The 2017 NFL draft is now two weeks away and that means it is time for part two of New York Jets draft day memories. Last week, we reviewed 1983-1994, so we pick things up with 1995, a draft that provided some incredible drama. Again, I encourage you to share all of your Jets draft day memories in the comments and in Joe’s twitter timeline.
1995 – This was the first year I attended the draft live and I remember spending the night before listening to draft talk on WFAN with my best friend Will. I tried to sleep but I couldn’t; it was as if I was a child on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa to come, except in this case, Santa was NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
I slept for maybe an hour or two before the alarm went off at 4AM. My father, Will, and I hopped the LIRR and took is straight to Penn Station, which was right next to the Theatre at MSG where the draft was happening.
We got our bracelets for admission and then waited in line for what seemed like forever. At one point, my father left the line to get us all bacon egg and cheese biscuits at McDonalds, which calmed all of us down, because it is impossible not to be happy when you are eating a bacon egg and cheese biscuit.
Heading into the draft that day, the big news that had broken was the fact that Warren Sapp – a superstar defensive lineman from the University of Miami who was expected to go in the top five – had reportedly tested positive for marijuana multiple times, and as a result, there was talk he may slide down the draft board. The Jets were picking 9th overall, and whereas it once seemed the probability of them getting Sapp was all but non-existent barring a trade-up, all of the sudden the question became whether or not he could potentially fall right into their lap.
Unexpectedly landing Sapp would fill one of the team’s biggest needs, as they hadn’t had a dominant pass rusher since Mark Gastineau and the “New York Sack Exchange” terrorized quarterbacks in the 1980s.
The other major hole on the team was at wide receiver, which became an even bigger need after the Jets shipped WR Rob Moore – their only pro bowler in 1994 – to the Arizona Cardinals for the 16th overall pick in the draft and running back Ron Moore, who had rushed for over 1,000 yards as a rookie in 1993 and north of 800 yards in 1994. This would mark the second time in three years that the Jets had made a big trade with the Cardinals, with the other being the pick swap in the 1993 draft that yielded the Cardinals RB Garrison Hearst while sending LB Marvin Jones and RB Johnny Johnson to the Jets.
There were three receivers projected to go in the top ten in 1995: Michael Westbrook (a big bodied playmaker from the University of Colorado), Joey Galloway (a small, but lightning fast and electric offensive weapon out of Ohio State), and J.J. Stokes (a guy not known for speed, but a tremendous route runner with excellent size and great hands). It was thought that at least one of those three would likely be available when the Jets picked at #9.
Standing in line outside for so long, naturally, we started talking to other football fans about the draft, including two Eagles fans who had driven up from Philadelphia to attend the day’s proceedings. The Jets had just hired Rich Kotite as their head coach after he had been fired by the Philadelphia Eagles, so I asked the two Eagles fans what they thought of him.
“Yeah, good luck with Richie,” one of the guys said with a chuckle. When I pointed out that he had a winning record in four seasons as Eagles head coach (36-28), and even managed to win a wild card playoff game in 1992, the other guy responded, “They won in spite of him because Buddy Ryan left him great players. He is clueless and actually said an 8-8 season was great the year after we won that wild card playoff game. I did a dance when they canned his ass.”
I’ll admit, I was a little worried hearing that, but I was still optimistic since the Jets had two picks in the top 16.
Eventually, the draft started and the Jets sat tight as they let the process unfold. When pick #9 came up, it seemed as though the football Gods had handed the Jets a gift. The marijuana rumors had indeed kept Sapp from being picked before the Jets, and while both Westbrook and Galloway were off the board, Stokes was still sitting there, ripe for the taking.
So the choice the Jets had was a tough one: fill their biggest need with a highly regarded WR, or take the dominant defensive lineman who could potentially destroy opposing QBs for the next decade.
While the Jets needed to mull over their decision, the crowd did not, starting loud chants of “WE WANT SAPP!!!!!” that shook the Theatre at MSG from end to end. The chips had fallen in exactly the right way for the Jets to land the superstar pass rusher that had eluded them for nearly a decade.
The tension continued to mount as Tagliabue approached the stage with the Jets’ selection while the fans relentlessly screamed for the University of Miami defensive tackle.
“With the 9th pick in the 1995 NFL draft, the New York Jets select……..”
At this point, my heart was beating through my chest while we all waited to hear if it would be Sapp or Stokes.
“Tight End, Penn State, Kyle Brady.”
Suddenly, the crowd went dead silent. As the old saying goes, you could hear a rat piss on cotton. But that only lasted for a second or two before that silence turned into thunderous booing.
The Jets fans in attendance – yours truly included – simply could not get their heads around how the team could pass on two studs at positions of dire need for a tight end.
Granted, Brady was an excellent player at Penn State, and many believed he would be a terrific pro.
