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NFL insider says ‘feeling’ New York Jets spend top pick on offensive lineman, evaluating 2 best options

Matt Johnson

New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas heads into the 2022 NFL Draft needing to both help quarterback Zach Wilson and to build a defense head coach Robert Saleh can win with moving forward. One could be a much bigger priority than the other at the top of the draft.

New York is in an excellent position with a pair of top-10 picks. The question for Douglas and the front office becomes what they do with each selection. Thankfully, the 2022 draft class is deep at multiple positions that are among the Jets needs.

One thing Douglas would love to do is trade the 10th overall pick for a 2023 first-round pick and additional assets. While it’s a year out and things will change dramatically, the 2023 NFL Draft class is viewed more favorably than 2022 in terms of elite talent.

Related: 2022 New York Jets mock draft

While the No. 10 pick is on the block, New York plans to make a selection with the 4th overall selection and there seems to be an emerging target.

NFL insider Albert Breer shared that the feeling around the league is the Jets will use one of their top picks, likely the 4th overall selection, on an offensive lineman.

In Breer’s shortened draft projections, he has New York selecting Ikem Ekwonu out of NC State. Realistically, there are two players Douglas will likely consider

Evaluating New York Jets draft options on the offensive line

NCAA Football: Louisville at North Carolina State
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We’ll remove offensive tackle Charles Cross from consideration, focusing on Iken Ekwonu and Alabama offensive lineman Evan Neal. Both are projected top-five picks capable of playing multiple positions on the Jets’ line in 2022 and beyond.

Related: New York Jets ‘purgatory’ hurt cost them in free agency

Ikem Ekwonu, OL, NC State

Ekwonu, a 6-foot-4 tackle, dominated for the Wolfpack. He also received immense praise for his maturity and presence in the locker room, important qualities for the Jets’ organization. Pro Football Focus credited him with 18 big-time blocks, grading him as the best run-blocking tackle in the nation. Ekwonu has a wrestling background, giving him plenty of flexibility and a knowledge of how to use leverage. The moment he steps onto the field, Ekwonu can thrive as a run blocker either at left tackle or right tackle for the Jets,

There is room for him to improve in pass protection. As NFL.com Lance Zierlein notes, Ekwonu needs to become more consistent with his punches and how he uses his hands. He also showed shortcomings in maintaining cohesion with his hand and feet, resulting in lapses protecting the quarterback. With that said, the physical tools and character make him a starting-caliber player immediately and there’s Pro Bowl potential at either guard or tackle.

Evan Neal, OL, Alabama

If the New York Jets want to draft an offensive lineman who is more pro-ready in pass protection than Ekwonu, Neal seems like a logical fit. Alabama deployed him pretty much everywhere along the offensive line during this three-year stretch as a starter, but he spent the past two seasons at both tackle spots.

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The Crimson Tide’s team captain surrendered just 24 pressures (PFF) in his final two seasons for an offense that ramped up its passing attack. Keep in mind that he faced the best possible competition on a weekly basis by playing in the SEC. Neal moves extremely well for his size and the Alabama coaching staff helped him develop refined technique as a blocker. He’ll need help from NFL coaches with his balance and consistency is an issue, but those areas can be improved over time.

Ultimately, whichever selection the Jets make on the offensive line should be good news for Wilson. After spending his rookie season playing behind an offensive line that allowed 135 pressures and 103 hurries when he started, either Neal or Ekwonu will help Wilson.