Jets GM Joe Douglas needs to nail 2022 NFL Draft — or else

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Joe Douglas is on the clock.

The Jets’ general manager, who’s more than halfway through his six-year contract, on Thursday night embarks on his third NFL draft as Woody Johnson’s lieutenant for player procurement.

And Douglas absolutely, positively must nail this draft. He owns the fourth and 10th overall picks in the first round and, with two second-round selections, he has four of the first 38 picks in this draft.

That not only needs to produce four immediate starters, but at least two of those players must be franchise-changing talents. Anything less will be considered a big miss.

If this draft doesn’t translate into the Jets in playoff contention this season, Douglas shouldn’t feel very confident about running a fourth draft for the Jets a year from now.

“The expectation is those four players are going to be impact players for us,’’ Douglas said last week. “You’re expecting those players in the first two rounds to be starters for you.’’

Douglas came to the Jets with a reputation as a strong talent evaluator and with high recommendations from his former boss in Baltimore and one of the best in the business, Ozzie Newsome. He’s spent the better part of his first three years on the job making maneuvers to create salary cap space and collect draft picks.

This will be Joe Douglas' third draft for the Jets.
This will be Joe Douglas’ third draft for the Jets.
Bill Kostroun

When he traded away disgruntled and under-producing safety Jamal Adams in 2020, Douglas was lauded for fleecing the Seahawks with a haul that brought two first-round draft picks to the Jets.

Douglas was again showered with praise when he got three draft picks, including a second- and a fourth-rounder in this week’s draft, for quarterback Sam Darnold, whom the team was ready to move on from.

When he got a fourth-round pick out of the Vikings for tight end Chris Herndon, who’d caught only 71 passes in three seasons for the Jets and went on to catch four balls for Minnesota last season, some league executives were slack-jawed.

Through three-plus seasons, this is what we know Douglas is good at: collecting draft picks and creating salary cap space.

This is what that draft capital and salary cap space have produced so far on Douglas’ watch: a 13-36 record.

Mekhi Becton, a first-round pick by the Jets in 2020, has battled weight and injury issues.
Mekhi Becton, a first-round pick by the Jets in 2020, has battled weight and injury issues.
Getty Images

Draft capital and salary cap space have — so far — delivered nothing but false hope to Jets fans.

Draft capital and salary cap space don’t throw touchdown passes or keep opposing teams out of the end zone.

Those things don’t win games. Good players do.

Douglas’ first draft with the Jets produced left tackle Mekhi Becton, who’s had trouble staying on the field because of injuries and keeping his weight down. If the Jets use the No. 4 overall pick on a tackle, that’ll be a significant tell on what they think of Becton.

The second-round pick in that 2020 draft was receiver Denzel Mims, who can’t play his way onto the field. Safety Ashtyn Davis was picked in the third round and has been a rotational player at best.

Final preparations are made for the 2022 NFL Draft.
Final preparations are made for the 2022 NFL Draft.
AP

The linchpin to last year’s draft is quarterback Zach Wilson, who was selected second overall and is the key to everything for Douglas and the Jets. Wilson’s rookie year was hardly a rousing success, marred by injury and inconsistent play. This draft will be designed to build more offensive help around him.

Guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, the Jets’ second first-round pick last season and an immediate starter, has been terrific. Receiver Elijah Moore, a third-rounder, looks like starting material. Running back Michael Carter was a nice find in the fourth round.

So, Douglas’ second draft was much better than his first. This one needs to be better than the first two.

Douglas’ Jets tenure has been unique — one filled with diversions that have created somewhat of an extended honeymoon period.

He was hired after the 2019 draft, so that was like a redshirt year for him. The failure of former head coach Adam Gase, whom Douglas didn’t hire, kept heat off of him in 2019 and 2020. And then last year’s hiring of Robert Saleh and the drafting of Wilson created more diversion.

If the Jets remain irrelevant in 2022 and find themselves miles from playoff contention by Thanksgiving again, it will not (and should not) be Saleh taking the heat. It should be Douglas. Because he’s the person who’s been overseeing this operation and he’s the person who’s been selling hope to desperate Jets fans.

“We expect to be playing in meaningful games in December,’’ Douglas said. “We feel like we’re a better team now than we were at the end of last season and we’re going to get better here in a few days [in the draft]. Look, we’re expecting to get better.’’

Getting better cannot mean improving from 4-13 in 2021 to 5-12, 6-11 or even 7-10 this season. It needs to be better than that. Or else.

One of Douglas’ GM-speak catch phrases refers to “keeping the main thing the main thing.’’

The only “main thing’’ that matters is the Jets winning football games. That starts with this week’s draft and those four picks in the first 38.

Douglas is on the clock.

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