Robert Saleh can rebuild the NY Jets into a winner

Robert Saleh is, as far as we know, the NFL’s first and only Muslim head coach. The 43-year-old from from Dearborn, Mich. — the city with the largest Muslim population per capita in the United States — rose through the coaching ranks as a defensive assistant on the college and pro level before he was hired to lead the New York Jets in 2021.

In his first campaign with the forever-struggling franchise, Saleh went 4-13 and the Jets (again) finished at the bottom of the AFC East division.

No one should have expected a drastic turnaround in Year 1 of the Saleh era, but the season was disappointing nonetheless. The Jets had the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 draft and took quarterback Zach Wilson. While other rookie QBs like Mac Jones, Trevor Lawrence and Davis Mills had some level of success, Wilson had a tough year; he threw more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (9), and went 3-10 in his 13 starts. Still, the Jets appear committed to building around the young signal caller for the future.

In this past weekend’s NFL draft, Saleh was able to add some more potential building blocks to the Jets’ foundation and take another step toward the goal of getting the team back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 season.

With the No. 4 overall pick, New York took Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, the top-ranked defensive back in a lot of 2022 draft previews. Gardner was a consensus All-America selection and AAC Defensive Player of the Year last season, helping the Bearcats make a surprise run to the College Football Playoff as one of the four best teams in the country. Gardner did not allow a touchdown in coverage in his entire career at Cincinnati and should bolster a Jets defense that ranked last place (32nd out of 32 teams) in the NFL last season in points and yards allowed.

With the No. 10 pick, Saleh’s Jets addressed the offensive side of the ball by taking Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson. The first team All-Big Ten selection caught 70 passes for 1,058 yards and 12 touchdowns last season while sharing pass-catching duties with fellow first-round pick Chris Olave (picked 11th by New Orleans). In a loaded wide receiver class, Wilson was the second one chosen, two spots after USC’s Drake London went to the Falcons.

With their third pick in the first round, the Jets took Florida State defensive end Jermaine Johnson II at No. 26 overall. Last season’s ACC Defensive Player of the Year had 12 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. No one on the Jets last season had more than six sacks, and among their outside edge rushers, none had more than two sacks.

In the second round, the Jets used pick No. 36 on Iowa State running back Breece Hall, widely considered the top running back in the draft. Hall was a two-time All-America and two-time Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. He rushed for 1,472 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. In another era, Hall would’ve been a surefire first-round pick, probably a top 10 overall pick, but running backs don’t have the draft value in today’s NFL that they once had. The Jets had to address their running game, which ranked 27th in the NFL in yardage last season and 32nd in attempts.

In the third round, with the 101st pick, the Jets took Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert, a college teammate of Garrett Wilson. Ruckert didn’t put up big receiving numbers, even in the Buckeyes’ high-powered passing attack, but he’s viewed more as a blocking tight end on the pro level.

In the fourth round, the Jets used the 111th pick on Louisiana offensive tackle Max Mitchell. The 6-foot-6, 307-pounder has experience playing right tackle and left tackle, and NFL teams always covet versatile linemen. Mitchell was a third team All-America choice last season.

With their final pick in the draft, No. 117 in the fourth round, the Jets took Texas A&M defensive end Michael Clemons. Some injury issues and a suspension last season following an arrest on drug and weapons charges hurt Clemons’ draft stock, but the talented pass rusher produced on the field for the Aggies. He had seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss last season and adds depth to the Jets’ defensive front.

Overall, Saleh’s second draft with the Jets has been deemed a success — until on-field results paint a clearer picture. Legendary draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN gave the Jets an “A” for their draft haul, as did Chad Reuter of NFL.com, and Doug Farrar and Mark Schofield of USA Today. Jordan Dajani of CBS Sports listed the Jets as the first “Winner” in his draft winners-and-losers recap.

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