I sat with anxious anticipation as the picks came in every ten minutes. As each pick passed by from the 15th to the 20th, I dared to think there was hope that an edge would somehow drop back to the early 2nd round. Jermaine Johnson was somehow still on the board. Even George Karlaftis would be viable as opposed to nothing. There was no position as vital to me, and many of my fellow Jet fans, as an edge. Some would argue that wide receiver was the priority, but we had two top 10 picks and we were expected to address both. I was balancing excitement, shock, and concern from what had transpired earlier in the evening. I had no idea what was coming. How could I?
The 2022 NFL Draft came after a long build-up for Jets fans.
I played as big a role as any, streaming mock drafts on YouTube before the season even made it out of December. The argument from the chat during these make-believe scenarios carried itself to Twitter and was passionately debated by Jets fans vis tweets, and the many fans participating in audio conversations in the Jet Lounge. Was it going to be a Wide Receiver or Edge? Was it both but in which order? Was it going to be Ikwonu who could play guard until we needed to move him to tackle, or even replace Becton or Fant? Some suggested Hamilton in spite of the fact he was a Safety, a position less valued by many. A few even suggested Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, a notion unthinkable by many who believed our cornerback room was already set.
After countless debates, NFL draft day finally came. As Jacksonville, Detroit, and Houston made their selections I and many others celebrated the sudden reality that Kayvon Thibodeaux was within our grasp. Finally an edge! With Lawson coming back from injury, maybe I would be watching a new version of the NY Sack Exchange that captivated me as a child and made me a fan. “Please don’t not take Thibodeaux” was all I can muster as the selection was about to be read. I usually don’t use double negatives when I speak, but this was to be the historical moment I had been anticipating for a very long time. Then it happened, the New York Jets selected Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner.
I went into shock. Not disgust. Not anger. I was just blown away. I knew we just secured an incredible prospect that could make a tremendous impact on the defense for years to come. I knew I was going to be a big fan of this player, and would definitely be wearing his jersey by the game opener. I love Sauce. This was never in question as I sat there in disbelief. “There not going to get an edge,” I heard myself mumble. “Maybe they will get JJ at 10? But no wide receiver?” I thought. I believe in Joe Douglas. But I had no idea what the plan was and was no longer trying to guess. I just kept watching the rest unfold, excited to have Sauce Gardner, yet stressed about having only one remaining 1st round pick, with 2 positions of high need remaining.
When the NY Jets selected Garrett Wilson with the 10th pick it was not a surprise. We could have grabbed Jermaine Johnson, but adding to the wide receiver room was certainly not unexpected. Again I was excited, but could not get my mind off the failure to address what many believe is the most important position in our defensive scheme. I began to wonder if Boye Mafe was the plan in the 2nd round. I figured that would be digestible, but worried he was a drop-off from the players we passed on. And then something strange started to unfold. Jermaine Johnson began to slip.
By the time the Pittsburgh Steelers were selecting Kenny Pickett with the 20th pick, a feeling of hope was creeping back to life from somewhere deep in my gut. What if Johnson slips to us in the 2nd round? Is it possible? Each pick was painful. I had the JetsTalk24/7 YouTube channel streaming on my computer as they were expressing the same hopes. One of the guys, not sure if it was Ryan, Matt O’ Leary, or Greenbean, brought up the possibility of a trade. I was immediately brought back to the year before and remembered when Joe Douglas had made a move like that when he traded up to select Alijah Vera-Tucker. I wondered if he was trying to make a move now. We had the draft capital to do it, but a trade like that seemed like a dream.
The draft continued. One by one the selections came in. Jermain Johnson continued to fall. I tried not to get excited. There were too many teams left in front of us to expect Jermaine Johnson to remain on the board. Then it happened, the announcement was made that the Jets were on the clock after trading with the Minnesota Vikings for the 26th pick. Extreme joy is the only emotion I felt in those moments. I looked at the computer and screamed along with my 3 friends on my laptop as the news caught up to them on the stream. I jumped off the couch and into the air screaming “The Jets got JJ at 26! The Jets got JJ at 26!” I knew something very special just happened and my mind would process it all in a minute, but for that moment, it was pure emotion.
Suddenly the draft made sense. We got the two positions we most needed to be addressed, but even better, we somehow landed Sauce as well. I loved and respected what Joe Douglas was doing for the Jets before the draft, but this took that admiration to the next level. While it needs to translate to wins on the field, I believe we may have the best GM in our franchise’s history. But more importantly, I believe this draft is going to make history. I imagine Jet fans after a 5 to 10-year run of being a top-tier team, talking about the magical day it really began to take shape. The day they will be referring to is 2/28/22, day one of the NFL Draft, And the question that will follow will be “Where were you?”