In the wake of the NFL’s 87th player selection meeting, catching up on the stories that resonate a week later …
“We all wear the scars,” Rich Eisen said, speaking for New York Jets fans across the universe. “The Buttfumble scar, the fake-spike scar, and the NFL Draft scar. Or scars.”
1980: Lam Jones drafted ahead of Anthony Munoz
1983: Ken O’Brien over Dan Marino
1988: Dave Cadigan over Michael Irvin
1995: Kyle Brady over Warren Sapp
2002: Bryan Thomas over Ed Reed
2003: DeWayne Robertson 12 picks ahead of Troy Polamalu
2012: Quinton Coples over Chandler Jones
2018: Sam Darnold over Josh Allen
“The greatest statistic in NFL history concerns the Jets draft,” Mike Greenberg said. “They picked Ken O’Brien over Dan Marino, Al Toon over Jerry Rice, Blair Thomas over Emmitt Smith—and when those guys retired, Marino, Emmitt and Rice were the most productive quarterback, running back and receiver of all time!”
I called the two biggest Jets fans in mediaville to ask about what the Joe Douglas New York Jets just did, drafting four of their top 19 players (per Douglas) and exiting the draft as the consensus biggest winners. Drafting cornerback Sauce Gardner, receiver Garrett Wilson, edge-rusher Jermaine Johnson at 4, 10 and 26 in the first round and snagging running back Breece Hall four picks into the second round sent their fans into orbit, which is a strange place for them to be in the days after the draft. Usually, Jets fans are hoarse from booing picks.
“The Jets stole the draft,” said Greenberg, the ESPN host of it. “An embarrassment of riches.”
Best Jets draft ever? I asked Eisen.
“Not a very high bar,” he said. “But yeah!”
I’m not a fan of grading drafts, as you know. For perspective, three years ago, the fourth, 10th and 26th picks in the first round were Clelin Ferrell, Devin Bush and Montez Sweat, and only Sweat had his fifth-year option exercised by his team this spring. Projecting GREAT DRAFTS!!!!! a week after they happen is fool’s gold. The 10th pick in the three drafts before Devin Bush: Eli Apple, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Rosen.
The Jets had Gardner, Wilson, Johnson and Hall rated among their top 19 prospects, so clearly they’re thrilled with the haul. Now they have to produce, and we’ll see.
I will say the more impressive thing, to me, than the players chosen was the plan GM Joe Douglas executed in the last two years to maximize resources. With the 2020 trade of Jamal Adams to Seattle and 2021 trade of Sam Darnold to Carolina, Douglas turned those picks into three offensive pieces the Jets think will be long-term keystones: left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker—who had a 15-game streak with no sacks allowed as a rookie—plus Wilson and Hall. (What I especially liked was Douglas moved up for Johnson and Hall, and he was able to keep his 2023 draft intact; he did it all with his 2022 draft picks alone.)
Add quarterback Zach Wilson, tackle Mekhi Becton and wideout Elijah Moore from the first two Douglas drafts, and tight end C.J. Uzomah in free agency this year, and you’ve got an offense Douglas has built from scratch. Becton’s worrisome, with weight and injury concerns. He needs to grow up fast and prove to Douglas he can be a long-term tackle. No one knows if he can.
Overall, the Jets have ground to make up. To compete with Buffalo, Miami and New England in the AFC East, obviously, Zach Wilson has to be good. But I think a lot also depends on Garrett Wilson being explosive and physical enough to be what Stefon Diggs is for the Bills. Douglas said working through the receiver group and prioritizing Wilson was “really tough.”
“Every single receiver brought something different and dynamic,” Douglas told me. “You had guys that could run by anybody. You had big body guys with unbelievable catch radius. You had guys that were just pure route-runners. Ultimately, we felt like the guy that had the best combination of all those traits was Garrett Wilson, a guy that had the route skills, the ball skills, the catch radius, the ability to attack the ball and make contested catches, the ability to make people miss right after catch, create explosive plays in space, and a guy that had the top-end speed to get behind defenses and threaten vertically. He had the best combination of all the traits we were looking for.”
The quarterback will be the key to it all, of course. Zach Wilson had some nice moments last year—a 28-24, turnover-free loss to Tom Brady and the Bucs sticks out—but not enough to know yet whether he can be a long-term passer for a playoff contender. “It’s all on a quarterback who still looks like he’ll be carded at every bar he walks into,” said Eisen. “We don’t know if he’s the right guy yet.”
I’m not sure I’m in league with Greenberg when he says, “Dramatic improvement is a very reasonable expectation.” But I do know this: The Jets have a plan, with a GM who’s executing it well, and they have a chance. Finally, long-term, they have a chance.