Building an analytically-minded New York Jets mock draft after free agency
If you have read any of my articles before or follow me on Twitter, you know I’m a stats and analytics guy first and foremost when it comes to evaluating football players. I love watching film, too, and I always make sure to blend both film and stats in my player evaluations, but numbers are my bread and butter.
With that in mind, I want to shake up the New York Jets mock draft landscape a bit.
I will be running a series of three-round Jets mock drafts throughout this offseason with a different spin on things: Each pick will be made with the mentality of taking the best player available from a statistical perspective.
Of course, I will still take team needs and previous picks into account – I’m not going to draft any quarterbacks or select four wide receivers in a row. But analytics will be the prime factor in these selections.
This is not a prediction of what the Jets will do. It’s also not my personal preferred mock draft – if that were the case, I would obviously be taking a lot more into account than just the analytics. Trust me, I’m not someone who thinks analytics are the end-all-be-all.
Our main goal with this article is to simply identify some of the Jets’ best options from an analytical perspective.
With the biggest splashes of free agency in the rearview, let’s dive into my second analytics-based Jets mock draft of the 2022 offseason (check out the January edition here). You can play along with the Jet X Offseason Simulator.
Round 1, Pick 4: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
A few months ago, it seemed unrealistic to suggest that Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux would fall to the Jets at No. 4. However, there now seems to be a real chance that Thibodeaux falls to the fourth pick.
If Thibodeaux is available at No. 4, he is the no-brainer top prospect on the board from an analytics perspective (and probably a real-life perspective, too). His pass-rushing production is about as good as it gets.
Thibodeaux recorded 48 total pressures (9 sacks, 11 hits, 28 hurries) on only 289 pass-rush snaps in 2021. That gives him a pressure rate of 16.6%, which ranked third-best out of 99 qualified Power-5 edge rushers.
Possible first-overall pick Aidan Hutchinson of Michigan ranked one spot ahead of Thibodeaux with a 17.4% rate. Oklahoma’s Nik Bonitto ranked first with a 19.8% rate, although he played some off-ball linebacker and benefited from simulated pressures, so his pressures aren’t as legitimate as Hutchinson’s or Thibodeaux’s. That’s why he’s considered a Day 2 prospect in this year’s draft despite his production.
Further evidencing the legitimacy of his production and his ability to win pure one-on-one battles, Thibodeaux had great numbers in “true pass set” situations, per Pro Football Focus. Thibodeaux’s 92.1 pass-rush grade in true pass sets trailed only Hutchinson (93.5). Among Power-5 edge rushers with at least 100 true-pass-set rush snaps, Thibodeaux’s 37.1% win rate in those situations was the best, narrowly beating Hutchinson’s 37.0%.
Round 1, Pick 18 (via New Orleans): Drake London, WR, USC
The Jets could take a wide receiver with the 10th overall pick, but I think they’d be forcing the pick to address a need while passing up on better talent at the other positions. So, I decided to trade back to a spot where I believe a wide receiver could be considered the best player available.
New Orleans jumps from No. 18 to No. 10 to grab a quarterback. In exchange for the eight-spot drop, the Jets get New Orleans’ second-round pick (49th overall). The Jets also send over a fifth-round pick via Pittsburgh (163rd overall).
Now, we can take a wide receiver while feeling good about the value.
In this simulation, Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson was the only player at the position taken in the top-17, so we have our pick of any other wide receiver.
That’s great news, since Drake London is the wide receiver who offers the best analytical resume, anyway.
The Trojans star was a force in 2021, catching 88 of 119 targets for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns – in only eight games.
London’s efficiency on such a high volume was incredible. His average of 3.52 yards per route run ranked fourth-best among FBS wide receivers to see at least 100 targets (52 qualifiers). Among players in the 2022 draft class, only Kentucky’s Wan’Dale Robinson (3.56 Y/RR) fared better while seeing over 100 targets.
London offers multiple tools that the Jets need. He can be a jump-ball winner for Zach Wilson, as he led the nation with 19 contested catches, per PFF (grabbing a whopping 67.9% of his contested targets). Plus, he can be a scheme fit for Mike LaFleur, as he offers great after-the-catch ability. London tied for sixth among FBS wide receivers with 22 missed tackles forced and ranked first with 2.75 missed tackles forced per game.
Round 2, Pick 35: Devonte Wyatt, IDL, Georgia
Devonte Wyatt brings three-down potential to the Jets’ interior defensive line.
Among over 200 qualified Power-5 interior defensive linemen, Wyatt ranked top-25 in both true-pass-set win rate (21.8%, 21st) and run-stop rate (11.5%, 8th).
Round 2, Pick 38: Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
The Jets added an excellent zone corner in free agency with D.J. Reed, and now they get another with Auburn’s Roger McCreary.
McCreary allowed a passer rating of 29.9 in zone coverage last season, ranking third-best among 222 qualified FBS cornerbacks. Teams threw 27 passes at McCreary when he was in zone coverage, and those turned into only 11 completions for 160 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions.
Round 2, Pick 49 (via New Orleans): Lewis Cine, S, Georgia
New York grabs another Georgia defender in safety Lewis Cine. Having added their box enforcer in free agency, Jordan Whitehead, Cine comes in to play free safety. Cine played free safety on 65% of his snaps in 2021, per PFF.
Cine was one of the nation’s most productive man-coverage safeties in 2021. He allowed a passer rating of 39.2 in man coverage, ranking sixth-best among FBS safeties to face at least 10 targets in man coverage. Cine allowed 10 catches on 21 targets for 87 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception.
With a career missed tackle rate under 7% (the NFL average for safeties in 2021 was 11.6%), Cine brings reliable last-line-of-defense tackling to the Jets’ free safety position.
Round 3, Pick 69: Wan’Dale Robinson, WR, Kentucky
Earlier, I mentioned that Kentucky’s Wan’Dale Robinson led FBS wide receivers in yards per route run while handling over 100 targets. Robinson averaged a sparkling 3.56 Y/RR while catching 104 of 140 targets for 1,342 yards and seven touchdowns.
Robinson was particularly destructive on screens. He caught 35 screen passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns, leading all Power-5 wide receivers in missed tackles forced on screens (13) and first downs on screens (13).
Coming in at an extremely small 5-foot-8 and 178 pounds with arms under 28 inches long, Robinson has clear physical limitations but he proved in college that he can overcome them to produce at a high level.
Final three-round New York Jets mock draft
Here’s a look at our three-round haul:
- R1, P4: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
- R1, P18: Drake London, WR, USC
- R2, P35: Devonte Wyatt, IDL, Georgia
- R2, P38: Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
- R2, P49: Lewis Cine, S, Georgia
- R3, P69: Wan’Dale Robinson, WR, Kentucky