But the Jets had just franchise tagged their existing tight end, Johnny Mitchell, and there had been not one, but two potential franchise players at their biggest areas of need just staring them right in the face.
I was shellshocked and so was everybody else. Kyle Brady was one of the players in attendance that day and as he took pictures with a Jets jersey and walked up the ramp past the crowd, he was booed, which was more about sending a message to Kotite and the Jets’ decision makers and Brady – who was just a young football player looking to live out his dream playing in the NFL – simply wound up caught in the crossfire.
We had all been given earphones to listen to the ESPN broadcast since we were inside the theater and would not have otherwise been able to hear what was going on, and we all eagerly anticipated Kotite’s explanation for the pick.
When Kotite finally appeared on ESPN and said that a big part of the reason for selecting Brady despite the presence of Mitchell was that having two tight ends was important, I was absolutely stunned and appalled.
“Two tight ends is really important, eh?” a Giants fan seated in front of me mockingly asked. “Kid, it’s gonna be a long year for you.”
Thanks to Rich Kotite, it WAS an unbelievably long year. Actually, an unbelievably long TWO years.
But we’ll get back to that.
The Jets regrouped in time for the 16th pick, selecting Central State Ohio pass rusher Hugh Douglas. Douglas had rapidly risen up the draft board following a dominant performance at the Senior Bowl, with draft guru and former scout Dave Te Thomas comparing him to Buffalo Bills hall of famer Bruce Smith. Urban legend has it that then Jets personnel director Dick Haley literally begged for the team to draft Douglas.
In the second round, the Jets traded up to #33 (the first pick in the round) to select Northwestern guard Matt O’Dwyer, who never made any pro bowls, but wound up having a respectable 10 year career with the Jets, Bengals, and Buccaneers.
O’Dwyer was just a side note, however, as the main story coming out of the draft was the Jets choosing Brady over Sapp and Stokes.
After getting off to a very slow start his first few seasons, Brady never really lived up to being picked ninth overall, but he did turn into a reliable NFL tight end, playing the bulk of his thirteen year career with the Jets and Jaguars. He caught a career high 64 passes in 2000 and finished his career as a part of the 2007 Patriots team that nearly went undefeated before losing to the Giants in the Superbowl.
Funny story about that, by the way: That Patriots team was coached by Bill Belichick, who was the head coach of the Cleveland Browns during the 1995 draft and desperately wanted to draft Brady at #10 overall (the Browns had even reportedly called Penn State and asked for Brady’s shoe and helmet sizes before the draft). When the Jets snagged Brady one pick before him, the Browns were so stunned that they traded down all the way to #30 with the San Francisco 49ers (who picked J.J. Stokes) in a deal that included San Francisco’s 1996 first round pick.
The Ravens would go on to use that pick on some linebacker named Ray Lewis.
As for Stokes, for whom the 49ers moved mountains to acquire after the Jets passed on him, he was selected to be the heir apparent to the great Jerry Rice but was never quite able to reach that level. Unfortunately for the 49ers, while he turned out to be a solid NFL receiver over the course of his eight seasons with the team, he never even came close to replacing Rice.
The 49ers would have to wait another year for that guy to show up in the form of a brash-talking third round pick out of UT-Chattanooga.
Warren Sapp ended up being picked 12th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who traded down from #7 rather than pick him, but were not about to let him slip through their fingers when presented with a second chance to select him. That was probably a good call since he went on to play in five pro bowls, win the 1999 defensive player of the year award, and capture a Superbowl championship en route to 96.5 career sacks and a spot in the pro football hall of fame.
But as good as Sapp was, after 1995, it looked as though Jets fans might forget him fairly quickly. That was because Hugh Douglas had 10 sacks in his rookie season, winning the defensive rookie of the year award and drawing comparisons to Mark Gastineau. Douglas was limited to 10 games in 1996 due to injury but still managed to compile eight sacks.
The sky seemed to be the limit for the former Central State Ohio star until Bill Parcells came to town and instituted a defensive system that did not utilize Douglas’ strengths. He had a mere four sacks in 1997 before Parcells shipped him to Philadelphia for a 1998 second round pick that would be used on Washington State DE Dorian Boose, who did not pan out.
Douglas was completely reinvigorated with the Eagles, bouncing back with a 12.5 sack season in 1998 before putting together three straight pro bowl seasons in 200, 2001, and 2002, and playing on the 2004 Philadelphia team that nearly defeated the New England Patriots in the Superbowl.
To this day, I still strongly believe that Bill Parcells’ inability to find a way to utilize Douglas’ strengths was one of the biggest failures in an otherwise fantastic career as a head coach.
That’s installment #2……I hope you enjoyed it and once again, I encourage you to share some of your favorite Jets memories in the comments section and one Joe’s twitter timeline. Over the next two weeks leading up to the draft, there will have multiple new installments beginning with 1996 and the story of what the Jets did when handed the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft for the first time in franchise history.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com