New York Jets land CB Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner, WR Garrett Wilson, DE Jermaine Johnson in first round of 2022 NFL draft

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The highly speculated Deebo Samuel trade never materialized for the New York Jets, but they still became one of the biggest stories of the NFL draft by making three first-round picks Thursday.

With two top-10 picks — a franchise first in the common-draft era — the Jets selected Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner with the fourth pick in the first round and followed six picks later with Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson.

Later, the Jets traded up to select Florida State defensive end Jermaine Johnson II, widely projected as a top-10 pick. They stopped his fall at No. 26, dealing three draft picks to the Tennessee Titans. They sent second-, third- and fifth-round picks to Tennessee, receiving the 26th pick and a third rounder in return.

The three first rounders marked the Jets’ biggest draft since they made four first-round selections in 2000. The Wilson pick suggests the Jets have moved on from the idea of trading for Samuels, the disgruntled San Francisco 49ers wide receiver. They decided to keep their draft picks and build through the draft.

Gardner will join a revamped secondary that includes two free-agent additions, cornerback D.J. Reed and safety Jordan Whitehead. The secondary was a weakness last season, as the Jets finished 30th in pass defense and managed only two interceptions from the cornerback position.

With AFC East loaded with fast receivers, including the Miami Dolphins’ new addition Tyreek Hill, the Jets wanted to improve on the back end. They haven’t had a true shutdown corner since Darrelle Revis, a first-round pick in 2007. They made first-round investments in 2010 and 2013 with Kyle Wilson and Dee Milliner, respectively, but neither came close to reaching expectations.

“That’s the main thing I know — when I think about the Jets, I think about Darrelle Revis,” Gardner told reporters. “He used to be one of my favorite corners in the league. I still watch him to this day.”

Gardner brings a glittering resume to the Jets, an all-American who owns the uncanny distinction of never having allowed a touchdown pass in college. That covers three seasons and more than 1,000 snaps in coverage. He was so feared that he was targeted only twice per game last season. For his career, he finished with nine interceptions, 27 passes defensed and three sacks.

He also has unusual size (6-foot-3) and long arms (33½), traits that will help against bigger receivers. The one question surrounding Gardner is that he was primarily a press-man corner in college; the Jets run a zone-based defense. Gardner’s nickname will certainly make him popular among New York headline writers. He got the nickname “Sauce” from a youth coach at the age of 6. The original version was “A1 Sauce Sweet Feet Gardner” because of his affinity for fast-food dipping sauces.

Gardner became only the third former Cincinnati player to be picked in the first round in the common-draft era, joining defensive tackle Bob Bell (1971) and quarterback Greg Cook (1969). The Jets didn’t get Samuel, but Wilson provides plenty of potential — and a Wilson-to-Wilson connect, quarterback Zach and Garrett.

Known as a home-run threat at Ohio State, he averaged 15.1 yards per reception last season – 70 catches for 1,058 yards. Of his 12 touchdowns, six came on vertical routes, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The only knock is that he dropped six balls.

Wilson improved his draft stock with a torrid finish, recording six touchdowns and averaging 124 yards per game over his final three. He decided not to play in the Rose Bowl. He solidified his NFL standing with a strong scouting combine – 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

The selection of Wilson, picked with the draft pick the Jets acquired from the Seattle Seahawks for Jamal Adams, was applauded by Jets quarterback Zach Wilson.

Wilson tweeted: “What’s better than 1 Wilson? 2 Wilsons. Let’s gooooooooo!!!!!!!”

A shade under 6-feet tall, at 183 pounds, Garrett Wilson is somewhat slender for the position. He joins a receiving corps that is undersized except for Corey Davis (6-foot-3). The other receivers are Elijah Moore (5-foot-10) and Braxton Berrios (5-foot-9).

The Jets’ primary goal this offseason is to improve the talent around second-year quarterback Zach Wilson, who struggled as a rookie. Garrett Wilson becomes the marquee addition. In free agency, they signed tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin and guard Laken Tomlinson.

Hurt by a lack of explosive plays, the Jets finished 28th in scoring.

Johnson, coming off a 12-sack season at Florida State, fills the need for an edge rusher. The Jets had him rated highly and considered him with the 10th pick, sources said. Johnson, who began his career at junior college, went to Georgia and transferred to Florida State, where he played only one year.

But it was a huge year, as he was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year. He improved his stock at the Senior Bowl and continued his ascent at the combine, running the 40 in 4.58 seconds.

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