Fennelly: Are the New York Jets a Better Team Than They Were Before the NFL Draft?

The New York Jets finished 5-11 in 2016, a record well-deserved for a team that basically fell apart after going 10-6 in head coach Todd Bowles’ impressive 2015 debut season. The franchise that continues to stumble no matter who is in charge and who is on the field is stuck in a quagmire once again. They are lost in a maze with no way out. At least that’s the way it seems.

GM Mike Maccagnan arrived on the scene two years ago to a surplus of salary cap space, made some savvy trades and free agent signings and turned the Jets into a winning team overnight. But that fix only lasted a year. Since then, that roster has deteriorated. Age and injury has pecked away at their core players and most of their depth. The Rex Ryan/John Idzik era of poor personnel decision had come home to roost.

Maccagnan has had to strip his roster of just about every overpaid veteran ad rebuild. That’s nothing new for the Jets. The issue is who are these guys he is bringing in? Are they any good? Who is the new core of the team?

That is the question Jet fans are wrestling with today. What is the plan? What is the direction of this franchise that has pushed the reset button twice a decade since the days of Joe Namath?

They will enter the season with no franchise quarterback, very few stars on either side of the ball and a  head coach that possesses hardly any media savvy in the media mecca of the world.  Their performance at the draft this past weekend, one they sorely needed to score big with, is being panned by many draft graders across the NFL landscape.

I myself wasn’t baffled at Maccagnan’s strategy. By admission, he took the best available players in front of him instead of filling the many holes on his roster by reaching. What is in question, however, is how they determine who those best available players are. Maccagnan has a two-to-three year rebuilding job on his hands, no doubt, but this draft class doesn’t appear to provide the strong foundation the franchise needed from this draft.

“The goal every draft you go into is to add as many good prospects as you can add,” the GM said. “Hopefully they’ll be the foundation for what we’re trying to build here and they’ll have a lot of success to here to help us get to where we want to go. At the end of the day, we felt good about the players we added.”

He did a lot of trading back, accumulating late round picks and then taking players that appeared to be incomplete, project-types.

“You roll the dice a little bit when you move back,” Maccagnan said, “but it was a situation where there were some players we felt we could get. The way our board worked out, it really fell very similar to how the draft fell.”

After having LSU stud safety Jamal Adams fall into their lap in the first round, the Jets made some very curious choices:

1 (6). LSU S Jamal Adams
2 (39). Florida S Marcus Maye
3 (79). Alabama WR ArDarius Stewart
4 (141). California WR Chad Hansen
5 (150). Clemson TE Jordan Leggett
5 (181). West Georgia LB Dylan Donahue
6 (188). Louisiana-Lafayette RB Elijah McGuire
6 (197). Michigan CB Jeremy Clark
6 (204). Ole Miss CB Derrick Jones

Evan Silva of Rotoworld gave Jets a D grade, something that is hard to get when you are drafting as high as the Jets did, 6th overall.

Mildly promising sophomore OT Brandon Shell should be included in this haul after the Jets parted with their 2017 fourth-rounder (became RB Samaje Perine) to draft Shell in last year’s fifth round. Although the Jets were widely praised for the Adams pick, safeties affect fewer plays than almost any other position and are therefore rarely taken as early as Adams went. The Jets of course followed up with another safety in the second round. The Jets are not one safety away from competing, let alone two. Stewart and Hansen are solid players, but both have No. 3-receiver ceilings. Leggett’s nickname at Clemson was “Lazy Leggett.” Clark was Gang Green’s most intriguing late-rounder with Brandon Browner-like size and early-round grades from NFL scouts entering last season, only to tear his ACL in September. It should be noted that the Jets acquired the Cowboys’ 2018 fifth-round pick by sending Dallas No. 191, which the Cowboys promptly used on Louisiana Tech S Xavier Woods, whom I’d be willing to wager has a more productive career than Jets second-rounder Maye. The Jets are just throwing blind-folded darts at this point. They have no organizational direction.”

The Jets will open the season with veteran Josh McCown at quarterback, a 38 year-old journeyman who is in for an old-fashioned butt-whipping not seen in these parts since Craig Morton endured weekly beatings behind the Giants’ paltry line in the mid-70’s. He’ll be backed up by second-year enigma Christian Hackenberg, who the Jets shielded from abuse as a rookie by giving him zero snaps, even in those late season, meaningless games. Bryce Petty, the other QB in the mix, has shown that he’s a backup at best.

Their running game is headed by veteran Matt Forte and Bilal Powell, two talented but oft-injured players. As you can see, they didn’t pick one up in the draft until the sixth round, so there’s hardly any depth here should these guys fail to answer the bell.

There has been talk of bringing in Jay Cutler, but he has neither the temperament nor the leadership mettle to handle this unenviable situation. If I were him, I’d take my millions and retire rather than jump into this mess.

They added a couple of rookies to the WR group but neither are No. 1’s and neither are any of the others already on the roster: Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson and Eric Decker, who is returning from a shoulder injury. Decker is also rumored to be a candidate for release. Leggett will be relied upon to produce in volume, but he’s not in Clemson’s balanced offense any more. The Jets will try to feature him and there are concerns if he can be handle the amount of targets they need him to.

On defense, the Jets’ secondary, which was once a strength, in under construction. Current safeties Calvin Pryor and Marcus Gilchrist are on notice after the drafting of Adams and Maye. They brought in Morris Claiborne from Dallas, but he has been somewhat underwhelming in his career. The others, outside of Marcus Williams, are all average and there will be a mad scramble in camp for jobs.

The Jets front seven is still fairly formidable but underperformed last season. They will get no help from this draft class. In fact, they have been actively shopping Pro Bowl DL Sheldon Richardson to no avail.

“There’s a whole offseason ahead of us. We’ll see how it unfolds,” the GM said. “Just like every other player going forward, we’ll see how things work out. That’s where we are right now.”

And where is that, exactly?

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