It was with a mixture of hope, optimism and a little trepidation that Jets fans approached the start of the 2015 NFL draft on Thursday 30th April, the first with rookie general manager Mike Maccagnan at the helm. Now that the dust has settled, it seems a good time to reflect on what has been, in my opinion, a very successful few days at One Jets Drive.
Speaking pre-draft, Maccagnan made his tactics patently clear; the Jets would take the best players available. Having evaluated over 1,400 players and cutting it down to a big board of 300, the scouting team and front office had clearly done a vast amount of homework, including a fair amount of due diligence on Marcus Mariota. Not ruling out the possibility of trading up to get Mariota but also highlighting the importance of maintaining a decent number of picks, I certainly felt like Macc was approaching the draft with eyes wide open and looking back, it seems he stuck to his guns.
I did not blog prior to the draft about who the Jets would take, mainly because there were so many ‘ifs’ especially relating to our number six pick. Would we trade up? Would we trade down? Who would be left on the board? What would everyone else do? With the teams above surrounding us having many similar holes to fill, it was always going to be case of seeing who was still available. As it turned out, who we took at six was a surprise (albeit an extremely advantageous one) but unrelated to all the bluster regarding Mariota, who in the end went to the Titans at two, despite Chip Kelly’s alleged best efforts. It’s still a little unbelievable that the Jets managed to snag Leonard Williams, not just the best player available but arguably the best player in the entire draft however the move really showed Maccagnan’s gumption – we didn’t need a D-line man but what a good one we’ve got! For my views on the Leonard Williams pick see http://wp.me/p55BUY-2y
Moving into the second round, attention turned towards the copious list of needs, which thankfully was somewhat diminished from the end of 2014, thanks to the moves made in free agency. A number of highly regarded OLB and OL were still available when WR Devin Smith from Ohio State was drafted with the 37th pick, but the fact that many of them slipped (TJ Clemmings – to the Vikings in the 4th round and Eli Harold to the 49ers in the 3rd) suggests the front office homework had paid off. Smith provides that deep ball threat which was lacking in 2014 and complements well the route-running strength of Brandon Marshall. For the first time in a while, a Jets quarterback has a powerful complement of offensive weapons. The speed of D.Smith (who once ran a 4.30 forty yard dash at college) just enhances the options available for G.Smith.
Arguably it was due to more luck than judgement in the first round that such a great player fell into the Jets’ clutches. However, it was the later rounds where Maccagnan showed the great ‘smarts’ and big picture thinking which so impressed Charlie Casserly and Ron Wolf during his interview for the GM role. Having given up a fifth round pick in the Brandon Marshall trade, this was gained back by trading down 12 places (from 70 to 82) with the Houston Texans in the third round. Apart from a heart-breaking back story, Lorenzo Mauldin from the University of Louisville, who was taken with that eighty second pick, fills the need at edge-rusher, a position that has been somewhat lacking of late. With 6.5 sacks in 2014 and a high football IQ, Mauldin is explosive off the edge, producing on all three downs and able to make plays on both the run and the pass.
Both the fifth round pick, Jarvis Harrison (OG Texas A &M) gained from the trade with Houston, and the 7th rounder Deon Simon (NT Northwestern State) saw their draft stock diminished due to injury concerns. Both, Maccaganan believes, have the ability to be successful in the NFL and thus provide good value considering where they were taken. With our aging offensive line, Harrison in particular could be a good development player for the future.
With their final move of the 2015 draft, the Jets filled the last remaining projected pre-draft need; running back. Trading the 224th pick with the St Louis Rams in return for Zac Stacy, who requested a move following the Rams slightly unexpected pick of Todd Gurley in the first round, the off season competition in the back field has certainly been heightened. Although a similar type of player to Stevan Ridley (acquired in free agency), Stacy put up some good numbers (973 yards) in his first year at the Rams but couldn’t follow up in 2014. He has the ability to move to chains but will have to fight for playing time. Regardless, this seems an extremely good value trade for an NFL experienced player who has shown flashes of exceptional ability.
At this point, I’ll jump back to the fourth round where the Jets traded up one place with Jacksonville (for a seventh round pick) to take quarterback Bryce Petty from Baylor. Coming from a spread offense at Baylor, Petty has raw talent, a strong arm and good football smarts but will be completely lost in a pro-style offense and is in no way ready to be a starter in the NFL. He will take time, possibly years to develop, but with the right tutelage has potential. This casts a bright light on the fact that Geno Smith will remain the starting QB as we enter then new season and thus brings up that ever present question surrounding the extent of possible success the Jets could have in 2015 despite all these impressive off season moves. What is clear is that Maccagnan has bubble wrapped his talented but inconsistent third year QB in rafts of other talent, providing offensive weapons and a super-human defense which will give him more time to get on the field and make plays. Whether Geno can capitalise on this remains to be seen but he’s been given a fighting chance, if he can sort out those incompletions and interceptions.
As we welcome our new recruits into Gang Green, one thing I won’t be doing is giving the 2015 Jets draft a grade, yet. The litmus test for the true success of any off season performance begins in September when the new-look line up take the field. And hopefully it will end well into January or even beyond. What is certain though, is Maccagnan and his team have put us in a great position to make this dream a reality in 2015. Not bad for a rookie.