Joe Douglas, NY Jets, GM
Joe Douglas, New York Jets, Getty Images

Joe Douglas has set up the New York Jets for brilliance or disaster

D’Brickashaw Ferguson approached the podium to announce the New York Jets‘ 2023 second-round pick at No. 43 overall. Jets fans assumed that the pick would be a center. Virtually everyone thought that the player selected would be Minnesota’s John Michael Schmitz.

Instead, the Jets’ long-time bookend read out the selection of Wisconsin’s Joe Tippmann. Not only did they take Tippmann, but Schmitz fell to their crosstown rivals, the New York Giants. Both teams needed centers. Both teams selected centers. The Jets took the consensus second-best center, and they will live to see the results.

While Schmitz is entrenched as the Giants’ Week 1 starting center, Tippmann languished with the third team before finally earning first-team reps less than a month before Week 1. Fans got antsy, calling Tippmann a bust before he took an NFL snap. Joe Douglas took the heat.

The Jets’ general manager had a strong reason for taking Tippmann, though. It’s the same reason that explains so many of his other moves, from draft picks to free agency. It can be explained with one word: ceiling.

Ceiling vs. floor

Every NFL player comes into the league with two projections: their ceiling and their floor. Ceiling measures potential, the best-case scenario for the player if everything turns out perfectly. Floor is the absolute bottoming performance.

Obviously, projections are worth only so much, and they’ve been wrong many times before. However, high-floor players are generally considered safe picks, even if their ceiling is not as high. On the flip side, high-ceiling players are viewed as having the potential to become stars, but they often come with the risk of serious failure and a low floor.

The NFL is littered with managers who take either approach. Some blend the two options, selecting one or the other depending on the situation. However, Douglas has shown a clear proclivity toward betting on upside, especially in his draft strategy. While it’s paid off for him at times, it’s also blown up in his face.

First-round picks

Douglas has now gone through four drafts with the Jets, from 2020-23. Although there is no actual track record for the 2023 draft, it’s clear what Douglas’ strategy was in this draft, as well. Here was his draft process in each of the four seasons.

2020: Mekhi Becton

The Jets needed a left tackle heading into the 2020 draft. When they came on the clock at No. 11, Tristan Wirfs and Mekhi Becton were the two remaining tackle options.

Douglas’ Becton selection may have been because Wirfs was a right tackle only, while Becton had played on both sides. That was valid reasoning. However, Wirfs was considered the safer pick, a tackle who could anchor the line for a decade. Becton, while possessing incredible strength and talent, was considered a risk due to his massive frame: 6-foot-7, 363 pounds at the Combine, and generally a higher playing weight.

Ultimately, Douglas took Becton because of his higher upside. In a certain sense, Douglas wasn’t wrong to take the left tackle. Wirfs recently described seeking help due to the strain and anxiety of switching over to the left side after three seasons on the right.

However, Becton’s risk has shown up in the NFL. Although he didn’t have a college injury history, his weight contributed to a litany of injuries as a rookie and back-to-back season-ending ailments since. He still hasn’t been able to grab a starting spot in training camp primarily due to his conditioning and comfort with his knee.

Meanwhile, Wirfs became one of the best right tackles in the NFL. Immediately anchoring the right side for Tom Brady, he earned the 12th-best Pro Football Focus grade for tackles (81.8) as a rookie. He followed that up with back-to-back Pro Bowl selections and one first- and second-team All-Pro, respectively.

Although this was not necessarily predictable, having at minimum a solid right tackle may have been a safer bet than the high-upside, low-floor left tackle. The primary reason that this is the overall philosophical approach: ceiling vs. floor.

Douglas chose the ceiling. So far, it hasn’t worked out.

2021: Zach Wilson

After the Jets lost out on Trevor Lawrence, they still had four other quarterback options at No. 2. The other choice was to trade the pick for a haul to build a barren roster. (I preferred that route, although I don’t have the receipts to prove it.)

Zach Wilson won out very early in the draft process. He did not become the pick with one pro-day throw but was pretty much entrenched before the end of the 2020 NFL season.

How did a pedestrian quarterback over his first two college seasons suddenly become the clear No. 2 pick? It was his tantalizing upside. Between Wilson and Trey Lance, Douglas considered Wilson’s live arm and accuracy the more enticing prospect. While Justin Fields had a longer track record, Wilson’s ability to throw from all arm angles and off schedule reminded scouts of Patrick Mahomes.

