If you look at the names of many of the Jets’ key contributors this year they have a common theme: Mike Tannenbaum.
The former general manager was fired by the Jets last year in part due to a perceived lack of talent gleaned over the past few years in the NFL Draft. But this year’s Jets are reaping the benefits of some of his mid- to late-round selections.
Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, running back Bilal Powell, nose tackle Kenrick Ellis and cornerback Antonio Allen were all taken in the third round or later and are now critical pieces on the Jets’ team. Undrafted free agents linebacker Nick Bellore and nose tackle Damon Harrison are as well.
Tannenbaum brought all of them to the Jets.
“I always felt it took three to four years to evaluate a draft,” Tannenbaum told Metro on Wednesday. “The balance you try to strike is you want to win for today and develop for tomorrow. That’s the balance we try to strike. I worry about our process and the people we work with and hopefully it all works out with getting players that can help immediately. Others take a while to develop.”
Some of his picks were no brainers, such as center Nick Mangold and left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Others were a bit of a gamble, such as Muhammad Wilkerson, who was under the radar as a first-round pick but is now one of the NFL’s top defensive ends.
After evaluating Harrison for instance, the Jets felt comfortable with him being a possible late-round selection. That they were able to sign him after the draft as a free agent underscores what good scouting can bring to a team. Harrison is now one of the best 3-4 nose tackles in the league.
Powell, now in his fourth year with the Jets, was labeled as a bust. During his rookie year, he had just 13 carries for 21 yards in two games played. He had 697 rushing yards last season as the clear No. 2 back.
“That first year was almost a redshirt year for me,” Powell told Metro. “Looking back, it was great. I appreciate it now. I got to see behind guys like LaDainian Tomlinson, Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight. I learned, I watched, I got to understand the building and the team. It really helped me along.”
Tannenbaum’s philosophy was simple. The first round resolved itself, the second round took some projection in terms of evaluation and trust in players’ college backgrounds in the middle to late rounds.
“Draft some good football players from good schools and ask them to do as much reasonably as they did in college,” Tannenbaum said of his late-round philosophy.
He cites Kerley, who put up big numbers at TCU with quarterback Andy Dalton, as a player the Jets were trusting to produce based on his college numbers. Kerley led the team in receiving yards last year and is now one of the team’s top targets on third down.
“It’s trying to be as strategic as possible when opportunities present themselves — like to trade up for Darrelle Revis or David Harris,” Tannenbaum said. “Then be flexible to trade back as well. Have as much flexibility as possible, to not be beholden to any one position.”
Some picks didn’t work out. Wide receiver Stephen Hill, who was cut before the 2014 season started, and much-maligned cornerback Kyle Wilson are two examples. But there’s also players like Allen, who came to the Jets as a seventh-round pick and moved from linebacker to safety in his rookie year and now recently to cornerback.
Allen was moved around on defense in college. He came to the Jets with questions about his football acumen — it can be inferred he didn’t test particularly well. He had versatility, but he seemed like a classic “tweener” type.
The coaching staff — and head coach Rex Ryan in particular — wasn’t worried about Allen’s perceived lack of football knowledge.
Allen was discussed at length by management prior to the draft, and there was a consensus that despite this low test score, he had a tremendous upside.
Now in his third year with the Jets, he’s gotten a significant role at cornerback.
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.