New York Jets – Grading the 2015 Draft Class

Michael Nania grades Mike Maccagnan’s 2015 draft class, three years later…

Oftentimes, we say that a draft class deserves three years of playing time and development before it can be truly judged. As Mike Maccagnan gets set for his fourth offseason as the Jets’ General Manager, his inaugural 2015 draft class is about to hit its third birthday. With three full seasons of football in the books for that group of six, let’s take a look at how they have performed, and compare that performance level to the expectations for the class following the 2015 draft.

Reception

Here is a May 2015 article from the New York Jets website collecting some expert grades from around the Internet. A great portion of them gave the rookie GM an “A.” The most common praise was for grabbing the perceived best player in the draft in Leonard Williams, as well as some lauding for getting an instant contributor in Devin Smith, a scheme fit in Lorenzo Mauldin, and a potential QB of the future in Bryce Petty.

Here are some expert quotes on the Jets 2015 class.

Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) – “Overall I thought they did a really fantastic job.  Mike Maccagnan – his first year as general manager – really knocked it out of the ballpark.”

Mel Kiper (ESPN) – “The new leadership in the Jets front office had a great draft. Forget about need, when you get the best overall player in the draft (at least on my board) at No. 6 overall, you’ve done really well on value.”

Mark Maske (Washington Post) – “They got WR Devin Smith early in the second round. He should step right in and help. The Jets traded down in the third round and ended up with solid LB Lorenzo Mauldin. A badly needed prospective quarterback of the future arrived in the fourth round with the selection of Bryce Petty.”

Wow! Mike Maccagnan must be some kind of prophet to collect that much value as a rookie GM with only six picks. I wonder how this prodigious group has turned out.

R1, #6 overall – Leonard Williams – B

Almost any piece of writing you consume that concerns the 2015 Jets draft class will laud them for bypassing need and selecting the draft’s best overall player in Leonard Williams. It’s this perception that has led many to sour on this selection years later, but with the way things have turned out for the Jets, this actually became a need-filler down the line. Damon Harrison ran across the MetLife field to the other locker room. Sheldon Richardson declined and was shipped out. Muhammad Wilkerson put on an invisibility cloak. Yet, the Jets defensive line has remained one of the team’s few strengths, almost solely because of Williams. This has turned out to be a need-filling pick, which nobody would have thought when the selection was made. Unless you are in dire need of a quarterback, bypassing overall talent for need is relatively short-sighted, so in that sense Williams has worked out as both a talented, productive starter and a hole-plugger.

Now, has Williams been the best player in that draft class? Definitely not, but I think you’re underselling Leo if you think he’s miles away from deserving that moniker. Pro Football Reference tracks Approximate Value – “AV” – designed to assign a single number to represent a player’s value. It’s far from an exact science, but gives us a quick reference to get a general view of player production. Williams has accumulated 26 AV in his three years – tied for 5th best among the draft class (behind Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Todd Gurley, and Marcus Peters – tied with Brandon Scherff).

Looking at other picks that were seen as plausible for the Jets in that spot, such as Vic Beasley and Kevin White, I think this is a pick fans should appreciate instead of knocking for not winning a DPOY; though he is probably closer to that level than average.

R2, #37 – Devin Smith – F

Smith had a poor rookie season, looking lost at times and posting incompetent efficiency levels – but it was one year. In year two, he had only posted 1 reception in 4 games, in addition to a costly kick return fumble in a loss to the Bills.

Unfortunately, injuries have dominated his career, and he hasn’t gotten a chance at redemption or progression. It’s always tough to blame a GM when one of their picks becomes mired by injuries, but when it’s all said and done, owners are paying front office people to acquire positive production. None of that to be found here.

R3, #82 – Lorenzo Mauldin – D

Mauldin had a promising rookie year in which he posted 4.0 sacks in a limited role, priming some to think he could burst out in an extended role.

That didn’t happen. Despite seeing his defensive snaps per game rate increase from 16.9 in 2015 to 32.1 in 2016, Mauldin’s sack total decreased to 2.5.

After an offseason that featured an off-field incident, Mauldin missed all of 2017 due to injury. Already set to turn 26 during this season, Mauldin isn’t exactly a raw pup anymore. With limited production and development under his belt and the Jets figuring to make a big move on the edge this offseason, this seems like another wasted top-half selection.

R4, #103 – Bryce Petty – D

Bryce Petty has played like an F-, but I give him points for showing enough on the practice field to comfortably earn a backup spot and actually make it on to the regular season field, unlike another recent Jets quarterback selection.

When you take a quarterback outside the top half of the first round or maybe into the lower first, you are effectively purchasing a Powerball ticket. Winning it would be the equivalent of that quarterback becoming consistently successful; that quarterback even starting or winning a game for you is like getting your $5 back.

So, let’s be real, Bryce Petty never had good odds of becoming a successful starter, and he proved that with his play. In 7 starts, he went 1-6 with 4 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 53% completions, 5.5 yards per attempt, and a 57.7 rating. Among quarterbacks with at least 200 career passing attempts, Petty’s rating relative to league averages is the second worst all-time.

We can’t really knock Maccagnan for this one. He brought a highly productive college quarterback into a talent-starved quarterback room. He didn’t pan out, but the only cost was a fourth-round pick and a seventh-round pick (used to trade up for him). Worthy swing, sure. Did it turn out to be poor value, yes. Catastrophic miss, not even close.

R5, #152 – Jarvis Harrison – F

Harrison never took a regular season snap for the Jets. He was considered a high-risk, high-ceiling offensive lineman who obviously didn’t pan out. On a team that has not had much talent along the offensive line, and from a GM that has a background as an offensive lineman, this was a relatively poor swing and a miss, even in the fifth round. Two regular contributors (Chargers OLB Kyle Emanuel, Saints DT Tyeler Davison) were picked directly after Harrison.

R7, #223 – Deon Simon – C-

Simon hasn’t produced much in his three-year career, only getting playing time in 2016, but there’s a good shot he could join Leonard Williams as one of only two 2015 draft picks on the roster three years later.

Simon didn’t play in 2015, but appeared in all 16 games for the Jets in 2016, registering 1.5 sacks (the only player selected in the 2015 seventh round with any sacks) and 23 tackles (7 of them runs stopped for no gain or less) while looking capable at the nose tackle position.

Simon spent most of 2017 on the practice squad, but ended the year on the active roster despite not appearing in a game.

He is already 27, though. While Simon hasn’t become a reliable contributor for the Jets, he did have one at least decent full year of play, and that alone makes him the second-best value of this class without much debate if any.

Key Trades: 

 Texans traded 2015 3rd round pick (82nd overall, Lorenzo Mauldin), 2015 5th round pick (152nd overall, Jarvis Harrison), 2015 7th round pick (229th overall subsequently traded, Ben Koyack) and DeVier Posey to Jets for 2015 3rd round pick (70th overall, Jaelen Strong) – – – This is a trade down yielding pretty much nothing. Posey never played for the Jets. We discussed Mauldin and Harrison. The 7th rounder became Bryce Petty. And while the Texans selected a non-contributor in Strong with the high pick in this trade, Tevin Coleman and Duke Johnson were selected between that #70 slot and the #82 slot the Jets moved down to. Hindsight is 20/20, but seeing the turnout, there was much more potential value to be had if the Jets simply stayed put at #70.

Jets traded 2015 7th round pick (224th overall, Bryce Hager) to Rams for Zac Stacy – – – Stacy provided a half-season of very ineffective play for the Jets. Seventh rounders are highly unlikely to yield success, but I don’t think any team would trade one if they knew the return was going to be what Stacy ended up producing for the Jets. I guess it was a decent gamble on a young running back, but he was terrible the year before, and we’re grading on results, not decision-time logic. Not a plus move.

Overall Grade: D-

Leonard Williams is the only man separating this class from a cold, hard F.

48 games of regular season play have passed since this draft. Here is what the 2015 class sans-Leo has produced in the average week of Jets football during that span.

  • 0.2 receptions, 2.8 yards, 0.02 receiving touchdowns
  • 0.2 sacks, 0.02 interceptions, 0.02 fumble recoveries, 0.04 passes defended, 1.0 tackle
  • 0.0 rushing yards, 0.0 rushing touchdowns

Plus, 245 total pass attempts of nearly the worst quarterbacking in NFL history.

Mike Maccagnan is lucky to still hold his current position given this mess of a draft to begin his tenure. For the sake of both himself and the future of the team, Mac had better hit this offseason out of the park. There isn’t an inspiring group of in-house players set to hit their prime 4th years, and Maccagnan doesn’t have a glistening resume of success to hang his hat on.

You have to do better than this to win in the NFL. Much better.

Photo Credit: NFL.com 

Author: Michael Nania

You can follow me on Twitter @Michael_Nania. I'll be hosting the weekly Jets opponent preview podcast, Know Your Foe, starting with the 2018 regular season. I've been writing for Turn On The Jets since January 2018, and you can also check out more of my work on the Jets over at Gang Green Nation.