No matter what sport you’re talking about, the basis of both the organization and team’s success has a lot to do with how well they draft. Not only is the selecting of young players vital to the growth of a franchise, but also if you make the wrong decision, it could set you back for years to come.
And while all professional sports experience the drafting of collegiate players, the National Football League seems to have the rookies that make the biggest impact in year one. Whether it is highly touted first round draft picks or undrafted free agent signings, a lot of the time first year players make a strong impact.
The New York Jets are just like every other football team. Each year they go into a draft, their hopes are high; however, depending on what dominos fall before them, they could be in position to get a player they never dreamed of getting, while also possibly taking a prospect that doesn’t necessarily fit their scheme. However, one can never predict the true outcome that the players will provide until the get on the gridiron.
Over the last 15 drafts, the Jets have had mixed results when it comes to selecting their first round talents. While some of those chosen have become the franchise players that the organization envisioned, others – unfortunately – were easily given the “bust” label.
As is everything in life, hindsight is 20/20. Yet if the Jets decision makers could go back in time, I’m sure that they would change some of the personnel decisions that they made over the last 15 seasons.
With that being said, here are my choices if I was able to re-draft the last 15 first round selections of the New York Jets.
16 2000 - Shaun Ellis, John Abraham, Chad Pennington and Keith Bulluck
Heading into the 2000 NFL Draft, the Jets had an unprecedented feat in front of them: four first round draft selections. With that many picks, there was certainly room for error; however, overall, the team did relatively well in that year’s draft. Their first three picks, Shaun Ellis, John Abraham and Chad Pennington, all had varying levels of success, yet each of the three players had a positive impact on the football team.
Their final pick in the first round – Anthony Becht – is the only player who could have been replaced, in my opinion. While the tight end was serviceable, Gang Green would have been better off taking linebacker Keith Bulluck, a New York state native, who played high school football in New York City and college at Syracuse. While the Jets were solid on defense, Bulluck was a three-time All-Pro for the Tennessee Titans, who took him at 30th overall. He finished his 11-year career with 1,088 tackles, 18 sacks, 15 forced fumbles and 21 interceptions.
15 2001 - Reggie Wayne
While the Jets didn’t give Chrebet much help in 2000, they went into the 2001 draft looking for someone to start opposite of him. In the first round of that year, the team selected Santana Moss to provide a viable threat across the field from the franchise wide receiver. During his time with the Hurricanes, he established himself as the second best receiver in school history, only behind Michael Irvin. The standout football player not only walked on and earned a scholarship, but also excelled in track and field as well. While, at the time, the selection seemed to be a strong one, he didn’t make much of an impact during his four-year tenure in green.
While he did go on to gain more success with the Washington Redskins, the Jets would have been way better off taking Moss’s teammate at Miami, Reggie Wayne. On the verge of retirement, Wayne will go down as one of the best wide receivers in not just Colts, but NFL history, and could have not just starred across from Chrebet, but would have been the Jets number one option years after Chrebet’s retirement.
14 2002 - Ed Reed
Sticking with the theme of taking players from “The U,” in 2002, the Jets should have taken Ed Reed with their first round pick. Like Moss, not only did Reed run on the track and field team as well, but also set a multitude of records while playing for the Hurricanes. Once he entered the league with the Baltimore Ravens, Reed went on to have a stellar Hall of Fame caliber career while becoming one of the best safeties of this generation. Noted as both a ball hawk and hard hitter, Reed led the Ravens to multiple playoff appearances, while also winning a Super Bowl.
Just two picks before Reed was selected, the Jets took outside linebacker Bryan Thomas. While Thomas had a very solid 10-year career with the Jets, the team would have benefited from the leadership and impact that Reed had on the game of football. Although Reed eventually ended up in New York with the Jets in 2013, he was in the twilight of his career.
13 2003 - Kevin Williams
The current incarnation of the Jets are noted for their tremendous play from the defensive line. However, back in 2003, they weren’t in the same situation – which is why they took defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson fourth overall. After a standout campaign during his junior year at Kentucky, the Jets traded up to select him. While, by normal standards, he had a solid career, many labeled Robertson a bust because of how high he was selected.
If the Jets were to take a defensive tackle in that four slot, they should have went with Kevin Williams. Williams, who went five picks later to the Minnesota Vikings, ended up becoming one of the best defensive tackles in the 2000s, in which he was a five-time All-Pro. Still active, Williams could have served as a mentor to Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams today.
