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NY Jets: Quarterback Roulette

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New York Jets General Manager Mike Maccagnan has made 22 selections in the NFL draft since he was hired by the Jets. He will make another six selections in the 2018 NFL draft, give or take a few if trades are made. Barring another terrible season on the field for the Jets in 2018, Maccagnan will likely select another six players in the 2019 NFL draft, give or take a few if trades are made. At that point Maccagnan will have made approximately 34 selections in the draft.

Maccagnan’s history in the draft with the Jets has not been inspiring. It has not been completely disastrous either. If we judge by Profootballreference.com’s AV metric, thus far Maccagnan has had one terrible draft, in 2015. The Jets’ 2015 draft class ranks 28th among NFL teams in total AV. Maccagnan’s other two draft classes both ranked just slightly north of average, both ranking 15th among NFL teams in total AV.

The book is far from closed on the draft classes thus far, and any of them could move up or down depending on player development. But thus far Maccagnan’s draft classes have ranked as thoroughly mediocre in relation to his peers.

We often talk about draft prospects as lottery tickets, but that isn’t a very good analogy. Lottery tickets are generally just short of impossible to pay off in a big way, with odds ranging in the millions to one against arena. Draft prospects don’t have anywhere near the same stacked odds against them. A draft prospect is more like a bet on a roulette wheel. A roulette wheel has 36 black and red numbered slots you can bet on, plus (in America) two green slots numbered 0 and 00 which are losing bets. You can bet on one number, several numbers, or for better odds but smaller payouts, you can bet on all black or all red, or all odd or all even. Take the riskier bet on a single number and your winnings are larger if you win; take the safer bet on odds or evens, black or red and the winnings are smaller.

Thus far Mike Maccagnan has placed a couple of smaller bets on quarterbacks Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg and has lost each time. The quarterback position is the one position at which a GM cannot afford to keep on losing. So Maccagnan has now pushed all his chips onto a high risk bet on a single number. That number is three, the draft slot the Jets have traded up into. Making this bet especially risky is that Maccagnan has traded up without knowing what players will be available at number three. Nonetheless, this is a risk Maccagnan had to take.

This year the Jets had a high draft pick at number six and an extra second round pick, giving them a rare amount of draft capital with which to trade up. There is no telling when the Jets might be in the position to draft this high again. The last time they had a selection this high was more than a quarter century ago. Maccagnan and the Jets couldn’t afford to wait for another such opportunity to come along. Maccagnan knows his tenure will live and die by whether or not he finds a long term answer at quarterback; this was his chance to increase his odds of that happening.

Now comes the hard part. Mike Maccagnan, a year from now, assuming he is not fired before then, will have made roughly 34 selections in the NFL draft, just short of a full roulette wheel. Out of those 34 bets, good, bad, or mediocre, one will mean more than all the others. If Maccagnan finds the right quarterback at number three, he and the entire current Jets regime will likely enjoy a long run at the Jets helm. And if he doesn’t find the right quarterback, he and the entire current regime will likely be fired within two years.

It all boils down to one spin of the wheel and an all chips on the table bet on lucky number three. The random element of chance in a single pick is enormous. Despite their best efforts no NFL GM has ever been able to sport anything close to a perfect track record in evaluating quarterbacks, first round picks, or anything else. They are calculated risks, better than random guesses but still heavily dependent on luck. A GM can get lucky with a random quarterback selection and live off that one pick for a decade. Another GM can get unlucky with a QB selection every GM in the league considers the best player in the draft and be fired soon thereafter, no matter how well his other picks pan out. There is certainly skill involved in the draft, but you’re fooling yourself if you don’t acknowledge a very large random chance element to the game.

Maccagnan has placed his bet and is going all in on lucky number three. The roulette wheel is spinning. The livelihoods of dozens of people, the fate of a football franchise, and the relative happiness of millions of fans ride on the somewhat random outcome of the quarterback bouncing ball. The wheel slows, approaches a stop. Number three is soooo close. Are you feeling lucky?