Joe Douglas’ 2020 draft class is entering dangerous waters
With head coach Robert Saleh’s recent expression of relative dissatisfaction with Mekhi Becton, the Jets’ 2020 first-round pick, it’s time to start feeling a little nervous about the fate of general manager Joe Douglas‘ first draft class with the New York Jets.
Is Douglas’ 2020 Jets draft class in danger of being deemed a failure?
Before we analyze the class in search of an answer to that question, we need to understand what constitutes a “failed” draft class.
The 2020 class has only gotten two seasons to make an impact. Most would agree that two seasons is too early to fairly judge a class. But once you get to three seasons, it’s fair to start making some judgments.
So, what should an NFL draft class be expected to yield after three seasons?
Setting the baseline three-year expectation for an NFL draft class
Let’s take a look at the 2019 NFL draft class – which just completed its third season – for a guide on what the league-average NFL draft class should produce after three seasons of play.
This is what the average 2019 draft class has produced after three years of play:
- Total games played: 222.8
- Total Pro Bowl appearances: 0.6
- Total seasons as a primary starter*: 6.0
- Number of players to serve as a primary starter in at least 2 seasons: 2.0
- Total Approximate Value (AV)^: 58.1
- AV per game: 0.261
*The “primary starter” label is assigned by Pro Football Reference. It is based on the number of games started throughout a season. Does not include special teams players.
^Approximate Value (AV) is a statistic from Pro Football Reference that estimates a player’s cumulative impact. Visit here for a more detailed explanation of the methodology.
How much do the Jets’ 2020 draftees have to produce in 2022 to meet the average three-year expectations?
The Jets’ 2020 draft class has logged two seasons. Let’s take a look at what that group has produced thus far to get an idea of what it must do in 2022 to meet the estimated three-year expectation of a draft class.
Here’s the production yield of the 2020 Jets draft class (keep in mind we’re only looking at the team’s draft picks here – undrafted free agents are not included):
- Total games played: 134
- Total Pro Bowl appearances: 0
- Total seasons as a primary starter: 5
- Number of players to serve as a primary starter in at least 2 seasons: 1 (Bryce Hall)
- Total Approximate Value (AV): 28
- AV per game: 0.209
This class has a long way to go if it is to meet the three-year expectations set by the 2019 draft. The Jets need their 2020 draftees to play 89 games to surpass the games-played average (222.8), and they need them to accumulate 31 AV (more than it accumulated in its first two years combined) to surpass the AV average (58.1).
Here is a look at the production that the 2020 Jets draft class is on pace to accumulate through three seasons, and where each number would rank among the 32 classes of the 2019 draft:
- Total games played: 201.0 (20th)
- Total Pro Bowl appearances: 0 (19 teams did not draft a Pro Bowler in 2019)
- Total seasons as a primary starter: 7.5 (10th)
- Number of players to serve as a primary starter in at least 2 seasons: 1.5 (19th)
- Total Approximate Value (AV): 42 (25th)
- AV per game: 0.209 (27th)
In terms of playing time allocated, the class is actually fairly decent, on pace to rank around 20th in games played and around 10th in primary-starter seasons based on the barometers set by the 2019 draft results.
The problem is that the Jets aren’t getting much quality out of their 2020 draftees. The group’s average of only 0.209 AV accumulated per game would rank sixth-worst among 2019 classes through three years.
Much of this group’s playing-time value comes from the 2020 season in which the Jets loaded their rookies with playing time but did not get much positive impact out of that playing time. The team won only two games with its youngsters getting heavy snaps.
In 2021, Bryce Hall was pretty much the only player making a noticeable impact.
Comparing the Jets’ 2020 draft class to the rest of the NFL
We’ve set the expectations for what the Jets’ 2020 draftees must do to establish themselves as a league-average draft class through three seasons. But where do they stack up amongst their peers at this very moment?
This is what the average 2020 NFL draft class has produced after two years of play:
- Total games played: 163.3
- Total Pro Bowl appearances: 0.3
- Total seasons as a primary starter: 3.7
- Number of players to serve as a primary starter in both seasons: 1.1
- Total Approximate Value (AV): 41.6
- AV per game: 0.255
And here is a reminder of the two-year production yield from the Jets’ 2020 class, now listed alongside their rankings out of the 32 classes from the 2020 draft:
- Total games played: 134 (23rd)
- Total Pro Bowl appearances: 0 (24 teams did not draft a Pro Bowler in 2020)
- Total seasons as a primary starter: 5 (5th)
- Number of players to serve as a primary starter in both seasons: 1 (10th)
- Total Approximate Value (AV): 28 (27th)
- AV per game: 0.209 (27th)
Once again, in terms of the amount of time that the Jets’ 2020 picks have spent on the field, the class is below average but not abysmal. The overall impact just isn’t there, though. New York’s 2020 draft class currently ranks 27th in both total AV and AV per game.
Things are trending in the wrong direction
Here’s where things get scary: the Jets are only surviving with somewhat respectable numbers in these rankings because of their 2020 class’s solid performance in its debut season. The class has been on an incredibly steep downhill slide ever since then.
In the 2020 season, the Jets’ rookie class ranked 15th in AV (18), 16th in games played (75), and 14th in AV per game (0.240). It was a legitimately promising rookie year.
The group fell off a cliff in 2021. New York’s 2020 draft class produced 10 AV in the 2021 season, which ranked 31st in the NFL ahead of only the Titans’ 2020 class (8 AV). They ranked 28th in games played (52) and 31st in AV per game (0.192) ahead of only the Jaguars’ 2020 class.
