Drafting Breece Hall is a bold, interesting step in Joe Douglas’ New York Jets rebuild recipe
The NFL draft has built itself into a 365-day behemoth through the simple concept of debate.
Fractions of a second or an inch make the difference between hypothetical first-round glory and a de facto demotion to Friday in countless mock drafts. Arguments over who had the best draft commence long after Mr. Irrelevant shows up, as do the discussions over the following year’s selections.
The current New York Jets are shockingly immune from the phenomenon with 262 names called in 2022. Joe Douglas‘ weekend work has been referred to as his metropolitan masterpiece, leaving Las Vegas with “three in (our) top eight” after the opening round.
It was incredible enough that the Jets were able to land Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner”, Garrett Wilson, and Jermaine Johnson, but Friday’s fortune might’ve proved to be even greater: the Jets made a roommate’s swap with the New York Giants, moving up two spots in the second round with their MetLife Stadium co-tenants.
With the newly earned 36th overall pick (dealing away the 38th choice earned through the Sam Darnold trade), the Jets chose Breece Hall, a running back out of Iowa State.
While the opening trio were each candidates for being the best in their respective position group, Hall was almost unanimously seen as the top rusher of the draft, a prophecy fulfilled when the Jets made him the first back chosen in the 2022 proceedings after none heard their name called over the first 35 picks.
Through Hall, the Jets obtain a unanimous All-American selection with undeniable potential to become a rare homegrown playmaker for a New York offense in desperate need of one. Hall was a touchdown machine in Ames, visiting the end zone 56 times over three seasons, nearly double his closest competitors. He’s also used to pressure and expectations, as his Cyclone showcase immediately came in the wake of David Montgomery’s accomplishments.
Douglas had no hesitation giving up two picks (also sending the 146th choice) for the right to get to Hall.
“It starts with the high-level production. He was one of the top players in the entire conference,” Douglas said of the attraction to Hall, per team notes. “The thing that jumps out with him is he’s a home run threat, he can score from anywhere on the field. Excellent elusiveness, excellent balance through contact.”
But at the end of it all…was drafting Hall the right move?
The question sounds like a sophomoric attempt to bring the Jets down after a universally acclaimed draft and it’s hard to call bringing in an electrifying scorer of 56 touchdowns an objectively “bad” move. This question also isn’t meant to erase or disparage Hall’s accomplishments: he was the top rusher in the class and deserves to be recognized as such.
At 36th overall, Hall becomes the earliest running back the Jets have selected since the doomed Blair Thomas went second in 1990. Having Hall go in the second round was appropriate, as five of the seven NFL running backs to reach 1,000 yards in the 2021 season were chosen on the second day of the draft.
Yet, several established aspects of the modern Jets seemed to scream “reach” upon the Hall selection.
For one thing, the Jets appeared to establish a solid rushing foundation for themselves with 2021’s fourth-round selection of Michael Carter (who, to his credit, has shown zero issues with Hall’s arrival) and re-signing two-time Super Bowl visitor Tevin Coleman. A three-way depth battle between Ty Johnson, La’Mical Perine, and Austin Walter would’ve been one of the most intriguing battles of the summer.
Furthermore, it’s fairly easy to argue that the Jets could’ve walked away from the table with as much of a win as one can on draft weekend. The timing and selections of Gardner, Wilson, and Johnson was nothing short of impeccable and would’ve landed the Jets on countless “winners” lists in the postmortem.
Further arguments could’ve dictated that the Jets would’ve been better off staying put at No. 38 and using the pick to continue to bolster their dwindling defensive depth. They no doubt could’ve benefitted from the next pick’s help, as the Houston Texans took Hall’s fellow All-American, safety Jalen Pitre.
But Douglas sent an intriguing message with the Hall pick, a hint that what he’s planning in New York could be just a tad ahead of schedule: he took the best player available.
An event ruled and sustained by questions and debate, the NFL draft features 32 participants. Those involved have perhaps asked no question more often than “draft for need or best player available”?
The query is perhaps far overused. The latter option is a luxury, a move that should be reserved for squads on the cusp of a major movement, maybe even the Super Bowl. Needless to say, the Jets aren’t at the point where they can make that proverbial transaction.
But Douglas’ bold move to bolster a relatively healthy position was a reward for patient Jets fans, a warning that the team’s days as a punchline may finally be numbered.
Douglas and his handpicked head coach Robert Saleh have done and said almost all the right things in their take on metropolitan redemption. It’s a duology led by good intentions, like Douglas attempts to make up for the lack of attention on the offensive line and Saleh’s “All Gas, No Brake” mantra.
Alas, those have no value in the NFL standings and each is now facing a fateful season coinciding with an AFC landscape rife with contenders, both established and presumed. Douglas can address the Jets’ needs as much as he can and Saleh can make as many wall-busting quotables as he wants. It’s going to mean nothing if the Jets don’t win games, even if the playoffs aren’t to be.
To that end, no more Mr. Nice GM.
No one was expecting miracles in the Douglas era, especially considering the inauspicious way it began and the fairly deep hole the Jets found themselves in. But Douglas’ bold steps forward put him into the best kind of corner an NFL front office man can find himself in: one where there’s a way out.
Douglas’ shrewd maneuvering and manipulation of the NFL draft boards are strategies that turned franchise false prophets into cornerstones of its eventual redemption. The opening trio each filled a need, so Douglas opted for the prospect with the most firepower … enter Hall.
Previous work on the transaction ledgers (i.e. trading Jamal Adams/Sam Darnold) made any move the Jets made in the second into a world of low-risk/high-reward treasures. Douglas was more than happy to embrace the concept and take full advantage.
The Jets are offered the most beautiful form of a football first-world problem that nonetheless remains dangerous: expectations. Choosing Hall shows that, at the very least, they’re going to have a little fun with it.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags