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New York Jets: Ranking Mike Maccagnan’s best draft picks

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 31: New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan stands on the sidelines during their preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium on August 31, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 31: New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan stands on the sidelines during their preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium on August 31, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan may not have the greatest history when it comes to drafting, but he’s made a few very impressive picks. Here’s a list of his five greatest draft picks during his tenure with the team.

New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan‘s draft history doesn’t paint the best picture of his college scouting ability, despite his talent evaluation background. Maccagnan has received his fair share of criticism over the years for his previous draft misses that it only seems fair to shed light on some of his draft hits.

Besides who doesn’t appreciate a little optimism every once in a while?

While there have certainly been many picks the fifth-year executive wishes he could have back, some of the brightest young stars on the roster have come courtesy of Maccagnan draft picks.

There have been plenty of reaches on his part (here’s looking at you Christian Hackenberg), but Maccagnan has also managed to uncover a few hidden gems in later rounds. Some of the Jets current starters are from players drafted in the back half of previous drafts making them some of his better picks.

At the end of the day, Maccagnan still deserves much of the criticism he gets for his previous draft shortcomings. But for the sake of positivity, let’s run down some of his best picks during his tenure with the Jets.

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 30: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots is tackled by Jordan Jenkins #48 of the New York Jets during the second quarter of a game at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 30: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots is tackled by Jordan Jenkins #48 of the New York Jets during the second quarter of a game at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

5. OLB Jordan Jenkins – 3rd Round, 2016

It’s always an immediate win when you can get a day one starter out of a third-round pick. It’s even more encouraging to see that player develop and flourish over a three-year period all the while remaining a starter.

Jordan Jenkins has been just that for the Jets now having completed his third season in the green and white. Jenkins is coming off a career-year in 2018 in which he tied for the team lead in sacks with seven giving further proof of his development as a pass rusher.

The Georgia product had been a reliable edge defender for his first two years in the league but never really showed the ability to get to the quarterback on a consistent basis. With just 5.5 sacks through his first two seasons, little was expected of Jenkins as a pass rusher.

But the 2016 third-round pick did a great job of mixing in a variety of pass rush moves in 2018 allowing him to lead the team in sacks and finish third in QB hits. Jenkins used his impressive power to execute his favorite move, a bull rush, allowing him to drive opposing offensive tackles back, collapsing the pocket.

With a new defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams, it’s unclear where Jenkins fits into the Jets defensive plans in 2019. But the team will find some use for him whether it’s as a pass-rushing defensive end or a stand-up off-ball linebacker.

Jenkins might not have been the flashiest pick, but every NFL team will take a solid, well-rounded “glue-guy” in the third round any day of the week.

Next: 4. Chris Herndon

4. TE Chris Herndon – 4th Round, 2018

After just one season in the NFL, tight end Chris Herndon already finds himself in the top four of this list. You can decide whether that’s more of a testament to Herndon’s talent or Maccagnan’s lackluster draft history.

Regardless, Herndon made quite the splash in his rookie season hauling in 39 receptions for 502 yards and four touchdowns. The Miami product was second on the Jets in each of those categories and led all rookie tight ends in two of the three, only trailing Baltimore Ravens rookie Mark Andrews in receiving yards.

The Jets have been in search of a tight end since the days of Dustin Keller. The team has trotted out low-ceiling starters such as Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Davis and tried to develop young tight ends such as Jace Amaro but they could never seem to get the position quite right.

That’s what makes the Herndon draft pick so gratifying.

Herndon looks to be the answer the Jets have been searching for and remains one of the few true building blocks the team has on offense at the moment. The fact that Maccagnan was able to pick him up in the fourth round (107th overall) solidifies this selection as one of his best.

Next: 3. Brandon Shell

3. OT Brandon Shell – 5th Round, 2016

Brandon Shell has developed into one of the most underrated, underappreciated players on the Jets current roster.

The 2016 fifth-round pick originally entered the league as a late-round developmental offensive tackle prospect who was proficient as a run blocker but left a lot to be desired as a pass blocker. Over his three years in the league, Shell has matured immensely and become a solid all-around right tackle.

