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The End Of A Draft Narrative

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New York Jets Introduce General Manager Mike Maccagnan and Head Coach Todd Bowles Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images

Going into the 2018 off season a factoid making the rounds was that 21 out of 22 Mike Maccagnan draft choices were still on the 90 man roster of the New York Jets. This supposedly illustrated that Maccagnan is overly fond of his own draft choices and keeps them on the team almost regardless of ability. The subtext here is that Maccagnan hurts the team by refusing to cut ties with bad picks. With 21 of 22 draft choices remaining with the Jets, on the surface it was a plausible argument, but was it ever really true? Let’s take a closer look.

Maccagnan’s first draft in 2015 produced the following picks:

Leonard Williams (1)

Devin Smith (2)

Lorenzo Mauldin (3)

Bryce Petty (4)

Jarvis Harrison (5)

Deon Simon (7)

With this first class Jarvis Harrison never made it out of training camp. He was signed briefly to the practice squad in November 2015, then re-signed to the 90 man roster in June 2016, only to be cut for good just a week later. Offensive line is a position with a notoriously long development curve, yet Maccagnan gave up on a 5th round pick after nothing more than a few games on the practice squad. That doesn’t seem to fit the Maccagnan loves his draft picks too much narrative.

Out of the rest of the 2015 draft class, Bryce Petty was waived in May 2018. With quarterback a position where the Jets had very little talent and a position with a long developmental curve, we can argue about whether the Jets held onto Petty too long, but the real sin here was probably the original selection, not how long it took to move on.

Devin Smith was cut just a few days ago. He was rarely healthy, never participated in a single training camp, and ultimately suffered two devastating knee injuries. Sure, the Jets could have cut him sooner, but there was little benefit to doing so, as he was on the injured reserve list much of the last two years. As a result he was not taking up a roster spot, and cutting a player while he is injured means paying him his full salary, thus you don’t save any cap space by cutting him. Smith is another player where the sin, if there was one, was probably the original selection, not how long it took to move on.

Lorenzo Mauldin had a decent rookie year, then struggled in his second year. There was no reason to cut him until year three at the earliest. Off season rumors circulated that Mauldin was indeed in danger of being cut in 2017. Then an injury landed Mauldin on injured reserve, where he did not take up a roster spot in 2017. Not much to quibble with here. On a team with almost no edge talent, unfortunately Mauldin was as good a bet as anyone to start. Cutting him before 2017 would not have made a lot of sense, and keeping him in 2017 did not impact the Jets once he landed on injured reserve. There is a good chance Mauldin will not make the team this year. There is also a good chance he will not only make the team, he will start, due to the dearth of talent at edge. Either way the decision will tell us more about how bad the Jets overall edge talent is than it will about Maccagnan’s supposed inordinate love of his draft picks.

The final 2015 draft pick, Deon Simon, made the team out of training camp in 2015, then was cut a month later and spent the rest of the year on the practice squad. Simon made the team again in 2016 and played reasonably well for the Jets. He was cut again prior to the start of the 2017 season and spent 2017 on the practice squad. Getting cut twice in three years hardly is evidence the Jets favored Simon because he was a draft pick. You might quibble with retaining him on the practice squad two years, but that seems like nit picking. The large majority of practice squad players never show as much as Simon did when he got his chance to play for the Jets. Retaining him a while to see if he can build on that does not seem much evidence of favoritism to me.

Three players from the class of 2015 are now gone. 2018 is probably the last chance for Lorenzo Mauldin and Deon Simon. By the end of 2018 training camp there will at most be three players remaining from the 2015 draft class, and there is a decent chance only one, Leonard Williams, will still be on the team. Perhaps the Jets hung onto Petty a bit too long, but that seems like pretty weak evidence for Maccagnan loving his draft picks too much.

Moving on to 2016, the Jets selected the following players:

Darron Lee (1)

Christian Hackenberg (2)

Jordan Jenkins (3)

Juston Burris (4)

Brandon Shell (5)

Lac Edwards (7)

Charone Peake (7)

Lee, Jenkins, Shell and Edwards are presumably starters for the Jets in 2018, so one cannot argue they should have been cut. Peake had a decent rookie year, then landed on injured reserve in 2017. Cutting him would not have saved cap space nor a roster spot; there was little reason to let Peake go until now. With the depth at wide receiver now with the team, it’s likely Peake has played his last snap with the New York Jets. That leaves everybody’s favorite film star, Christian Hackenberg, and Juston Burris.

