Joe Douglas’ fingerprints are all over this New York Jets team
Every general manager bets. Gambling is the only way to properly conduct a franchise in a league with limited resources.
Carefully choosing which spots on the roster should be invested in is key, especially on a rebuilding team like the New York Jets. Overspending to improve the roster with a short-term approach would quickly replace New York into salary cap hell.
As a general manager of a so-called “rebuilding team”, Joe Douglas made plenty of bets during the 2021 offseason.
He carefully picked which positions he was going to invest most of his resources in, betting on lesser solutions for other spots on the roster.
For instance, while Douglas traded valuable draft picks for guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, he decided to get his starting WILL linebacker in the last three rounds of the 2021 draft. It’s OL over LB for the man, and he has good reasons to think like that.
As a general manager, it’s all about knowing that the resources are limited, and deciding where to allocate them. It’s not an easy job, by any means.
At the heart of any good general manager is the ability to make sound decisions with little to work with.
Still, even knowing the limitations that the NFL draft and the NFL salary cap impose, it’s fair to say Douglas had his misses this past offseason.
Douglas hit some of his bets, too. Two of Douglas’ hits are highly impacting the small success the Jets have had thus far.
And that’s the middle of the ground truth as things stand right now: Douglas has been “OK”. Not the best, nor the worst.
Let’s examine Douglas’ two worst and two best moves of the 2021 offseason as things stand eight games into the 2021 regular season.
Mistake #1: Linebacker approach
Joe Douglas’ linebacker approach was his most questionable bet.
It’s fair to say that C.J. Mosley was the only legitimately good player that the Jets entered the season with at a position that would play a key role in the Jets’ attacking 4-3 scheme.
Jarrad Davis, coming from the Lions, was coming off of a season in which he was benched while playing for one of the worst defenses in the NFL. The Jets thrust him into a starting spot.
Hamsah Nasilrideen, a late-round rookie who played safety in college, was thrust into the weakside linebacker spot – a key position against the run in Robert Saleh’s scheme.
Trusting Saleh to fix talented young players hasn’t worked thus far when thinking about the Jets’ linebackers.
The group is arguably the Jets’ weakest position crew, and none of Douglas’ players have shown much promise.
Davis has missed most of this season, but in his second game after returning, he played a big role in the Colts’ dominance on the ground (260 rushing yards) on Thursday Night Football.
Below is an example of his inability to fill in the gap on Jonathan Taylor’s long touchdown.
— coachkou (@coachkou) November 5, 2021
Nasilrideen and Jamien Sherwood, both Douglas’ draft picks, haven’t looked great when healthy. Both guys played safety in college and are having a hard time transitioning to the physicality of the linebacker position in the NFL.
Considering that, as of now, it appears the Jets still need two new starters alongside Mosley for the 2022 season, it’s clear that Douglas’ approach at the linebacker position was a failure.
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Mistake #2: Tight end approach
The problem with Douglas’ approach at the tight end position was not about adding bad players. Rather, it was the fact that he did not add enough players.
This approach made even less sense when Douglas traded Herndon (a good value trade, for what it is worth) before the season. It becomes more baffling when you consider the high amount of 12 personnel (2 tight end sets) that offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur likes to use.
While LaFleur has indeed been using more 10 personnel (0 TE) and 11 personnel (1 TE) as of late, he has done it while ditching the run quite a bit, which hurts the ceiling of this offense.
The Jets’ offense is improving, but it will only hit its ceiling when a deadly running game is deployed.
In this scheme, which is built upon outside running plays, multiple tight end sets are a must.
It’s not like LaFleur needs to use it on every play, but the Jets’ play-caller would benefit from having better human material to work with at the tight end position. It would also help make the Jets’ offense less predictable when they switch personnel.
As Jets X-Factor’s Michael Nania perfectly broke down in September, there were plenty of talented players in the offseason for Douglas to pursue. Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Kyle Rudolph, Dan Arnold, Gerald Everett, and Jared Cook were all there to be had.
Once again, it’s easy to see how poor Douglas’ approach was when the future is in mind.
For 2022 and beyond, the Jets will probably need to change their entire tight-end room.
Zach Wilson (or Mike White) will be greatly appreciative once it happens.
Success #1: Betting on youth at cornerback
Raise your hand if you begged for the Jets to sign a veteran cornerback in August. (I proceed to raise one hand while writing with the other, thinking of angry “sign Steven Nelson” tweets).
The cornerback position was a hot debate in training camp.
Jets fans were so worried about the excessive youth that most of the fanbase got mad when the team released Blessuan Austin, a well-below-average player.
Bryce Hall (second year), Michael Carter II (rookie), and Brandin Echols (rookie) entered the season as starters, making up one of the most inexperienced starting units of any positional group in the league.
One of the most important positions in today’s pass-happy league, the cornerback spot was considered the weakest link on the Jets’ defense before things kicked off in September.
It turned out to be the opposite.
Surprisingly, the youthful approach has worked. The Jets’ cornerback trio has ranged from decent to good throughout the season.
Props are due to Joe Douglas for playing his cards correctly.
In the Jets’ zone scheme, a lot of the success is about coaching and discipline. (Also, talent, which Joe Douglas was able to find in these three late-round gems that now lead the Jets’ secondary.)
Not paying big-bucks for veteran cornerbacks on the market was a smart move, especially for the rebuilding Jets. It allowed the team to build for the future without handicapping the present, since the youngsters are playing well.
Once again, looking to the future opens wide how great of a bet it was by Joe Douglas. The top-four dogs (Javelin Guidry included) in the Jets’ cornerback room could continue to be the team’s top-four next season and few would complain about it.
Finding starters in the fifth (Carter, Hall) and sixth (Echols) rounds of the NFL draft is an accomplishment that can’t get enough praise.
Success #2: Going all offense in the first four rounds of the draft
Another move that was highly contested in the offseason was Joe Douglas’ offense-first draft strategy.
The Jets, a team with many holes throughout the roster, couldn’t afford to draft four offensive players with their first four picks in the 2021 NFL draft. That was considered common sense at the time.
In May, it seemed like too much. But right now, it’s hard to imagine the Jets’ offensive future without any of those guys.
Carter has been arguably the team’s best player over the past two weeks, while Vera-Tucker is playing at a Pro Bowl level at LG.
Moore, the most hyped player in the class, is finally showing how well he fits the modern NFL as a do-it-all type receiver.
Long-term perspective is everything when thinking of Douglas’ offense-first draft strategy.
Douglas knew he couldn’t fill in every roster hole in one draft. So, he decided to prioritize his young quarterback and surround him with the most talent possible.
When Wilson gets back, he will have the trio of AVT, Carter, and Moore around him playing at a very high level.
Douglas fearlessly went all-offense with his premium picks.
That kind of aggressiveness in the roster construction is something that deserves praise. It shows the man has a plan and is not afraid to go after it.
As the Jets continue to move forward, Douglas’ fingerprints on the roster will become more visible. While being critical of him is possible and necessary, it is important to keep in mind that the Jets’ general manager thinks long-term.