Mekhi Becton holds key to salvaging Jets’ 2020 NFL Draft Class

Joe Douglas is smart enough to know that things can go sideways quickly in the National Football League, especially for the New York Jets.

So, while he basks in the afterglow of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Jets general manager needs only to look back at his first draft class with the team to see how quickly things can change.

The Jets had nine picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. There’s a good chance that only five of those players will be on the roster this season, and just two — offensive tackle Mekhi Becton and punter Braden Mann — will be starters.

That’s sub-optimal.

Here’s a look at where each of those nine picks from the 2020 draft stand ahead of training camp in July.

2020 Jets NFL Draft Class

Mekhi Becton (OT, First Round, No. 11)

Becton is the single most important player the Jets selected in the 2020 NFL Draft and one of the most important heading into their training camp this summer. He was the one Jets pick in that draft with star potential. He’s a mammoth (6-foot-7, 365 pounds) and athletic offensive tackle, who wowed scouts at the combine and seemed destined to be the Jets’ left tackle for the next decade.

Becton had a very good rookie season in 2020, ranking 19th out of 38 qualified left tackles graded by Pro Football Focus (74.3). However, he had injury and weight issues, was unable to finish some games and missed two altogether. Then he had a rough training camp last summer, and his 2021 season lasted part of one game, when he sustained a dislocated kneecap in Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers. What was expected to be an absence of 4-8 weeks turned into Becton missing the rest of the season.

Coach Robert Saleh said recently that Becton is still rehabbing the injury but should be good to go for camp in July. If he continues to struggle to stay on the field and fails to become a stud on the line — there’s already talk of switching him to right tackle — then Douglas’ first draft class will be viewed as a disaster. But if last season was a blip in his progression as a pro and Becton is able to remain healthy and keep his weight under control, then it matters far less what those selected after him in 2020 do for the Jets.

Denzel Mims (WR, Second Round, No. 59)

The Jets knew Mims would be somewhat of a project because of the offense he played in at Baylor. But they believed his tremendous athleticism and ball skills would make him a first-year contributor and a second-round steal. He caught a disappointing 23 passes as a rookie and then was a complete non-factor last season with eight catches in 11 games.

Mims has been bested by injuries and bad luck. His 2021 season was sabotaged by a severe case of food poisoning and later he was sidelined because of COVID-19. But more concerning is how he fell out of favor so quickly with the new coaching staff last season. His work ethic is in question, though by all accounts he has had a monster offseason and is ready to make his mark in training camp.

Mims will have to really stand out to get on the field, though, since he’s fifth on the depth chart at wide receiver, behind 2022 first-round pick Garrett Wilson, veteran Corey Davis, skilled second-year pro Elijah Moore and Swiss army knife Braxton Berrios. This training camp and upcoming season are make or break for Mims, who has averaged 15.8 yards per catch in the NFL but has yet to score a touchdown.

Ashtyn Davis (S, Third Round, No. 68)

Davis has been inconsistent and battled injuries his first two seasons in the NFL. He likely was exposed by playing too much, though that on-field experience (23 starts) is invaluable in the long run. Davis is a tough and willing safety, but his tackling and ball skills are average at best.

Davis did improve as last season went on and had his first two interceptions in the NFL. He’s best suited as a backup, which is what he should be in 2022 with veteran Lamarcus Joyner healthy and Jordan Whitehead signed in the offseason.

Jabari Zuniga (DE, Third Round, No. 79)

Zuniga has made little impact in his first two NFL seasons. He played briefly in eight games as a rookie and three games in 2021. He has been sidelined by knee and quad injuries and missed time last season because of COVID-19. Zuniga did have a standout moment last season when he sacked Joe Burrow and forced a fumble in a 34-31 win against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 8.

But he’ll have quite the battle making the team this season after the Jets selected Jermaine Johnson and Micheal Clemons in the 2022 draft and with the return of veteran Carl Lawson, who missed all of 2021 with a torn Achilles tendon.

La’Mical Perrine (RB, Fourth Round, No. 120)

Like Zuniga, Perrine played his college ball at Florida, has yet to make a mark with the Jets and will be in a battle to maintain a roster spot this season. Perrine finds himself behind second-year pro Michael Carter, rookie Breece Hall and veterans Tevin Coleman and Ty Johnson on the depth chart.

What stands out here is that the Jets drafted Carter and Hall in successive years after selecting Perrine, clearly seeking an upgrade. Perrine rushed for 232 yards and two touchdowns on 64 carries and caught 11 passes as a rookie, but only played four games last season, picking up 31 yards on eight carries. Even if he makes the team, Perrine is going to spend most of his time watching Carter and Hall get the bulk of the work in the backfield.

James Morgan (QB, Fourth Round, No. 125)

This pick never made sense. With so many holes on the roster, third-string quarterback was not a priority. Morgan never played a game for the Jets and was cut at the end of training camp last season.

Cameron Clark (OT, Fourth Round, No. 129)

Clark retired in February after sustaining a spinal cord injury last training camp. He never played a game in the NFL.

Bryce Hall (CB, Fifth Round, No. 158)

This was an excellent value pick. Hall started 24 games his first two seasons, including all 17 in 2021. He was often exposed as a rookie but improved greatly last season when he had a 63.3 grade, per Pro Football Focus. He will provide the Jets excellent depth at the cornerback position this season following the additions of Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, the No. 4 pick in the 2022 draft, and former Seattle Seahawks corner DJ Reed.

Braden Mann (P, Sixth Round, No. 191)

No player from the 2020 draft has played more games for the Jets than Mann (26). As a rookie he led the NFL with 82 punts and averaged 43.9 yards per point. Last season, Mann missed seven games because of injury and averaged 45.7 yards per point. He also had 20 touchbacks on 22 kickoffs in 2021. This was another solid late-round pick by the Jets.

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