Hackenberg is no longer a Jet, and like Petty, the sin with Hackenberg was the original selection, not how long the Jets kept him. Teams almost never cut 2nd round picks, especially 2nd round quarterbacks, in the first year or two. The position is too important and the development curve is too long to cut ties so quickly. Hackenberg couldn’t play, but once the Jets made the mistake of selecting him, it was all but inevitable he would be given at least two years to prove he was a mistake, particularly given the dearth of talent the Jets had at the position. Few NFL GMs would have cut ties sooner, though many would have never made the selection in the first place.

As for Burris, he actually showed some promise his rookie year and there were hopes he could develop into a useful cornerback, perhaps even a starter, by year two in 2017. 2017 turned out to be disastrous for Burris. You can certainly argue the Jets should have cut ties this off season. However, if Burris plays well in training camp, it will have been the right call to bring him back. If he plays poorly and is cut, giving him a last chance in 2018 hardly seems evidence of much. Only if Burris plays poorly and is inexplicably retained over guys who clearly outplayed him will he arguably be evidence of Maccagnan over valuing his draft picks. That remains to be seen, but to date Burris isn’t evidence of much one way or the other.

In 2017 the Jets made the following draft picks:

Jamal Adams (1)

Marcus Maye (2)

Ardarius Stewart (3)

Chad Hansen (4)

Jordan Leggett (5)

Dylan Donahue (5)

Elijah McGuire (6)

Jeremy Clark (6)

Derrick Jones (6)

Adams and Maye are starters. Hansen and Stewart were backups who, as mid level draft picks, would have had to be disastrously bad in training camp not to make the team as rookies. Not much fodder there for the draft picks are loved too much argument. Leggett spent the year on injured reserve, and McGuire was a backup who showed some promise his rookie year. That leaves Dylan Donahue, Jeremy Clark and Derrick Jones. Donahue spent most of the season on injured reserve; cutting him would not have saved the Jets a roster spot nor cap space. Perhaps we can criticize the Jets for not cutting a marginal talent like Donahue after repeated struggles with alcohol and driving under the influence. Jeremy Clark was injured when drafted and the Jets knew he was unlikely to be ready for much of the 2017 season. Under the circumstances keeping him on the 2017 roster seems like the plan all along. That leaves Derrick Jones, who was healthy and took up a roster space despite being nowhere near ready in 2017. Jones is a converted wide receiver and a particularly raw prospect; the Jets apparently saw something in him that was enough to not risk cutting him in order to develop him on the practice squad, where he probably belonged in 2017. Perhaps we can criticize the reluctance to cut a 6th round selection who was not ready to contribute.

Those are the 22 selections prior to the 2018 draft. Four are already history. By the end of 2018 training camp as many as six more may well join them (Mauldin, Simon, Burris, Peake, and perhaps two out of Donahue, Clark and Jones). The strongest evidence of Maccagnan loving his draft picks too much are at the cornerback position, where you can perhaps quibble with Burris, Jones and Clark. However, given the lack of talent at the position, and given the promise Burris showed his rookie year, holding onto a few late round draft choices for a couple years seems like rather thin gruel on which to base an argument.

If the 2018 season sees most or all of the seven bubble guys listed above still on the roster, perhaps a better case can be made that Maccagnan keeps his draft picks too long. For the time being, however, given the likely near complete dismantling of the 2015 draft class other than Leonard Williams, and given that the 2016 and 2017 classes were competing for spots on a couple of the worst rosters in the NFL, the current evidence appears to me rather suspect in support of the prevailing narrative regarding Mike Maccagnan. For now it appears to me that there is little persuasive evidence of an inordinate love for draft picks. Rather, it appears to me the more likely explanation for the 21 out of 22 picks thing is just questionable talents taking advantage of the opportunities provided by competing for spots on bad football teams. Perhaps that will change by the end of 2018 training camp, if too many picks are inexplicably retained over better players, but for now I’m just not buying what the Maccagnan loves his picks too much crowd is selling.

What about you? Did you ever buy into the Maccagnan loves his draft picks too much narrative? Were the 21 out of 22 picks still on the 90 man roster in April persuasive evidence of this? Have you changed your mind at all now that the dismantling of the 2015 draft class is well under way? Are the many picks still on the roster due more to bad rosters and easy competition for spots, or too much draft pick love? Is the Maccagnan loves his draft picks narrative justified, or just a false narrative based on questionable evidence? Let us know your thoughts.