants might wait until the second round, especially with Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin all returning, and Ifeadi Odenigbo signed as a free agent. Tackle Rashawn Slater of Northwestern might be a lineman who catches the Giants’ eye because he can play guard or tackle.

Gettleman said the Giants met in February and compared their draft board and free agency board in deciding which would help them filling holes in the roster. Kevin Abrams, the vice president of football operations and assistant general manager, said the Giants planned to be aggressive in free agency in a year when they felt most teams would be cautious because of salary cap issues.

“We had our targets and, as the market played out, it became apparent to us that of the targets that we wanted to go and pursue who was going to be available at the right price for us.”

WILD CARD

The Giants had 10 draft picks last season and nine of them played. New York has six picks this year, so don’t be surprised if Gettleman looks to add a couple more. A trade could land an extra pick, or two.

O-LINE

The Giants can get by this season without taking a lineman. Solder and/or Matt Peart, a third-round pick last year, could take over at right tackle. Will Hernandez, who lost his starting job at left guard to Shane Lemieux after contracting COVID-19, could be moved to right guard. New York also signed Jonotthan Harrison and Zach Fulton as free agents.

OTHER NEEDS

The Giants have depth needs for the lower rounds. They could use a running back to groom. Saquon Barkley is coming back from a major knee injury so former Raider Devontae Booker was signed for two years. Wayne Gallman, who replaced Barkley after the injury, remains a free agent. New York also can use a defensive tackle to stuff the middle after seeing Dalvin Tomlinson sign with Minnesota as a free agent. If there was a constant in the draft last year, Judge wants players with speed, versatility and an ability to put the team first.

DRAFT MISSES

Being among the worst teams in the NFL in recent years has had its perks for the Giants. In the past three drafts, they have had five first-round picks. Still, there are no guarantees.

While New York netted Barkley, quarterback Daniel Jones, defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence and tackle Andrew Thomas, they also managed to take cornerback DeAndre Baker with the 30th pick in 2019, the last of three first-rounders that year. He lasted a year before legal problems led to his being released.

The Giants had two first-round busts in cornerback Eli Apple in 2016 and tackle Ereck Flowers the year before. Tight end Evan Engram (’17) shows flashes and flops.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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