For the New York Jets, 2020 was supposed to be the next chapter of growth and progress for a team that’s struggled to garner much success over the last decade. After drafting Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall pick in the draft as well as acquiring a handful of offseason additions for their offensive line and wide receiver unit, the Jets theoretically were in a position to have a slightly better season than they did in 2019, especially with most of their previously injured players making their return this year. On top of that, Sam Darnold was about to enter his third season with a stronger supporting cast and, with two tough years filled with plenty of learning experiences, was finally going to put it all together and show the Jets why they drafted him third overall in 2018.
What ended up happening instead is the full-on collapse of a rebuilding process that has brought the Jets right back down to square one. Sitting with the worst record in the NFL at 0-9, the Jets are debatably the New York Knicks of the NFL. Shipping out important cornerstone players such as Le’Veon Bell, Jamal Adams, and Avery Williamson before the trade deadline, the Jets have ripped nearly their entire team down to the ground to start anew with their franchise, but it’s not very clear if their plan will work.
If you haven’t noticed, the Jets have taken a mighty plunge this season, tanking so low that ESPN has already projected a 61.1% chance that they will receive the number one overall pick in the 2021 draft. To say that this was wholeheartedly intentional is certainly far-fetched. But it’s hard to deny that once the Jets realized what kind of season this was going to be, they knowingly restructured their team to such a low level of all-around talent to the point that even winning two games this season seems to be out of reach (ESPN). Essentially, the Jets realized that this next draft is too good to pass up on, and for mainly one big reason: Trevor Lawrence.
The phenome quarterback out of Clemson has torn up college football and has basically stamped his place as the number one overall pick in the draft. Kicking down the door with an incredible rookie season where he led Clemson to its second National Championship Title while posting a total of 3,280 yards, 30 touchdowns, and only 4 interceptions, believe it or not, Lawrence has only gotten better and better since (ESPN). Leading Clemson back to a second straight National Championship appearance, Lawrence improved substantially last season both in the air and on the ground. Throwing for 3,665 yards, 36 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions, Lawrence ran for an additional 563 yards and collected 9 touchdowns in the process (ESPN). And then to cap it all off, despite all the setbacks with COVID-19 (to even being diagnosed with it recently), Lawrence has still displayed a level of flawlessness this season that’s breathtaking to behold, already throwing for 17 touchdowns, only 2 interceptions, and posting his best completion percentage to date at 70.7% (ESPN).
To see how menacing and dominant this quarterback has been, ripping up the stat sheet and leading his team to back-to-back National Champion appearances in the process, is a spectacle that can’t be ignored. However, if the Jets do choose to start fresh with their quarterback and draft Lawrence number one overall, joining the Jets would debatably be one of the greatest challenges in his NFL career. What’s important to understand is that although his skill set would be a big upgrade for an ailing Jets offense, there’s a lot more to it than just Lawrence. Football is not a one-man show and never has been. And what’s essential to keep in mind is that the Jets don’t have a lot of talent to provide Lawrence with. Outside of Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims, Breshad Perriman, and Becton, the Jets have a fragile offensive line and an even weaker running game that require a whole lot of improvement for Lawrence to even come close to having the same impact that he’s had with Clemson.
The best side-by-side comparison that one can use to understand just exactly what Lawrence faces with the Jets is looking at the success from each of the last three number one overall picks from 2018 to 2020. The key factor that’s vital to grasp about this comparison is that even the worst teams who were able to secure these picks, from the Browns taking Baker Mayfield in 2018, to the Cardinals selecting Kyler Murray in 2019 and to then the Bengals picking Joe Burrow in 2020, each had a sturdy offensive supporting cast in place to allow these stars to actually succeed. Mayfield had running back Nick Chubb, Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, and Kevin Zeitler on his offense and led the Browns to a 7-8-1 finish after they were winless in 2017 (ESPN). Murray had Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, and Kenyan Drake to lead the Cardinals to a 5-10 season after going 3-13 in 2018 (ESPN). And even Burrow, who has Joe Mixon, A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, and 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams on his offensive line, has already grabbed two wins for the Bengals in his first nine games, something that took the whole season to pull off last year for Cincinnati (ESPN). The bottom line here is that the Jets don’t have any sort of support system like that for Lawrence, particularly with their offensive line. Despite signing Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, and George Fant earlier this year, none of them have risen to the occasion nor have provided the vital protection Flacco, and Darnold have so desperately needed all year. Ultimately, out of all four quarterbacks to go number one overall, Lawrence is joining the worst team offensively, and even for such a gifted player, it could be very difficult for him to thrive and maximize his full potential.
However, the good news is that the Jets created a lot of cap space by shipping out Bell, Adams, Williamson, and Steve McLendon at the trade deadline, which will allow them to bolster and rejuvenate their offense with plenty of talent. Sitting with nearly $30 million in cap room already, the Jets have more than enough to splurge over the offseason and should bring in a strong running back, a handful of durable offensive linemen, and at least one bright wideout (be it in the draft or via free agency) if they truly want to see a full turnaround next year.
When all is said and done, selecting Trevor Lawrence with the number one pick in the draft is the right choice for the Jets to do, and there’s no disputing that. But to think he’s going to solve all of the offensive setbacks the Jets have to fix, more or less play the way he did in Clemson in his first season, is just not the case. Talking about who Mayfield, Murray, and Burrow had, look who Lawrence has played with over his first two and half seasons in Clemson; Clemson has produced some of the best prospects the NFL has drafted over these last two years. Football is just not a singular game, and if the Jets want to succeed with Lawrence at the helm, yes, it begins with drafting him, but it also requires this organization to execute a strong draft from start to finish as well as signing the right players over the offseason. Lawrence can succeed with the Jets. But with an under-tooled Jets team such as the one they have right now, he doesn’t stand that much of a better chance than Sam Darnold. This rebuild is bigger than Lawrence. And if the Jets want to give their next franchise player the real chance he deserves, it is of the utmost importance that the proper foundation is constructed and cemented in place for him upon his arrival; it’s time for the Jets to get it right.