The New York Jets are one of the worst teams in the NFL right now and their struggles are a result of years of improper roster construction from the front office.
The New York Jets are a bad football team. This shouldn’t come as a surprise but many were fooled by the team’s flashy offseason acquisitions and figured that a playoff run could be in the cards this season.
And if not, most at least expected for the team to be hovering somewhere around .500. But very few likely expected the Jets to be just 1-6 and among the worst teams in the NFL through eight weeks.
But that’s just where we find ourselves in early November. This isn’t a simple “down year.” This isn’t an outlier. This is a direct result of years upon years of poor roster building that has led to a backward constructed organization.
And a little bit of underachieving as a result of a poor coaching hire.
The Jets have continuously prioritized less impactful positions in favor of the most important positions that are critical to success.
In professional football, the most important positions outside of the quarterback are the offensive line, pass rusher, and cornerback.
Or as put in laymen’s terms, the guy who throws the ball, the guys who block for the guy who throws the ball, the guys trying to prevent the guy from throwing the ball, and the guys trying to knock the ball away from the guy who threw it.
Everything revolves around throwing the ball.
On the contrary, one could argue that some of the least impactful positions — or most replaceable — are running back, off-ball linebacker, interior defensive line, and tight end. It may be a luxury to have standout players at those positions, but rarely are they cornerstones of a franchise.
Or at least replacement players could be easy to find.
Unfortunately, it appears that the Jets’ front office has missed the positional importance memo over the years and a quick analysis of draft capital and cap space spent gives a clear indication of this reverse prioritization.
We’ll start with draft capital since it’s what is oftentimes the first thing criticized.
Since 2011, the Jets have used two top-100 picks on an offensive lineman. That’s the fewest among all NFL teams and considering the state of the Jet’s offensive line over the past decade, that’s incredibly confounding.
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Moreover, the team hasn’t used a second-round pick on an offensive lineman since 2010 (Vladimir Ducasse) and they shockingly haven’t selected one in the first round since 2006 when they drafted two future All-Pros in D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold.
On the contrary, the Jets have used a whopping six top-100 draft picks since 2011 on interior defensive linemen including four in the first round alone.
On top of that, the Jets haven’t used a first or second-round pick on an edge rusher since 2008 when they selected future draft bust, Vernon Gholston. That is unless you count 2012 first-rounder Quinton Coples who was more of a hybrid edge/interior rusher at least earlier in his career.
Even counting Coples, that’s still two in the first two rounds over an 11-year span.
A similar conclusion could be drawn for the cornerback position which has been addressed in the first two rounds just once since 2011 — that being fellow future draft bust Dee Milliner.
Rather than addressing critical positions such as offensive line, edge rusher, and cornerback. the Jets have opted to load up on interior defensive linemen and other less-impactful positions such as safety, tight end, and off-ball linebacker.
But even if a team wasn’t willing to build through the draft, one would think that they would do their best to address those important positions via free agency or trades. But a closer look at the team’s salary cap allocation tells a different, sorrowful story.
Two of the three highest-paid players under contract by a wide margin are linebacker C.J. Mosley and running back Le’Veon Bell. Add in rookie Quinnen Williams and you have three of the five highest-paid members of the roster playing non-impactful positions.
On the other hand, the Jets currently have one offensive lineman signed to a contract worth more than $24 million — that being right guard Brian Winters who is on his second deal with the team and very well might not be on the roster next season.
Perhaps the only major acquisition the Jets have made at one of the three crucial positions — outside of quarterback, of course — in recent memory has been the signing of cornerback Trumaine Johnson back in the 2018 offseason.
Unfortunately, while they did make the effort, the signing has been perhaps the team’s worst moves of the past decade and one of the biggest free-agent busts in team history.
But at least they tried. And that “effort” is perhaps the most frustrating thing about how the Jets have allocated their assets. Despite not drafting many offensive linemen, they have actually managed to hit on the few selected.
2019 third-round pick Chuma Edoga is already starting in his rookie season. 2016 fifth-rounder Brandon Shell has been a starter for the last three seasons along the offensive line. And 2013 third-rounder Brian Winters is currently their highest-paid offensive lineman and a regular starter as well.
Even 2014 fourth-rounder Dakota Dozier served as a reliable sixth offensive lineman for years before departing to a starting role in Minnesota this offseason.
Five of the last six offensive linemen drafted by the Jets were starters either last year or this year somewhere in the league. Yet, despite their overwhelmingly high hit rate, the team has drafted fewer than any organization in the NFL.
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They haven’t had the same draft luck with edge rushers and cornerbacks but that’s what happens when you continually refuse to take one in the first two rounds. It’s much more difficult to find late-round contributors at the game’s most important positions.
Meanwhile, a quick glance around the league shows that it’s very possible to find effective players at any stage of the draft at running back, off-ball linebacker, and interior defensive line.
Fifth-round rookie Blake Cashman and former undrafted free agent Neville Hewitt have done a fine job filling in for Mosley and Williamson this season. Former sixth-round pick Folorunso Fatukasi and undrafted rookie Kyle Phillips have been the team’s most effective defensive linemen this season.
And the majority of the NFL’s backfields are led by mid-round steals rather than first-round stalwarts.
In a bubble, there is nothing inherently wrong with the C.J. Mosley signing or the Le’Veon Bell pickup or even the Quinnen Williams draft pick. There isn’t one or even two moves that have been made that have caused this roster imbalance.
Rather, this is a result of years of neglect towards football’s most pivotal positions in favor of it’s least impactful. This isn’t a one offseason fix either — barring extreme circumstances.
The Jets are broken and while it might not take a complete tear down to fix, it will take a complete shift in football ideology to correct their prior mistakes.
Perhaps general manager Joe Douglas is the man for the job. But he certainly has his work cut out for him.