NY Jets: Grading the 2015 NFL Draft picks

Nov 29, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive end Leonard Williams (92) rushes the quarterback during the first half at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Dolphins 38-20. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 29, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive end Leonard Williams (92) rushes the quarterback during the first half at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Dolphins 38-20. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports /

Nov 29, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive end Leonard Williams (92) rushes the quarterback during the first half at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Dolphins 38-20. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to the NY Jets or any team really, no team maintains success without having great drafts. Fortunately for Gang Green, the results of general manager Mike Maccagnan’s first draft appear promising. 

Its no secret that Maccagnan’s first season as general manager for the Jets was a rousing success. The rookie executive showed an affinity for making dramatic moves, acquiring Brandon Marshall, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Darrelle Revis and a litany of other star players in a matter of days.

Fans love the big moves, the trades and free agent signings that bring in star veteran players. However, in a league defined by a strict salary cap, teams that are consistently successful (ie. Packers, Patriots) build primarily through the draft.

The Jets experienced a sudden turnaround in 2015, posting a solid 10-6 record. In order to maintain and build upon that success, Maccagnan will need to have better drafts than his predecessors.

Fortunately for Jets fans, Maccagnan has already shown promise as a talent evaluator. Just take a look at his first draft with the team. Here’s how each selection he made in the 2015 NFL Draft graded out in their rookie seasons.

Next: 1st Round: Leonard Williams

Dec 13, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) is sacked by New York Jets defensive end Leonard Williams (92) during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Titans 30-8. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

1st Round: Leonard Williams (USC), DE

Draft Pick Grade: A

With their first selection in the 2015 draft, the Jets selected defensive lineman Leonard Williams. Draft experts loved the pick at the time, lauding the Jets for grabbing potentially the best player in the draft class with the sixth overall pick.

In this instance, it turns out the experts were right. Although his numbers aren’t eye-popping (three sacks), Williams had a productive first season.

Draft guru Mel Kiper named Williams his pick for Defensive Rookie of the Year. In his analysis (found here at NJ.com) he observed,

"He…was outstanding against the run [and] helped free up teammates to rush the passer…You really have to watch Williams on every snap because stats won’t do him justice."

Any Jets fan who paid attention this season is inclined to agree.

Next: 2nd Round: Devin Smith

Nov 22, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans defensive back Eddie Pleasant (35) intercepts a pass intended for New York Jets wide receiver Devin Smith (19) during the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium. The Texans defeated the Jets 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

2nd Round: Devin Smith (Ohio State), WR

Draft Pick Grade: C-

Through the Rex Ryan years, the Jets have been a defensive-minded team. Conversely, the team has had little success drafting offensive players, particularly offensive skill players (Stephen Hill anyone?).

Maccagnan decided to try and break this recent curse, selecting wide receiver Devin Smith in the second round of last year’s draft.

So far, the results have not been promising. Smith has struggled to acclimate to the speed of the NFL, making errors in key situations (ie. botched punt return against the Bills). Smith ended the season on injured reserve, having posted only nine receptions, 115 receiving yards and one touchdown.

Considering how rough his rookie season was, a grade of C- for this pick is a bit generous. But rookies often take time to develop and to adjust to the NFL. Smith should be given at least one more season, and hopefully 16 games at full health, to prove himself.

Next: 3rd Round: Lorenzo Mauldin

Nov 29, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin (55) hits Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) In the 2nd half at MetLife Stadium.The Jets defeated the Dolphins 38-20. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

3rd Round: Lorenzo Mauldin (Louisville), LB

Draft Pick Grade: B+

Leonard Williams was a common sense pick, and Devin Smith is a potential bust. As a result, one could easily argue that the most significant pick of Maccagnan’s first draft came in the third round.

In the third round, the Jets selected linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin. Although he was primarily used in a reserve role as a situational pass rusher, the Louisville star shined in his rookie season.

Mauldin’s sack total was modest (four), but it illustrates his potential. With aging veteran Calvin Pace set to hit free agency (or possibly retirement), look for Mauldin to compete for a starting spot in 2016.

The Jets need to get younger and faster in the years ahead. They hope that Mauldin can lead the youthful renaissance on defense.

Next: 4th Round: Bryce Petty

Aug 21, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty (9) attempts a pass in front of Atlanta Falcons linebacker Stansly Maponga (90) during second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

4th Round: Bryce Petty (Baylor), QB

Draft Grade: Incomplete

Always desperate at the position, the Jets used their fourth round pick in 2015 on Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty.

Here at The Jet Press, we have extensively debated all things Bryce Petty. Given the level of attention he has received, one might think he was a first round pick.

The reality is, apart from the Jets coaching staff, no one really knows much about Petty. Fans can attempt to read into coach speak quotes about Petty’s potential all day, but until Petty receives extensive playing time he will remain an unknown.

Fortunately for the Jets, Ryan Fitzpatrick stepped up in 2015 and led one of the most impressive aerial attacks this team has seen in years. Given his age (33) and free agent status, however, the Jets still need to find a viable long-term option at quarterback.

If Petty becomes that guy (and that’s a huge “if”), Maccagnan’s first draft will be remembered by Jets fans for years to come.

Next: Late Round Picks

Aug 13, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions offensive guard Laken Tomlinson (72) blocks New York Jets defensive tackle Deon Simon (65) during the third quarter in a preseason NFL football game at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

5th Round: Jarvis Harrison (Texas A&M), G

Draft Grade: Incomplete

7th Round: Deon Simon (Northwestern State), DT

Draft Grade: Incomplete

The Jets used their final picks in last year’s draft on a couple of lineman: guard Jarvis Harrison (Texas A&M) and defensive tackle Deon Simon (Northwestern State).

Similar to Bryce Petty, Harrison and Simon were drafted to be developmental players. Both Harrison and Simon spent the majority of the NFL season on the practice squad, and failed to register any regular season production.

As such, it will take more time to evaluate these players. If either of them makes the regular season roster in the years ahead, then it will have been a successful use of a late round pick for Maccagnan.

Next: Final Grade

Apr 30, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; A general view of the stage before the 2015 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Final Draft Grade: B-

At this point, it’s way too early to assign a meaningful grade to the Jets’ 2015 draft. But I’m going to try to do it anyway.

By finding a star defensive lineman (Williams) and a promising outside pass rusher (Mauldin), Maccagnan was able to boost an already solid defense.

However, Maccagnan’s first draft was far from perfect. Smith struggled mightily during his first season and, barring a dramatic turnaround, may be a wasted second round pick. Additionally, all of the Jets’ late picks (Petty, Harrison, and Simon) have thus far failed to make any meaningful impact.

In a worst case scenario, it appears the Jets found a couple of capable starters in this draft. Considering Maccagnan only had six draft picks to work with, that’s a respectable job. He has more than earned a passing grade in his first draft as general manager of the Jets.

More jets: Stop focusing on the Jets' quarterback position

Of course, if Smith and/or Petty develops, the Jets 2015 draft has the potential to be an incredible one. At the very least, they’ll give Jets fans a few more interesting story lines to follow when training camp opens.

In the meanwhile, Jets fans should be excited about their team’s new leadership, and the solid work the franchise has put in to improving itself both inside and outside of the war room.