Earlier this week we took at look at recent Jets second round picks. The results were not pretty to say the least. It was probably no surprise to you to see how poorly the Jets have drafted in the second round in recent seasons. It is a frequent topic of conversation in the fanbase. I would like to talk a bit about why these poor results have been so damaging to the Jets. The failures of the second round have played no small role in the Jets' descent to the bottom of the league.
The best tool any team has to improve is the NFL Draft. There is not a steady supply of top level talent available in free agency. Even when a great player hits the open market, the Jets have to compete with other teams for that player's services.
There is an additional financial component. As you probably know, there is a salary cap in the NFL. To field a 53 man roster, you can only afford so many expensive players. The Draft can be a big help for a team in bridging the financial/talent gap.
Leonard Williams, the Jets first round pick from two years ago, is a star level talent. He has already made the Pro Bowl, and he isn't even 23 years old yet. He is also a bargain.
How much does it cost to have a star level 300 pound defensive lineman? The Jets gave us the answer a year ago when they agreed to a new deal with Muhammad Wilkerson. That contract costs the team over $17 million per season.
How much does Williams cost the Jets? His cap number for 2017 is just over $5 million. Think about that. Williams costs less than one-third of what Wilkerson costs. That is because a player in the NFL has a limited earning power over the first four seasons of his career. He cannot hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent until after that fourth year. The fact the league has a wage scale for drafted players is the other reason for Williams' relative bargain status.
I understand Williams and Wilkerson are not the exact same player, but for the sake of our discussion let's agree there's enough overlap to justify the following statement. Having Williams essentially gives the Jets a second Wilkerson for $12 million less. You get around the same production as adding a star would, but you have an extra $12 million to spend to improve other parts of your team.
There are other reasons drafting well is so important, but this is a big one. You can get top level talent for a fraction of the price it costs on the open market. That extra money can help improve other positions.
As much of a bargain as Williams is, players drafted in the second round are even better value. The Jets took Devin Smith in the second round of the same Draft when they took Williams. Smith's cap number for 2017 is $1.6 million. If Williams is a discount at $5 million, what would a star be at $1.6 million?
And this is the problem. By striking out so much, the Jets have lost out on these types of savings.
Why focus on the second round? Aren't these super savings available in the third, fourth, and fifth rounds, and beyond? Sure, and the Jets' failure to hit in any round regularly has contributed to their current situation. The reason the second round is of particular focus, however, is because it is the spot in the Draft most likely to produce this type of super savings.
This is a years old study, but the Cleveland Plain Dealer looked at the NFL for a decade stretch. 53% of All Pros were taken in the first round. These are bargain players for their rookie deals. 19% of All Pros were second round picks, though. That number fell to 12% in the third round and continued to go down further as the Drafts moved along.
The second round is the sweet spot. It is the best chance to add special level talent at the salary level of a backup level player. I return to Devin Smith's deal. He will count less against the cap for the Jets than Josh Martin will in 2017. If Smith has a breakout year and turns into a star, think about the value. Think about the bargain the Jets would get with that type of on field value at that salary.
The flip side would be Smith having a bad training camp and joining the likes of Stephen Hill and Jace Amaro as recent second round cuts. Now think about the wasted opportunity that would be. The Jets have wasted almost all of those second round opportunities recently, and that has helped put them into the position they are in.