I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The Jets are a mess and their lackluster roster can be explained by years of poor drafting, missing on first rounders as well as middle and late round steals. This is the first installment of our Draft Rewind looking back at the previous five drafts, starting with the 2016 draft class. Hard to judge a draft class after just one year, so I will do my best to keep all evaluations in perspective.
Round 1 (20): Outside Linebacker Darron Lee, Ohio State
The Jets converted Lee to middle linebacker, a position he was not asked to play in college and one he is undersized for in the NFL. Lee is currently under investigation for an incident caught on camera at a music festival in which teammate Leonard Williams is seen forcibly removing Lee from a confrontation with his girlfriend. He will have to make a big jump in his second year in his new position, as the Jets cut long-time middle linebacker David Harris. Despite the questionable choice to take Lee and play him out of position, there were no other obvious choices the Jets passed on in the first round. Perhaps William Jackson III, cornerback from Houston, however cornerback was not a huge need this time last year.
Round 2 (51): Quarterback Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
One of the most talked about draft picks in recent memory for the Jets…and he didn’t play a single snap in his rookie season. It still remains to be seen whether this draft pick will go down as a major bust, but early indications seem to be leaning that way. If Hackenberg can win the starting gig in training camp or take over during the season and show some promise, then this may go down as a decent pick for Maccagnan. The problem with this pick is not selecting Hackenberg, but selecting him too early. Especially considering the next two picks were LB Deion Jones and OLB/SS Su’a Cravens, both of whom would have helped the Jets defense.
Round 3 (83): Outside Linebacker Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
So far, this looks like a pretty solid pick for Maccagnan. Jenkins immediately saw significant playing time, starting in 11 games and registering 41 tackles. He managed only 2.5 sacks, however they all came in the final four weeks of the season. Jenkins says he has made strides this offseason as a pass rusher. If he can stay healthy and continue to ascend as a pass rusher, he will go down as a nice 3rd round pick.
Round 4 (118): Cornerback Juston Burris, NC State
Burris played in every game in 2016, but saw limited action as a corner, starting just one game. He has the size and length Bowles loves for his man-to-man defensive scheme, and the Jets are hoping he can take big leap in training camp to nail down the starting cornerback spot opposite Morris Claiborne. This would allow Buster Skrine to slide back inside to his natural position at slot corner. Hard to say whether or not this pick was a mistake, as we have yet to see enough of Burris on the field, but the Dallas Cowboys selected Dak Prescott 17 spots later. Just saying.
Round 5 (158): Offensive Tackle Brandon Shell, South Carolina
It’s clear Maccagnan does not value offensive linemen as highly as other general managers, as he has yet to take one in a premium round, instead choosing to go with free agent signings and late round developmental prospects. Shell appeared in eight games and started the final three, in which he earned high praise from the coaching staff. The Jets are hoping he can solidify himself at the right tackle spot during training camp. If he can do that and play decent this will go down as a great pick. Like him or not, the Chiefs drafted Tyreek Hill at pick 165 and he was nothing short of spectacular last season. Possibly the fastest player in the league with pads on, the Jets could use a young, explosive playmaker like Hill on their roster.
Round 7 (235): Punter Lachlan Edwards, Sam houston State
We all know Maccagnan subscribes (supposedly) to the best player available strategy for the draft…but a punter? Really? Don’t get me wrong, having a good punter is an underrated aspect of the game most casual fans don’t understand. Just go watch the film of the Jets-Rams game last year and watch how Rams punter Johnny Hekker consistently flipped the field to make life miserable for Bryce Petty. It completely changed the game. Edwards however, did not have the same impact as Hekker. He was 29th in gross punting average and 31st in net punting average. I understand the need for a punter, but was he really the best player available? The Jets took Charone Peake six spots later in the 7th round and also passed on Temple linebacker Tyler Matekevich. Maccagnan must have thought someone would scoop Edwards if he didn’t take him here.
Round 7 (241): Wide Receiver Charone Peake, Clemson
Absolutely love this pick. The later rounds of the draft are all about potential and the Jets chose wisely here. He was hampered in college by knee injuries but had loads of potential as a deep threat. He’s 6’2” and ran a 4.37 at his pro day. Peake played in all 16 games getting time on special teams and offense. He caught 19 passes for 186 yards. Not eye-popping stats, but you could see the potential for him to develop into a solid starter one day with his frame and speed.
Again, take each of these evaluations with a grain of salt. These guys were just rookies in 2016 and no one expected any of them to dominate the league at their respective positions. What we need to see is improvement in 2017, especially from the first four picks. If Lee and Hackenberg do not become solid starters, then you can chalk this draft up as a bust. Jenkins needs to keep improving as a pass rusher and Jets fans would like to see a starting cornerback duo of Claiborne and Burris this year.
Next week we take a look back at the 2015 draft, one that saw the good (Leo Williams), the bad (Jarvis Harrison), and the ugly (Devin Smith).