The New York Jets' higher-ups won't make the trek to Santa Clara, California, for the College Football Playoff championship game -- the team is kind of tied up with a coaching search -- but the Jets' top talent-evaluators will probably catch the game on TV. They most certainly will study the tape at some point before the draft.
The Jets are picking third, and there's a decent chance that the player they ultimately select will be playing Monday night, along with a bunch of other potential first-rounders. The most likely candidates for the Jets are Alabama's Quinnen Williams and Clemson's Clelin Ferrell, two of the top defensive linemen in what is considered a vintage year for the position.
"You know how excited we were last year by the quarterback class? Well, multiply that by 10 with the defensive linemen that could go in the first round," said New York-based draft analyst Tony Pauline, publisher of draftanalyst.com. "This will be a historic class."
The Jets know all about first-round defensive linemen. They picked Leonard Williams in 2015, Sheldon Richardson in 2013, Quinton Coples in 2012 and Muhammad Wilkerson in 2011. Remarkably, the only one left is Williams, who is entering the final year of his contract. In fact, the only regular contributors on the defensive line under contract for 2019 are Williams, Nathan Shepherd and Mike Pennel. Henry Anderson and Steve McLendon will be unrestricted free agents. Folorunso Fatukasi, inactive for 15 games as a rookie, is a total wild card.
So, yes, the Jets have a need at the position. That, coupled with general manager Mike Maccagnan's best-player-available philosophy, makes it likely the Jets will wind up drafting a defensive lineman.
If you're watching the game, keep your eye on Williams in the middle of the Crimson Tide defense. Listed at 6-foot-4, 295 pounds, Williams has ideal size for an interior player. The Jets need an edge player more than another wide body, but Williams might be too good to pass up. Pauline said Williams is the best or second-best player in the draft, and he has him going first overall to the Arizona Cardinals in his most recent mock draft.
"The thing about Williams is that he could be dominant in any style of defense," said Pauline, who called Williams a three-down player.
The Jets don't have a style because they don't have a coach, but Williams has the skill set to be a tackle in a 4-3 or an end in a 3-4. What scouts like about him (aside from his eight sacks and 18 tackles for loss) is that he's an ascending talent. He was a part-time player in 2017, but he has improved significantly. Imagine the Jets with a Williams-Williams defensive line; Quinnen's presence would mean fewer double-teams for Leonard.
Ferrell (6-foot-4, 265) is attractive because he, too, has scheme versatility. He's a 4-3 end for the Tigers, but there are times when he stands up and rushes from a two-point stance. He's generally regarded as the second-best edge rusher in the draft, behind Ohio State's Nick Bosa. It wouldn't shock anyone if Bosa, Williams and Ferrell are the first three picks.
"[Ferrell] is probably the closest thing the Jets could get to a John Abraham-type of player," said Pauline, mentioning the team's last true edge rusher.
Ferrell (10.5 sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss) plays on the most talented defensive line in the nation, so you always have to wonder how much of his production could be attributed to the players around him. It's the scouts' job to figure that out, but the early consensus is that he has the goods to be a top-five pick.
Another potential top-10 pick in the game is Alabama left tackle Jonah Williams, but there's a wide range of opinions on him. ESPN's Todd McShay ranks him as the No. 12 prospect, while Pauline projects him in the bottom third of the first round. Some evaluators think he might be shorter than his listed height (6-foot-5), and there's some question about his overall athleticism. On the positive side, he's a technically sound player who hasn't allowed a sack in 14 games.
The Jets have a solid left tackle in Kelvin Beachum, who is due to make a non-guaranteed $8 million, but they could always look to upgrade if they find a franchise left tackle who could protect Sam Darnold's blindside for the next decade. Scouts will learn a lot about Williams because he will be matched against Ferrell. There will be terrific, future-NFL matchups all over the field. Other potential first-rounders playing Monday are Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and Alabama safety Deionte Thompson.
"This game," Pauline said, "is a scout's dream."