A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Back in the second: The Jets have paid off their debt to the Indianapolis Colts (see: trade-up for Sam Darnold), so they’re back in the second round of the NFL draft after a two-year hiatus. It sets up a fascinating juxtaposition: General manager Joe Douglas versus the Jets’ second-round curse.
Douglas enters his first Jets draft with a reputation for culling talent in Round 2, which hasn’t been kind to the franchise he was empowered to rebuild. The last time one of its second-round picks made the Pro Bowl was defensive end Mark Gastineau, the choice in 1979.
Yes, 1979 — so long ago that ESPN hadn’t started broadcasting the draft. Sorry, but we’re not counting Justin Miller, who made it as a kick returner in 2006 before fading away.
“I cursed them all,” Gastineau said this week. “I put the whammy on them. I wanted to hog the limelight.”
He was kidding, of course. The legendary pass-rusher still roots for the Jets. But check out the facts:
Of the 36 second rounders since Gastineau, only six started more than 60 games, 18 made fewer than 16 starts and one never set foot on the field (quarterback Christian Hackenberg). Current free safety Marcus Maye (2017) is on his way to becoming a trend-buster, but you have to go back to 2007 (linebacker David Harris) to find a second-round pick who played up to expectations.
The second round has been particularly vexing with regard to wide receivers. The last good one was Wesley Walker (1977), who, like Gastineau, is a member of the Jets’ Ring of Honor. In recent years, they whiffed badly on Devin Smith (2015) and Stephen Hill (2012). This is worth noting because there’s a good chance Douglas will be looking for a receiver with the 48th pick if he doesn’t grab one in the first round. He could be staring at Denzel Mims or Michael Pittman Jr.
Douglas comes from the Philadelphia Eagles, where he ran the past three drafts. Two of his three second-round picks from 2018 and 2019 have worked out nicely — tight end Dallas Goedert (91 catches, 941 yards and nine touchdowns) and running back Miles Sanders (1,327 yards from scrimmage and six TDs), respectively. Wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (10 catches) didn’t have a good rookie year.
Douglas’ current team could use a second-round home run. It’s only been — what? — four decades.
2. Mini-mock 1.0: This is how I think the top of the first round will play out.
My top 10: 1. Cincinnati Bengals — QB Joe Burrow, 2. Washington Redskins — DE Chase Young, 3. Detroit Lions — CB Jeff Okudah, 4. New York Giants — LB Isaiah Simmons, 5. Miami Dolphins — QB Justin Herbert.
6. Los Angeles Chargers — QB Tua Tagovailoa, 7. Carolina Panthers — DT Derrick Brown, 8. Arizona Cardinals — OT Jedrick Wills Jr., 9. Jacksonville Jaguars — DT Javon Kinlaw, 10. Cleveland Browns — OT Andrew Thomas.
11. Jets — OT Mekhi Becton.
This would be a good choice for the Jets. In my opinion, which is based on conversations with several talent evaluators, Wills and Becton are the only two tackles I’d take with the 11th pick. If they’re gone, I’d turn to wide receiver — either Jerry Jeudy or Henry Ruggs III. I’m leery of CeeDee Lamb because, in the defensively challenged Big 12 Conference, he didn’t face many good cornerbacks or a lot of press coverage.
Tackle Tristan Wirfs is a freakish athlete, but he’s not as technically sound as the previous top linemen from Iowa. He will be a good player, but he’s not as pro-ready as Wills or Becton.
CeeDee Lamb says this year’s NFL draft class has plenty of franchise WRs and that he is honored to be a part of it.
3. Trader Joe: In the summer/fall, Douglas showed he’s not averse to making trades. Heck, he did one with the New England Patriots (wide receiver Demaryius Thomas), which means he could deal with any team.
Any blockbusters on the horizon?
I don’t think safety Jamal Adams and running back Le’Veon Bell are going anywhere. It wouldn’t surprise me if they shop linebacker Avery Williamson, although it would be difficult to move a player coming off ACL surgery. Clearly, they believe he has value or they would’ve cut him already. This is one of those situations that could linger to the start of the regular season, perhaps beyond. They have a surplus of inside linebackers, especially after signing Patrick Onwuasor.
I know a lot of people are wondering about disgruntled Washington Redskins tackle Trent Williams. Douglas really likes George Fant at left tackle, but you can bet he’s keeping an eye on the Williams situation. He could change his tune if the Redskins and Williams drop their respective prices.
4. Volume shopping: In case you haven’t noticed (and I’m sure you have), the Jets have pulled a 180 in free agency as compared to 2019. The best way to illustrate the change is like this:
A year ago, former GM Mike Maccagnan regime doled out $87 million in fully guaranteed money for Bell, wide receiver Jamison Crowder and linebacker C.J. Mosley — the centerpieces of his free-agent class. He didn’t didn’t get much bang for his buck.
This year, Douglas has signed 15 players (seven new, eight returnees) for a combined total of about $57 million. The quantity-over-quality method is part choice, part necessity (the roster needed bodies). Some may wonder about all the one-year contracts (11 out of 15), but the front office points to the Ryan Griffin model as an example of how they can reward a “one-year” player with a long-term extension if he performs. They signed Griffin to a three-year extension last November, locking him up before he hit free agency again.
5. (New) life after Brady: Newly-signed center Connor McGovern believes the Jets have a chance to be a factor in the AFC, especially with Tom Brady out of the conference. He said the Jets “have the quarterback, the running back, they now have the offensive line and the Jets always have the defense.
“Obviously, with the conference being shook up from a team standpoint, I think there’s a real opportunity to win a lot of football games and get to the playoffs every year and get pretty deep in the playoffs and, hopefully, win the Super Bowl.”
McGovern already has been communicating via text with Darnold (they’re represented by the same agency), and he’s looking forward to building “a pretty serious relationship” with the quarterback. Darnold has gone through three centers in two years; he could use some stability.
6. Home again: After five stops on his football journey — four NFL teams and one CFL team — guard Greg Van Roten is coming home. He grew up in Rockville Center, New York, a few miles from the Jets’ old training facility at Hofstra University on Long Island. As a kid, he attended training-camp practices and saw players in the community. His father was a Jets season-ticket holder and so was his grandfather.
“I was born into it,” he said. “I never had a choice. I love the team.”
A cool story, right? Van Roten, 30, still lives on Long Island, but things are a lot different from his childhood. The Jets moved to New Jersey in 2008, so he will have to move his homecoming to Jersey or deal with a brutal morning commute.
7. The last word: “I know there are a couple of push-up challenges going around [on social media]. I was thinking about sending out a couple of pass-set challenges. Hopefully, that gets guys out on the grass and the turf and it starts building virtual chemistry before we can meet in person.” — guard Alex Lewis on how the offensive line could adapt without an offseason due to the coronavirus pandemic.