Building through the draft. It’s something every team says they want to do, but not every team actually does. The Jets general manager Joe Douglas, like all of his predecessors in the position, has repeatedly stated he wants to build through the draft. Douglas’ predecessors paid lip service to the concept while rarely following through.
The average NFL team has eight draft choices per year. What? How is that possible when there are only seven rounds in the draft? Well, we have to also include compensatory draft picks. Most years 32 compensatory picks are awarded to teams for losing more qualifying free agents than they gained. Add in the compensatory picks and you get an average of eight picks per team.
How many years since 1994, when the draft was first limited to just seven rounds, have the Jets made more than eight picks? The answer is seven. Seven years out of 27 drafts the Jets have made more than the average number of draft picks. They’ve only done it three times in the last 15 drafts.
On the flip side, the Jets have made less than seven picks eight times in the last 14 drafts, including five straight years from 2007 through 2011. Whatever it means to build through the draft, that isn’t it.
Fortunately for the Jets, there’s a new sheriff in town, and his name is Joe Douglas. The first Jets draft under Douglas the Jets made nine picks, only the third time the Jets have made that many in the last 14 years. Better yet, the Jets currently have nine picks in the 2021 draft, and another nine picks in the 2022 draft. We don’t yet know if the Jets will keep all those picks, add to them, or trade some away. But if the Jets make all those picks, it will be the first time since the NFL reduced the draft to seven rounds in 1994 that the Jets will have made nine or more picks three straight years. It will be just the second time since 1994 the Jets have made nine or more picks in back to back years, and the first time that’s happened in more than 20 years.
Having more picks is great. The more picks, the more chances some of them work out. However, if all you have are a bunch of mid to late round picks, your chances of drafting stars goes way down. Fortunately, the Jets have that covered. If the Jets keep their current picks, in the next two years the Jets will make four first round picks. The Jets haven’t made multiple first round picks in any year since 2013. They haven’t had back to back years with multiple first round picks ever in the 60+ year history of the franchise. This truly is the dawning of a new era in Jets team building.
It gets better. The Jets should have the first pick or near the first pick in every round of the 2021 NFL draft. That should put the Jets’ fourth round pick in 2021 somewhere in the first 105 picks. That would give the Jets six picks in the top 105 in 2021 and four in 2022. That’s 10 premium picks in the next two drafts. The Jets have never had more than 10 premium picks over two years in their post-merger history. In 1979 and 1980 the Jets had 10 premium picks. Those two drafts landed the Jets Mark Gastineau, Marty Lyons, Darrol Ray and Lance Mehl, setting the stage for the Sack Exchange glory years of the early to mid 1980s.
It should be obvious at this point that this time things really are different. Joe Douglas isn’t just talking a good game about building through the draft, he’s actually following through. The Jets have sunk to depths never before experienced by this franchise. Rebuilding from the rubble left by the last decade of ruinous management will not be easy, and it will not be quick. But the only viable path to sustained success lies through the draft. For the first time in what seems like forever, the Jets have a general manager serious about doing this the right way.
Having a bunch of draft picks is a start, but it isn’t sufficient. You still need to make good use of those picks, and on that front the jury on the current Jets regime is still out. It remains to be seen whether Joe Douglas can turn his plethora of picks into premium talent. At the very least, though, the Jets are finally playing the rebuilding game the only way you can win. Without actually committing to the draft, your chances of sustained success are virtually nil. While there’s no guarantee the current regime won’t squander the opportunity these draft picks represent, as they say, you gotta be in it to win. At the very least, for the first time in a very long time, the Jets are in it. They are playing the right long game. Now we will see if they have what it takes to convert opportunity into success.