DeVonta Smith’s outrageous national championship game performance shouldn’t impact the New York Jets NFL draft strategy in the least.
He’s explosive, smart and catches everything thrown his way. He conducts himself with class and in a manner that rubs off on his teammates. He won this past season’s Heisman Trophy and capped off a national championship with 215 yards and three touchdowns on 12 receptions—all while missing most of the second half.
His name is DeVonta Smith, and he’s everything an NFL general manager would want on the roster and in the building.
He’s also a guy that shouldn’t impact the New York Jets 2021 NFL draft strategy. At the very least, his outrageous title game performance shouldn’t change anything about what the team does at No. 2. How Joe Douglas goes about this business makes it obvious.
June 11, 2019, brought a different feel to Florham Park, NJ. The day that saw the Jets officially introduce Douglas as the team’s new general manager brought hope—something that’s not unusual whenever a new era is ushered in.
The “hope” part of it remained the same for fans. What felt different was found in the messaging.
Rather than an all-over-the-place vision, Douglas’s plan brought a tried and tested element. The big man who helped the Philadelphia Eagles to their first-ever Super Bowl win didn’t just state the obvious; he unapologetically laid the foundation for how he believes a team should be built.
“It starts with the quarterback and both lines,” Douglas said—something that hadn’t been uttered that plainly in five drafts under Mike Maccagnan.
“Football is a game of wills,” Douglas added. “We’re going to try to build a team that can impose their will on other teams and to do that, you have to be strong up front.”
To Douglas, the former offensive lineman, it starts with the infrastructure that helps raise development ceilings for the outer positions such as cornerback, safety, running back and wide receiver. In football, it rarely works as well the other way around. A stud wideout doesn’t affect a left tackle’s play to nearly the same degree a left tackle can lift the receiver.
Everything trickles out, not in.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 12, 2021
DeVonta Smith makes it look so EASY #NationalChampionship
11 REC, 173 YDS, 2 TD (it's the 2nd quarter 🤯)
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) January 12, 2021
OH MY DEVONTA SMITH 🤯
That makes THREE TOUCHDOWNS for the Heisman winner 🔥 pic.twitter.com/u9qpKEKnTC
— ESPN (@espn) January 12, 2021
Knowing this, it’s evident that Smith’s title game performance on Monday night won’t impact the Jets’ 2021 NFL draft strategy in the least. It’s just not time yet to use that valuable a draft pick on an all-world receiver.
At No. 2, the Jets could go in a myriad of directions. The most obvious choice would be a quarterback. Sam Darnold‘s 2020 performance didn’t help ease any concerns about his future play. In fact, it had the opposite effect, making one wonder how any young GM could afford to gamble his future on Darnold.
There are only 32 general manager jobs in the NFL. Not capitalizing on that first try usually leads to never getting another shot. Douglas is no dummy. He came to New Jersey knowing he needed to build this thing the right way. Ensuring he signed a six-year deal, the slow and steady approach would rule the day over the one-season flash we saw in 2015 and again, in 2019, with the Le’Veon Bell and C.J. Mosley signings.
A quarterback at No. 2 would immediately put the Jets on the rookie-contract plan. Zach Wilson or Justin Fields would only account for $7-9 million in cap space over the first four seasons, which obviously allows much more room under the salary cap to align the rest of the roster correctly. Considering how critical the position is, a quarterback at No. 2 remains the most likely option—as long as Douglas is comfortable enough with one of the two prospects.
The second option is a non-quarterback. This would mean Oregon tackle Penei Sewell or the man of the moment, Smith. The third and final option would have Douglas trading down. New York would collect more draft capital and work on gaining depth and building the trenches Douglas holds so close to his football heart.
Option No. 1 (draft a quarterback) and No. 3 (trade down) make sense. Each line with Douglas’s vision. Sewell also makes sense. Smith does not.
A receiver at No. 2 simply doesn’t move the development needle to the same degree as the other options.
Remember, the goal is development. The objective is to create an environment that maximizes each player’s development ceiling. Smith, as talented as he is, doesn’t get that done nearly to the same degree a quarterback, Sewell or a trade-down scenario would.
Offensive line play drives total offense in the NFL. It’s that simple. A quick glance at the playoff teams makes that thought a certainty. Of PFF’s top 14-rated offensive line units in 2020, only four did not make the playoffs. They were the New England Patriots (No. 4), San Francisco 49ers (No. 9), Arizona Cardinals (No. 12) and Detriot Lions (No. 13). The four playoff teams that fell outside of the top 14 are the Tennessee Titans (No. 15), Baltimore Ravens (No. 16), Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 17) and Chicago Bears (No. 20).
The Jets finished 29th, and even with Mekhi Becton in tow, nothing upfront has been truly solved. Becton’s rookie-year injuries have to be considered no matter how dominant the kid played this past season.
The wide receiver unit and player rankings don’t correlate to winning to nearly the same degree as the offensive line does. For instance, the Minnesota Vikings saw two receivers finish in the top six—rookie Justin Jefferson (No. 2) and veteran Adam Thielen (No. 6). Julio Jones finished ninth as part of a horrid Atlanta Falcons team, while Houston Texans’ Will Fuller came in at No. 10.
Additionally, Smith’s three-touchdown, 200-plus-yard first-half performance Monday night wasn’t all that impressive. (It’s amazing but true.) It has nothing to do with the kid, himself. It instead deals with the state of the sport. Ohio State’s defense played as if they were taking on the Greatest Show on Turf. Offense came so naturally to Alabama that even Smith’s outrageous numbers didn’t feel that all impressive.
The wild-card in a possible Smith-at-No. 2-move is how Douglas feels about the kid’s character. Only if Smith’s character and work ethic are so impressive will Douglas even consider a wideout in that spot. And even in that case, it’s doubtful Smith’s last collegiate performance will impact the Jets’ overall draft strategy.
In the end, the roster just isn’t there yet. Offensive line, edge rusher, cornerback and, of course, quarterback take precedence over wide receiver—no matter how tempting it may be to snag a highlight-ready machine.
By understanding Joe Douglas’s first-day words and team-building vision, it becomes clear that DeVonta Smith at No. 2 probably shouldn’t be big-time consideration at this point. A quarterback is needed, the offensive line still needs work, a couple of edge rushers are required, and cornerbacks need to be found. Wide receiver is necessary, but not at No. 2. Not yet.