clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Mike Maccagnan’s Folly

How a draft guru succumbs to his own hubris

We all have done things in our lives we are not proud of. Maybe when you were a teen you broke something owned by your dad while he was out of town. You shouldn’t have been messing with it in the first place, but you were able to replace it before he returned home and he never knew the difference. Once you did something wrong that was blamed on someone else and you never said anything. Someone else took the blame and no one was the wiser; the truth never came out and you were in the clear.

These situations never happen to a GM in the NFL. Everything he does is out in the open where every move he makes is scrutinized by people like you and me along with the press and the entire planet. There is no hiding a Draft mistake; if you cut a player who becomes an All-Pro for another team, everyone you know then blames you for being an idiot.

You also have to set policy for your team, discipline players, work and rework contracts, set up training camp, and everything that goes along with that. You meet with a hundred or more people a week, and you have to assess your team along with every other team in the league. You have to appease a multi-billionaire owner plus an entire fan base, who like the press will always find something you have done to be incredibly wrong. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what a NFL GM must endure, and I would take the job in a second.

The ability to build a lasting winner while at the same time dethroning an evil empire from it’s gargoyle like perch atop the football world is too enticing to pass up. To take your team and all its fans plus an entire city to the promised land, then plant your victory flag in the sacred revered ground of everlasting glory is a drug too sweet to reject. Howie Roseman will not pay for a meal in the city of Philadelphia for a long time, or until he trades Carson Wentz.

This is why the job of NFL GM is so coveted, Howie Roseman is on top of the world, and there are 31 other GMs who are being looked at with disdain because their city is not experiencing the same euphoria happening in Philadelphia. One of those GMs is Mike Maccagnan. His 4 year record is not so stellar, and there are some reasons for that. If he doesn’t change his fortunes, soon there will be a new person sitting in that GM chair.

The mistakes Mike Maccagnan has made in the three plus years on the job are too numerous to dissect in one article. Instead I want to focus on the main reasons he was hired here in the first place. Those are drafting and the ability (or lack thereof) to identify talent and bring it to our team. Remember, Maccagnan was heralded as a super scout and Draft wizard by Charlie Casserly, who Woody Johnson hired to find a successor to John Idzik.

Maccagnan was hired in 2015 and has selected 28 players for the team in 4 Draft classes. He had more picks, but some were traded away. This is a mystery. Why would a Draft master trade away picks that he could turn into draft gold. You would think a guy like Maccagnan would want as many bites at the apple he could get to discover a hidden treasure.

But let me digress and start from the beginning...

The first thing a newly hired GM like Maccagnan must do when hired is find talented people to be around him. He needs front office people he knows and trusts so he can delegate responsibilities to free him up so he can do more important work. He should already have lined these people up to be part of his team. The interview process for a team hiring a GM is protracted so this gives a candidate time to set his hierarchy up.

Next (and maybe more importantly) he has to decide his grand plan for the organization. He needs to determine what type of offense and defense he is going to run and hire the coaches that best suit those styles. They don’t have to be friends or even like one another just as long as both are professionals and do their jobs. I think a team runs best when it is run by one person, one voice who everyone knows is the boss. The chain of command is set. This is how I would run things, your neck is going to be in the noose so you should be able to make all the decisions.

Now that you have a framework to your organization, you need to self scout your own team. You need to see what type of players you have and how they fit in your newly revamped team. I am sure that other GMs will be in touch and will try and steal players from a rookie peer. You can use that opportunity to unload players who don’t fit your style and add some Draft picks to increase your young talent base. If you are new to the organization, your team is probably not very good and in need of some housecleaning anyway.

Next you have to prioritize your needs and what will be your team’s base from which to build from. In other words, what will the foundation of your team be?

To put that idea into a mental picture you can visualize... Take the Egyptians. They build these massive pyramids that weigh millions of tons. They build them with an enormous base, one that could hold all those millions of tons of rocks for eons. Your base is the most important segment of your team and the building blocks of your empire.

For me the base of any team is on the offensive and defensive lines. That way you can on offense protect the QB while running the ball with some degree of effectiveness. On defense, you can stop the run and put at least minimal pressure on the QB. This is building a team from the inside out. You make this your priority and use your best resources to do so. That doesn’t mean you forget about the rest of the team. You build there too, but you don’t use your best assets until your base is set. Once it is set you can use premium assets on LBs, CBs, RBs. and WRs. But when your base is set, you continue to add to it the best that you can. You don’t let it deteriorate.