12 2004 - Jonathan Vilma
When the Jets took Jonathan Vilma with the 12th overall pick in the 2004 draft, they came away as winners. Keeping up with the tradition of Miami Hurricanes talent, Vilma was the starting middle linebacker for their 2001 National Championship team, while emerging as one of the best defensive players available. His impact with the Jets was immediate, as Vilma went on to win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in his first season, while becoming a consistent force in the middle during the rest of his tenure with Gang Green.
However, due to injury concerns, the Jets shipped Vilma to the New Orleans Saints for a conditional fourth round pick, where he continued to thrive as an impact player on the defensive side of the game up until his retirement in 2013.
11 2005 - Vincent Jackson
Unlike the rest of the sections on this list, the Jets did not own a first round selection in 2005. They had packaged that pick in a trade for Doug Jolley, who played only one year in New York. However, going with the theme of the list, I will use their second round choice, as it was their first pick of the draft. In that second round, the organization shocked the league when they took kicker Mike Nugent 47th overall. Although he had one of the most illustrious careers in Ohio State history, he certainly could have been around in later rounds. Instead of taking Nugent, the Jets should have opted for wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who was taken 14 slots later by the San Diego Chargers.
While Jackson has dealt with consistency issues with both the Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he is still considered one of the better receivers in the NFL and would have been a great fit as a deep ball threat on a Jets team that always seems to be weak at the receiver position.
Alternatively, if the Jets had kept that first round pick, and had their hearts set on acquiring a tight end, there was no need for a trade. They could have taken Heath Miller at 26th overall. Miller would go to the Steelers at 30th.
10 2006 - D’Brickashaw Ferguson & Nick Mangold
Not only did the Jets absolutely get their draft choices right in 2006, but also could be seen as two of the best first round selections by any team in recent memory. That year, the Jets selected offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson out of Virginia with the fourth overall pick, while taking Ohio State center Nick Mangold at 29th. While the organization certainly had high expectations for the offensive linemen, I’m sure they didn’t know how good both Ferguson and Mangold would eventually become.
Both men have started every game in which they have been active at left tackle and center, respectively, while combining for nine Pro Bowls. While many teams look to get one serviceable lineman in a draft, the Jets were able to score two sure fire starters in 2006.
9 2007 - Darrelle Revis
Just like the year prior, the Jets nailed their first round selection, this time cornerback Darrelle Revis out of Pittsburgh at no.14. Revis really doesn’t need any explanation. Since joining the league that year, Revis has established himself as the premier cornerback in the entire NFL. However, after winning Defensive Player of the Year and being named a three-time All-Pro, disputes with management led to his move to Tampa Bay to join the Buccaneers.
After a Pro Bowl season with the team, Revis was released by the Buccaneers and immediately signed with the New England Patriots. Once he finally won a Super Bowl with them in 2015, Revis returned to the Jets, inking a five-year, $70 million contract during this past offseason. As the saying goes, “all’s well that ends well.”
8 2008 - Jerod Mayo
While the Jets have had relatively strong drafts since the turn of the century, by far their worst selection came in 2008, when the organization drafted Vernon Gholston with the sixth overall pick. Although he was one of the best pass rushers in college football at Ohio State, the Jets' defensive schemes were a strong part of his downfall, as he never made an impact en route to being regarded as one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history.
Instead of looking at their defensive line, the Jets should have opted to take Jerod Mayo to pair with David Harris at inside linebacker. Instead, Mayo ended up with archrival New England Patriots. Unfortunately, the team saw Mayo become one of the better linebackers in football, as he became Defensive Rookie of the Year, an All-Pro in 2010 and a Super Bowl Champion last season.
7 2009 - Mark Sanchez
Before all of the Jets fans come out and crucify me, hear me out. The Jets did make the right decision by trading up to take Mark Sanchez with the fifth overall pick. While he showed flashes at USC, it did appear that he came out a year too soon. However, with a hole at quarterback, Sanchez was the right selection. In his first two years under center, the Jets went to two straight AFC Championship games, and it looked like the team was on its way to becoming a consistent force in their conference.
Unfortunately, the team strayed from their run heavy offense and instead instilled a high-octane passing attack. It didn’t fit Sanchez’s game, and the man once deemed “The Sanchize” crumbled while in New York. If the organization continued to play like they did during his first two seasons, they may have seen more success from a Sanchez led offense.
Also, keep in mind, that the other highly touted QB available in the first round was Josh Freeman.
