We learned three very promising things about New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas on the first day of the 2021 NFL draft.
1. Douglas is delivering on his billing as someone who will emphasize the offensive line
In only eight rounds as the New York Jets general manager, Joe Douglas has used three picks on the offensive line, adding Mekhi Becton, Cameron Clark, and Alijah Vera-Tucker. He has already matched the total Mike Maccagnan amassed throughout 35 rounds in the chair. Maccagnan’s only selections were Jarvis Harrison, Brandon Shell, and Chuma Edoga. The highest pick that he used on the position was Edoga at No. 92 overall in the third round of the 2019 draft.
Douglas’ three picks on the offensive line combine for a total worth of 2,393 points on the Jimmy Johnson trade chart. Maccagnan’s three picks – 191 points.
Do the math. In 27 fewer rounds, Douglas has already invested over 12 times as much draft capital into the offensive line as Maccagnan did.
2. Douglas has built an excellent core for Zach Wilson
Most rookie quarterbacks that are sent to a two-win team find themselves in an abysmal situation. That’s not the case for Zach Wilson and the Jets. The supporting cast that Douglas has built for him is pretty darn solid.
Let’s compare Wilson’s supporting group to the one that Sam Darnold walked into in 2018.
WR1: Corey Davis vs. Robby Anderson
This is a close one, but Davis is the more well-rounded player who is better suited to handle the role of being a team’s top weapon.
Both players broke out in 2020, but Davis had the better season. Davis barely edged Anderson in receiving yards per game – 70.3 to 68.5 – but Davis was substantially more efficient, recording the same number of first downs (49) on 44 fewer targets. Davis is also much better in contested situations, catching 50.0% of his career “contested” targets (as tracked by PFF) compared to Anderson’s 35.7%. Plus, back in 2018, we hadn’t seen that potential from Anderson yet, while in the present day, we have seen the star potential from Davis. Edge: Wilson
WR2: Denzel Mims vs. Quincy Enunwa
Entering Darnold’s rookie season, Enunwa had just missed the entire 2017 season with a neck injury. He had a breakout season in 2016 with 857 yards, but his efficiency that season was similar to what Mims did as a rookie. Enunwa averaged 8.2 yards per target in 2016, his third season, while Mims averaged 8.1 yards per target in 2020. Additionally, Enunwa was a drop machine, racking up 12 drops in 2016. Mims had one drop as a rookie.
Enunwa was an exciting player who could have been great if he stayed healthy, but I don’t think many would argue against Mims getting the edge here in terms of all-around ability and long-term upside. Edge: Wilson
Slot WR: Jamison Crowder vs. Jermaine Kearse
Douglas did not acquire Crowder, but nevertheless, this one isn’t too hard. Edge: Wilson
Tight end: Herndon/Kroft/Griffin vs. Sterling/Herndon/Tomlinson
Neither group is scaring anybody. Let’s just call this one a wash. Even
Running back: Johnson/Perine/Coleman/Adams vs. Crowell/Powell/McGuire
Again, I think this one is too close to call. Both groups are decent at best. Even
Offensive line: Becton/Vera-Tucker/McGovern/Van Roten/Fant vs. Beachum/Carpenter/Long/Winters/Shell
Not much of a discussion to be had here. Becton is already arguably a top-10 left tackle and could ascend to top-5 or top-3 status in 2021 if he continues progressing. McGovern, Van Roten, and Fant are all below-average to decent starters – none are atrocious like Carpenter, Long, and Shell typically were. Winters fluctuated between awful and below average.
McGovern and Fant have the potential to be above-average in a scheme that plays excellently to their strengths. We’ll see if Van Roten holds the right guard job or if someone ascends to take his spot, whether that be a rookie or Cameron Clark, but he is a respectable stopgap, providing above-average pass protection to balance out his lack of juice in the run game. As for Vera-Tucker, what he does as a rookie is a wild card, but his long-term potential certainly beats that of. . . James Carpenter. Edge: Wilson
Coach: Mike LaFleur vs. Jeremy Bates
We have to see if LaFleur can live up to the hype, but having any hype at all makes him more enticing than Bates, who hadn’t coached at all in five years when he joined the Jets in 2017 and did not have a very good track record of production. Edge: Wilson
After winning two games, this is about as sturdy of a support system as you could realistically aspire to build for a young quarterback.
