A lot of expectations have been thrown around for Maccagnan's first ever draft class as a GM. I think most fans were somewhere between agreeable to ecstatic about Mac's picks this year, and expectations have been set at a record high for the new crop of players. First round pick Leonard Williams is already being compared to Richard Seymour after one preseason game. Some GGNers have set their sights on 8 touchdowns for second round pick Devin Smith. Many are hoping that third round pick Lorenzo Mauldin will quickly replace the aging Calvin Pace as the starting strong side linebacker. Fourth round pick Bryce Petty's second preseason game has been widely praised and some even hope he can take the reins before the season ends. Is this realistic? Not even slightly.
Let's start with Leonard Williams. I'll lead off by saying that my expectations are sky high for the Big Cat. I actually think that the comparisons to Richard Seymour have some merit. Both were #6 overall picks on the defensive line, both are listed between 6'5 307lbs and 6'6 317lbs, and both have exceptional athleticism. Seymour was a 3 time Superbowl winner, 7 time Pro Bowl selection, and 5 time All Pro. He is likely to be a Hall of Famer in a few years and is one of the better defensive linemen in the history of the NFL. And honestly, I think the Big Cat's ceiling is even higher. That said, the kid has played 2 preseason games. He exploited a blown coverage by a second team lineman on his safety and blew past second and third teamers on his second sack. Pryor looked similarly elite against inferior competition last preseason and his rookie season turned out to be a massive disappointment. Yes, expectations should be sky high for Williams' career, but his rookie season shouldn't blow anyone away. Williams won't even be a first string player with Richardson and Wilkerson on the roster, though he should get a whopping number of snaps due to Richardson's suspension (which could be extended.) I'd like to see Williams get somewhere between 5-10 sacks and about 10 TFL in a rotation. I wouldn't be shocked if he exceeds those expectations, but very few rookie defensive ends do better than that.
On to Devin Smith. If Smith had the full offseason to prepare, he would likely have been the #3 or #4 receiver behind Marshall and Decker. Consider the #1 passing offense of all time, the 2013 Denver Broncos. Wes Welker, a well established slot receiver, was the #3 wide out receiving passes from Peyton Manning in the greatest offense in NFL history. Welker totaled 778 yards and 10 touchdowns that season. Anyone expecting close to that level of production from a rookie second round pick receiving passes from Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick was going to be dealing with disappointment. If you also consider that Smith was hospitalized and kept overnight for a punctured lung, it's probably safe to assume he's going to have quite a learning curve when he returns. If Smith managed something along the lines of 350-400 yards and 3-5 touchdowns, his rookie season would likely be a major success.
So now for Lorenzo Mauldin. Not much has been made of the fact that Mauldin is actually learning a new position this year. He typically lined up at defensive end in college and had almost no coverage responsibilities. Not only is he moving to outside linebacker, he's taking the coverage position that Pace has held for what seems like centuries. Now he's definitely flashed some talent in his first two preseason games, but he has been used extensively as a pass rusher. If he's going to be playing across from Coples, who is frankly abysmal in coverage, Mauldin will have a lot of coverage responsibilities. In addition, his first start consisted of a blown unblocked sack opportunity and a 15 yard personal foul, along with no tackles or sacks. Yes, he's flashed something against mostly second and third stringers, but I don't think he's quite ready to dethrone Pace as a starter. Still, while many pointed out that he didn't have the elite athleticism to be a NFL pass rusher, his athleticism has actually flashed this preseason. A handful of sacks and possibly a few starts would be a nice start for Mauldin, who I hope will become a mainstay on the Jets defense for years to come.
Ah, Bryce Petty at last (is it just me, or does the cover photo of Petty look like a Bizzaro Mark Sanchez with an upside-down 6 on his chest?) I remember a post in the live thread in which a Falcons fan stated that Petty was the Jets' best option at QB right now. I don't think everyone watched the same Petty that I did. Yes, Petty was vastly improved on his first game against the Lions. Yes, Petty posted an excellent stat line (12/19 for 168 yards, 1TD, and no turnovers.) But Petty did not look like a good quarterback to me. He threw some highly in accurate and uncatchable balls. He had 3 deep balls: the first was misthrown, the second was caught impressively by Hakim but was not a good throw, and the third landed several yards out of bounds. Petty also showed poor pocket awareness, getting stripped for a fumble in the red zone. He also threw a pass into the end zone which hit the backup Falcons defensive back in the hands. All of this was against backup players on arguably the worst defense in pro ball.
He did not read the defense, he did not make progressions, and he typically only scanned half of the field. While Petty was out there, the Jets were limited to the #1 target and the running back dump off. PFF seems to agree with me here, granting Petty a -2.1 score for his widely praised performance. Still, I have to admit that Petty threw beautiful spirals that were typically very accurate. He has excellent arm strength and he threw an absolutely perfect pass to DeVier Posey for the Jets' only passing touchdown of the preseason. This was leagues ahead of week 1 Petty, and that means the Jets have a lot to be encouraged about. Petty is a long term project, and he's already proving that he can develop with time. But if Petty is thrust into a starting position in 2015, the Jets' season is likely over. I don't expect Petty to play this season, and I would be surprised if he is the best option for the Jets in 2015.
Jarvis Harrison, the Jets' 5th round pick of 2015, shouldn't be forgotten. Maybe his second preseason game should be, though. Despite playing just 12 snaps, Harrison was apparently responsible for a blown protection which led to Zac Stacy being completely demolished the second he received the ball from Petty. Harrison is extremely talented and has a decent shot to make the roster considering that his competition includes Dakota Dozier, Brian Winters, and the recently suspended Oday Aboushi. I would not expect Harrison to receive many meaningful reps as a rookie barring injuries, but I would expect him to make the roster.
[Edit: I forgot to include Deon Simon, the Jets' 7th round pick. My expectations are that he doesn't make the roster and I didn't really consider him. As a 25 year old rookie nose tackle on a roster with Damon Harrison and T.J. Barnes, Simon is a long shot to make the roster and will almost certainly have no snaps as a rookie.]
With all of this said, I'm very encouraged by what I saw from our rookies last night. Williams was just unstoppable. Mauldin flashed some real talent and has shown in back to back weeks that he can get into the backfield and disrupt plays. Petty showed dramatic improvement after an absolutely miserable showing in week 1. These players will be the future of the Jets, and the really shined against the Falcons. While the first team units were intensely whipped by the Falcons' first team players, the rookie performances mean a lot more to me. These are the guys who could be around for another 5-10 years. And they were extremely fun to watch against the Falcons.