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Early Thoughts on the 2020 Jets Draft Class

NFL Combine - Day 2

I am aware that you cannot truly evaluate a Draft class until years after the selections are made. Anybody who has ever had an opinion on the Draft has many big errors on their record.

These are my very early thoughts on the 2020 Jets Draft class. Years from now I have no doubt some of these statements will look laughable, but I reserve the right to change my mind in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead as new information presents itself.

These are things I’m sure about

  • During the NFL Draft we talk about whether picks fit a team’s immediate needs and use that as a criteria to grade the picks. This is the wrong way to think about it, though. The vast majority of Draft picks provide minimal to no value as rookies. The Draft is really about finding long-term players, not immediate gratification. Sure, you’d prefer guys to contribute immediately. Some players do, but they are in the minority. You should think of an instant contribution as a stroke of luck rather than something expected. (You might be able to make an exception for first and second round picks.) With that in mind, the focus should be less on whether a pick fills an immediate need and more on whether a selection will be a long-term player for the Jets. The Draft ultimately isn’t about filling needs. It’s about finding players who will build positions into strengths two to three years down the line.

  • The Jets did not select nine players who will have successful NFL careers. That’s just the reality. Some of the players the Jets picked will not contribute. This is the nature of the Draft. It is very difficult to project with precision how a given prospect’s career will go. It’s tempting to declare that the Jets got nine future starters out of this class, but that won’t be the case. It’s important to understand this because it’s also important to understand that the success of this class doesn’t depend on going nine for nine. There are whiffs in the greatest classes in NFL history. If the Jets got a few plus starters and a few quality role players, this class will be remembered as a great success even if there are some whiffs built in.

These are things I like

  • I’ll start with the focus on the offensive line. For eleven months people have said Joe Douglas will try to build the offense from the inside out. He has been called an offensive line guy. Sometimes these early predictions about a general manager prove to not be true. Douglas showed his commitment to the offensive line by invested a pair of picks in the first four rounds selecting Mekhi Becton and Cameron Clark. In doing so, Douglas has now spent more top 130 picks on the offensive line in one Draft than Mike Maccagnan did in five. The Jets offensive line didn’t get to its 2019 state overnight. It was the culmination of years of neglect through the Draft. There was no top end homegrown talent to stabilize things.

  • I think Douglas played things perfectly in the first two rounds addressing the two areas where the Jets most needed to make long-term investments, the offensive line and wide receiver. Taking an offensive lineman in the first round was part of a calculated gamble that the depth of the receiver class would push a premium prospect to the second round. It paid off as the Jets were able to land Denzel Mims.

  • I also give credit to Douglas for showing discipline in the second round. After Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman came off the board as the round’s first two picks, there was likely a temptation to trade up into the mid-30s for a receiver. Douglas ignored the temptation. To paraphrase a line from Moneyball, the second you think you need to make a deal, you’re screwed because you’re going to make a bad deal. It wouldn’t have been the ideal scenario to leave the second round without a wide receiver, but good teams in this league don’t panic. They always have a Plan B. As it turns out, Douglas didn’t need his Plan B because he was able to trade down and still get Mims.

  • Speaking of trading down, longtime readers of this website know that for years I’ve pounded the table for the Jets to trade down and stockpile extra picks. That unpredictability of prospects makes it important to build in a margin for error. I didn’t just like that the Jets traded down to get extra picks. I liked where these picks were added. Of their nine selections, the Jets made six in rounds two through four. These are the best value rounds of the Draft. The talent level for players picked in these rounds is high, but the salaries are low.

  • I know it is a dangerous game to use media Draft boards to determine day three steals, but all I can go on are my own opinions. I really liked Bryce Hall of Virginia. I thought he would have been an acceptable day two pick so I was delighted to get him in the fifth round. I wonder how much his fall had to do not with talent but just because teams couldn’t bring him in for thorough medical exams. If he doesn’t pan out, so do most fifth rounders.

  • I am a bit surprised that the Jets drafting a punter in the sixth round has been met with a bit of backlash. I don’t see the problem. The odds of any sixth round pick having success are low. Punter is one of the few positions where you actually have a viable chance of finding a long-term player. It would be one thing if the Jets were drafting a punter in the third or fourth round with value still on the board. (Remember when the Jaguars picked a punter over Russell Wilson?) This wasn’t the same thing.