Douglas fell in love with Wilson immediately, by all accounts. According to Albert Breer’s poll of 23 NFL front offices, all of them would have done the same. Still, selecting Wilson was undoubtedly risky, coming from clean pockets and wide-open receiver looks.

Douglas lost the bet. (I say that without qualification despite Wilson’s continued presence on the team.) Although it was a universally-accepted move, a prescient executive might have recognized that the roster’s lack of talent would set up any rookie passer to fail. He also might have identified Wilson’s poor showing when he was under pressure, as well as his first two nondescript seasons prior to the fanless 2020 Covid year.

I’m not blaming Douglas for taking Wilson. It was a no-brainer to most. But in general, give Douglas a choice between the automatic single or double and the chance to hit a home run, he’ll swing for the fences every time.

2022: Jermaine Johnson

The Jets’ two top-10 picks were pretty much no-brainers for Douglas. (I was in the Kayvon Thibodeaux camp at No. 4 over Sauce Gardner and am eating the crow on that one. On the flip side, I liked Garrett Wilson at No. 10.) However, trading back up for Jermaine Johnson was a swing for the fences.

Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich were tantalized by Johnson’s 1.55-second 10-yard split, in the 97th percentile among edge rushers. In this case, Johnson’s floor as a strong run defender was pretty high, but George Karlaftis was also on the clock and a more polished pass rusher at that point. However, Douglas & Co. saw Johnson’s physical traits and fell in love. They took the big swing of a trade to get their edge rusher.

2023: Will McDonald

The Jets shocked the world with their selection of Will McDonald at No. 15. Although the top tackles were off the board, Douglas could have pursued Jaxon Smith-Njigba at that spot to give the team a deep and diverse receiving corps. Instead, the Jets went back to the well at edge rusher, where they were already five deep.

Not only did they take an edge, but they took the player that no one, not a single mock draft, had projected for them. Initially, Douglas looked unprepared in the eyes of the NFL for getting stuck without a tackle, which the Jets needed. It became apparent afterward that the Jets loved McDonald, and their only hesitation was whether they could snag an extra draft pick and still take McDonald a few slots later.

Still, taking McDonald over Nolan Smith was a gamble. McDonald’s final year at Iowa State was not overly impressive statistically. Although his upside and physical traits are undeniable, his slender frame (240 pounds soaking wet) and relatively advanced age for an edge rusher draft pick (24) made him a risky pick.

Still, the Jets bet on upside. Undoubtedly, McDonald looks like the best bet to become the Jets’ most feared edge rusher since John Abraham, but we have yet to see him too much against starting NFL tackles. Will he hold up in the run game well enough to be a starter? If not, McDonald could be relegated to a Bryce Huff role. As good as Huff is, he’s not worth a first-round pick due to the scarcity of his snaps.

I’m not saying that I think this will happen (spoiler alert: I don’t). Still, the risk is there. Douglas bet on the high ceiling rather than the indeterminate floor.

Second- and third-rounders

2020: Denzel Mims, Ashtyn Davis

Denzel Mims had a higher draft projection but fell to No. 59. It was a bet on a 4.38-second 40-yard dash (90th percentile) and a 38½-inch vertical (83rd) at 6-foot-3, 207 pounds. Mims’ production at Baylor was littered with contested catches, and that caught Douglas’ eye.

Still, receivers who can’t separate in college usually struggle to do so at the NFL level, as well. Douglas looked at the physical traits and took a swing. After Dan Campbell’s comments about Mims (and his release with an injury designation), I think it’s safe to say that the receiver was a whiff.

Ashtyn Davis was another high-upside swing. He possessed tantalizing physical traits (at least on his film, as he did not participate in most Combine drills) and little else. That has shown up in the NFL. Although it’s fine to take that kind of swing in the third round, on a team bereft of talent, it might have made more sense to take a player with a slightly higher floor (such as his 2022 selection of Micheal Clemons in the fourth round).

2022: Breece Hall

The Breece Hall pick was a high-ceiling, high-floor pick in terms of the quality of the player. Hall was an absolute stud, possessing all the physical traits and the phenomenal tape that you would expect from a high running back selection.

