The New York Jets 2023 NFL Draft is in the books, which means it’s time to review their picks. After acquiring four-time NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers prior to the Jets, the expectation was New York would add more pieces around him. Except, General Manager Joe Douglas had other plans. As the Jets steer towards contention, the team did not alter their draft status quo – building long-term.
In the end, they added the following players:
- First Round, 15th overall: Will McDonald IV, EDGE
- Second Round, 43rd overall: Joe Tippman, C
- Fourth Round, 120th overall: Carter Warren, OT
- Fifth Round, 143rd overall: Israel Abanikanda, RB
- Sixth Round, 184th overall: Zaire Barnes, LB
- Seventh Round, 204th overall: Jarrick Bernard-Converse, DB
- Seventh Round, 220th overall: Zack Kuntz, TE
New York Jets 2023 NFL Draft Review Grade: 7.3/10
New York Jets 2023 NFL Draft Review
The Best Player: Will McDonald IV
In the modern-day NFL, there is no such thing as too many pass rushers. The Jets run a constant rotation along the defensive front, and love versatility. Even though they already employ Carl Lawson, John Franklin-Myers, Jermaine Johnson, Bryce Huff, and Micheal Clemons, New York opted to add another.
Coming into the NFL Draft, Will McDonald IV was projected as a late first-round pick, who could even slip into day two. Even so, he has a rare combination of explosiveness, athleticism, and bend around the edge. The Iowa State product tore up Big 12 backfields for years and was always a threat to force a fumble. At 6’4” and 239lbs, he plays even lighter than Huff but has a nastiness to his game that counters his lack of mass.
Not to mention, McDonald possesses a deep package of rush moves and is capable of adding to his play strength in the NFL. If so, with the further development of his run defense, McDonald will be a high-upside starter as soon as 2024. After all, both Carl Lawson and Bryce Huff are free agents following the 2023 season. With McDonald, the Jets get a long-term piece to add to the promising Johnson-Clemons duo from their 2023 NFL Draft class.
The Head-Scratcher: Drafting an Edge Rusher Round 1
With the Aaron Rodgers pick, the Jets flipped from 13th overall to 15th in the first round. Going into the draft, it was clear the Jets were targeting one of the four top offensive tackles. However, the Rodgers trade made it possible they miss out on them altogether. Low and behold, that is exactly what happened.
At 15th overall with no tackles available, drafting Will McDonald IV was the best player available from the Jets board move. Meaning, it was not a win-now move. With a hopeful two-year window with Aaron Rodgers, the Jets may have been better off selecting a position of need.
Pittsburgh defensive tackle Calijah Kancey could have slid in as Sheldon Rankins replacement as the Jets second starter. It may not have been an immediate need, but Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba would give the Jets depth at wideout that the team has never had before. Or maybe the Jets even reach on Oklahoma tackle Anton Harrison, who went 27th overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The bottom line is if New York’s draft philosophy was built on their win-now window, then selecting an edge rusher was the biggest head-scratcher of their draft.
The Surprise: Israel Abanikanda
On April 26th, the Jets released running back Ty Johnson with a non-football injury designation, leaving just Breece Hall, Michael Carter, and Zonovan Knight on the roster. The Jets met with multiple-day three-range backs before the draft, as it was clear the team was interested in adding another young rusher.
What comes as a surprise is how Israel Abanikanda fell to 143rd overall in the fifth round. The 5’10” and 216lbs Pittsburgh product is a playmaker with home run speed at the second level and one-cut ability. 2022 marked his breakout season for the Panthers, with 239 rush attempts for 1,431 yards and 20 touchdowns. Not only he averaged six yards per carry but rushed for over 100 yards in all but two of 11 games last year. Combine that with his athletic traits and NFL-ready build, and it comes as a surprise Abanikanda fell this far.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) April 29, 2023
Israel Abanikanda will only continue to surprise people as he makes a name for himself fast in the Jets backfield. New York’s four running backs are all competing for touches in training camp. Breece Hall’s status is still to be determined as he recovers from a torn ACL. Michael Carter’s sophomore campaign was inconsistent as he saw his touches diminish by the season’s end. And while Zonovan Knight showed flashes, still only averaged 3.5 yards per carry. Abanikanda will only turn 21 years old in October, giving the Jets one of the youngest and most talented backfields in the league.
The Steal: Zack Kuntz
With the 220th overall pick, the Jets could have gone a number of ways. The team did not draft a natural free safety or defensive tackle and could use a long-term rookie contract in the receiver room. Instead, the team elected to set up their tight end pairing of the future by drafting Old Dominion’s Zack Kuntz.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) April 29, 2023
A dynamic athlete who scored the highest Relative Athletic Score of any tight end ever, Kuntz joins 2022 draft pick Jeremy Ruckert as the Jets developmental backups. With veterans Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah under contract through the 2024 season, the Jets can take their time developing Ruckert and now Kuntz. Therefore, the Jets already have their future tight end tandem under contract.
Zack Kuntz stands at 6’7” and 255lbs, giving the Jets size in a pass catcher nobody else under contract does. Originally at Penn State before transferring to Old Dominion, he broke out in 2021 and had a solid start to 2022 before an injury cut his season short. It is unlikely it comes in 2023, but chances are Zack Kuntz will be playing a substantial role by the end of his rookie deal.
Most Likely to Turn Heads in Training Camp: Joe Tippman
Just before the draft, the Jets re-signed center Connor McGovern, who has been the team’s starter for the past three seasons. He came back on a one-year deal worth only $1.9 million, with little guaranteed money. For an above-average starter, McGovern’s contract is a steal in its own right.
However, Joe Tippman may be too good for the Jets to keep out of the lineup long. A two-year starter for the Wisconsin Badgers, Tippman stands at 6’6” and 313lbs, but with the ability to anchor and elite athleticism for a center. Praised for his communication and leadership at the line of scrimmage, Tippman is a high-intelligence center who could wind up being Aaron Rodgers day-one center.
Regardless of if he wins the job against McGovern, Tippman is the long-term plan at center. He is the highest the Jets have drafted a center since Nick Mangold 29th overall in 2006. Now, it is too early to say Tippman becomes the seven-time Pro Bowl center Mangold was. But Tippman certainly has the potential to lock down the role for years to come.
In the fourth round, the Jets finally took care of their need for an offensive tackle with Pittsburgh’s Carter Warren. The 6’5.5” and 311lbs blocker has a seven-foot wingspan, giving him the size and length to continue at left tackle in the pros. As a rookie, he does possess the athleticism to be a swing tackle at the very least. Improvements are needed as a run blocker, but Warren has starting upside after a year or two of development.
"You got a long drive up here right?"
— New York Jets (@nyjets) April 29, 2023
Linebacker Zaire Barnes came as a bit of a surprise, as the Jets passed on a safety yet again. But Barnes gives the Jets versatility and depth at linebacker, which they desperately needed. With an NFL-ready frame, Barnes can contribute early on special teams and also offer a coverage linebacker with his athleticism and instincts.
Lastly, LSU defensive back Jarrick Bernard-Converse brings the Jets a lengthy boundary corner who has experience playing in the slot and at safety. Bernard-Converse has tons of experience with 56 collegiate starts, and the size to cause chaos on jump balls. Chances are Bernard-Converse makes an early impact on special teams while earning reps thanks to his versatility.
Main Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports