New York Jets: Rating the best draft in franchise history

Jan 3, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; A general view of a New York Jets helmet and an NFL football during the game between the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 3, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; A general view of a New York Jets helmet and an NFL football during the game between the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports /

When it comes to the New York Jets, what particular draft was the best in franchise history? It’s not hard to see which draft class produced the best results compared to some rather questionable decisions on prospects in the past.

In a few weeks, the regime of Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles will have their second chance to prove their brain-trust is light years ahead of the prior regimes that wasted decades before them. The draft history of the Jets is one of missed opportunities, questionable decisions and historic blunders. The outcome of the 2015 NFL Draft won’t be known for a few seasons, so in preparing to rate each pick, let’s look back at the Jets’ draft history to decide the most productive draft.

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Looking back at the draft history of the Jets reminds me why this team has not reached the Super Bowl since the NFL and AFL merged. No team around at the time of the merger has won fewer division titles than the Jets two. If you have time, do yourself a favor and look at the history of Jets’ second round picks. You will wonder how a franchise can consistently swing and miss. This is the first of a three-part series I will do in analyzing the history of draft picks for the Jets.

Apr 30, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Leonard Williams (Southern California) poses for a photo after being selected as the number sixth overall pick to the New York Jets in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The 1970s were a dismal decade for Gang Green. They never reached the postseason, nor did they even have a season above .500. From 1970 to 1976 the Jets were just plain brutal in drafting players. Of the 121 players the Jets drafted over that span, only three made Pro Bowls during that period.

The 1977 draft class would be different, and start rebuilding a Jets team that saw them reach the postseason four times from 1981-1986, coming within a game of the Super Bowl in 1982. In the first round, the Jets drafted offensive tackle Marvin Powell with the 4th pick overall out of USC. Powell played nine seasons with the Jets, making five Pro Bowls and earning All-Pro honors three times.

Wesley Walker was the Jets 2nd round choice, taken 33rd overall from California. Walker was perhaps the best deep threat in team history, catching 438 balls for 71 touchdowns in his 11 seasons as a Jet. His 71 touchdowns still rank as the second most in team history, trailing only Don Maynard’s 88. Walker made the Pro Bowl twice, while also earning All-Pro in 1978.

Walker started to make his presence felt in his second season with the Jets, combining with fellow 1977 draftee quarterback Matt Robinson (more on him later) on six of his eight touchdown catches that season for a team record (min. 45 receptions) of 24.4 YPC and career-high 1,169 yds.

The 90th overall pick in the 1977 draft saw Scott Dierking, a fullback out of Purdue, name called. Dierking would go on to make 50 starts for the Jets from 1977-1983, rushing for 2,900 yds and 18 touchdowns. Dierking’s high point in his career was scoring the game-winning touchdown in the Jets 17-14 upset of the Los Angeles Raiders in the second round of the 1982 postseason.

If you ask Jets fans, I mean real Jets fans who their favorite all-time player was, many would say the Jets 6th round pick Joe Klecko out of Temple. Perhaps the greatest defensive player ever to wear the green and white, Klecko made four Pro Bowls (only player to START at three different positions DE, NT and DT), while earning All-Pro honors twice in 1981 and 1985.

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Klecko was the most important of the vaunted “Sack Exchange”, often earning double and triple teams allowing others such as Mark Gastineau to get to the quarterback.

In 1981, Gastineau and Klecko became the only teammates in NFL history to record at least 20 sacks in the same season.

Kevin Long, a running back out of South Carolina, was the 195th pick of the 1977 draft. Long led the Jets in rushing in 1978, finishing with 954 yards and 10 touchdowns. Long is one of just six running backs in franchise history to rush for at least 10 touchdowns in a single season. Overall, Long started 33 games for the Jets from 1977-1981, finishing with 2,190 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns.

The Jets next pick, an 8th rounder number 200 overall, was offensive guard Dan Alexander out of LSU. Alexander became one of the longest tenured offensive lineman in team history, making 182 starts from 1977-1989. Only Randy Rasmussen made more with 199.

Joe Namath finished his Jets career in 1976, the same year the Jets drafted Richard Todd, whose 110 touchdowns and 18,241 yards passing both rank third all-time in team history. However, in 1977 the Jets were not convinced Todd was the right man to lead them, which is why they drafted Robinson out of Georgia with the 227th pick of the draft.

Named the Jets’ starting quarterback in the fourth game of 1978, Robinson led the Jets to six victories, throwing for 13 touchdowns. He then started the 1979 season as the starting quarterback, but after failing to tell coaches about a thumb injury, threw an interception to cost the Jets a certain win in a season opening overtime loss to the Cleveland Browns. Furious with Robinson, the Jets never started him again and dealt him to the Denver Broncos in the offseason.

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Well there you have it, the best draft in team history was the 1977 draft class which saw the Jets draft three Pro Bowl players, one long-time starter on the offensive line, two adequate running backs and one dishonest quarterback. Does this say all we need to know about the sad history of this franchise when it comes to draft selections? By the way, just for disclosure purposes, did a piece on the best draft in team history and came up with the same season (I didn’t know about it until after I starting writing – I promise).