If you look at the Jets Drafts over the last 4 years, I fail to see a sliver of a methodical process to build a team. The Jets used a premium pick (2nd round #37) on a WR who was a speedy guy but a poor route runner. He played on an all-star team that ran the ball effectively, giving him single coverage most of the time. He was a deep ball threat but had only 33 receptions as a senior. The team spent a 1st round pick (#20) on an OLB (Lee) and moved him inside to play as an ILB, something he was ill equipped to do. (I broke things when that pick was announced.) Lee became one of the worst rated ILBs in the history of rating LBs.

His drafting has no tangible logic, and his team building is chaotic. Let’s look at each position, and see what Maccagnan has accomplished.

WR - Maccagnan has used 4 picks on the position (14.2% of his draft capital). Only 1 player remains on the roster. That is Charone Peake who was a 7th round selection and is routinely a Sunday inactive.

Basically there is no Draft help from WR picks.

TE - Maccagnan has used 2 picks on the position (7.1% of draft capital). He used a 5th round pick on Jordan Leggett in 2017, a player who Dabo Sweeney called lazy. He eventually injured his knee and missed his rookie year. He used a 4th round pick on Chris Herndon in 2018 who already had an injured knee. So at minicamp both players who Maccagnan drafted were out with knee injuries.

These players are both young and still learning so there is an inconclusive narrative on them and their position.

DL - Maccagnan has used 5 picks (17.9% of of draft capital) on the defensive line which was a position of the highest strength for the Jets when Maccagnan took over. He let Snacks Harrison walk in free agency, which was a huge mistake. Maccagnan had oodles of cap space and spent it like water. Then he didn’t extend Snacks who was the keystone of the defensive line. He then had to use the money to sign Steve McLendon to take his place. It might have been wiser to resign Snacks and sign McLendon to use as a rotation plus have two colossal DTs when the team goes into a 4-3 alignment. That would have freed up picks used on the D-line on other areas of need.

The players he selected are Leo Williams (#6 overall) who was considered the best player in the draft and fell to Maccagnan. Leo is a good kid and a quality player who has not lived up to his Draft position. You would have hoped that Williams would be a disruptive force and a difference maker, but he has not.

Deon Simon, a 7th round dart throw, and Dylan Donahue, a 5th round pick, are both no longer with the team. The Donahue pick was a head-scratcher, a short armed edge player who was too small to hold the edge and not athletic enough to play OLB.

The other two picks are Nathan Shepherd a 3rd round pick and Foley Fatukasi a 6th round pick who were drafted this year and have not been around long enough to evaluate.

A lot of draft capital has been invested with suspect results so far on the D-line and no real edge players.

RB - Maccagnan has used 2 picks (7.1% of draft capital) on running backs, and both were 6th round picks. Elijah McGuire and Trenton Cannon are both young players. I thought Cannon could have easily been picked up as a UDFA from Virginia State, and that pick could have been used elsewhere.

Two 6th round picks is just a cursory attempt to supply a position and is no way to find a high quality back that is capable of being a work horse for you.

CB - Maccagnan has used 4 picks (14.2% of draft capital). One in the 4th round, Justin Burris, has been a poorly rated cover man and not a solution. The other 3 picks have all been 6th round selections, Jeremy Clark (no longer on team), Derrick Jones who has had little use (a usual Sunday inactive), and Parry Nickerson who has had all of 43 snaps in 4 games. We will with hold judgement on these players because they have not been around long enough to evaluate.

You would think that in a passing league Maccagnan would spend more Draft capital on the CB position. It is hard to find difference makers at a position in the 4th round and later. If you had a couple of young studs at the position it would be a decent strategy to add some developmental guys, but the Jets don’t have those players.

Maccagnan has spent lavishly on free agent CBs like Revis, Buster Skrine and Trumaine Johnson but with poor results. Revis was a colossal bust, and the other two players appear to be worth not even a quarter of the money being paid them.

This is just a very poor utilization of resources for such a vital position on a team with equally miserable results.

S - Maccagnan has used 2 picks (7.1% of draft capital) on the safety position, a #6 overall and a 2nd round selection on consecutive picks in the same Draft. Both players are beginning their 2nd year on the team and both are starters. They both seem to be good players but we will withhold judgement until we have more data.

It was strange to use your first two picks (both high picks) on primarily one position when you are coming off a 5-11 season with a team so full of obvious holes. Although if these player continue to develop into team leaders and difference makers, you would have to put these picks in the win column for Maccagnan.

LB - Maccagnan has used 3 picks (10.7% of draft capital) on the LB position. He used a 3rd round pick on Lorenzo Mauldin who is no longer with the team, #20 overall on OLB Darron Lee in another head scratching move, then moved him to ILB where he was over matched his first two years with some of the lowest grades ever given to a LB. He used a 3rd round pick on Jordan Jenkins who has been serviceable so far but not a difference maker.

