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This New York Jets regime understands: NFL draft isn’t just about talent

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 06: General manager Joe Douglas of the New York Jets looks on prior to the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on October 6, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

This Joe Douglas-led New York Jets regime has gone out of its way to make one thing very clear: The NFL draft isn’t just about talent.

By now, the New York Jets fan is sick of hearing it. Who knew a seven-letter word could hold such a wide variety of definitions while also undisputably holding so much water?


The day Joe Douglas took the helm was the first moment he could preach the impact culture has on a football program. And while the meaning of the word varies from mind to mind, the fact that this Jets regime continuously supports the belief allows a couple of things to materialize.

For one, these aren’t the same old Jets. New language from a new regime doesn’t necessarily mean the organization is on the right path. Then again, the totality of the evidence suggests good things are ahead.

Secondly, and more importantly, the culture motto should tip everybody off to the idea that this regime understands, appropriately so, that the NFL draft is never about talent alone.

“Best available player” is a term routinely heard leading up to and on draft day. Conventional wisdom leads many to believe this is the tried and tested formula teams should take early in the draft.

It suggests talent, alone, is the appropriate early-draft strategy. While that’s certainly a huge chunk of the pie, a significant percentage is owned by other factors such as positional need and character—the nine-letter word that should be described as the offspring of “culture.”

Public figures sacrifice a lot. Bystanders see the millions of dollars and attention dished out to professional athletes, yet the other side of fame is rarely discussed and/or fully appreciated.

Assumed No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence recently made comments that caused a decent stir. He told Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg that he felt playing with a chip on his shoulder would be an unhealthy way to live—among other personality insights that would naturally cause a mini-frenzy in today’s world.

“It’s hard to explain that because I want people to know that I’m passionate about what I do and it’s really important to me, but … I don’t have this huge chip on my shoulder, that everyone’s out to get me and I’m trying to prove everybody wrong,” Lawrence said. “I just don’t have that. I can’t manufacture that. I don’t want to.

“And I think people mistake that for being a competitor … I think that’s unhealthy to a certain extent, just always thinking that you’ve got to prove somebody wrong, you’ve got to do more, you’ve got to be better.”

As much as every Lawrence believer wants to magically tuck this away and attribute it to his laid-back personality, it’s an undoubted critical factor in the player evaluation process.

Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

Our current sports world is as competitive as ever. Sprung along by Michael Jordan in the 1990s and Tom Brady over the last two decades, winning at all costs isn’t just an idea, it’s a mandatory prerequisite in many situations. This is especially the case when picking No. 1 or 2 in the NFL draft.

As previously stated, famous folks barter with certain aspects of their lives. Privacy is relented for financial security. Normalcy is sacrificed for a shot at immortality.

Brady never wins seven Super Bowls without a rabid mentality that forces him to lead a different life. Jordan never captures six NBA championships without looking like a complete jerk at times.

The character of one’s internal drive matters. It’s what oftentimes separates the talented Hall of Fame quarterback from the talented out-of-the-league quarterback. It’s what oftentimes separates the right and wrong choice at the top of the draft.

This isn’t to say Lawrence’s attitude won’t work for him in the pros; it very well could. But to think these words and his personality traits don’t factor into draft decisions is to not understand the talent-evaluation game.

Admittedly, Lawrence is a bad example, as his “generational talent” narrative has run wild to the point the Jacksonville Jaguars have no genuine decision to make in 12 days. But Super Bowl championship people fully understand just how important that internal drive is in the long run.

Mark Schlereth, one of Jets fandom’s favorite people right now, recently hopped on The Rich Eisen Show to discuss a few topics. Among those topics dealt with honing in on NFL draft talent.

“Had the game been played on paper, I would have spent a lot less time on the operating table,” Schlereth told Eisen. “It takes more than that. It takes the right character men.”

Schlereth won three Super Bowls over the course of his 12-year, 29-surgery-filled NFL career. His first came in Washington with Joe Gibbs at the helm.

“Joe Gibbs said this to me when I first came into the league: He said it to our team all the time,” Schlereth added. “‘Great athletes will make plays in the first three quarters. Character men that care about each other and are willing to sacrifice, win games in the fourth quarter.’ There is a cultural aspect to playing this game and playing this game well that has to take place, and I think that’s the thing that misses most people who are fans of football (that) think it’s just about good players.”

Douglas is another football man whose resume sports multiple championships. After collecting two as a Baltimore Ravens scout, he helped the Philadelphia Eagles snag their first-ever Super Bowl in 2017—the same franchise that has fallen apart after his departure.

His first huge decision came a year ago when he tabbed the lovable Mekhi Becton as the 11th pick in the 2020 NFL draft. Then it was the supremely talented Denzel Mims and a host of collegiate captains that boast an impressive character resume.

Third-round pick Ashtyn Davis walked onto the Cal football team in order to fulfill his dreams. As a rookie, he rode his bike to and from the Atlantic Health Training Center while thinking nothing besides football.

Douglas also snagged Bryce Hall in the fifth round. Remember, Hall was forced to overcome significant adversity to even step on the football field again. Some experts believed Hall was headed for first or second-round status if not for the devastating ankle injury he sustained while at Virginia.

The Jets drafted five consecutive collegiate team captains to close out Douglas’s initial big-boy draft. When thinking 2021 NFL draft, think along the same lines. Douglas appropriately weighs non-talent factors and attributes.

Based on the evidence, there’s little doubt this New York Jets regime understands talent isn’t the sole factor. The only questions remaining are these: Will it all come together in the end, is Zach Wilson made of the right stuff, and is Joe Douglas secretly (sort of) pleased he’s picking No. 2?

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3 years ago

Excellent article! Thanks!

3 years ago

I agree wholeheartedly with this post. That is why, when it comes down to Wilson vs Fields, the scale tips to Fields for me. His performance, very hurt, against Clemson, demonstrated the 4th quarter mentality I crave from my QB. Maybe Wilson has it? Rebounding from a sub-par 2019 is an indication. The opportunity to display that obsession to will a win may not have been there for Wilson who’s only scares were a game vs USTA where it got close at the very end and the game they lost vs Coastal Carolina which they lost early in the season. Wilson didn’t have a terrific day but took BYU to the CCU 1 yard line but ran out of time and didn’t get the winning TD.

I really wish I saw Zach Wilson under more pressure with a game on the line.

3 years ago

Today’s piece by Cimini about Wilson’s wiring dovetails uncannily with your thoughts, Robby.

3 years ago

Excellent piece and a great quote by Gibbs. I’m ecstatic we’ve got Douglas at the helm.