The NY Jets suffer from a dearth of elite playmakers on offense, and have for nearly all of the 16 years since Bill Parcells transformed the organization and the front office. This is no accident. For whatever reason, the Jets have been consistent in refusing to spend high draft choices on offensive playmakers. This goes well beyond the Rex Ryan era and the recent focus on defensive linemen and cornerbacks. When the Jets picked wide receiver Stephen Hill in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft, he was the first wide receiver or running back chosen by the Jets earlier than the fourth round since Shonn Greene in 2009, only the second wide receiver or running back chosen before the fourth round in the last 10 years, and only the third wide receiver or running back taken in the first two rounds of the draft since Parcells came aboard in 1997.
It's not as if the Jets don't draft running backs and wide receivers. On the contrary, since 1997 the Jets have drafted 14 wide receivers and 12 running backs, or nearly one running back and one wide receiver per year. That total of 26 draft picks at the offensive playmaker positions represents 21.3% of the Jets draft picks since 1997. Consider that the typical roster carries five wide receivers and four running backs, making up 17% of the typical 53 man roster, and you can't really make the argument that the Jets have neglected the position in the draft.
While the Jets have frequently chosen offensive playmakers, they have rarely spent premium picks on them. Of the 14 wide receivers drafted, there was one first round pick, one second round pick, two third round picks, one fourth round pick, and nine picks in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. Before the Hill pick in 2012 the Jets had not used a pick higher than the fourth round on a wide receiver since first round draft choice Santana Moss way back in 2001. It should come as no surprise that the Jets have lacked elite receivers in the last decade.
Likewise, the Jets have not chosen a running back in the first round since Blair Thomas in 1990. That was before many current members of GGN were born. The Jets have not spent a second round pick on a running back since Lamont Jordan in 2001. Of the twelve running backs chosen by the Jets since Parcells came here and built the front office, only Shonn Greene and Lamont Jordan were chosen before the fourth round. It is a somewhat curious choice to never spend premium picks on a running back when the head coach prefers a conservative, ground and pound approach to the offense. The consequence of never using high picks on running backs has been predictable -- the Jets never have elite running backs. Perhaps in the Curtis Martin era this was an understandable approach. But Curtis has been retired since 2005. One would have expected a more concerted effort to replace what was lost in his absence.
The bargain basement approach the Jets have had towards offensive playmakers might be more palatable if in fact the league's elite playmakers were distributed somewhat randomly throughout the draft. Alas, that is not the case. Of the top 20 receivers in 2012 in terms of yardage gained, nine were first round picks, twelve were taken in the first three rounds, and fifteen, or 75%, were taken in the first four rounds.
The numbers for running backs are similar. Of the 20 top running backs in 2013, eight were first round picks, eleven were taken in the first two rounds, and fifteen, or 75%, were taken in the first three rounds.
The consequence of the Jets always trying to find playmakers in the bargain bins has been that the Jets have lacked a big play capability for a very long time. There has not been a single Jets wide receiver or running back draft pick in the post Kotite era that has made the Pro Bowl. Not one. The last running back drafted by the Jets who made the Pro Bowl as a Jet was Freeman McNeil way back in 1985. The last wide receiver drafted by the Jets who made the Pro Bowl as a Jet was Keyshawn Johnson in 1999.
Big plays and big time playmakers matter. We all love to watch an 8 minute, 14 play drive in which the Jets methodically go the length of the football field and cram the ball down the opponents' throats. It's fun to watch it happen, but it is noteworthy because it is so rare. A team that is incapable of putting a few big plays together in a drive is a team that will struggle to score. Defenses are simply too good, and penalties, sacks, fumbles, interceptions and tackles for losses are simply too common. Drives that rely on 3 yards and a cloud of dust stall far too frequently. The teams that put alot of points on the board are the teams with major offensive weapons that can and often do score in quick strikes, drives the length of the field in three or four plays. Without that big play ability, every game becomes a death struggle, and sooner or later the defense cannot compensate for the lack of scoring on offense. Trying to win every game 17-13 or 13-10 is ultimately a losing proposition.
If the Jets are ever to become anything but a bottom feeder offense, they will have to find a few big time playmakers. Sure, an elite quarterback can make average playmakers look great and light up the entire offense. But until that elite quarterback comes along (and the Jets haven't had one for any length of time since Namath), the next best thing is to find some elite playmakers. And if they want to find some playmakers, they will likely have to change their ways in searching the bargain bin for diamonds in the rough. Sometimes, if you want your offense to really sparkle, you have to spend up and get fully polished, investment grade diamonds. Sometimes you have to spend a few high picks in order to get your own gamebreaker. If the Jets aren't willing to spend some high picks, they are likely to continue to be stuck spinning their wheels and breaking down in the slow lane while the league's better offenses pass them by on the road to the playoffs. Fortunately the Idzik era has dawned, and the Parcells front office philosophy is becoming a thing of the past. We shall see, but I am somewhat hopeful that with any luck, the new front office will recognize the crying need for gamebreakers and spend a few high draft picks accordingly.