The New York Jets entered the 2017 NFL Draft with one of the most talent-deficient rosters in the league. Even with seven picks at his arsenal. Jets General Manager Mike Maccagnan had been preaching all offseason that he was open to trading down from all seven spots to acquire more picks. He succeeded, trading down a franchise record four times, and acquiring an additional two picks in this draft and a 2018 fifth round pick as well. Let’s take a look at all nine selections the Jets made and some of the players they decided to pass on.
Round 1 (6): LSU Safety Jamal Adams
Two years after Leonard Williams fell into the Jets’ laps at number six overall Mike Maccagnan received another gift from the football gods. Adams was projected by nearly every draft analyst to go in the top five picks. Todd McShay had Adams rated as his number two overall prospect, so the value for the Jets was superb. Not to mention it also filled a major hole in the Jets’ leaky secondary that gave up 30 touchdowns through the air in 2016. Adams will be an immediate leader in that locker room and on the field as the quarterback of the secondary. He’ll bring a toughness and swagger that the Jets have lacked at the safety position for quite some time. Credit Maccagnan who resisted the urge to reach for a quarterback or trade down when a player of Adams’ caliber fell to him.
Round 2 (39): Florida Safety Marcus Maye
Did I mention the Jets’ secondary was horrendous last season? It never hurts repeating and it seems like Maccagnan and Bowles remember all too well. Many are questioning the logic of doubling down on the safety position in the first two rounds in what was widely regarded as the best cornerback class we’ve seen in years.
But, the Jets decided to take another safety who should help form a formidable tandem in the secondary for years to come. Maye is versatile, like Adams, capable of playing free safety, strong safety, and nickel. If there’s one thing he’s not afraid to do it’s tackle. Both of the Jets’ first two picks will come into the box and lay the wood. They passed on some intriguing players, namely Washington cornerback Sidney Jones, who tore his achilles during his pro day, Maye’s teammate in cornerback Quincy Wilson, and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, who slid to the second round due to character concerns.
When you look at the formula that the Seahawks had with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, or even one in Arizona, where Todd Bowles had Patrick Peterson, Tony Jefferson, and the versatile Tyrann Mathieu at his disposal, it’s a very fun and intriguing way to build a defense. With the Jets’ front seven never really a problem, it’s finally time to build a young secondary. I love the idea of Adams and Maye coming up the ranks together, as they can learn from each other’s mistakes and be each other’s strongest rock to lean on.
Round 3 (79): Alabama Wide Receiver ArDarius Stewart
I think the Jets may have been targeting wide receiver Cooper Kupp from Eastern Washington in this round, but the Rams snagged him just before the Jets were on the clock. The Jets traded back with the Vikings and landed Stewart, a physical, tough, and productive receiver from SEC powerhouse Alabama. Although he’s not a burner, Stewart has a knack for getting behind corners with his route running. He’s excellent after the catch and high pointing the football to consistently win 50-50 jump balls. ESPN’s Rich Cimini said Stewart reminds him of a faster Jerricho Cotchery, a fan favorite for many years in the Meadowlands. Stewart could be seen as a mid-round steal a few years from now.
The pick before the Jets selected Stewart? Alabama edge rusher Tim Williams taken by the Ravens. Once seen as a top 10 pick, Williams’ stock slid amid serious character concerns. Had he been available, it would have been interesting to see if the Jets would have pulled the trigger on maybe the most gifted pass rusher in this year’s draft.
Round 4 (141): California Wide Receiver Chad Hansen
For the second consecutive pick the Jets took a wide receiver. Considering all the depth and young talent the Jets have on their roster already, this seemed like a head scratcher. However, considering Eric Decker is coming off of shoulder and hip surgeries and the Jets can save $8.75 million in cap space by cutting him, it started to make a little sense. Upon learning that 2015 second round pick Devin Smith re-tore his ACL and will miss the entire 2017 season it started to make even more sense. Hansen was a productive receiver in college catching passes from Davis Webb this past season. He’s similar to Stewart in that he has the ability to get behind the defense and come down with contested balls.
Round 5 (150): Clemson Tight End Jordan Leggett
No team has utilized the tight end less than the Jets the past two seasons so this was a major need. The Jets tight ends hauled in 18 total receptions last season, so Leggett has more than enough of an opportunity to be an impact player very quickly. I thought the Jets may have been targeting Michigan’s Jake Butt in this spot, as he slipped due to a torn ACL in his last collegiate game. However, they ended up with Leggett who, like his quarterback Deshaun Watson, put on a show the last two national championship games. He will need to work on his blocking and consistency in the NFL, as his motor runs hot and cold. Scouts comparing Leggett to former Jets tight end Kellen Davis will certainly not excite the fan base. With tight end being such a weak spot on the depth chart, Leggett has a chance to be the starter in week one.
Round 5 (181): West Georgia Outside Linebacker Dylan Donohue
Donohue is a small school edge defender who will come into camp as a 25-year-old rookie. Scouts are concerned about his lack of size and strength, but this kid’s motor never stops. His passion and athleticism made him a finalist for the Division II lineman of the year award. He should be an asset on special teams and provide depth at outside linebacker during his rookie year.
Round 6 (188):Louisiana-Lafayette Running Back Elijah McGuire
Another small school choice for Maccagnan who can come in and contribute on offense. McGuire has some wiggle for a 214 pound back and is an effective pass catcher from the back field and the slot position. He should be able to find a small role in offensive coordinator John Morton’s west coast offense.
Round 6 (197): Michigan Cornerback Jeremy Clark
Finally Maccagnan lands a corner for Todd Bowles’ defense. He passed on the big names earlier in the draft and took a player with serious upside. Clark is 6’3” with press-man coverage skills, but he tore his ACL in Michigan’s fourth game this past year. The Jets hope he can compete for a roster spot, find a niche on special teams, and make a push for playing time during the season.
Round 6 (204): Ole Miss Cornerback Derrick Jones, Ole Miss
The Jets took another chance on a raw corner drafting Jones, who is a converted wide receiver, so you know he has ball skills. But as we know, Bowles likes tall, lanky corners for his man-to-man defense, and Jones fits the mold. He’s 6’2” 188 pounds. He needs to bulk up a bit and work on his tackling, but the athleticism is apparent. Perhaps the Jets see his lack of experience as a positive, figuring Bowles & Co. can develop a blank slate.
Overall, I think this was a productive draft, but not a slam dunk. Maccagnan found Bowles his starting safeties, as well as a pair of intriguing cornerbacks. Depending on what the Jets do with Decker, both Stewart and Hansen have a chance to make an immediate impact.
The biggest takeaway from this draft is the Jets not reaching for a quarterback. There are so many holes on this roster and the Jets could not afford to waste a pick on another project quarterback.
So the Jets head into the summer with three quarterbacks on their roster: Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg, and Bryce Petty.
The plan for 2017 is clear: Give Hackenberg the rock and see what he’s made of.