New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas’ first two NFL draft classes are currently contrasting in a major way.
When Joe Douglas was hired by the New York Jets in 2019, it felt like a hurried relationship after an ugly breakup. The Jets waited until after Mike Maccagnan (arguably the worst general manager in recent memory) failed in his rebuild attempt to bring in the former Ozzie Newsome pupil.
While no one could fault Douglas for the mistakes of his predecessor, his relationship with Adam Gase provided some hesitancy among the fanbase. A folly of thought, sure, but the burn of the Gase and Maccagnan duo understandably drove the skeptical thought.
To be honest, who could blame them? It feels like an eternity since the Jets were relevant, and fan patience has more rapidly faded than in past Jet eras.
Joe Douglas didn’t exactly make things better after his initial draft class, either.
Second year, first NFL draft
Drafting in the NFL is no easy task, that much everyone is aware of. Productive general managers must draft successfully. Rebuilding a team from ashes requires a marksman’s precision, and Douglas didn’t exactly feature that in his 2020 draft class.
The New York Jets had nine picks in the 2020 NFL draft. Before the 2021 season started, PFF gave the Jets and Douglas an A on a re-grade of the 2020 class.
Does it truly deserve that, though?
James Morgan (fourth round) has already left and returned, whereas, for all intents and purposes, Jabari Zuniga (third round), Cameron Clarke (fourth round, injured) and La’Mical Perine (fourth round, non-contributor) are all non-factors.
Denzel Mims showed flashes in his rookie season, but his sophomore campaign has been a complete dud. From illness to a reported inability to understand the playbook, Mims has not lived up to his second-round selection and history doesn’t favor wide receivers who flop in their sophomore season.
Ashtyn Davis hasn’t been the perfect player, but he’s been thrust into playing time with injuries to the Jets safety group (after missing time himself last season with injury). While Davis isn’t a star, he’s a serviceable rotational piece. For a third-round selection, the hope for more production and promise should be present, but it’s better than the situations of the players already mentioned.
As far as PFF grades go, Braden Mann has been a below-average punter; but as far as sixth-round picks go, it’s hard to argue with a player still on the roster that’s at least producing—whether it’s special teams or not.
Mekhi Becton was the first selection made by Douglas, taken 11th overall, and the big man showed a lot of promise in his rookie season. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury this season that’s only allowed him to play one game.
To me, the biggest hit of this draft occurred in the fifth round. That’s where Virginia product Bryce Hall was snagged.
Hall missed the entire 2020 offseason (along with eight regular-season games) but played around league-average as a cornerback. As a rookie, this was good news. His second year has been even better, as he’s shown himself to be, at the very least, starting material.
Given the Jekyll and Hyde outcome of his 2020 draft selections, there were some concerns that Joe Douglas may whiff on a critical draft for a team in a rebuild. Fortunately for Jets fans, Joe Douglas hit the 2021 NFL Draft in a big way.
Practice Makes Perfect
Joe Douglas had 10 picks at his disposal in the 2021 NFL draft. Nearly all of them have made a large contribution to the team’s season in their rookie year.
On offense, Michael Carter, Elijah Moore, Alijah Vera-Tucker and Zach Wilson clearly represent the offensive future moving forward.
Michael Carter (fourth round) has shown to be more than just a pass-catching option out of the backfield. He leads the team in rushing yards and should have a major role in the offense going forward.
Despite missing out on a second-round wide receiver in 2020, Douglas hit in a huge way in this area a year later.
Elijah Moore is less than 20 yards from leading the team in receiving yards this season. The Ole Miss product has proven to be a multi-threat weapon on the offense. He’s third among rookie WRs in receiving yards and tied for first in touchdowns (5). He looks like the star wide receiver the Jets need to lead that group for years to come.
Alijah Vera-Tucker appears to be the perfect complement to Becton on the left side of the offensive line. AVT was selected by PFF on their midseason All-Rookie team. This is what fans were expecting when Douglas traded up to select AVT in the first round.
Interestingly, the biggest question of this group is Zach Wilson.
Taken second overall, Wilson is the clear-cut future of the Jets. He’s had some ups and downs this season, but it’ll take a couple of years before we realize how this selection will go. If Zach Wilson becomes a star, this could become one of the best draft classes in team history.
While it’s still early, so far, many misses exist when attempting to draft defense—though two players have made an immediate impact on the team this season.
Douglas drafted three cornerbacks: Michael Carter ll, Jason Pinnock and Brandin Echols.
Echols and Carter have each played an important part on the Jets’ defense this season. They both are top 10 on the team in tackles. Carter ll specifically has been ascending this season, which is excellent to see from a Day 3 selection. Pinnock has been mostly a special teams contributor.
The other three selections made by Joe Douglas were Jamien Sherwood (fifth Round), Hamsah Nasirildeen (sixth Round) and Jonathan Marshall (sixth Round). While there was optimism around the linebackers to become contributors, it seems that potential has fanned out (at least in their rookie year). Marshall was always deemed as more of a project, but the fact that he remains on the 53-man roster is a good sign.
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Joe Douglas may have stumbled out of the gate in the drafting department, but that could have just been the irremovable stink of Adam Gase that seemed to encompass the entire team in 2020.
In 2022, the Jets will have seven picks in the first four rounds of the draft—including two potential top 10 picks. If the 2021 class is any indication of Joe Douglas’ future draft success, fans should be very enthusiastic about the direction of this franchise going forward.
These may not be your Same Old Jets, after all. Or, at the very least, there will soon come a time when fans can start thinking about a truly great and unrecognizable New York Jets era.