Over his two years, Douglas has shown that he clearly cares immensely about supporting the quarterback position. Now, this isn’t necessarily something that should be praised – it’s an obvious requirement of the job that looks better in comparison for Jets fans because Mike Maccagnan completely ignored it – but it is clear by now that Douglas understands the basics of roster construction and positional valuation. Although it is the success rate of his draft picks and free agent signings that will ultimately dictate his level of success, Jets fans can rest easy knowing their team is being built by someone who is prioritizing the correct things in the correct order.
3. Douglas has the malleable philosophical approach that top-tier general managers need
After Douglas’ first full offseason at the helm in Florham Park, many observers analyzed his rookie-year body of work and assumed that he was a general manager who liked to play things on the conservative side. In free agency, he drew hard lines in the sand and ended up with an inexpensive crop of signings that was headlined by players like George Fant, Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, Pierre Desir, and Breshad Perriman. In the draft, Douglas traded down three times and never traded up.
Fast forward one year, and any idea of Douglas being tethered to a conservative approach has been put to rest. As of April 30, the Jets have doled out $82,975,000 in guaranteed money to free agents in the 2021 league year, via Spotrac, which ranks as the third-most of any team behind Jacksonville and New England. Douglas wasn’t afraid to shoot for the stars to fill big needs, reeling in Corey Davis and Carl Lawson on substantial deals. He also handed out a sizable number of moderate deals to veteran players who will likely start or play key roles.
In the draft, Douglas squashed his perceived laid-back mentality as he spent two third-round picks to move up nine spots in the first round and grab Alijah Vera-Tucker to fill a massive hole on the interior offensive line.
So, we’re two offseasons in, and we’ve seen Douglas have one offseason that showcased frugality and another that showcased measured aggressiveness. That’s an extremely promising thing to see. Douglas is not a general manager who is stubbornly attached to one ideology. He is not a “we strictly build through the draft” guy (hello, John Idzik) nor is he a guy who spends money and gives away draft picks without a care in the world (hello, Mike Maccagnan).
Rather, Douglas has shown that he is flexible with his approach. He is willing to operate anywhere on the spectrum, always carefully analyzing the team’s current state and deducing which approach is right for the situation. In 2020, he thought it was best to preserve his cap space and stock up on picks. In 2021, he thought it was best to maximize the team’s cap space to fill needs on a barren roster, and then in the draft, he thought it was worth it to dole out draft capital to ensure he could acquire a major support piece for his new franchise quarterback.
The most important aspect of all of this is that Douglas has never gone too far down either end of the scale. He has not dialed up his aggressiveness to 100 nor has he toned his laid-backness down to zero.
In 2020, while he remained conservative overall, he didn’t completely sit out free agency as many teams do. He still went out and signed plenty of starters at positions of need. Then, in the draft, while Douglas made his share of trade-downs, he stayed put in the first round to knock out a major need by selecting Mekhi Becton, and later, he traded a sixth-round pick to take a shot on Colts cornerback Quincy Wilson. Plenty of teams go even further down the pick-accumulation rabbit hole than Douglas did that year, which can be overkill, but Douglas did not cross that line.
This year, while Douglas spent a ton of money in free agency, there isn’t a single signing he made that seemed irresponsible. Davis and Lawson are each entering their primes at 26 years old and are both coming off of seasons in which they produced at an elite level, yet neither ranks higher than 10th at their position in total guaranteed money, and both rank 20th in total contract value. Both of those players and the majority of the other players that Douglas signed are excellent scheme fits, fill a massive need, and are high-character guys. As for the Vera-Tucker trade-up, it was a move made to support Zach Wilson’s development, making it worth the high cost.
Douglas is capable of operating with any level of aggressiveness and is always measured in doing so. He’ll spend a lot or he’ll spend a little, but never too much or never too little. He’ll stock up on picks or he’ll dump them to get a guy he loves, but he’ll never sell the entire farm nor will he go overboard on moving down.
It is a huge relief for the Jets to have a general manager who is malleable and does not let his ego or a stubborn philosophy get in the way of smart and adaptable team-building.