Corey Davis, Jarrad Davis, Sheldon Rankins
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

The New York Jets’ latest free-agent signing, Sheldon Rankins, makes one thing clear: Joe Douglas realizes the value of great expectations.

Robby Sabo

Great expectations can serve as a hell of a weight on a man. Don’t ask Charles Dickens. Instead, take a glance at the New York Jets free-agent signings.

Former New Orleans Saints interior defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins is the next to join the Florham Park, NJ party. New York and Rankins have agreed to a two-year deal worth up to $17 million, per NFL Network’s Mike Garofolo.

With that, a clear open-market strategy has materialized: Capitalize on prior great expectations that haven’t been fully met.

Rankins, the 12th overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft, is just the latest ultra-talented high draft pick Joe Douglas has snagged. He’s just one of three new Jets players who failed to fully meet the expectations automatically placed on the player courtesy of his draft slot.

This is the value Douglas and the Jets are hoping to realize in free agency.

Rankins, 26, represents a talented interior defender who couldn’t fulfill 12th overall expectations.

As a rookie, he appeared in just nine games, starting none, while collecting four sacks. Over the next two years, he performed relatively well in full 16-game seasons (10 total sacks, 24 quarterback hits and 12 tackles for loss). Just 3.5 sacks over the last two seasons (22 games) cemented his unfulfilled draft promise.

Jarrad Davis, the Jets’ newest linebacker, has a similar story. Drafted 21st in 2017, the Detroit Lions expected the Florida product to produce as a linebacking stud.

It obviously didn’t turn out that way. Instead, Davis struggled to meet the lofty expectations any 21st draft selection faces in this unforgiving league.

Corey Davis, the third of the group, was a Day 1 shocker back in 2017. The Tennessee Titans selected the Western Michigan product in the five-hole, ahead of Mike Williams (Los Angeles Chargers) and John Ross (Cincinnati Bengals) at the same position. He was even picked ahead of Jamal Adams, Christian McCaffrey and Patrick Mahomes.

Sure, Davis’s 984-yard, five-touchdown season of 2020 closed the gap a bit, but there’s just no way he met what the Titans organization expected out of a No. 5 selection.

Douglas is hedging his bets on talent and the idea that this specific talent is arriving just a little later to the party than others, and it first starts with an “unwanted” sign.

Who can blame these organizations for becoming frustrated? First and foremost, the fanbase becomes disillusioned over time.

A Corey Davis-type in that specific draft slot as the first wide receiver off the board comes with an incredible projection on paper. A solid percentage of the Titans fanbase was concerned on draft night. It’s not every day that a Western Michigan receiver goes in the top 10.

Even though the Titans, by most accounts, wanted Davis back, the Jets swooped in to sign him simply due to the idea Tennessee’s cap space situation wouldn’t allow a second contract to unfold.

in the Jarrad Davis and Rankins cases, frustration probably led the way.

Davis fell out of favor in Detroit while Rankins rarely dressed via injury. On one hand, Douglas’s strategy is an excellent way to capture value on the open market—if it works. But the downside is a tough one if the guaranteed money cannot be overcome. (We still don’t know the guaranteed money in the Rankins deal and Davis’s $5.5 million in guarantees is just for one season.)

The Jets’ young general manager often discusses his front-office teachings. For instance, he once told the world that he was taught to always answer the phone when another team comes calling—something Jamal Adams didn’t take too kindly to. This “great expectations” strategy is just one of the many examples of prior Baltimore Ravens’ successes under Ozzie Newsome.

Back in 2000, when Douglas was roaming the training camp halls as “The Turk,” the Ravens signed veteran defensive tackle Sam Adams. This was the very same Adams who the Seattle Seahawks selected eighth overall in 1994. It’s the very same guy who didn’t deliver on that 8th-overall promise over his first six years in the league.

Baltimore snags him and he suddenly becomes a Pro Bowler for the first time in 2000.

In 2007, the Ravens welcomed in running back Willis McGahee. Although he put up decent numbers over his first three seasons with the Buffalo Bills, one could make the argument he didn’t match his No. 23 overall draft status. (His last season in Buffalo produced just 990 rushing yards and a 3.8 yards per carry average.)

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McGahee’s first season in Baltimore saw him rack up 1,207 yards and seven touchdowns (both career highs) in his first Pro Bowl campaign.

In terms of risk-reward, only the Corey Davis contract places the team in a high-risk situation.

Twenty-seven million dollars in guarantees over three years is what makes such a thought reality—even with a potential out after the second season. Jarrad Davis is just a one-year deal, and until we know the guarantees on the Rankins pact, his contract’s overall risk is still unknown.

These players not living up to the original hype is a worthwhile concern. After all, it’s Douglas who constantly preaches the little things, such as character and work ethic, some of the intangibles that guard against underwhelming returns on investments.

Then again, not meeting draft-slot expectations doesn’t speak to anybody’s character or worth ethic, necessarily. The strategy’s end-goal is to capture value in a talented player who left a somewhat strange or bad taste in the previous employer’s mouth—purely due to draft-pick status.

Is the strategy bold? Not really. Risky? Maybe, when the guaranteed money and terms make it so, and especially if injuries limit the player’s future with the organization (see Rankins’s history). Obvious? Now it is, thanks to the Sheldon Rankins deal.

Joe Douglas and the New York Jets are betting on talented players who didn’t reach their draft-slot potential with prior organizations.

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Robby Sabo is a co-founder, developer and credentialed New York Jets content creator for Jets X-Factor | Jet X, which includes Sabo's Sessions (in-depth film breakdowns) and Sabo with the Jets. Host: Underdog Jets Podcast with Wayne Chrebet and Sabo Radio. Member: Pro Football Writers of America. Coach: Port Jervis (NY) High School. Washed up strong safety and 400M runner. Founder: Elite Sports NY - ESNY (sold in 2020). SEO: XLM Email: robby.sabo[at]
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verge tibbs
verge tibbs
2 years ago

Nice nuggets in mcgahee and sam adams reference. I think this strategy also obviouslt puts a big amount of faith in the new team’s coaches. If he’s right then you could get possible pro bowl play here for cheaper than usual. If not then he looks like every other gm who puts too much faith in his guys being able to “coach up” guys that another team couldnt. Hope for the best.

2 years ago
Reply to  verge tibbs

Agree it’s Douglas’s belief that this coaching staff can develop players and are smart enough to put talented players in a position to succeed. Second, Douglas’s scouting background gets him to dig deep into Free Agents college background and assess their potential . Joe just a little more thorough, a little more diligent , asking “ Why ? “ a lot

2 years ago

So I guess we’re rolling with Sam then, huh bruh?

2 years ago
Reply to  vnick12

I think, though I should let him speak for himself, that part of Robby’s thesis is the notion players like these also often need a change of scenery to escape from their (unreasonably?) high original expectations and failure to live up to them. So no, Sam would not be returning to the team he has already underperformed with.

2 years ago
Reply to  elehtis

For all intents and purposes. he IS joining a new team with a completely new coaching staff and offensive system.

2 years ago
Reply to  vnick12

Same uni, same fans, same locker room, ballpark, and a lot of the same teammates. Really depends on whether Sam can start all over *here* psychologically. The arguments for and against running it back with him have been debated ad nauseum the last few months. My only point is that Robby’s thesis doesn’t truly cover the Darnold situation. The player needs to feel like they’re getting a completely fresh start. I’m not sure Sam can, even with a new coaching staff. It’s taking a pretty big chance. Teams don’t often have the #2 overall pick in a strong QB draft class.