Safety was the New York Jets’ top priority early in the NFL draft.
After taking LSU’s Jamal Adams at No. 6 overall Thursday night, the Jets surprisingly selected Florida’s Marcus Maye with their second-round pick Friday night.
Coming off a 5-11 season and in what appears to be a rebuilding mode, New York entered the draft with plenty of needs. Safety was one of them — and the Jets decided to double up at the position with their first two picks.
“It’s not even fair that we’re together,” Adams wrote to Maye on Twitter . “Let’s ride bro, welcome home!”
New York traded down twice in the third round, first sending the No. 70 pick to Minnesota for the Vikings’ third-rounder (No. 79) — taking Alabama wide receiver ArDarius Stewart in that spot — and a fifth-rounder (No. 160). The Jets also dealt the final pick of the draft’s third round to Tampa Bay for the Buccaneers’ fourth-rounder (No. 125) and sixth-rounder (No. 204).
Adams and Maye give the Jets two hard-hitting playmakers in their defensive backfield, instantly improving a secondary that struggled with giving up big plays last season.
“I feel like we’ll do great,” Maye said during a conference call. “He’s a competitor, he’s a great ballplayer. He has a lot of talent and being out there with a guy like that, he’s just going to make you great as well.”
That’s what the Jets are hoping for, especially after forgoing other needs — cornerback, tight end, linebacker — to take another safety.
“There were some other players around him,” general manager Mike Maccagnan said of Maye’s spot on the Jets’ draft board when they picked. “But we felt there was a bit of separation between him and the other players around him. We felt very good about this player.”
Even Maye acknowledged that he was surprised “a little bit” that New York drafted him.
“I was just waiting for that call, and it was the Jets,” Maye said. “To say that they picked (Adams) and I, I feel like we can do great together.”
The picks make the futures of both Calvin Pryor and Marcus Gilchrist a bit murky. Pryor was the Jets’ first-rounder in 2014, but has dealt with injuries and inconsistency. Maccagnan, who recently declined to say as to whether the team would exercise the fifth-year option on Pryor, wouldn’t dismiss the idea Friday night of the veteran safety remaining with the Jets through this season.
Gilchrist, recognized as one of the team’s defensive leaders, is coming off a serious knee injury and Maccagnan acknowledged that he “definitely” will start training camp on the physically unable to perform list.
With backups Rontez Miles, Ronald Martin and Doug Middleton the only other safeties on the roster, Adams and Maye could have an opportunity to make an immediate impact.
“I feel I can play both safety spots,” Maye said. “I played in the slot, played a ton of special team all my years there (at Florida). I feel like I can do a lot on the field.”
Maye, who had five interceptions during his career with the Gators, had last season cut short after nine games because he broke his left arm against South Carolina. He said he’s fully healed from that ailment and doesn’t anticipate being limited in workouts this offseason.
“Yeah, everything is clear,” he said. “I’ll be ready to go.”
Stewart, a 5-foot-11, 204-pound speedster, had 129 catches for 1,552 yards and 12 TDs in three seasons with the Crimson Tide. He adds to a Jets receiving corps that includes veterans Eric Decker and Quincy Enunwa, along with youngsters Robby Anderson, Charone Peake and Jalin Marshall — all entering their second year. Stewart could also help in the return game for New York.
“I’m bringing a load of awesomeness,” Stewart said during a conference call. “That’s all I can tell you.”
Despite his short stature, Stewart made a name for himself as a physical player who isn’t afraid to block.
“When I’m out on the field, it feels like I’m 6-7, man,” Stewart said. “I don’t worry about that. It’s not the size of the dog, it’s the size of the bite in the dog.”
After the trades on Day 2 of the draft, the Jets had six picks scheduled for Saturday: a fourth-rounder, two fifth-rounders, two sixth-rounders and a seventh-rounder.