The 2017 NFL draft is in the books and it was chalk full of trades and surprises. Three teams traded up in the top 12 to land quarterbacks, including the Chicago Bears who somehow thought it was a good idea to give up two third round picks and a fourth rounder for a guy who started 13 games at the collegiate level and couldn’t even beat out Marquise Williams for the starting QB job at North Carolina.
As for the Jets, for those of you who were screaming at the top of your lungs that GM Mike Maccagnan should trade down and accumulate more picks, congratulations, you got your wish. Maccagnan traded out of his spot a mind-numbing FIVE times during the 2017 draft, including one deal that yielded him a pick in the 2018 draft.
All in all, the Jets GM selected nine players between Thursday and Saturday, giving him two more picks than the seven he entered the draft with. The value of trading down is that it gives you an opportunity to take fliers on additional players and – in theory, at least – affords you a greater margin of error because the more players you pick, the less you are dependent on each individual one of them to make an impact.
Think of it along the lines diversifying your portfolio with multiple stocks and bonds rather than just one. If you invest in one stock and it tanks, you’re screwed. But if you invest a little bit in a bunch of different stocks, you are in a better position to weather the storm if any one individual stock gets crushed.
Of course, in order for this strategy to be effective, you still need to come away with a handful of productive players. And that begs the obvious question: just how good were Maccagnan’s picks?
The “experts” seem to vary in their assessments. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr gave them a B+. They received a C+ from CBS’s Pete Prisco. Walterfootball’s Walter Cheripinsky loved the picks and gave them an A. NFL’s Chad Reuter was less impressed and had them at a B.
As for me, I generally liked what Maccagnan did as far as strategy and the actual picks themselves. This was one of the worst rosters in the NFL going into Thursday night and they were desperate for an infusion of talent and virtually every position other than interior defensive line. The Jets GM’s strategy appeared to be that if there was a player available that he thought could be a real difference maker, he would stand pat and pick him, but otherwise, he would trade down and acquire more bodies.
Some questioned the wisdom of selecting two safeties – LSU’s Jamal Adams and Florida’s Marcus Maye – with the team’s first two picks, but I was fine with it because both players should be strong pros and the team needed two new starting safeties, anyway (Gilchrist is hurt and isn’t any good when he plays and Pryor is at best a backup at this point).
WR ArDarius Stewart drew some groans when he was selected in the third round and even more dissatisfaction came a round later when the Jets drafted Cal WR Chad Hansen, with the thinking being that the Jets already have a lot of receivers and there are so many other holes to fill.
I understand the criticism, but other than Eric Decker – who is likely to be cut – the Jets list of wide receivers that have actually proven anything the NFL consists of Quincy Enunwa and…..well, yeah, pretty much just Quincy Enunwa.
Robby Anderson, Charone Peak, and Jalin Marshall all showed some flashes last year but none of them have proven they can be anything approaching a starter in the NFL yet and Quinton Patton is nothing more than a depth player. Not to mention former second round pick Devin Smith – whose career is likely over after a second ACL tear – is gone for the season again.
So I’m fine with Maccagnan using two picks reasonably early on receivers, because this team needs help at literally every position on the field and that means picking whoever the best players available are.
Stewart is a tough kid who can make plays and should be able to help out in special teams right away, while Hansen was an absolute beast at Cal (I personally watched him singlehandedly destroy my Texas Longhorns with 12 catches for 196 yards and 2 TD, including the game winner in the 4th quarter) and drew comparisons to a young Eric Decker from Mel Kiper.
Works for me.
As for the rest of the picks? Clemson’s Jordan Leggett could be the next Dustin Keller – a big, athletic, talented pass catching tight end who can’t block to save his life – while Dylan Donahue, Jeremy Clark, Derrick Jones, and Elijah McGuire are each flawed in different ways but all have a chance to end up being useful NFL players.
Ultimately, that’s usually the best you can say about guys who are picked in the late rounds: that they are flawed but could be useful. In general, you can put a player who was drafted on day three into one of the following five categories:
- The player produced in college and seems to have good football instincts and character, but lacks “next level” athleticism (speed, size, strength). Recent examples of successful day three picks who fit into this category: Kirk Cousins and Devonta Freeman.
- The player is an excellent athlete but is a project either because he is raw due to a lack of football experience/late position switch, has major flaws in fundamentals and technique, seems unmotivated, or hasn’t played in a pro style system. Recent examples of successful day three picks who fit into this category: Dak Prescott and Martavis Bryant.
- The player has major injury/durability concerns. Recent examples of successful day three picks who fit into this category: Jordan Howard and Jay Ajayi.
- The player went to a small school so they are either not well known or there is question about the level of competition he faced in college. Recent examples of successful day three picks who fit into this category: Josh Norman and Justin Bethel.
- The player has major off the field concerns. Recent examples of successful day three picks who fit into this category: Tyreek Hill and Kenny Stills.
