New York Jets Five Things: NFL Draft Day Edition

David Aitken goes through five key things to consider for the New York Jets heading into the 2018 NFL Draft…

Here’s David Aitken with five things to consider heading into draft weekend…

The case for Baker Mayfield 

In terms of an analytical projection, Mayfield is elite. His last two seasons at Oklahoma are the two best single seasons in the history of College Football Reference’s Adjusted Yards-Per-Attempt metric. Per player he scores in the 97th percentile or better in college QB rating, college YPA, breakout age and throw velocity. Per Robert Klemko’s series on Mayfield for Sports Illustrated, Mayfield scored incredibly high on the AIQ, a test designed to test for traits that apply directly to athletics and has found a positive correlation between high scores on the test and players “who made early, meaningful contributions on the athletic field.” FootballOutsiders’ QBASE projections ranks him 4th best of any prospect since 1997, and gives him just a 29.3% chance of being a bust (versus 28.2% chance of being elite). 

Mayfield’s detractions are mostly noise and “broad stroke” scouting. Quarterbacks in the NFL tend to be a certain height and weight, and Mayfield is undersized by these comparisons. The Big XII is an offense driven conference where big stat lines are the norm. These types of critiques are really just points for further investigation, and yet are treated as knocks in and of themselves. There are not many good short quarterbacks in the NFL because there aren’t many short quarterbacks worthy of being drafted on skill set. 

It is fair to dive into that noise, especially given this is a market that knows how to turn head aches into severe migraines. Mayfield is by all accounts an outstanding leader  and has an obsession with proving people wrong that borders on unhealthy. 

Antics like the Kansas crotch grab and the Ohio State flag plant bring to mind “I’m not hear to kiss Belichick’s rings” – it’s something that can galvanize a fan base but also has the potential to be an act that wears thin quickly. The Mayfield media tracker rose some eyebrows as well.

Baker Mayfield with a special message for Manish Mehta

But it’s noise because in the end it is not a prospect flaw in itself – it’ll just amplify the love or the frustration fans have for him depending on how he performs. When this is your background and you can back it up through actions, players buy into it. But being outspoken and saying the wrong things when the team is underperforming or if Mayfield struggling himself is a too familiar schtick.

Biggest on-the-field issue? Mayfield likes to hold onto the ball and at times purposely invites pressure. He did this with the luxury of a quality offensive line at Oklahoma and there’s going to be an adjustment period in the NFL. He may always be to some extent a player that takes too many needless sacks. He also doesn’t bring to mind an immediate NFL comparison – it’s something that could mean absolutely nothing, but it’s a good point of reference. If a player has the necessary package of skills to be a success in the league, there should probably be an NFL established player with a similar skill set.  

Allow me to pick any three traits for building a quarterback and I’d want consistently strong accuracy, the ability to sense and work around pressure, and to be the team’s tone setter. That is Baker Mayfield in a nut shell. Accuracy translates. Being able to work outside of structure allows a quarterback to compensate for supporting cast issues. And when you’re expected to be the leader of a franchise, being someone with an obsessive desire to win and playing with an edge is a positive. Mayfield is a potentially special player.

The case for Josh Rosen

One of the weirdest aspects of this draft’s build up is that all of the consensus big media top four quarterbacks has gotten linked to Cleveland first overall at some point besides Josh Rosen. Rosen ticks a number of boxes the NFL traditionally loves to see: he was a three year starter the moment he walked in the door, he’s accurate, he shined despite an underwhelming supporting cast and has the ever elusive #ExperienceUnderCenter.

Rosen is basically a quarterbacking robot. He’s mechanically one of the best prospects to come out in some time, boasting excellent footwork and a quick release. He’s accurate to all levels of the field, a quick mental processor, and he’ll push the ball downfield when possible. Maybe the most impressive trait, and what makes his floor so high, is that he trusts his protection even when they give him no reason to do so. It probably has a lot to do with the amount of games he missed at UCLA, but the common “how will he handle playing for a bad team early on” knocks for top prospects shouldn’t apply here.

Rosen, like Mayfield, has his attitude used against him as a knock when in reality it’s much more likely to be a strength in the league. There have been questions over whether Rosen is too arrogant or lacks coachability. In fairness, there was some smoke to the fire at one point. Matt Waldman in his excellent RSP report on Rosen details stories such as Rosen being so off-putting at a Stanford campus visit he had his scholarship offer revoked and also being partially responsible for coaching firings as a freshman. But Waldman also says in his report that Trent Dilfer, who had a bust up with Rosen at the Elite 11 QB camp when Rosen was a participant, had great things to say about Rosen’s maturity when he was invited back to the Elite 11 camp as a counselor. Teenagers do stupid things and then grow up.

Rosen is ultra intelligent and per his former UCLA head coach Jim Mora, needs to know the “why” behind everything and will get “bored if not challenged intellectually.” A desire to understand everything and constantly desire challenges are traits of top players. So too are occasional teammate confrontations and coaching arguments over the best way to do things – it’s a problem if he’s bad, it’s his way or the highway if he’s not. A coach that cannot handle this may be the one with the “coaching problem.”

