It’s still too early to know if Joe Douglas is the general manager who can pull the New York Jets out of the hole they’ve been digging for the last decade.
And we likely won’t know for a couple of years if he made the right decisions in his first NFL Draft. But a couple of things were certain after Douglas made his final pick on Saturday.
He’s not going to stray from his vision for building this team. And wasn’t cautious, or overwhelmed in what was a high-pressure moment and an unconventional draft — thanks to the coronavirus.
“This process went about as smooth as it could go under the circumstances,” Douglas said. “It was a real team effort, from every department. From every department, from video to IT to coaching and personnel, we all came together. We embraced the technology … there was great communication back and forth. We weren’t afraid to disagree, we weren’t afraid to have tough conversations. I really think it led us to some good players and a good overall draft.”
Yes, there was a lot to like.
The Jets made nine picks in this year’s draft and seven of them addressed major needs: Louisville’s Mekhi Becton (first round) and Charlotte’s Cameron Clark (fourth round) on the offensive line. Baylor’s Denzel Mims (second round) at wide receiver. Florida’s Jabari Zuniga at edge rusher (third round); Cal’s Ashtyn Davis (third round) and Virginia’s Bryce Hall (fifth round) in the secondary; and Florida’s La’Mical Perine at running back.
Yes, Douglas made two unconventional — and questionable — picks on Day 3, adding a backup quarterback in FIU’s James Morgan (fourth round) and a punter Texas A&M’s Braden Mann (sixth round).
But even those picks had enough logic behind them to make them understandable. And Douglas, showing his comfort in the moment, continued wheeling and dealing all the way to the very end, making three trades in this draft and appearing completely comfortable in the moment.
Douglas has talked repeatedly about adding talent around young quarterback Sam Darnold, particularly protectors and weapons.
And while that talent outweighs all else, he’s also looking to add quality people to the locker room — he repeatedly says his goal is to create the best culture in sports. And on throughout this draft, Douglas was able to add players that he believes check both of those boxes.
“Talent’s No. 1, I think, as far as when you’re discussing how does this player fit on our team, who is this guy beating out?” Douglas said. “And then once we get the player slotted … let’s talk about this guy’s fit in our culture and in our building. But look, there has to be a baseline level of talent that goes into our discussions. It’s not just the intangibles. You have to have the ability to make this team, to make the roster better. And the icing on the cake is the character, the makeup, the mentality all the intangibles that go into making this building and this locker room better.”
And there was a lot of icing for the Jets in this draft, as they continued to add players they believe can contribute and change the culture. In fact, everyone they added on Saturday was a highly-respected leader in their college locker room: all five of them (Perine, Morgan, Clark, Hall and Mann) were team captains in college last year.
“When we go through the personal and football character of every guy,” Douglas said. “What they bring — not only to the football field but what they bring to the building and the locker room — are obviously very important aspects. And we felt that a lot of the guys that we brought in today, they bring a lot to the field and the building. So we’re excited about that.”
It wasn’t a perfect draft. They probably needed to add another wide receiver or a cornerback — instead of a backup quarterback in the fourth round. But after the Jets’ disastrous backup quarterback situation last year, it’s hard to fault Douglas for going with the quarterback he liked.
There’s only one way Douglas can win this draft: if these players help the Jets win games, whenever the season starts.
And even though Douglas accomplished many of his main goals for this draft, addressing most of the team’s key needs, adding quality players, and making moves that maximized his team’s value, the GM knows he will ultimately be judged by what happens over the next few years.
“At the end of the day the objective is to try to make this team better,” Douglas said. “I feel like we added a lot of quality football players, quality people. I feel like we’re better after this weekend than we were before the draft started. Ultimately, it’s hard to grade a draft -- it’s impossible to grade a draft after it happens. We’ll see how it sorts out. [But] we feel good about where we’re at right now.”
Round-by-round selections, analysis and grades
With Sam Darnold entering his third season, and Adam Gase entering his second season at the helm, the upcoming season looks like a potential breakout campaign for the Jets after finishing 6-2 down the stretch last year. Thus, all eyes are on GM Joe Douglas to score big at the 2020 NFL Draft.
