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NY Jets: Draft Drought

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The genesis of the team's recent woes.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Since the 2010 season the New York Jets have slowly slid from legitimate Super Bowl contenders to legitimate number one pick in the draft contenders.  It has been a long, slow grind into the dust.  The genesis of this slide has been chronic draft failure. New GM Mike Maccagnan has done a nice job returning the roster to a respectable level of NFL talent this offseason, but unless he can find the cure to the Jets draft woes over the long run, the team will never be a perennial contender.

Let's take a look at the last four decades of Jets drafts.  We're going to focus on the elite players chosen, the difference makers, because from a talent standpoint, that's where championships are won.  Sure, every team needs plenty of  solid NFL role players to fill out the roster and make a team with few weak links, but without the elite players, the guys who can be counted on to consistently win matchups, all those solid role players can only take a team so far.

We will use Pro Bowl selections as a convenient proxy for top end talent.  Before anyone drops the inevitable "Pro Bowl selections are bogus, they're just a popularity contest" comment, I know. It's not a perfect proxy.  But it's good enough.  For the most part, over decades, the number of Pro Bowl selections will closely mirror the number of elite talents.  A few guys don't make it when they probably should (ahem... Mo Wilkerson... cough, cough), and a few guys make it when they probably shouldn't, but for the most part the Pro Bowl represents a good approximation of the league's best talent, and there isn't any other readily available yardstick of which I'm aware that appreciably improves upon this as a proxy for elite talent. So we're going with the Pro Bowl.  So sue me.

Here,  by decades, is the Jets draft record with respect to Pro Bowl talents drafted over the last 40 years.

Decade

Pro Bowl

Players Drafted

Total Pro

Bowl Selections

Most

Consecutive

Years Without

Drafting A Pro

Bowl Player

Most

Consecutive

Years Drafting

A Pro Bowl

Player

Number Of

Years Drafting

A Pro Bowl

Player

.

2005-2014

6

19

5

3

4 of 10

1995-2004

8

21

2

3

7 of 10

1985-1994

10

19

2

7

8 of 10

1975-1984

10

27

1

5

7 of 10

At first glance of the number of Pro Bowl players and total number of Pro Bowl selections, the current decade appears to differ little from what came before.  Given that the current decade includes players who still may develop into Pro Bowl selections, this decade looks pretty similar to each of the prior decades.  Given the Jets history, that alone may be enough to explain the recent deterioration in the Jets' roster.  However, a closer inspection of the current decade reveals a terrible drought in recent years.

The Jets went five consecutive years, from 2008 through 2012, without drafting a single Pro Bowl player.  No other decade had more than a two year stretch without drafting any Pro Bowl players.  Even if we count Wilkerson on merit, that makes just a single elite talent drafted in the five years from 2008 through 2012.  The resulting slide into mediocrity and beyond, right down to awfulness, should surprise nobody after seeing that record.  Keep in mind that even in the terrible decade of 1985 through 1994 the Jets never went more than two years without drafting a Pro Bowl player.  In fact, from 1975 all the way through 2007 the Jets never went more than two years without drafting a Pro Bowl player, and only went two years without drafting a Pro Bowl player twice from 1975 through 2007.  In the 33 years from 1975 through 2007, the Jets only had a total of eight years without drafting at least one Pro Bowl player.  Then from 2008 through 2012 they went five straight years without drafting a Pro Bowl player.  That is beyond awful.  It goes a long way towards explaining the team's recent woes.  It also is one of the reasons the team had so much to spend in 2014.  Simply put, there hasn't been much in-house talent to throw big bucks at.

Perhaps the Jets' biggest failure has come in the first round, where most Pro Bowl players are found.  The Jets have done a particularly awful job in their recent top ten picks.  These are supposed to be the near sure thing prospects, the cream of the crop.  The Jets have made three top ten selections since 2006.  None have made the Pro Bowl.  None have even been average NFL starters.  One, Vernon Gholston, never even became a starter and lasted only three years in the NFL, ending with zero NFL sacks.  Another, Mark Sanchez, by at least one statistical measure, was the worst four year starting quarterback in NFL history.  The third, Dee Milliner, has one month of good NFL play to his name, and one year of awfulness, though he is still young enough to turn it around.

If the Jets want to set this franchise on a long term positive trajectory, this year's number six pick is a crucial first step in that process. It is imperative they break the cycle of top ten busts.  Finding a Pro Bowl player in the top ten is relatively easy; finding one in the second round and beyond is vastly more difficult.  The Jets' own draft history suggests how difficult.  The Jets have selected six Pro Bowl players in the last decade; the only two that weren't first round picks were special teams selections Leon Washington and Justin Miller.   The last non-special teams Pro Bowl draftee of the Jets that was picked outside of the first round was Jonathan Goodwin, taken in the fifth round in 2002.  But Goodwin got his one and only Pro Bowl selection with the New Orleans Saints.  The last one to do it with the Jets was selected in the sixth round way back in 1993: fullback Richie Anderson.  Even Anderson was something of a specialist.  The last  non-specialist, non first round pick to make the Pro Bowl for the Jets was linebacker Mo Lewis, a third round pick way back in 1991.  Part of this record reflects the failure of the Jets to identify elite talent later in the draft as well as many other teams, but most of it simply reflects the fact that most elite talent comes from the first round of the draft.  The first round is crucial.

That brings us back to the current regime.  GM Mike Maccagnan is known first and foremost as a talent evaluator.  He and his newly installed scouting regime have the highest Jets draft pick since 2009 to play with, and tied with 2008 for the highest not obtained in a trade since 2006, when the Jets came away from the first round with two multi Pro Bowl offensive linemen.  The first two picks of this Jets draft are crucial, and the first pick in particular will begin to set the tone for the next decade of Jets football.  It is vital the team come away with a Pro Bowl level talent.  Anything less and the dreary trends of the last half decade will unfortunately likely continue to plague this team for a while more.  No pressure there Big Macc.  No pressure at all.  The Jets are on the clock...