Five games into the season, the Jets are shockingly in a three way tie for first place in the division. The Jets have looked dominant against the hapless Dolphins and the wildly inconsistent Jaguars. They’ve looked pathetic against the equally-shockingly effective Bills and the equally-shockingly ineffective Raiders. This weekend’s performance wasn’t very impressive, but they managed to pull out a third win against a weak team. Now the Jets sit at 3-2 and talk of tanking has mostly been replaced by talk of contending.
Don’t get me wrong, this is great news for Jets fans. The only reason why the Jets have managed to pull out 3 wins this season is because of excellent play by young players drafted in the last few years, such as Leonard Williams, Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, Elijah McGuire, and several others. The Jets may not be looking at the #1 pick in the 2018 draft, but the foundation appears to be much more solid than most expected coming into this year.
One argument I’ve noticed appear almost every year needs to be put to bed, however. Many say that the Jets success is wholly positive because you never know what will happen with players in the draft anyway, so draft position isn't all that important. The Jets success is good news because it means that the young guys have been playing well and building a foundation for the future. It's also good news because I don't want to watch the Jets lose by 20 points every week. However, draft position is extremely important.
Yes, you can never be completely sure about players. The top 3 picks in 2013 have mostly flamed out (#1 pick Eric Fisher has been passable, but not special.) The second and third picks in the 2014 draft were Greg Robinson and Blake Bortles. That doesn't mean that draft position is irrelevant. Ignoring the obvious difference in trade value, we can just go right back to that 2014 NFL Draft. Ten of the top 17 picks in that draft have been to a Pro Bowl, including 6 of the 7 picks in a row before the Jets' pick...of Calvin Pryor. Here are the players taken ahead of the Jets that year who have seen a Pro Bowl: Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack, Mike Evans, Anthony Bar, Taylor Lewan, Odell Beckham, Aaron Donald, Ryan Shazier, Zack Martin, and C.J. Mosley. Not only are those guys Pro Bowlers, many of them rank among the best in the NFL at their position, with Mack, Beckham, Donald, and Martin all arguably holding that title.
In the last 4 years, the Jets have picked 6th twice, 18th once, and 20th once. When the Jets picked 6th, they added Leonard Williams and Jamal Adams. Those are probably the two best players on the team right now. When they picked 18th, they got Calvin Pryor, who is currently sitting on IR for the Jags after the Browns cut him. The Jets #20 pick resulted in Darron Lee, whom many would argue is the weakest link in the Jets defense right now. Let's not forget that the day two picks in those two drafts produced Jace Amaro, Dexter McDougle, Christian Hackenberg, and Jordan Jenkins (the only possible bit of redemption here.)
This isn't a call to tanking: The Jets are 3-2 and right in the thick of the AFC East hunt. Personally, I don't think the Jets have the guns to compete for the playoffs this year, but I'll also be rooting for them to win every week. It is important to remember that the draft is essential to building a good team and that draft position plays a huge role in that. The Jets have some good, young foundation players to build off, plenty of cap space to work with, and hopefully a good record this year will make the Jets a desirable destination once again. If the Jets make the playoffs this year, I'll be overjoyed. If they fall back to earth, however, at least they will likely be in a good position to acquire more building blocks to put around Williams, Adams, and the other young studs.