Mel Kiper thinks Jets should stick with Darnold, draft an O lineman instead of Justin Fields

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By , RADIO.COM

Gang Green had ONE job—to tank for Trevor Lawrence. But because the hopelessly inept Jets couldn’t even complete that seemingly menial task (around Week 15, some brainiac by the name of Adam Gase had the bright idea to, I don’t know, GO ON A WINNING STREAK when they were three losses away from securing the most sought-after quarterback prospect in ages), New York must forge a new Lawrence-less path. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, who starred with six touchdowns in the Buckeyes’ recent Sugar Bowl rout of Clemson, would seem to be a strong alternative to Lawrence, though the Jets, proud owners of the No. 2 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, still have three months to plot their attack.

Once New York settles on a new coach (Gase was rightfully thrown to the wolves after Week 17), the Jets can then address quarterback, determining whether to stay the course with Sam Darnold by exercising his fifth-year option or turning their focus to an up-and-comer like Fields. Three years into his New York tenure, it’s hard to tell if Darnold—still just 23—meets the criteria of a future franchise quarterback. He’s never had a particularly strong supporting cast or a coaching staff with any semblance of continuity. However, his inability to take the next step, displaying frustratingly little progress in his three seasons atop the Jets’ QB depth chart, is concerning.

So what would Mel Kiper do if he were in the Jets’ shoes? The draft expert weighed in Tuesday during his appearance on ESPN’s Get Up. “I would not take Justin Fields at two if I’m the Jets,” Kiper told host Mike Greenberg. “I’ll either trade down or take the offensive tackle and move forward with Sam Darnold.”

Here, Kiper is alluding to Oregon tackle Penei Sewell, who many anticipate will be the first lineman selected in April’s draft. New York went the tackle route last year as well, landing Louisville standout Mekhi Becton 11th overall. Kiper feels solidifying the O line with Sewell should be a bigger priority for the Jets than reaching on a quarterback who, in his estimation, isn’t as strong a prospect as Darnold was when he entered the draft three years ago. “His rating will be higher than Justin Fields’ rating,” said Kiper, who thought highly of Darnold coming out of USC. “You know Sam Darnold, he knows them. He’s shown promise. He needs the right coach. He needs, obviously, the right people around him. But I would move forward with Sam Darnold.”

At the end of the day, it only matters what scouts and GM Joe Douglas think, though as one of the most respected and well-known draft evaluators in the industry, Kiper’s opinion on New York’s looming quarterback conundrum still carries significant weight.

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