What made this a low-floor move is the elevated injury risk for running backs vs. the positional value. There was a reasonable chance that Hall could get injured and limit his ceiling, thus lowering the return on investment. If a second-round pick has four years with the team, losing a year-plus to a season-ending injury is absolutely devastating. While that can happen to any player, the risk is undoubtedly higher with a running back.

When selecting a running back that high, no less trading up to do so, that back must be an absolute star. It’s not enough to be above average; Hall must perform like a top-tier back in the league to justify the pick. Although he was well on his way to that through seven games of the 2022 season, his ACL tear makes his 2023 projection uncertain.

What happens if Hall never regains that elite rookie form, or if he doesn’t do it until midway through the 2024 season? Was that a worthwhile pick? This is not a hindsight declaration because it is one that I made at the time. In fact, it’s the main argument against taking a running back in the second round.

In many cases, you can argue that a player’s serious injury in the NFL was a fluke and not predictable at the time he was drafted. However, just as Becton was inherently an injury risk due to his weight, Hall’s position put him at elevated risk for an ACL tear. Douglas bet on the upside. We’ll see how it turns out.

2023: Joe Tippmann

As stated earlier, Tippmann’s selection surprised many Jets fans. However, studying Douglas’ previous draft profile, it shouldn’t have. Tippmann clearly has a higher ceiling than Schmitz; he is far more athletic and has the upside of a dominant two-way center. Schmitz may be more NFL-ready and solid, but Tippmann can truly be great. In particular, for the first time, Douglas went for the player with the higher pass-blocking upside.

However, in an all-in season, it’s arguable that the Jets should have gone for the player who could immediately contribute. In the same way that Smith-Njigba could have provided more for the Jets immediately, Schmitz would likely be the Jets’ Week 1 starter, even with Aaron Rodgers under center. He does not have the snapping struggles which seem to be the primary barrier preventing Tippmann from winning the starting center job.

While the Jets did re-sign Connor McGovern to tide over the position in case Tippmann is not ready to start, Schmitz could be a far better center than McGovern as a rookie. Considering that Tippmann had rarely snapped out of shotgun in college, it was certainly possible that he was going to struggle with that. Taking Tippmann might look better in 2024 or 2025, but was it the best decision for 2023?

Only time will tell. The decision, though, fits perfectly in line with what Douglas has always done in the past.

Free agency

While many of Douglas’ free-agent moves have been to fill needs, there were a few moves that he made which undeniably fit this profile. The most pronounced one was Laken Tomlinson.

There were two other quality guards on the market who ended up receiving cheaper deals. Both James Daniels and Austin Corbett could have helped the Jets. However, Douglas went with the more expensive Tomlinson because he could fit the system perfectly. Douglas saw the higher price paid for Tomlinson as worthwhile in exchange for the system familiarity from San Francisco, even in a season where competing for the playoffs seemed like an unlikely prospect.

Admittedly, Tomlinson’s floor should not have been so low. However, he also had a slew of poor seasons in Detroit before coming to San Francisco, which meant that the risk with him was greater. Daniels and Corbett might have been safer picks (although Corbett sustained a season-ending ACL tear). Douglas swung for the fences, as he is wont to do.

Aaron Rodgers

Robby Sabo argued early on in the Rodgers-Derek Carr debate that Douglas must acquire Rodgers. However, the rest of Jets Nation hotly contested the issue. Michael Nania and I changed our minds by the day.

It is likely that this move was at least partially based on Woody Johnson’s demands. However, given Douglas’ track record, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if he was in lockstep with the owner.

Carr was undoubtedly the “safer” move, especially because he was a free agent. He did not cost draft capital, had no messy contract to deal with, and didn’t come with all the extra baggage. He’s a more-than-serviceable quarterback in the league. The contract he took from New Orleans is eminently reasonable, so the Jets might have been able to get him for something similar.

However, Rodgers’ upside is far higher than Carr’s. He was a big risk due to his off year in 2022, his advanced age, and the question of how long he wanted to play. Still, the Jets weathered all that and brought him to New York. Not only that, but they’ve pretty much given him the keys to the car, bringing in Randall Cobb, Billy Turner, and Dalvin Cook due to their quarterback’s requests.

Douglas swung for the fences once more. He’d better hit a home run.