The Jets offensive line has had their struggles over the past couple of seasons but Shell has remained their most reliable piece, outside of perhaps left tackle Kelvin Beachum. The South Carolina product has remained mostly healthy even dodging a major knee injury late in the season when his leg was rolled up.

With the poor state of offensive line play in the NFL, Shell is easily a top-15 starting right tackle in the league with the potential to grow even more into a legitimate top-10 player at his position. Given the success rate of late-round offensive tackles, Shell is probably Maccagnan’s best draft selection that never gets talked about.

And that’s a shame given the player he has developed into. Since Shell will be on the last year of his rookie deal in 2019, expect the Jets to lock him up long-term so that he doesn’t hit the open market.

Neither Shell nor Maccagnan may be given the credit they deserve, but the bottom line is that this was a slam dunk pick.

Next: 2. Jamal Adams

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – NOVEMBER 25: Jamal Adams #33 of the New York Jets reacts to a penalty call against the New England Patriots during the first half at MetLife Stadium on November 25, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – NOVEMBER 25: Jamal Adams #33 of the New York Jets reacts to a penalty call against the New England Patriots during the first half at MetLife Stadium on November 25, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

2. S Jamal Adams – 1st Round, 2017

We move away from mid-to-late round gems to discuss a top-six pick who has blossomed into a legitimate NFL star.

Likely the best and perhaps the most important player on the team, Jamal Adams has become the face of the Jets franchise in just two short years in the league. Drafted sixth overall in 2017, Adams rookie season showed glimpses of greatness but it was his sophomore 2018 campaign that really saw the former LSU captain break out.

Adams finished with 115 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, eight QB hits, three forced fumbles,12 pass deflections, and an interception. If that isn’t the definition of a do-it-all safety then I don’t know what is.

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The LSU product perfectly embodies what it means to be a modern safety in today’s NFL. He can play physical up near the line of scrimmage, almost as a pseudo-linebacker, but also serves as one of the better coverage defenders on the team making him a perfect fit to cover opposing tight ends.

This isn’t even to mention his incredible leadership on and off the field that cannot be understated. Adams combines an old-school football mentality with new-school swagger allowing him to back up his boisterous, vocal attitude off the field with his hard-hitting performance on it.

Some will argue that this was a no brainer pick, that he fell to the Jets. But at the end of the day, Adams is a member of the New York Jets, and there’s nobody to thank but good old Mike Maccagnan.

And maybe the Tennessee Titans for passing on him.

Next: 1. Sam Darnold

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 30: Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets throws during the first quarter of a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 30: Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets throws during the first quarter of a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

1. QB Sam Darnold – 1st Round, 2018

Is it too early to declare Sam Darnold the greatest Mike Maccagnan draft pick of all time? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing’s for sure: if Darnold really is the franchise quarterback the Jets have been searching for, there will be no debate in the future.

Jets fans have longed for a quarterback with a hopeful future that they have clung on to any semblance of optimism surrounding young signal-callers. The likes of Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, and even Bryce Petty have each received varying levels of hype in hope that they would be the answer the Jets had been looking for at the position.

Heck, there was even some hope around Christian Hackenberg at a point.

Now with Darnold at the helm, Jets fans are once again pleading to the football gods that this is truly the one. There’s a chance the team is burned once again and Darnold fizzles out all while the fans search for their next young hopeful to become attached to.

But this feels like the real deal. Darnold feels like the one the Jets have been waiting for.

Despite a rocky start to his NFL career, Darnold finished his first professional season strong with six touchdowns and just one interception over the final four games of the year. During that time, Darnold also led the league in QBR and ranked as Pro Football Focus’ top-graded quarterback.

Next. Jets Monday Mailbag: Draft targets, running backs, & more

The future looks bright for Darnold and if it’s as bright as it appears now, years down the line we will look back and agree that this was easily Maccagnan’s best draft pick. The fact that he traded up three slots to get him is just the icing on the cake.

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