Braden Mann is one of the most decorated punter prospects in some time. If you have been a Jets fan fifteen years or longer, you will and probably should approach this selection with some caution. We remember how Mike Nugent was touted as the best kicking prospect of the decade. Nugent went on to be a quality kicker in the NFL but never matched that hype. Then again, the Jets used a second round pick on Nugent and a sixth round pick on Mann.

Here’s what I know. There are key points in games where a big legged punter flipping field position with his team backed up makes a big difference. There is also probably like one NFL game each season where a big performance by a punter helps to swing the outcome. Perhaps the Jets can be that team with Mann one year. I could see having an issue with a punter if the Jets only had five or six selections, but with a few extra picks to spare I think this was a perfectly acceptable choice.

  • The offensive line picks provide one look at the way Douglas values positions differently, but I think the selection of Lamical Perine provides another. Most teams view running back as one of the lowest value positions in the NFL. This selection could be a signal that the days of spending big on do it all backs like Le’Veon Bell could be coming to an end soon. Perine probably projects as the North-South tough insider running half of a tandem. His speedier outside partner seems likely to be obtained next year while Bell’s contract requires the Jets play out this year with him. This approach to running back is more in line with NFL best practices than what the Jets had been doing.

These are things I didn’t like

  • For a team that had such a barren group of wide receivers, I think there has to be some disappointment only coming out of this Draft with a single receiver. Unlike the deep receiver classes of 2014 and 2019, the Jets did at least land a player with number one upside in Mims. Still I think this was a missed opportunity. It isn’t as much about 2020 as it is the chance lost to add quality pass catchers who could grow with Sam Darnold over the next decade.

  • I don’t mind drafting a backup quarterback in the fourth round. In fact I think teams are way too hesitant to use their resources to upgrade such an important position. My issue is the player the Jets took, James Morgan. It’s not even so much Morgan as I think it is the flaw in the way NFL teams seek out developmental prospects at the position. Morgan is the prototype. He has a big build and a rocket arm. He struggles with his decision-makings.

Teams get it into their heads that if they can just teach prospects like this the nuances of the position, they will have a potential star. Does it really work out this way, though?

There were five quarterbacks in 2019 originally drafted in rounds four through seven who threw at least 20 touchdown passes. They were Dak Prescott, Kirk Cousins, Tom Brady, Gardner Minshew, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. They range from a once in a century player in Brady to quality starters in Cousins and Prescott to a decent spot starter and backup in Fitzpatrick to an unknown ceiling in Minshew. None was drafted based on elite physical tools. A Minshew scouting report said, “Scouts are concerned by perceived lack of arm strength.” Prescott was said to have “enough natural arm strength.” Cousins was called, “a game manager type at the next level.” Fitzpatrick’s name is almost synonymous with a weak arm. Scouting reports about Brady’s lack of physical tools are now the stuff of legend.

It’s tempting to think about the guy who has the arm talent to get the ball anywhere on the field from any arm angle and any platform. This player’s ceiling is higher than the less physically gifted passer who can’t, but the big arm projection players just don’t hit that ceiling. The prospects who are successful come in with a knowledge of passing concepts and build upon that knowledge. The physical traits are less important. The guys drafted early have both. In the middle and late rounds they don’t. A better gamble is the prospect with the understanding, not the tools.

These are things I’m not sure about

  • I think Douglas’ first Draft suggests he is big on projections. The Jets focused on drafting high ceiling players with great athleticism sometimes over lower ceiling prospects more refined. This isn’t a good or a bad thing. Teams are successful with either approach. It comes down to whether you find the right players. It puts the burden on the coaching staff to develop players. We will see whether the coaches are up to the task.

  • I’m not sure exactly what the plan is for Ashtyn Davis. I think his selection was a general hedge in the secondary with so many key players having uncertain contract situations. There has to be a Plan A, though. Who was he drafted to replace? I expect to write a more in-depth look at this situation in the days ahead so look out for it.