The New York Jets are once again at a crossroads in their history. Their latest regime is entering their third season and the future is less clear now than it was when owner Woody Johnson carved out the new hierarchy where GM Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles both report directly to him.
Maccagnan has a lot of pressure on him to accumulate talent after purging his roster of several of the team’s staple veterans this past offseason. His team is low on experience and quantity and even lower on quality. This draft is a make or break one for him. He must be both cautious and aggressive at the same time and cannot afford to reach for players and/or make many mistakes.
With the sixth overall selection, however, Maccagnan will have to wait to see who falls to him rather than forfeit draft picks to move up in the draft order. That will make for some anxious moments in the Jets’ war room in Florham Park this Thursday night.
The problem the third-year GM has is that the five teams selecting in front of him are all unpredictable and at the moment have not tipped their respective hands on who they will select. Maccagnan has picked wisely in the first round of his first two drafts, taking USC DT Leonard Williams in 2015 and LB Darron Lee of Ohio State last year. Williams has become a Pro Bowler and Lee finished second on the team in tackles as a rookie last season despite starting only nine games.
The Cleveland Browns hold the first pick and they are an interesting case because they are run by a corporate lawyer (GM Sashi Brown) and a former baseball executive (Paul DePodesta of “Moneyball” fame). They are said to be torn over two players: DE Myles Garrett of Texas A&M and North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky.
Garrett is widely considered the best player in the draft and Trubisky the best QB prospect. Many believe they are actively shopping the pick but there doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming interest from many clubs to move up to the top spot. They also have the 12th pick, and they are still holding out hope the New England Patriots trade backup QB Jimmy Garappolo to them in exchange for that pick. That is a long shot at the moment.
The San Francisco 49ers have the second overall pick and they are embarking on a new era with a new GM/coach combination in John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan. Lynch, a former player who was a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past January, is in unchartered terrain as an NFL executive. He is coming in directly from the broadcast booth at FOX, which has many insiders perplexed. Shanahan was the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator the past two years, where he developed the offense into the league’s best, taking the Falcons to the Super Bowl this past February.
The Niners could take just about anyone here, or they could even trade the selection for a package of picks. Should they stay in place, they are not expected to take Trubisky if the Browns opt to go with Garrett. They could select Stanford DE Solomon Thomas, RB Leonard Fournette of LSU or DT Jonathan Allen of Alabama. Many think Fournette could be the pick here because the Niners’ lead back, Carlos Hyde, has not fully recovered from a knee injury.
Selecting third are the Chicago Bears. They are no longer in the market for a QB after inking Tampa Bay’s Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million deal this offseason. That being said, no team has shown more interest in Trubisky, so go figure. Ryan Pace has been aggressive and creative in his first two drafts as GM and he is another wild card come Thursday night. Not many are buying into their love for Trubisky and they could select a top defender such as Allen, or one of the top two safeties in the draft, Ohio State’s Malik Hooker or Jamal Adams of LSU.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have the fourth selection and it will be their first under new football operations czar Tom Coughlin and head coach Doug Marrone. They have been said to be committed to QB Blake Bortles, but by the way Coughlin sounded in making that statement, you know Bortles is on the hot seat. Tom would love to put his stamp on this franchise right away by taking a new QB, let’s say Trubisky or Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, but you know he’s going to want to opt for stability in the trenches instead. I see them taking either Allen or Thomas should they fall. If not, Fournette could be the pick. The world is their oyster.
Somehow the Tennessee Titans have the fifth overall pick this year. Jon Robinson absolutely nailed it in his first season as the GM with a solid draft and an excellent pair of offseasons. The Titans finished 9-7 despite losing QB Marcus Mariota for the final four games of the season with a broken right fibula. This pick initially belonged to the Los Angeles Rams, but thanks to a trade by Robinson, they end up at the top of the draft and in prime position to grab either a top defender or TE O.J. Howard of Alabama. Expect Robinson to choose wisely here. Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore, Howard or Clemson WR Mike Williams are all in play.
So you see how things could shake out in that first hour down in Philly on Thursday night. Maccacnan will have to trust his board, and he has done that in the first round so far. He will end up with a quality football player, but which one will be determined on how some of the game’s most unpredictable teams react in front of them.
They will come out of this draft a better team. They almost have to, considering the condition of their roster. Any number of players help them here. Almost all of the players mentioned above, as a matter of fact. Jet fans should not be booing at the draft this year.