I wrote in the Mayfield section above that one of the things that’s tricky with Mayfield is that it’s hard to put a finger on a strong NFL comparable. Rosen on the other hand is the prototype NFL passer, comparing favorably to Matt Ryan and Eli Manning. He was built to be an NFL quarterback.

He will rub people the wrong way, but so do other top quarterbacks. Prospects with this amount of polish, experience, ability in the pocket, and accuracy are rare. He enters the league at 21-years-old, the sweet spot for draft prospects. There are small injury concerns, but that is the only thing that should give the Jets decision makers pause on selecting him. He is going to be a very good, and potentially great, quarterback.

The case against Josh Allen 

Josh Allen would be a nice pick in round three to a team with an established starter and time on their hands. But he’s going to go in the top ten, and you do not draft quarterbacks almost exclusively on physical tools in the top ten.

He has one of the biggest disparities possible between projected draft position and analytical profile. Accuracy is an issue for Allen and it always has been. He gets excuses such as “playing without NFL talent” or “does not attempt many screens,” but analytics adjusting for drops and route types/depths debunk these claims easily – he’s still inaccurate. For as often as competition comes up as an excuse for Allen, it’s worth noting that in his final two years as a starter his ~56% completion percentage was not only poor compared to quarterbacks at better programs, it was amongst the worst in the Mountain West.

Watch Josh Allen play and if you’re looking for it, you’ll be able to talk yourself into him being a future star. He can launch absolute lasers, make the NFL coveted deep out and comeback routes look effortless. He can extend plays in the pocket and prove really difficult to bring down. He’s legitimately a very good athlete for his size. Every so often he can make throws like this. But nothing is ever consistent – he doesn’t consistently hit any level of passes accurately, at times he extends plays cleverly and others he’s running away from nothing. He can make perfectly accurate throws from a variety of platforms but then miss a lay up from a clean pocket.

The Josh Allen paradox is that although he’s going to be selected because his physical gifts tease limitless potential, but he’s the player you’re most going to have to limit an offense for if he’s drafted. Benjamin Solak’s piece on Allen’s path to success here excellently paints the path to success – take thinking out of the equation as best you can. But why take a quarterback and be stuck with these limitations?

Since the latest CBA, which has limited the offseason access coaches have to players and the number and types of practices teams can have throughout the year, it makes little sense to gamble so highly on players that need to be “fixed.” Don’t be fooled by potential, don’t trick yourself into making excuses for prospect failures, just take a quarterback who is actually ready to play at the NFL level.

Round Three and Beyond 

Barring another trade, the Jets will not select again until pick number 72. How can the Jets make the rest of this draft count?

The Jets would love an edge, but edge rushers are basically quarterbacks – get them high in the draft or do not get them at all. At the top of round three, the available edge rushers are usually the raw, low-floor-high-ceiling types (Lorenzo Carter, Arden Key for example) or tend to be the productive, high motor, mediocre athlete types (the Mauldin special). The Jets could try to swing for the fences with one of the high ceiling types, but the lack of a second round pick may increase the urgency of finding an immediate, solid contributor with the pick.

Keep an eye out for a running back. It’s one of the draft’s deepest positions this year and round three has been a sweet spot the last few years – it unearthed the likes of Kareem Hunt (2017) and David Johnson (2015). Keep an eye on Rashaad Penny, Kerryon Johnson or Royce Freeman if they’re available in the early third. All of them have three down ability, can contribute immediately and are possible starters for 2019 and beyond.

At this point in the draft it’s less about targeting a specific position and more about evaluating what round two talent may slip to round three. The draft really only has “draftable talent” through four or five rounds and most starting quality players are off the board by the end of round two.

The Jets have turned some heads with the Antonio Callaway interest, and it may be an intriguing look into how the Jets approach Day 3. With no second round picks this year or in 2019, and a spending spree tentatively scheduled for the 2019 offseason, Maccagnan may prioritize high risk flyers on day three. He can feel confident he’ll be able to fill the roster with medium to low tier free agents in the event these picks fail, but just one having an impact would help make up for the lack of day two picks the next two drafts.

The 2018 Season – What Are the Expectations?  

After this weekend the Jets will add a (hopeful) franchise quarterback to cap off an offseason that has brought much needed reinforcements to the secondary and offensive line. After an abrupt reset to the Maccagnan/Bowles project following the 2016 season, it finally feels as if the team is starting to pull in a direction closer to sustained success.

The roster is still a decent trek away from being a consistent contender, but there is now a reasonable path toward getting there. A top quarterback prospect will enter a support system with Josh McCown, a respected offensive mind in Jeremy Bates and an underrated, high upside group of receivers. The offensive line has been solidified with the addition of Spencer Long, and Isaiah Crowell rounds out a competent stable of backs (which the draft could still well add to). Defensively, the Jets have their best secondary on paper of the Todd Bowles era. The team still desperately needs pass rushers, but the strength on the back end should allow Bowles to scheme without limitation.

Still, this isn’t a year that comes with a playoff mandate. There certainly cannot be a step backwards after spending big money and hitching the future to a soon-to-be-selected quarterback, but this season should be about getting that said quarterback experience and continuing to prioritize playing the young talent on the roster. Plan on entering 2019 with another big spend, prioritizing an edge rusher in free agency or the draft, and expect the playoff drought to come to an end. The Jets may finally be closing in.

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