With the 2023 NFL Draft now complete, I wanted to share my first thoughts about the class and where the Jets will go from here. As always, my mind is subject to change as new information presents itself.
As with anything, reactions to this year’s Draft vary wildly. I do get a general sense of disappointment from Jets fans.
I can’t help but feel like part of this is due to inevitable comparisons to the 2022 Jets Draft class. Practically any group of players the Jets drafted this year would fall short of the selections from a year ago.
This time last year the Jets were receiving close to universal acclaim. This was to be expected. The team had two top ten picks and two other picks in the top forty. Of course a team can miss on early picks, but it was a virtual lock the Jets were going to walk away with four consensus top prospects.
This year the Jets had a single top forty pick and only a pair in the top one hundred. On top of this, 2023 was viewed as a weak Draft class overall. With so few top prospects overall and a shortage of picks, it was going to be difficult for the Jets to wow anybody.
The Will McDonald IV selection
The team’s top pick, Iowa State edge rusher Will McDonald IV, has generated plenty of controversy. Generally speaking, McDonald is viewed as unlikely to be anything more than a role player in year one and will play defensive end, one of the team’s biggest strengths.
With the Jets having a 39 year old quarterback and pushing a lot of cap money to future years, I think it is natural to wonder why the team did not aim for a player more ready to help this year.
I have a couple of thoughts about this. First, I think this year there was a genuine lack of blue chip talent. Picking at 15 made finding an immediate contributor a difficult task. There aren’t many prospects the Jets passed on that I see as lock day one starters.
As far as whether the Jets should have drafted a defensive end, I think it is important to think through what truly makes a successful Draft pick. At this time of year, it seems like picks are inordinately judged on whether they address a weakness. Five and ten years down the line, we don't look back and ask whether a player filled an immediate need when he was drafted. We ask whether he was a good player.
It’s great when you have Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, and Breece Hall step right in and make an immediate impact. Those aren't the expected outcomes, however. Most players have some sort of transition period their rookie year. They don’t all hit the ground running.
You’re really drafting players for two to three years down the line. I see people talking about how the San Francisco 49ers lacking picks is no big deal because their roster is stacked. Three years from now the Niners might still be a very good team, but I’m willing to bet the roster won’t be as stacked. You’ll see articles wondering how the team fell from its peak. I’ll answer the question in advance. The players they drafted this year would have replaced players who departed because they became too expensive to keep against the cap or declined.
Today defensive end might be a strength for the Jets. If the team didn’t address it, will defensive end still be a strength in 2026? Carl Lawson will almost certainly be gone by then. John Franklin-Myers might too. If Will McDonald is producing 10 sacks by then, everybody is going to view him as an excellent pick. Conversely if McDonald fails to develop, that is why he will be viewed as a poor pick. It won’t be because defensive end was a strength at the point they drafted him.
Beyond everything I just mentioned, I want to make one additional point. In my view, it is good team building practice to constantly try to acquire and develop talented young edge rushers. This is a spot to be proactive. When your current starter departs, you want a young player ready to step in. You don’t want to be in crisis mode hoping a rookie produces a big result.
The pick swap
I think part of the frustration from McDonald has to be viewed in the larger context of how things played out. In the Aaron Rodgers trade, the Jets dropped from 13 to 15 in the first round as part of a pick swap. Whether or not you liked the idea of adding Rodgers, I think it is difficult to argue the Jets did an effective job negotiating the compensation of the trade. This pick swap was one such example. It just didn’t seem necessary.
Look, I can’t tell you with 100 percent certainty that the Jets were going to pick Broderick Jones if he fell to them. It certainly looked that way to me, however. I think it is fair to say the Steelers thought the Jets were taking Jones. That’s why they traded up to 14 to get him. They wouldn't have been able to do that if the Jets were sitting at 13.
The Jets were on the clock for almost the maximum of their allotted time. Long-time observers of the Draft have seen this story before. A team thinks it is getting a player. The player is picked just before. The team is left scrambling. Frequently there is a big gap on the board between the prized player who was just picked and the new best player available.
Again I can’t say this with 100 percent certainty, but it certainly played out like the Jets were trying to move down and could not.
I believe all of this contributed to the negative feelings about the selection of McDonald. The Jets just looked like they had mishandled their assets and lost out on their top choice as a result.
I think the truth is more complicated than this. While tackle is definitely a concern, I am not convinced Jones was a plug and play type prospect. There are some pretty major mechanical aspects of his game that need to be cleaned up.
And sometimes these situations provide you with good fortune. The last time I remember a team reeling like that from a Draft day surprise was Dallas in 2021. The Cowboys entered the Draft sure they would get a top corner. When there was an unexpected run on them, you could tell the Dallas front office was at a loss. They ended up picking Micah Parsons. Hopefully for the Jets there will be a similar silver lining.
I don’t have particularly strong feelings on the selection of Joe Tippmann so I will just skip ahead to the Draft’s final day.
The Jets entered the day with three selections. They traded down twice to add two additional picks. Was this a good strategy? I would say yes.
It’s possible, but very difficult to have a successful five player Draft class. You have post an inordinately good batting average. That’s difficult enough in a normal class but even tougher in a class this thin.
I think the relative weakness of the class also contributed to the validity of the strategy. At the top of most Drafts are the Sauce Gardners and Garrett Wilsons of the world. They have so many skills that they will fit into any scheme.
Lower in the class, the skillsets are more limited. If a player has one skill, it might or might not fit your team. A cornerback with length will be valuable to one team but not another.
This year’s Draft was so thin that the skillsets were even more limited than usual. This gave the Jets the opportunity to trade down, knowing players who interested them would not interest much of the league. They could get the guy they wanted at 204 just as easily as they could get him at 174 so why not add an extra pick?
Day three picks are essentially lottery tickets anyway. Adding an extra pick increases your chances of finding something valuable.
What comes next?
With so few picks in a class with such limited talent, it was clear there would be plenty of areas left unaddressed.
I would think the lack of an early round wide receiver pick means that Corey Davis will be staying. At least I think he should. Had the Jets selected a wideout early, Davis would have been expendable. Now he is essential.
I also would expect veteran signings at both offensive tackle and defensive tackle. Both needs were unmet in the Draft. There are free agents available at both spots who will presumably be cheap. They won’t be great, but they will upgrade the depth at least.
On the offensive line, the Jets already brought back one incumbent starter whose market cratered in Connor McGovern for relative pennies. Could the same happen with George Fant to provide at least a little more stability at tackle?