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Mel Kiper thinks the Jets stick with Sam Darnold for one more year

The Jets are where the 2021 NFL Draft could get interesting. We break down what Mel Kiper has to say in his first mock draft of the year.

DeVonta Smith of the Alabama Crimson Tide pulls in a pass against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the College Football Playoff National Championship held at Hard Rock Stadium on January 11, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

The Jacksonville Jaguars are going to draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Any mock draft that suggests otherwise is just looking to either get some clicks or put in a thought exercise that has no bearing on reality. It’s the New York Jets with the No. 2 pick where the draft could get interesting.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper put together his first NFL mock daft of the 2021 offseason. After Lawrence, Kiper has four quarterbacks going in the first round. The group includes Zach Wilson at No. 4 to the Atlanta Falcons, Justin Fields at No. 7 to the Detroit Lions, Trey Lance at No. 8 to the Carolina Panthers, and Mac Jones at No. 15 to the New England Patriots.

Kiper considers a QB at No. 2 to the Jets, but decides against it for the time being. He acknowledges the questions around Sam Darnold and the Jets many options, up to and including a potential trade for DeShaun Watson. But Kiper thinks the Jets might give Darnold a one-year trial under new head coach Robert Saleh. Instead he has the Jets picking Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith to give Darnold a true No. 1 pass catching threat.

This is where the intrigue in the draft begins. Will the Jets stick with quarterback Sam Darnold for another year, or will they take either Zach Wilson or Justin Fields? (Or maybe even trade for Deshaun Watson?) The good news for general manager Joe Douglas and new coach Robert Saleh is that they have three months to figure it out. This is a huge decision, and Douglas and Saleh have to be 100% sure that Wilson or Fields is an upgrade over Darnold. My feeling right now is that yes, Darnold’s stats are ugly, but he’s only 23 and he has had no offensive talent around him for three years. Do the Jets really want to move on from him and watch him thrive elsewhere? That’s why they could give him a one-year audition under Saleh, pick the Heisman Trophy winner at No. 2, and give Darnold one more shot to put all of his talent together. Smith is the true No. 1 target that Darnold hasn’t had.

In his introductory press conference, Saleh talked about Darnold’s positive traits, but also said the team has not made a decision on if he will be their starter in 2021. The organization has time with free agency and trades still a month and a half away.

If they make a serious push for Watson, they would give up that No. 2 pick. But if they can’t get Watson and do want to keep Darnold, they have a lot of options. They could pick Smith or Penei Sewell for the offensive line, but they could also move back in the draft. With two first round picks, they have a lot of room to maneuver and dictate the draft board.