Brock Bowers  [608x342]
Brock Bowers [608x342] (Credit: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire)

Pick is in Pittsburgh to host NFL draft in 2026

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The fundamental draft question confronting the New York Jets is this: What does quarterback Aaron Rodgers need most, another playmaker or more protection?

Put another way: Is Georgia tight end Brock Bowers the missing player?

It's a fascinating quandary. A month ago, the idea of using the No. 10 pick on an offensive tackle seemed like a no-brainer, but that was before they added Tyron Smith and Morgan Moses.

Those moves opened up the draft board for general manager Joe Douglas, seemingly making Bowers (if he's still available) a real possibility when the Jets are on the clock come April 25 (8 p.m. ET on ESPN, ABC, ESPN+) in Detroit.

"Would he fit in well with Aaron Rodgers? Doggone right he would," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "To have him and [Garrett] Wilson and [Mike] Williams, all of a sudden you go from having questionable weapons to having a heck of a lot of them."

The consensus among ESPN's draft experts is that the Jets will take Bowers at 10, with Kiper being the latest to project Bowers as the pick with his most-recent mock draft Wednesday. 

That makes it sound like an easy decision, but it's really more nuanced than that. While Bowers is widely regarded as a top-10 prospect -- a rare three-time All-American -- it's unconventional to select a tight end that high.

In the previous 10 drafts, only nine tight ends were taken in the first round, including only three in the top 10: Kyle Pitts (No. 4, 2021, Atlanta Falcons), T.J. Hockenson (No. 8, 2019, Detroit Lions) and Eric Ebron (No. 10, 2014, Lions). Longtime Jets fans are scarred by first-round picks that didn't work out, namely Kyle Brady (1995) and Johnny Mitchell (1992).

On the flip side, it's a copy-cat league and everyone sees how much Travis Kelce has meant to the Kansas City Chiefs' success. Then again, can the Jets, plagued by offensive-line issues in recent years, take a pass on perhaps the second- or third-best lineman in a loaded class?

Let's examine the pros and cons of drafting Bowers:

The pros

A two-time national champion and the first two-time winner of the Mackey Award, Bowers is arguably the most decorated tight end in college history. In 2023, he led Power-5 tight ends with 71.4 receiving yards per game, sometimes dominating games with his yards-after-catch ability. His YAC was 8.82 yards per reception, greater than the draft's top three wide receivers. He was at his best on the biggest stages, averaging 83 receiving yards in seven conference championships and bowl games.

Bowers, speaking at the scouting combine in February, said it would be "pretty sweet" to catch passes from Rodgers. "He's one of the best of all-time to do it at quarterback, and it would be cool to learn under him and play under him and, hopefully, learn some stuff."

In 40 games, Bowers racked up 175 catches, 2,538 yards (14.5 per catch) and 26 receiving touchdowns, along with five rushing touchdowns. Yeah, that's right, he played running back, too, as well as slot receiver and wide receiver.

As Kiper said, "You can do anything you want with Brock Bowers. He's not a tight end. He's an offensive weapon."

Rodgers could use another one of those. He has one perimeter threat in Wilson, coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, but the offense tends to become stagnant when he's neutralized. The Jets were 2-6 when Wilson was held under 51 receiving yards.

Adding Williams could provide more balance in the passing attack, assuming he can be the player he was for the Los Angeles Chargers. There's an element of the unknown because he's still recovering from ACL surgery and probably will miss most of training camp. He's on a one-year contract, so you're talking about a short-term rental.

Current tight end Tyler Conklin was third on the team in receptions (61) and produced a career high in receiving yardage (621), but he's more of a possession receiver than a dynamic playmaker. He had no touchdowns; the Jets need players who can score the ball.

Bowers could be that guy, assuming the top three wide receivers are gone by the 10th pick.

A Conklin-Bowers tandem would allow them to use more "12" personnel -- one running back, two tight ends -- which could create favorable matchups. If opponents use their nickel package to defend Bowers, the Jets can counter by running Breece Hall against an undersized defense. They averaged only 4.9 yards per play in "12" personnel, below the league average (5.2), per Next Gen Stats.

This offseason is all about improving the offense. They finished 31st in total offense, marking the eighth consecutive time that they ranked 25th or worse. A healthy Rodgers, recovered from Achilles surgery, should be a big help. A revamped line, with three new starters, is bound to be better.

But another playmaker to complement Hall and Wilson would be optimal.

"Offense, offense," owner Woody Johnson said at the recent NFL meetings. "We're fully focused on it."

Bowers would fit the win-now narrative that has dominated the Jets' offseason.

The cons

Some might see Bowers as a luxury pick, especially given the tenuous situation on the offensive line.

While Smith and Moses can step in immediately at left and right tackle, respectively, their age (both 33) and contractual status (both free agents in 2025) are factors that must be considered. Smith also has a long injury history; he hasn't played a full season since 2015. Moses has been a durable player throughout his career, but he's coming off pectoral surgery.

And let's not forget about right guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, who had Achilles surgery last fall.

Chances are, the Jets will have to go to their bench at some point, which underscores the case for drafting a tackle. They don't seem to have an abundance of confidence in backup tackles Carter Warren and Max Mitchell, former draft picks. Imagine the negative fallout for Douglas & Co. if another season is doomed by poor offensive line depth.

With the 10th pick, they might have their choice of Penn State's Olumuyiwa Fashanu, Alabama's JC Latham and Oregon State's Taliese Fuaga, all highly-regarded tackles. They're all capable of pushing Moses for a starting job.

After a series of win-now moves, Douglas has to start thinking about the future, doesn't he?

"(Bowers) is a hell of a football player -- you want the kid on your team -- but with the 10th pick? Whoa!" one longtime NFC scout said. "If that was the missing piece that you need to get over the top, then you take him and don't look back. But are the Jets only one player away?"

A few questions about Bowers: At 6-foot-3, 243 pounds, he's undersized for a traditional tight end. His precise speed is a bit of a mystery. He didn't work out at the scouting combine and he didn't run at the Georgia pro day because of a hamstring injury. At his makeup pro day Wednesday, attended by Jets tight ends coach Ron Middleton, Bowers did positional drills, including route running, but wasn't timed during the session. Scouts estimate his speed in the 4.5 range, which is very good for his size.

The way he was used in college also might raise questions for some. Of his 175 receptions, 65 came behind the line of scrimmage, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

A big part of the Bulldogs' offense was to get him the ball on quick throws, allowing him to use his exceptional run-after-catch ability to make chunks of yardage. He made would-be tacklers look silly, but will that work in the NFL?

"I like catching the ball in the flat and making things happen," Bowers said. "That's fun to me."

When a team drafts a player this high, the objective is to make him part of the foundation, but recent history shows that first-round tight ends usually don't stick around.

In the last 10 drafts, only one of the nine first-round tight ends received a second contract from his original team: David Njoku, Cleveland Browns. Most of the better tight ends, most notably Kelce and George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers, were picked after the first round.

This shouldn't be a factor in the Jets' decision, but it's worth noting that Rodgers isn't a high-volume thrower to tight ends. With Rodgers as their starter from 2008 to 2022, the Green Bay Packers ranked 26th and 22nd in targets and receptions, respectively.

It's almost decision time for a front office that can't afford a mistake.

"I love our tight-end room," Douglas said, "but ... if there's a chance to add even more dynamic players, we're going to look at it."