Offensive line

Douglas’ approach to the offensive line showcased this same philosophy. In this case, I believe he went too far.

Almost immediately upon the season’s end, I argued that the Jets needed not one but two new tackles. I conceded that Alijah Vera-Tucker was a possibility there, but added the caveat that Douglas needed to acquire a solid guard to replace Vera-Tucker if they were going to go that route. Nania and I both made it clear that the Jets should not be relying on Becton’s health. However, it seems that this is exactly what the Jets did, at least prior to training camp.

Having Becton and Vera-Tucker in his “back pocket” apparently convinced Douglas not to overpay for Orlando Brown Jr. (although it’s also possible that refusing to guarantee a left tackle spot drove Brown away). To me, this was a bet on Becton’s upside once more, with a Vera-Tucker ace in his hand.

The problem is that betting on upside here could be potentially lethal. Sure, Becton could be the Jets’ best tackle if he plays. Still, the best ability is availability, and the Becton availability drama will live on throughout the season. Was it wise to bet on his upside?

The best five

Saleh keeps insisting that the Jets will play their best five along the offensive line. But what does “best” mean?

This is the ultimate question of ceiling vs. floor. The weakest-link theory of offensive line play states that an offensive line’s performance is only as good as its worst player’s. The statistics back this up; just one blown block completely cripples a run play and sets back a pass play significantly.

Are the Jets going to try to keep an All-Pro at guard and leave the risk of having a disastrous tackle situation? Or will they bite the bullet and move Vera-Tucker to tackle to raise the floor of the line?

Saleh seemed to indicate that the Jets will consider doing so. However, Vera-Tucker is yet to take any reps at tackle in training camp. Perhaps that’s simply because he’s nursing an ankle injury. Maybe the Jets simply trust him to slide over without a hitch. Or maybe it’s because they continue hoping—and betting—they won’t have to.

This last bet on the offensive line could absolutely cripple the Jets’ season. Although there are possible contingency plans, without an additional move (such as signing Dalton Risner), those plans are equally tenuous.

If this particular bet backfires, I think Douglas’ job should be at risk. He took one too many gambles on upside. It’s time for it to pay off.

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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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1 month ago

The upside of the O-line with both Becton and Tippmann playing together is literally eye-popping. I saw one play with both of them driving their opponents back, and they were both the biggest guys in the trenches, and with their long arms they were creating acres of space. I sure hope it comes to fruition eventually with Becton at LT and Tippmann at center because that will be something to see.

Jim G
Jim G
1 month ago

Superb analysis of Joe Douglas’s draft picks and the most likely reason he made them. And, for the most part, many NFL talking heads would have made the same picks.

In 2020, I recall Gil Brandt saying that the Jets should take the best O lineman available at pick 11 even if one of the great wide receivers was also available. Cee Dee Lamb fell to the Cowboys, but the Jets were probably right to take an O lineman.

In 2021, I recall mostly praise for Zach Wilson, but a few doubters. My concern was not, but should have been, how strongly the doubters felt. As you point out, most GMs would have made the same pick and many former GMs, now talking heads, are not critical of Joe Douglas for making the pick. And your point about his emphasis on the upside explains why he did not trade the pick for a huge draft haul.

Clearly, 2022 was a home run draft for Joe Douglas.

They say two out of three ain’t bad. But one out of three?

When Joe Douglas was hired he said his emphasis would be on the trenches. The Jets have done well on the defensive side (although Quinnen was drafted before Douglas arrived and much of the credit may well fall to Robert Saleh), but the offensive side has been a real disappointment.

1 month ago

Nailed it.
Here’s hoping that JD’s gambling with the 2023 OL pays off. It could be a great, great season, or another piece-meal, injury plagued, wreck. There’s just so much riding on Brown and Becton again. Becton has looked dominant in limited preseason snaps, so I got my fingers crossed.

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
1 month ago

Good article, Rivka. I hadn’t looked at JDs selections that way. I agree that it concerned me that he didn’t do anything at the Tackle position this offseason, but I think Brown will be ok at LT and Mitchell can be ok at RT if he has to. I don’t see JD getting fired, but I definitely see him addressing it next offseason. We might be in the market for 2 OTs again. I can also see Tippmann replacing Laken at RG, or or AVT if he has to move outside.

Last edited 1 month ago by Jonathan Richter