We all know the old mantra among NFL fans and executives about the need for any given franchise to “build through the draft” when putting together what they hope will be a competitive roster. Doing so is far easier said than done, but in examining how well Mike Maccagnan’s second draft class is doing in the midst of their third season, a staggering number regarding the Jets draft history was revealed.
Given the fact that NFL rosters are composed of 53 players and every team is allotted seven draft choices per season, it’s fair to say that the goal isn’t just to draft quality players, but players who are good enough on and off the field as well as in the locker room to warrant a second, third and perhaps even a fourth contract with the team who called their name on draft day.
Jets GM Mike Maccagnan failed miserably with his first draft class, coming away with just a single player (Leonard Williams) who is likely to get a second contract from the organization. The rest of Maccagnan’s first class is almost entirely out of the NFL due to injuries or ineffectiveness. WR Devin Smith (2nd round), LB Lorenzo Mauldin (3rd round), QB Bryce Petty (4th round), Jarvis Harrison (5h round) are all looking for work. Seventh-round choice Deon Simon is currently on the Green Bay Packers practice squad.
However, given the way some members of the 2016 class are playing, things will undoubtedly turn out differently than the group that preceded it. Linebackers Darron Lee (1st round) and Jordan Jenkins (3rd round) are playing quality football along with starting right tackle Brandon Shell (5th round). It’s more likely than not that all three players will see a second contract with the Jets. Not a bad number for the 2016 class, especially when you add punter Lachlan Edwards and special teams ace Charone Peake, who were taken in the sixth and seventh rounds respectively, to the list. Cornerback Juston Burris is still on the roster but is hanging on by a thread.
Given the play of Lee, Jenkins and Shell, we decided to take a stroll down NFL draft memory lane to find the last class that netted the Jets three long-term starters, and it wasn’t pretty.
We had to go back almost 20 years to find a draft class that found three or more players who started and stayed with the Jets beyond their rookie contract and the Jets needed four first-round picks to do it. That’s right, the class of 2000 that saw the Jets make four picks in round one that included QB Chad Pennington, DE Shaun Ellis, OLB John Abraham and TE Anthony Becht.
Other than that, it’s been a slew of picks who either don’t make the roster, weren’t good enough to start, or don’t hang around for more than a couple of seasons for one reason or another. Here’s a look at the Jets drafts from 2001 to 2015 and notes how many starters hung around beyond their rookie deals.
2015: 6 picks, 1 long-term starter (Leonard Williams, assuming re-signed)
2014: 12 picks, 1 long-term starter (Quincy Enunwa, assuming re-signed)
2013: 7 picks, 1 long-term starter (Brian Winters)
2012: 8 picks, 0 long-term starters
2011: 6 picks, 1 long-term starter (Muhammad Wilkerson)
2010: 4 picks, 0 long-term starters
2009: 3 picks, 1 long-term starters (Mark Sanchez)
2008: 6 picks, 0 long-term starters
2007: 4 picks, 2 long-term starters (Darrelle Revis, David Harris)
2006: 10 picks, 2 long-term starters (D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold)
2005: 8 picks, 2 long-term starters (Sione Pouha, Kerry Rhodes)
2004: 10 picks, 1 long-term starter (Jerricho Cotchery)
2003: 7 picks, 0 long-term starters
2002: 5 picks, 2 long-term starters (Bryan Thomas, Chris Baker)
2001: 6 picks, 0 long-term starters
Total: 102 draft choices, 14 long-term starters.
This isn’t to say that there weren’t more than 14 good players drafted during this time frame. Players such as Keyshawn Johnson, Santana Moss, James Farrior, Hugh Douglas and Johnathan Vilma were very good players. Even still, for one reason or another, be it attitude, scheme fit or a front office overhaul, their stay with the Jets was short-term and low impact.
There have also been some quality depth players over the years such as Bilal Powell, Jeremy Kerley, Drew Coleman, etc. But the fact of the matter is that if you’re only finding a way to retain 14 quality, long-term starters out of every 102 picks, you’re going to have a tough time “building through the draft”.
If the Jets do in fact end up retaining Lee, Jenkins and Shell beyond their rookie contracts as they continue to improve, it will mark the first time in far too long that the front office found multiple starters on their own, drafted them, developed them and continued to improve as a franchise as a result.