Heading into 2022, things are looking even more grim as multiple members of the class are in danger of losing their roster spot or starting spot – if they aren’t already off the team entirely.
Checking in on the 2020 class
OT Mekhi Becton (R1, No. 11)
Mekhi Becton played in 14 games and started 13 in his rookie season, picking up a solid 5 AV. He showed superstar potential but still had a lot of room to grow and battled injuries throughout the year.
Becton was knocked out for the entirety of his second season in Week 1 of 2021. His absence absolutely crushed the class’s production yield in 2021.
The future of this class hinges almost entirely on Becton. If he can stay healthy and fulfill his potential as a great starter, this can be a league-average draft class. If he fails to become a long-term starter, this class will tank, as the rest of the players on this list (save for one) are unlikely to provide much value.
WR Denzel Mims (R2, No. 59)
After Becton’s absence, Denzel Mims‘ free-fall in 2021 is the second-biggest reason this class bottomed out. Mims had a nice rookie year where he picked up 3 AV in only nine games (0.333 per game), earning a primary starter distinction thanks to his eight starts in the latter half of the year.
Mims got every opportunity to build on his rookie-year promise in 2021 but completely botched those chances. He amassed just 1 AV in 11 games (and even that feels generous) as he picked up only 133 yards on the season. He was a healthy scratch in two of the six games he missed.
Even if it were only in a backup role, if Mims could somehow get back to the player he was in 2020, that would go a long way toward rescuing this class. That seems unlikely, though, considering how atrocious he was in 2021. It’s possible he is traded before he gets to play another snap in green.
Ashtyn Davis (R3, No. 68)
Ashtyn Davis has been a similar player in each of his first two seasons. He started six of 10 games in 2020 and 10 of 13 games in 2021, making a splashy play here or there but mostly struggling.
New York seems likely to add two new starters at the safety position this offseason, which would relegate Davis to a backup role. There does not seem to be a great chance that Davis ever becomes more than a useful special teams player and backup.
That’s not awful for a high third-round pick, but it’s certainly below the expectation, especially considering how wide-open of a chance Davis had to prove that he deserves a long-term starting role through his extensive playing time in 2020 and 2021.
EDGE Jabari Zuniga (R3, No. 79)
Jabari Zuniga has been a complete failure of a pick. He played eight games as a rookie and failed to register a sack or quarterback hit. Zuniga had a sack in his 2021 season debut but then failed to even make a tackle over his next two games, finishing the year with only three appearances as he spent most of it on the practice squad.
RB La’Mical Perine (R4, No. 120)
La’Mical Perine gave the Jets 2 AV in 10 games as a rookie, providing mediocre results over 64 carries and 11 receptions (two touchdowns, 3.6 yards per carry, 4.2 yards per target).
The Jets drafted a much better fourth-round running back in 2021, Michael Carter, and Perine was buried on the depth chart. He played in four games and got only eight touches all season.
QB James Morgan (R4, No. 125)
New York waived James Morgan in August 2021 before he ever played a regular-season down for them. Morgan returned to the team’s practice squad in November after stints with the Panthers and Steelers but only lasted six days before being released again.
IOL Cameron Clark (R4, No. 129)
CB Bryce Hall (R5, No. 158)
The saving grace of this draft class, Bryce Hall started all 17 games for the Jets in 2021 and had a solid year as he picked up 5 AV, making up half of the class’s total yield for the season. Hall seems to have a good chance of starting in New York for a long time. He was an exceptional value selection in the fifth round.
Hall’s career total of 7 AV ranks second among 2020 fifth-round picks, trailing only Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney. He is also the only player selected in that round to earn the “primary starter” distinction in each of his first two seasons.
P Braden Mann (R6, No. 191)
Braden Mann missed seven games in 2021 after playing all 16 in his rookie year. He can be classified as an average punter, which is fine, although you probably expect more than that when you use a draft selection on a specialist.
Undrafted free agents were not included in the data above, but it’s worth noting who the Jets were able to scoop up post-draft in 2020.
The verdict: Yes, this class is in treacherous territory
Joe Douglas’ 2020 draft class got off to a very nice start. It was completely reasonable for Jets fans to feel optimistic about the class after its first season.
However, after a nightmarish 2021 season, this class suddenly looks like a budding failure. It would be feasible to think positively about the class’s future if its brutal sophomore campaign felt reversible, but what’s daunting is that a lot of the damage seems irreparable.
Morgan and Clark are gone. Zuniga and Perine will be lucky to make the Jets’ 53-man roster this season. Davis will probably be a backup. Mims’ days in New York may be numbered, and even if he does return, he has a near-zero chance of starting.
That leaves Hall, Becton, and Mann as the only players with a realistic chance to accumulate value for this class.
Mann is a punter, so he can’t do much of anything substantial to save the day. It’s essentially all up to Hall and Becton.
If Hall and Becton can prove to be above-average starters for the long term, then this class will stay afloat. Keep in mind the expectations we saw from the 2019 draft results – three years down the line, the average team only got two multi-year starters from its 2019 draft class. That’s really all it takes for a draft class to earn a passing grade. Some people expect too much from the draft.
While merely getting Hall and Becton (and a decent punter) out of the nine-pick 2020 draft class would still be disappointing and below-average, it would be an acceptable yield and one that would help the Jets for a long time into the future.
However, if Becton fails to join Hall as a successful pick, the class will officially plummet into the league-worst conversation.
All of the pressure is on Becton to save this once-promising draft class from disappearing into oblivion.