Whether or not any of the players Maccagnan just drafted – especially the ones on day three – will ever be as good as any of the players listed above is anybody’s guess at this point.
Sure, it is a lot of fun giving out post-draft grades, analyzing the picks, and saying who came away a much stronger team on paper. But unfortunately, games are not played on paper.
The draft pundits, the scouts, the media, the fan sites…all of them can think the players the team got are great or they can think they are terrible. However, the truth is, nobody really knows how these players will perform once they put on an NFL jersey.
Obviously, some people have more expertise than others and there are those with fairly good track records with this kind of stuff. Still, though, even the so-called best analysts can end up being very wrong.
Some decision makers like Green Bay’s Ted Thompson, New England’s Bill Belichick, Baltimore’s Ozzie Newsome, and Seattle’s John Schneider have been right enough times and built such successful teams that they have the luxury of missing now and then and being able to live to tell about it.
At this point, Maccagnan has no such luxury.
The former Director of College Scouting for the Houston Texans had a 25 year scouting career before he took the Jets GM job in 2015. The Jets are in the unenviable position they are in right now precisely because they have done such a poor job of utilizing the vast majority of their draft capital over the better part of the past decade, and Maccagnan was sold to the fanbase as a guy who could fix that. Maccagnan was a football man – rather than a numbers guy like previous GM John Idzik – and it was said that he had a keen eye for talent. Maccagnan insisted repeatedly that he could succeed where so many past Jets GMs had failed, by routinely finding good players in the draft to build the team into a consistent winner.
So far, though, his record in that regard – at least as it pertains to his tenure as Jets GM – has been fairly questionable.
In 2015, the team drafted Leonard Williams, Devin Smith, Lorenzo Mauldin, Bryce Petty, Jarvis Harrison, and Deon Simon. Williams, who many believed was the best player in the 2015 draft, unexpectedly fell to the Jets at #6 overall and he has been terrific, already appearing in a Pro Bowl. The rest? Injuries have robbed Smith of any chance he may have had to be good, Mauldin has been OK as a spot starter, Petty has been awful, Harrison was cut, and Simon showed some promise last year in his second season.
In 2016, the team drafted Darron Lee, Christian Hackenberg, Jordan Jenkins, Juston Burris, Brandon Shell, Lachlan Edwards, and Charone Peak. Lee had his moments but was spotty at best as a rookie, Hackenberg was wrapped in bubble wrap all year and I’m still not sure he really exists, Jenkins had injury issues but played reasonably well when healthy, Burris and Shell both showed potential and both will compete for starting jobs in 2017, Peake flashed some ability when he played, and Edwards was downright awful.
If you’re keeping track, that’s one excellent player, one decent player, and one question mark with upside in 2015 to go with one terrible player and six question marks with upside in 2016.
If Maccagnan is going to keep his job – let alone his vow to build a successful team through the draft – a whole lot of those question marks with upside are going to have to pay dividends, and quickly.
Furthermore, the 2017 class is going to have to produce some quality players as well, or the Jets’ future – as it has so many times before – is going to start to look very bleak.
As I previously noted, Maccagnan was specifically hired because he was different from the man he replaced, John Idzik, who was known more for his business acumen than his player evaluation abilities. Meanwhile, Idzik was brought in because he was seen as the adult in the room who would get things under control, after his predecessor, Mike Tannenbaum, had been a little too much of a riverboat gambler. Meanwhile, Tannenbaum had gotten the job after the Jets relieved Terry Bradway of his duties, because Bradway was thought to have badly mismanaged the team’s affairs and Tannenbaum was known for his negotiating skills.
Somehow Bradway was kept on for nearly another decade as the head of scouting, which is still one of the most bizarre front office decisions I’ve ever seen, but that’s another topic for another time.
We’ve seen this with coaches, too.
Herm Edwards was hired because the team was looking for a fiery personality who could motivate the players after hard-nosed Al Groh, who was incredibly unpopular with the players, ran off to be the head football coach at the University of Virgina. Edwards eventually ran off to Kansas City and he was replaced by disciplinarian Eric Mangini after it was claimed that Edwards had been too chummy with the players. Mangini was eventually fired and replaced with Rex Ryan, who was the life of the party and would help motivate players, unlike Mangini, who was said to have been too strict and dull. Then Rex Ryan was fired because he had supposedly been too friendly and failed to hold players and coaches accountable, so Todd Bowles was hired to get tough and take back control of the locker room.
In the end, the success or failure of the nine players the Jets drafted over the past few days will likely go a long way towards determining not only the Jets’ immediate future, but the immediate futures of both Maccagnan and Bowles. If they succeed, there’s a good chance both men will receive extensions. But if they fail, don’t be surprised if the Jets are in the market for a fun-loving players’ coach and a general manager with an MBA.
After all, Jets fans have seen this movie many times before, and by now, we are all very familiar with how it ends.
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