Football

Jets build around Wilson with 3 picks on offense

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — During the run-up to the NFL draft, New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas said the objective was to “surround our next quarterback with as much talent as possible.”

He wasn’t messing around.

After selecting BYU quarterback Zach Wilson with the second overall pick, the Jets added three more offensive players. The latest pick, North Carolina running back Michael Carter, came Saturday in the fourth round.

This was only the third time in the common draft era (since 1967) that the Jets have opened a draft with four consecutive selections on offense. It also happened in 1969, the year after their only Super Bowl season, and in 1983, when they chose quarterback Ken O’Brien in the first round.

“It kind of fell that way,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said at the draft’s conclusion. “The objective of this entire weekend was to get better as a team, find a way to fill this roster up, because teams win championships, not individual players. I feel like we’ve done a really good job of taking advantage of value and positions of need.”

The run concluded in the fifth round on Saturday, as the Jets selected Auburn safety Jamien Sherwood with the 146th overall pick. Later in the fifth round, they coincidentally chose another player with the same name as their new running back, taking Duke safety Michael Carter II at No. 154 overall.

The Wilson pick was expected for weeks, as the Jets needed a replacement for Sam Darnold, whom they traded to the Carolina Panthers on April 5. With a new, defensive-minded coach, there figured to be a balance between offense and defense.

Not exactly.

After Wilson, the Jets traded up nine spots in the first round to take USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker with the 14th pick. In the second round, they chose Ole Miss wide receiver Elijah Moore at No. 34 overall.

Wilson, Vera-Tucker and Moore were graded among the top 25 players on the Jets’ draft board, according to Douglas. They wanted Moore so badly that in the latter stages of the first round, offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur became anxious and excited.

“He was saying, ‘Holy cow! He’s slipping,'” Saleh said.

Moore, who caught 86 passes in eight games last season, said he can’t wait to start working with Wilson.

“Oh, man, he’s got a great arm,” Moore said. “[I’d better] get ready to catch a lot of touchdowns.”

The Jets, coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history (2-14), needed offensive help in the worst way. Under former coach Adam Gase, they finished 32nd in total yards two years in a row and were the only team in the past 40 years to finish last in yards per play in back-to-back seasons.

In addition to securing the draft picks, the Jets have signed wide receivers Corey Davis and Keelan Cole.

Carter, the running back who averaged 8.0 yards per carry last season for the Tar Heels, should provide a big-play dimension in the backfield.

“Explosive and fun,” he said in describing his running style.

There was a funny moment in the draft room after the Jets picked the former North Carolina ball carrier. On TV, team officials noticed that ESPN was showing highlights of safety Michael Carter II.

“We were like, ‘Whoa, whoa, wait a minute. Check the notes and make sure we got the pick right,'” Saleh said. “Lucky for us, Michael II ended up falling to us.”

The Jets eventually made a hard pivot from offense to defense. After four straight picks on offense, they closed the draft with six straight defensive selections; the last time they did that was 1997. This run included five defensive backs, something they hadn’t pulled off in a single draft since 1978; two of the DBs, Sherwood and Florida State‘s Hamsah Nasirildeen, are being converted to linebacker.

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