6 2010 - T.J. Ward
Heading into the 2010 draft, the Jets were looking for a complementary cornerback to start opposite of Darrelle Revis. Because of this, they decided to take Boise State’s Kyle Wilson with the 29th overall pick. After impressing in college while being in the running for the Jim Thorpe Award (college’s best defensive back), he was regarded as a top defensive back in the draft class. Although he was originally viewed as a steal while also picking off the first pass thrown his way, Wilson underwhelmed, as the team just let him walk during the offseason.
While the Jets could have concentrated on the secondary, they should have taken a shot at safety T.J. Ward. While the team had complementary pieces at that position, Ward – a two-time Pro-Bowler - could have stepped in and been a force on day one, as he would have been a great part of the Jets' already strong defensive unit.
5 2011 - Muhammad Wilkerson
Just like in 2006 and 2007, the Jets selected another franchise staple in the first round of the 2011 draft: Muhammad Wilkerson. Although he played for Temple – which isn’t regarded for its football program – Wilkerson’s impressive collegiate statistics and combine numbers made him a legitimate option to be taken in the first round. Ever since he started all 16 games in his first season, Wilkerson has become one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in football. A three-time All-Pro in five seasons, Wilkerson is now the anchor to one of the best defensive lines in the NFL.
4 2012 - Reilly Reiff
Continuing the theme of stacking up their defensive line, the Jets selected another tweener with the 16th overall pick, Quinton Coples. Although, like former first round pick Vernon Gholston, Coples played defensive end in a 4-3 defense at UNC, the Jets projected him as a 3-4 defensive end. While Coples was okay at the position, his stay at defensive end was short lived, as he moved a to pass rushing outside linebacker role in 2013. Yes, Coples has been serviceable, but, he hasn’t lived up to the first round expectations.
Instead of the Tar Heels product, the Jets should have looked to Reilly Reiff to continue to build a stout offensive line. After becoming a standout left tackle at Iowa, Reiff has seen levels of success at both tackle positions with the Detroit Lions. If the Jets scooped him up with their first pick, he would have started at right tackle opposite D’Brickashaw Ferguson, forming one of the top tackle units in the NFL.
3 2013 - Tyler Eifert and Sheldon Richardson
Two years ago, the Jets, again, had multiple first round picks. Having such a luxury, it’s tough for a team to mess up such a good chance to get great players. And while Dee Milliner has bust written all over him, they couldn’t have made a better selection than Sheldon Richardson. The Missouri product was taken 12th overall, and he joined Muhammad Wilkerson to become quite the one-two punch on the defensive line. Although he has dealt with off-the-field issues that have caused him to miss the first four games of 2015, Richardson was the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year and an All-Pro in 2014, and looks to be a dominant force for years to come.
Unfortunately for Milliner, poor play and injuries have limited his playing time two years into his career. Looking back, the Jets would have been better off taking Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert. Although the Notre Dame alumnus hasn’t been recognized for his work just yet, he is emerging as one of the best tight ends not named Rob Gronkowski.
2 2014 - Teddy Bridgewater
While the Jets thought they had their quarterback of the future in 2013 second round pick Geno Smith, the organization should have waited one more year to snag a young quarterback. Although 2014 was full of signal callers that didn’t appear to be at the caliber of a franchise NFL quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater’s great career at Louisville – including Big East Offensive Player of the Year and Sugar Bowl MVP in 2012 – had many interested in his services. In the 2014 draft, Bridgewater slipped past every team in the first round, as he was selected 32nd overall by the Minnesota Vikings.
The decision proved to be wise, as he emerged as the best rookie quarterback last year, while having the respect of his teammates enough to be named captain this year. With the 18th pick, the Jets took his teammate, safety Calvin Pryor. Viewed as one of the top safeties in the draft, Pryor’s inconsistent play hindered his growth. And while he has looked very good so far this season, everyone can agree the Jets would have been better off with Bridgewater as their man under center.
1 2015 - Leonard Williams
With only three games into the 2015 season, it is still unknown who will come out as steals, busts or solid picks. However, with all things considered, the Jets were more than happy to select USC’s Leonard Williams with the sixth overall pick this past year. While they were hoping quarterbacks Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota would fall into their laps, I’m sure the organization was more than happy to see Williams slip to them.
Regarded as not only the best defensive linemen but also possibly the best overall prospect in the draft class, many were surprised to see him reach the Jets at no.6. Although the team already has top players in former first round picks Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson at the position, the rich got richer. With Richardson out due to suspension, the selection was even more vital, as Williams has started from Week 1.