We have 3 premium picks on a position with little to show for it so far, but we again will withhold full judgement until we have more data.

QB - Maccagnan has used 3 picks (10.7% of draft capital) on the QB position with limited results so far. He selected Bryce Petty in the 4th round but inexplicably used a 7th round pick to move up 1 spot and draft Petty. The Jaguars were not going to draft Petty. If they were they would not have traded with the Jets. This trade just gave away a pick. Petty is no longer on the team. He also used a 2nd round pick #51 on Christian Hackenberg in one of the worst uses of a draft pick in NFL history. I had Hack as a late 6th round prospect, and PFF had him as undraftable. They were right. I was wrong. It was another draft day implosion by a Jets GM. Maccagnan traded 3 2nd round picks and our #6 overall to move up to #3 and select Sam Darnold to be the savior of the franchise. The reviews are mixed right now but we will withhold judgement until more data can be attained. It may take a while. It is at least applaudable that Maccagnan was forward thinking enough to plan for and select a franchise type QB. Even if Darnold flames out and is a bust, it was worth the effort in today’s NFL.

P - Maccagnan used a 7th round pick on a punter, but nobody really cares about a punter

OL - Maccagnan has used 2 picks (7.1% of draft capital) on the offensive line, both 5th round selections. You could actually say that 3 picks were used since Maccagnan sent a 4th round pick #114 in 2017 for 5th round pick #158 in 2016 used to draft Brandon Shell. A year earlier, the Jets used 5th round pick #152 on Jarvis Harrison. Maccagnan has neglected to use a single draft pick on an offensive lineman of any kind in the last 2 drafts. Both Shell and Harrison could be characterized as serviceable with Shell getting the nod as the better of the two so far.

This is what I called our base, the offensive line. Maccagnan has to see the same thing you or I do. Grading services put the team’s O-line near or at the bottom of the league. Added to that, the Jets have almost no depth at any offensive line position which makes them a couple of injuries away from using players off the street.

The Jets just ran the ball for an impressive 323 yards, but that was just one game of peculiar big plays that were more about defensive failures than great blocking. A great line will pound a defense with continuous 6 and 7 yard gains that will eventually wear it down, making them commit more resources to stopping the run and opening holes for the passing game.

Maccagnan started planning to draft a franchise QB two years ago. It is amazing that a GM would not try and develop a strong offensive line in front of his rookie QB. A running game is a rookie QB’s best friend, but only if you have good blockers in front of him. Even a casual NFL fan would understand the desire to protect the franchise. A clean pocket gives a rookie QB the ability to survey the field and keeps him healthy. With success comes confidence and growth from your prized pick. Mediocre results have the exact opposite effect. You would have to know that defenses are going to be unmerciful with blitzes to hit him and force him into mistakes.

It is unconscionable that a GM would draft zero offensive linemen in the two years before the arrival of his team’s future leader. This offensive line has been patched together with mostly castoffs and auxiliary free agents. The backups are constructed of merely replacement level players. Reeking of hubris, it was brazenly negligent for Maccagnan to completely let an indispensable part of his team just wither away like plants without water.

If you want a strong offensive line. you must use premium picks to do so. Since 2010 the 40 All-Pro selections of the offensive line have been comprised by (some players have multiple selections) 22) 1st round, 6) 2nd round, 4) 3rd round, 3) 4th round (all the same player Jahri Evans of New Orleans) 1) 5th round, 1) 6th round and 3) were UDFAs. The UDFAs players were Jason Peters twice (he started as a TE and didn’t even become a LT until much later) and Andrew Norwell of Carolina.

70% of All-Pro selections since 2010 have been 1st or 2nd round picks. Your chance of finding an All-Pro in the later rounds is like trying to find a single needle in a stack of needles.

Dallas was a middle of the road team for years (17 years out of the playoffs) until they decided to build an offensive line. It took time. Eventually they had one of the best lines in the NFL and they made it back to the Playoffs. They made Dak Prescott a potent force and the team a 13-3 record. Since then they got complacent and neglected the O-line, a few injuries later they are struggling again.

Businesses flourish or fail through the leadership of the their decision makers. Smart planning can lead your company to greatness and dominance of your industry. A problem that starts at the top will filters it’s way down to the rest of the organization. If the leadership lacks direction and a viable plan with the persistence to follow that plan, it is doomed from the start. Maccagnan was doomed from the start, and it was done by his own hand.

It is hard to win in the NFL. Many good people have tried, only to fail.

The Jets will need new leadership soon, and I hope the ownership can see that all the way from England.