Uncommon draft jackpot could help New York Jets accelerate rebuild

HOUSTON -- A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:

1. Double vision: Meaningless game? Hah!

The Jets-Houston Texans game on Sunday will impact the top of the draft standings, which is a pretty big deal for two fan bases desperate for hope. Both teams are 2-8, with the Jets currently in the No. 2 spot and the Texans at No. 4, based on strength of schedule.

The Jets also own the No. 6 pick, courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks via the Jamal Adams trade. The Seahawks' worst season in a decade could be an absolute boon for the Jets, who could wind up with two top-10 picks for the first time in franchise history.

That doesn't happen a lot in the NFL. In the common-draft era (since 1967), there have been only 17 instances when a team had two selections in the top 10. It last occurred in 2018, when the Cleveland Browns picked quarterback Baker Mayfield (No. 1 overall) and cornerback Denzel Ward (No. 4).

Before the Browns, you have to go all the way back to 2000. It happened twice that year: The Washington Football Team picked linebacker LaVar Arrington (No. 2) and tackle Chris Samuels (No. 3); the Baltimore Ravens took running back Jamal Lewis (No. 5) and wide receiver Travis Taylor (No. 10).

There are no sure things, not even in the top 10, but the odds of finding a star are much better at the top. Ten from the 17 went on to multiple Pro Bowls, a list that includes four Pro Football Hall of Famers. Do you know the last time the Jets drafted a Hall of Famer? It was 1971, running back John Riggins, who made his name for Washington.

The two first-round picks are vital to the Jets' rebuilding plan. It's too bad the draft isn't top-heavy with quarterback prospects; that would put the Jets in position to perhaps scoop up the best non-quarterback. It's still early, though, and you always see late risers once the pre-draft process intensifies.

If you're the Jets, root for the quarterbacks. And root for the Seahawks to keep losing. Unfortunately for the Jets, Seattle's remaining schedule is one of the easiest -- 25th in difficulty. In case you're wondering, the Jets still have a 13% chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick, per ESPN analytics.

2. Pressure's on: Zach Wilson's return to the lineup could be double-edged sword.

When the rookie quarterback went down with a knee injury, the Jets were stumbling and bumbling on offense. Since then, they're averaging 436 yards per game -- tops in the league over the last four weeks.

Asked if he feels pressure to maintain that, Wilson said somewhat curtly, "No, of course not. I mean I play my ball, how I play ball. Credit to (the other quarterbacks). I was able to learn from their reps and everything they went through, but I have to go in there and play my game and not worry about that stuff."

The upside is that Wilson is rejoining an offense functioning at a higher level than before, making it better equipped to handle his inexperience.

Naturally, fans and media will pass judgment on Wilson 2.0. Not that he cares.

"I mean, I don’t really care what anybody really thinks, if I’m being honest," he said. "I want to see improvement in myself, as far as when I watch the tape at the end of the day."

3. Impressive rebound: Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur deserves some props for his work over the last few weeks. He took a lot of heat for the slow start -- full disclosure: I was among the critics -- but the offense is showing gradual improvement, no easy task with the quarterback instability.

After Week 7, the Jets were ranked 31st in total yards. Their weekly rankings since then: 28th, 24th, 22nd and 21st. They climbed 10 spots with three different quarterbacks, Mike White, Josh Johnson and Joe Flacco -- a mix of inexperience (White) and old-man rust (Johnson and Flacco).

4. Head-scratcher: The Flacco trade, which takes on a different light with the revelation that he's unvaccinated, will go down as one of the most curious deals in recent Jets history. It's not because of the draft-pick compensation; they can easily recoup the sixth-round pick. It's because of the about-face on the importance of a veteran quarterback and the knowledge that Flacco would miss his first two games because of COVID-19 protocols and his late arrival.

5. Five-man rotation: The mid-week addition of former 2020 draft pick James Morgan (practice squad) means there are five quarterbacks in the building. You can't have too much insurance, right?

6. Did you know? A year ago, the Jets led the league with 14 roughing-the-passer penalties, according to NFLpenalties.com. No other team was close to that number. A lot of people blamed defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and his push-the-envelope coaching style.

Don't look now, but they're once again leading the NFL (six roughing penalties). Defensive linemen Shaq Lawson and Nathan Shepherd have two apiece, with John Franklin-Myers committing the costliest one last week. That's not a talent issue or a rebuilding issue; it's a discipline issue.

7. Robert & Rex: Coach Robert Saleh's comment that the Jets have "an actual plan" when it comes to rebuilding the roster underscored his moxie -- a breath of fresh air. Truth be told, they haven't had a coach like that since Rex Ryan, which made their recent war of words kind of ironic. They've exchanged olive branches since the radio sparks.

8. Weird trend: The defense has been a big disappointment -- hardly a news flash, right? By hiring a defensive-minded coach, not a trendy thing nowadays, the assumption was that the Jets would automatically make a significant leap forward. Hire a man whose expertise is on that side of the ball, and you expect that side to improve.

But recent NFL history suggests otherwise.

I found this fascinating: Since 2010, there have been 17 instances when a team hired a defensive-minded head coach to replace an offensive guy, as the Jets did with Saleh/Adam Gase. In 10 of the 17 situations, the defense actually got worse in the first year, based on the league rankings for total yards. That includes the Jets (24th to 32nd) and the current Los Angeles Chargers under Brandon Staley (10th to 17th).

Personally, I think the trend is an anomaly more than anything.

9. Late surge: Wide receiver Elijah Moore got off to a slow start, but he hasn't given up on validating his best friend's preseason prediction. Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown said he'd bet all his game checks that Moore wins Offensive Rookie of the Year. Still possible?

"Of course, man," Moore said on ESPN's "Flight Deck" podcast. "That's the goal. I wouldn't change it. My mindset doesn't change. I stick with what I stick with. Obstacles are going to come and you have to know that, but I'm always going to overcome because I'm not going to stop."

10. The last word: "Zach is like that pup that has grown into his bark. He's that guy. He's a dog." -- running back Ty Johnson on Wilson's return to the lineup