It doesn’t matter which regime is running things for the New York Jets, because they seemingly desire to always beat their co-tenants when it comes to the back pages of the tabloids.
This draft was no different, as Gang Green garnered the most chatter for picks that were thought of as reaches, or picks that made bigger splashes than Big Blue’s solid – if unspectacular – selections.
While the Giants were drafting solid players like Eli Apple, Sterling Shepard, Darian Thompson, and B.J. Goodson to fill needs, the Jets took a few players early who also filled needs but raised some eyebrows along the way.
By selecting linebacker Darron Lee in the first round and quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the second, the Jets took players at need positions, but may have also reached. Lee has elite speed for the position (4.47 in the 40-yard dash), and is a great fit to combat today’s spread offenses, but his frame (6-foot-1, 232 pounds) may give him trouble in defending larger targets in space -- specifically larger tight ends who are also mobile, like the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski, the Bills’ Charles Clay, and the Dolphins’ Jordan Cameron.
Lee is a supreme physical talent who can rush the passer, but some experts were shocked at the selection because he’s too small to play inside linebacker in the Jets’ 3-4 defense (three linemen and four linebackers), and may have trouble covering the aforementioned tight ends in the division. It also needs mentioning that the Jets bypassed fellow linebackers like Myles Jack of UCLA and Reggie Ragland of Alabama – the latter widely considered the best inside 3-4 linebacker in the draft – and cornerbacks William Jackson III of Houston and Artie Burns of Miami. Even quarterback Paxton Lynch of Memphis was overlooked, to the glee of the Denver Broncos, who traded up five spots to get their man.
Regarding the bypassing of its quarterback of the future, the Jets chose to wait until the 51st pick to nab Hackenberg. Long thought to have the physical tools with his size (6-foot-4, 223 pounds) and arm strength, the former Penn State star is regarded a boom-or-bust pick. Apparently general manager Mike Maccagnan valued the measurables over the lack of production during Hackenberg’s final two seasons, as well as some character flaws that saw the signal caller throw his former coaching staff under the bus when asked about his struggles at the scouting combine.
The 51st pick is still a prime selection, and one that should be an immediate hit. But with Hackenberg, the Jets took on a long-term project that may hit – or flame out within a few years. The pick also means that Geno Smith will enter camp as the No. 1 guy, with Bryce Petty the primary backup – unless Ryan Fitzpatrick takes the reported one-year deal that the Jets will likely offer instead of the multi-year deal the veteran was seeking.
The Hackenberg pick virtually means that their second-round pick won’t be of any help this upcoming season. The Penn State product has great arm strength, but his accuracy is his biggest issue and he became one of the more polarizing prospects following his interview sessions at the combine. His touchdown-to-interception ratio (28:21) was less than desirable, although it could be argued that he took a beating (103 career sacks) and that the supporting cast and new coaching regime did him no favors – arguments the quarterback made at the combine.
Some talent evaluators predicted that Hackenberg would one day be a Top-10 pick following his stellar freshman campaign (20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions) in head coach Bill O’Brien’s pro-style offense. But his most recent seasons at Penn State, coupled by an erratic showing at the combine – physically and mentally – pushed him down many teams’ boards.
The Jets are just hoping they get that version of Hackenberg and not the present-day character – and that their other picks pan out as well. And if they do, this draft class may actually be the one that helps them overthrow the Patriots, sooner rather than later.
- Lee will likely get first crack at the weak-inside linebacker spot, where Demario Davis manned last season. But if he can’t win that job in camp, head coach Todd Bowles has already assured the rookie will still see plenty of action in the team’s nickel packages (five defensive backs) due to his pass-coverage abilities and sideline-to-sideline speed.
- The Jets did address most of their needs in the latter rounds with the selections of outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins of Georgia, cornerback Juston Burris of N.C. State, and offensive tackle Brandon Shell of South Carolina in the third, fourth, and fifth rounds, respectively. All are thought to be immediate contributors.