INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 02: New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas answers questions from the media during the NFL Scouting Combine on March 2, 2022, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, IN.
Joe Douglas, New York Jets (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Jets’ top executive Joe Douglas has decisions to make about underachieving draft picks

New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas has shown that he can make tough calls. He understands the business of football and knows when to let go.

Following the 2022 season, though, that business savvy may be put to the test for the first time.

Until now, Douglas has systematically eradicated Mike Maccagnan‘s stamp from the roster. Only four of Maccagnan’s 34 picks remain, and three are not roster locks for this season (Chuma Edoga, Nathan Shepherd, and Trevon Wesco).

In the coming years, though, Douglas will need to ruthlessly evaluate his own picks. It may be difficult for him to give up on his investments. It’s much easier when they’re someone else’s sunk costs.

In the last couple of years, Douglas has shown that he knows when to let go. Rarely does a GM pull the plug with such a flourish, too.

Jamal Adams spent the better part of a year lamenting his contract situation. While Adams was a good player for the Jets, a safety is not a franchise cornerstone. The decision to trade Adams became easier when he chirped while his play showed clear coverage deficits. Getting two first-round picks and a third-rounder for Adams was quite the coup for the Jets’ GM.

In the 2020-21 offseason, there was a debate about whether the Jets should cut bait from Sam Darnold or try to build a roster around him. Douglas found a quarterback-needy team in the Panthers and happily swiped second-, fourth-, and sixth-round picks for the first-round bust.

Douglas also made lemonade out of lemons with the trade of Chris Herndon and a sixth-rounder for a fourth-round pick last August. It’s safe to say that general managers around the NFL could take a lesson or two from the former Eagles executive.

2019 draft

Although Maccagnan owns the 2019 draft, Douglas has a crucial decision to make about Quinnen Williams, the former No. 3 overall pick.

There has been some talk about if and when Williams will garner an extension and at what price. This led Quinnen to take to Twitter and call out reporters for lying (about what was unclear).

It is fair to call Williams something of a disappointment over his first three seasons. Hailed as perhaps the best prospect in the draft, he has been a good player, but not the difference-maker Maccagnan thought he was getting (rather like another Maccagnan pick named Williams whom Douglas traded away).

After appearing poised for a breakout in 2021 following an excellent 2020 season, Williams took a step back last year. He ranked as around the 15-20th best defensive tackle in most categories last year. Not bad, but not worthy of top-tier money.

2020 picks

The question becomes a lot murkier when it comes to Douglas’s own picks.

Considering how well Douglas’s first two picks with the Jets played in their rookie season, it is incredible that both have had trade or release talks swirling around them this offseason.

We do not need to rehash the Mekhi Becton situation here. Enough–too much–has been said and written about him over the last few months. Becton can dominate when in full form, but no one knows if that will happen.

How Douglas views Becton is somewhat of a mystery. Picking Sauce Gardner initially seemed to be a vote of confidence for the big guy, since Ikem Ekwonu and Evan Neal were right there. But the calls for Becton insurance have grown louder, and both Douglas and Robert Saleh have said nothing to quell those concerns.

Denzel Mims‘s situation needs even less introduction. Mims went from promising rookie to doghouse cut candidate so quickly that it gave fans whiplash. He played only a handful of games in 2021 and performed dismally, easily surpassed by Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, and Braxton Berrios. Even Jeff Smith was more trusted than Mims.

What is Mims’s future with the Jets? Can he lock up the WR5 or WR6 position and try to claw his way back into playing time? Saleh has gone out of his way to say that Mims is in the best shape of his life.

I suspect that the Jets are trying to pave the way to trade Mims for a late-round pick. The reasons that Saleh and Mike LaFleur did not like Mims remain: poor study habits, lack of versatility, and inability to play special teams.

Ashtyn Davis seems like a safer bet to make the roster, although he has perhaps been the least impressive of these three guys at the NFL level. At least Mims showed some potential in Year 1; Davis has been nothing but a disaster since he came into the league.

The Jets knew that he was a project coming out of college, but Davis has not improved his coverage, tackling, routes taken towards ball carriers and receivers, or his understanding of defense. He often looks lost out there. This season is his best shot to earn playing time, as the free safety position is up for grabs on the roster.

This decision may be somewhat easier for Douglas because Davis was a third-round pick. If Davis does not step it up in 2022, he will not be on the roster next season.