Round 1 (11), Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville
Analysis: The Jets badly needed to give young quarterback Sam Darnold an offensive line he can rely on. And Becton has the potential to be a foundational piece in front of Darnold for years to come. He's massive at 6-foot-7, 369 pounds, moves with shocking fluidity and speed and he's 21 years old. The safer pick would have been Iowa's Tristan Wirfs, who was still available. But Becton has the higher ceiling and should be able to make an impact immediately. GRADE: B+
Round 2 (59), Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
Analysis: Mims was regarded as a first-round talent by many, with elite size (6-foot-2), speed (4.38-second 40-yard dash), but concerns about his consistency — both as a catcher and route-runner — sent him plummeting down the board. Only time will tell if other teams were wrong to pass on Mims — he was the 13th receiver selected — but right now it’s hard to argue with Douglas’ maneuvering. He traded down 11 spots from 48 to 59 for a late third-round pick and was still able to get a potentially big-time weapon for quarterback Sam Darnold late in the second round. That's a lot of value. GRADE: A
Round 3 (68), Ashtyn Davis, S, California
Analysis: A year ago, the Jets had one of the better defenses in the league, despite being decimated by injury, in large part because they did a good job of moving versatile pieces around in the secondary. Davis is another dynamic piece for Gregg Williams. He combines explosive speed with impressive tenacity and is a big play waiting to happen on defense and as a returner. He must improve his reads and consistency, but he could make a big and immediate difference for the Jets, who got this pick from the Giants in the Leonard Williams trade last year. GRADE: B+
Round 3 (79), Jabari Zuniga, DE, Florida
Analysis: The Jets address yet another area of need in the hopes of finally landing a capable edge rusher. Zuniga has the potential to make that breakthrough for the Jets. He showed big-time potential as a junior at Florida (6.5 sacks, 11 TFL) but was limited to just six games as a senior. The last time the Jets picked a UF edge rusher in the third round (Jachai Polite, 2019) did not work out. Zuniga should do much better. (All he has to do is make the Week 1 roster.) But this pick is still a slight reach and given the Jets’ continuing need at corner and receiver, they might have been able to find a better option there -- yes, we're nitpicking. GRADE: B
Round 4 (124), La'Mical Perine, RB, Florida
Analysis: Le'Veon Bell was the only proven running back on the roster, so the Jets needed to add someone who could contribute right away and fit well with Bell. Perine's power running game is a nice contrast to Bell's patient style. And his skill as a blocker and pass catcher should allow Perine to make an impact as a rookie. GRADE: B
Round 4 (125), James Morgan, QB, FIU
Analysis: It's never a bad thing to have too many good quarterbacks. And the Jets need a backup, so it's not a shock that they took Morgan. But it was surprising to see him go so early, especially considering the team's other needs and the possibility the Jets could have found another developmental quarterback later -- perhaps even Morgan. It could very well work out, but another receiver or cornerback could have made a big impact. GRADE: C-
Round 4 (129), Cameron Clark, OT, Charlotte
Analysis: Douglas continues to sink resources into the offensive line and that bodes well for the future of this team. Clark was a left tackle in college but has a better chance at guard as a pro. He has the fundamentals and feel to become a starter and just needs to continue improving and prove that he can play inside. GRADE: B
Round 5 (158), Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia
Analysis: Hall has massive upside and likely would have gone as high as the second round if not for an ankle injury that sabotaged his senior season. If he can stay healthy, he has a good chance at winning a starting job. That would be a huge accomplishment for the Jets and tremendous potential value. But it's also a risk. GRADE: B
Round 6 (191), Braden Mann, P, Texas A&M
Analysis: Drafting a punter is not something that happens often. But it's rare to find a contributor in the sixth round anyway. Mann was regarded as the best punter in the nation and seems more likely than most sixth rounders to nail down a starting job. GRADE: C+