New York Jets – 2015 Rookie Class Review/2016 Projections

Joe Caporoso with a quick overview of how the 2015 New York Jets rookies performed and projections for their impact in 2016

Mike Maccagnan had an impressive debut season as the New York Jets General Manager. For today, let’s narrow down the focus on his performance in the NFL Draft. It is far too early to “grade” any pick (what would you have said about Calvin Pryor or Quincy Enunwa at this time last year?) but let’s recap how the picks looked as rookies and what to expect from them next year. To be clear, we will not include any trades for veterans in this evaluation (we’ll get to that next Tuesday), this is strictly the team’s draft picks and UDFAs from 2015…

Round One, 6th Overall Pick – Leonard Williams, Defensive End – 809 defensive snaps (77%), 78 special teams snaps (16%), 63 tackles, 3 sacks.

Williams met expectations in his rookie season, providing a rough approximation of Muhammad Wilkerson’s rookie season back in 2011. Basically, he showed himself to be an athletic, versatile 3-4 defensive lineman who was immediately stout against the run and has potential as a pass rusher. The ceiling for Williams may be a touch lower than Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson but he gives them roster flexibility when negotiating with both of them in coming years. Williams should only get better in year two and is likely to see an uptick in both playing time and sacks.

Year Two Expectations: Improve as pass rusher and become more reliable/useful in third down packages. Get over 80% of defensive snaps.

Round Two, 37th Overall Pick – Devin Smith, Wide Receiver – 312 offensive snaps (28%), 82 special teams snaps (17%), 9 catches, 115 yards, TD, 3 tackles, 1 fumble on kick return

A training camp injury to Smith limited his effectiveness throughout his rookie year, which also ended with an injury: more specifically a torn ACL in week 14 against the Tennessee Titans. Smith struggled as a rookie but was also routinely missed by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on open routes down the field. He unquestionably needs to improve his route running, strength at the catch and overall physicality but if Fitzpatrick hits Smith on a few open passes, many are probably looking at his rookie season differently. Regardless, he now has an uphill battle in year two due to his injury but hopefully he can be back in time for training camp. Many people prematurely wrote off Calvin Pryor after last year, don’t do the same with Smith.

Year Two Expectations: Improve catch rate and strength at catch point. Stay healthy after returning from ACL injury. Develop into a capable full time X receiver.

Round Three, 82nd Overall Pick – Lorenzo Mauldin, Linebacker – 253 defensive snaps (24$), 100 special teams snaps (21%), 17 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery

Mauldin suffered a scary injury in week 1 against the Cleveland Browns but returned in the middle of the season as the Jets top edge rusher. He flashed repeatedly down the stretch and will be counted on to become a full time starter in 2016. Considering he was a third round pick, who started the season on the bench, it is impossible not to be very encouraged with what Mauldin showed as a rookie.

Year Two Expectations: Develop into a full time defensive player and approach double digit sacks.

Round Four, 103rd Overall Pick – Bryce Petty, Quarterback

Petty served as the team’s third quarterback all season after looking extremely raw in the pre-season. At the season’s conclusion, he won the team’s Bil Hampton Award which goes to the rookie who most exemplifies what it means to be a pro in the locker room. The Jets are going to be patient with Petty, who has a long way to go before being considered an option to start. Jets fans shouldn’t work under the assumption that Petty is the guaranteed starter of the future either, as the the team will continue to explore long term options.

Year Two Expectations: Compete for the backup quarterback spot.

Round Five, 162nd Overall Pick – Jarvis Harrison, Offensive Guard

Harrison stayed on the active roster into November before being waived and moved to the practice squad. He has all the physical tools necessary to compete with Brian Winters for a guard spot in 2016. The question is whether he develops enough this off-season to be taken seriously when the summer hits.

Year Two Expectations: Compete for a starting guard spot and/or settle into one of the top backups on the offensive line.

Round Seven, 223rd Overall Pick – Deon Simon, Nose Tackle

Simon spent a few weeks on the active roster before being waived and moved to the practice squad. He should have a chance to compete for a rotational spot in the defensive line in 2016, as the Jets are unlikely to bring back at least one or two members of the 2015 rotation.

Year Two Expectations: Make the 53 man roster and contribute to defensive line rotation.

UDFAs: Wes Saxton (TE), Taiwan Jones (LB), Deion Barnes (OLB), Julian Howsare (FB/LB)

Saxton played in week 4 against the Dolphins and held his own. He has a pretty good chance to contribute at tight end in 2016, while Jones and Barnes headline UDFAs who have the best chance of making the active roster next season. The coaching staff is particularly high on Barnes’ potential off the edge.

Overall: An encouraging debut for the rookie class, headlined by Williams and Mauldin. Smith began to flash prior to his injury and the Jets avoided getting Petty anywhere near the field before he was ready. In a perfect world, Williams, Smith and Mauldin will be starting next season (Smith in the three wide receiver sets) and Petty, Harrison, Simon, Saxton and Barnes or Jones will be on the 53 as backups/role players.

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Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the EVP of Content at Whistle Sports