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2021 class

The biggest question mark so far, though, comes from the Jets’ 2021 class.

Not Elijah Moore – he looks like a bona fide star in the making. Alijah Vera-Tucker made the All-Rookie team in his first season, and despite pass-blocking struggles, he appears to be set on the Jets’ line for years to come.

Michael Carter (the running back) led the league in missed tackles forced per touch and showed elusiveness and burst in his rookie season. Michael Carter II showed promise as a slot corner.

Jason Pinnock is competing for the starting safety spot after being drafted as a corner. Hamsah Nasirildeen and Jamien Sherwood will vie for playing time at linebacker.

However, the fate of this draft class will all come down to Zach Wilson. You pretty much can’t get worse than Wilson was as a rookie, and the statistical projections don’t look promising.

Still, the Jets have put their faith in Wilson, surrounding him with potentially elite talent. As Pro Football Focus detailed, there is nowhere for Wilson to go but up. How far up will be the question.

Wilson enters his second year with every chance to succeed. He certainly has this season and next to prove that he can be the guy. The GM can take his time to make a full evaluation.

However, Douglas showed with Sam Darnold that he can make business decisions when he needs to. If Wilson does not fare better than Darnold, how long of a leash will Douglas give him? Will Wilson earn an extra season because he was Douglas’s own pick?

Hopefully for Douglas and the Jets, this will become a much more pleasant (though perhaps equally cold-blooded) conversation about a lucrative contract extension.

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Rivka Boord has followed the Jets since the age of five. She is known locally for her in-depth knowledge of football. She hopes to empower young women to follow their dreams and join the sports conversation. Boord's background in analytics infuses her articles with unique insights into the state of the Jets' franchise and the NFL as a whole.
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Psi
Psi
5 months ago

“You pretty much can’t get worse than Wilson was as a rookie…” – Question: if Wilson only performed in the games after his injury, would you make the same statement? Everyone generally agrees that rookies tend to improve as they go through their first year, however with Zach, statements like the one above imply that he only played through the second NE game.

Psi
Psi
5 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

I love statistics as much as anyone. My vocation includes a lot of analytics. That said, using analytics to characterize a rookie QB while factual, really limits the analysis. With this position it has to be quantitative and qualitative…especially when all other factors are not equal (i.e. supporting personnel). I would suggest that both data and the eye test generally start to converge after year 2 or roughly about 25 games into their careers other factors (such as supporting personnel and coaching) being equal. My projection is all the rookie QBs who played last year (not counting Lance) will be noticeably improved this year for a variety of reasons anchored by their base skill and now experience. Lawrence – better coaching; Wilson – better personnel; Fields, Jones and Mills – experience. All except Jones were likely statistically poor last year, but the data says nothing definitive about who they’ll be this year.

DFargas
DFargas
5 months ago

I know Zack Wilson is still the most important player on the team, but I thought it was interesting that Douglas traded up to draft Breece Hall even when they have a potential star running back in Carter and other good rotational backs. It seems like maybe they want to take some of the pressure and onus off of Wilson by calling a lot of running plays (apparently that’s part of LeFleur’s system anyway). I think that’s smart, something I would do in their position. Wilson seems kind of high-strung and has a lot of expectations for himself, so asking him to hand off a lot could help settle him down in his second year, and not feel that its all on his shoulders. The thing is, we’re not sure how he will cotton to that.

JohnnyMirehiel
JohnnyMirehiel
5 months ago

“…Mims went from promising rookie to doghouse cut candidate so quickly that it gave fans whiplash.”

Not quite right, Rivka. First, he didn’t even get a look at LaFlure’s playbook, which is admittedly large and difficult to master, until camp’s opening. Maybe not the brightest bulb, but it immediately set him on the back foot. Then we know that he had Covid and, per leaked sources, that he lost significant weight & strength due to it. Then he had an injury that set him back even more. By the time he was physically cleared JUST to practice it was week 7 and he found himself buried beneath the bottom of the depth chart. And that BS about needing to know the entire route tree doesn’t cut it either. What the hell is the job of the coaching staff? The bottom line, for me, is that both he AND the coaching staff failed in year one of the Shael Coaching Regime.

Robert Papalia
Robert Papalia
5 months ago

Agree with you on your points. A very important year for Douglas and the Jets.