Every year at draft time there are a few teams that always stand out for their years of futility and one of those teams is the team I cheer for- the New York Jets. In fairness the Jets aren’t as bad as some of the other teams in the last 20 or so years, but when they whiff they usually have whiffed badly and the reactions on draft day have always been priceless. So for fun I decided to go back and look at what could have been for every first round pick the Jets have made since 1995.
One or two ground rules here. One is that it has to be realistic that a team could have made the pick. For example to say that the Jets should have drafted Tom Brady instead of Chad Pennington but there is absolutely no realistic way that the Jets could have selected Brady with the 18th pick in the draft. So the picks have to make at least a little sense to move up.
Secondly I tried to look at positions of need. Alex Mack would have been a great addition at center, but the Jets were not taking a center when they had Nick Mangold on the team. My memory is a bit hazier as we go back in time so I may have few missteps there but if you see what seems like a crazy omission that is why.
Finally no options like they should have traded up to take player X. If they didnt make the trade I cant assume anyone would have made a trade to allow the team to move higher than they ended up drafting.
So feel free to leave your comments if you are a fellow Jets fan or let us know some of the worst your team experienced. Some of the names hurt pretty bad, especially in the 90s, but remember the Jets aren’t the only team that passed up on these players. So there are plenty of others hurting just as bad.
2015: 6th Pick- Vic Beasley (Leonard Williams)
Williams is actually the best defensive player on the Jets, but they made an odd decision to go and select Williams at a position of strength rather than the impact player who can rush the passer at a position of weakness. This is the classic decision of taking the best available over the need but there is no doubt in my mind the Jets would be a far better team with Beasley/Wikerson/Richardson than figuring out how to use Williams/Wikerson/Richardson at the same time.
2014: 18th Pick- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Calvin Pryor)
Clinton-Dix has more versatility than Pryor, made the Pro Bowl last season and was a second team All Pro. Pryor is more or less an in the box safety in a league where you need more than that to succeed. Safety remains a position of need for the Jets and I would not be surprised if Pryor ends up playing a hybrid linebacker/safety role down the line for another team.
2013: 9th Pick- DJ Fluker (Dee Milliner)
This was an awful draft and Fluker would have stunk too, just not as badly as Milliner, who never even saw the field. There are much better players later on in this draft (Kyle Long, Desmond Trufant, Tyler Eifert, etc…) but Im not sure its realistic to say they would have been drafted this high, though you could make an argument given the Jets needs it was possible for Long or Eifert to get a jump. Milliner was one of the all time busts for the team.
2013: 13th Pick- Sheldon Richardson (Sheldon Richardson)
In hindsight we can look at some of those same names mentioned above and say they would have been better for the Jets, but in reality it wasn’t until 2016 when the wheels seemed to completely fall off for Richardson in part because the team treated him as the odd man out. I’m not sure you can make the case that they got it wrong here, where they got it wrong was 2016 when they made their decision to go three deep for two spots.
2012: 16th Pick- Chandler Jones (Quinton Coples)
Nobody understood the Coples pick who was neither the best available nor the best fit for the Jets team at the time and ended up being the final nail in Mike Tannebaum’s coffin. Jones is one of the better pass rushers in the NFL and also one of the highest paid. He would have fit perfectly with the defense and was rumored to be the selection before the pick was made. Other names who would have helped the Jets would have been Melvin Ingram and David Decastro. Coples didnt even finish out his rookie contract but luckily for the Jets Tannebaum was running the Dolphins by then and he claimed Coples remaining salary in 2015.
2011: 30th Pick- Muhammad Wilkerson (Muhammad Wilkerson)
Wilkerson has had a nice run with Jets until 2016 when he seemed to check out after signing a big contract. Whether he bounces back or not doesn’t take away from the fact that he was the Jets best defensive player for a four year period and one of the few bright spots in a dismal few years. Hopefully he is healthy and motivated and plays well in 2017.
2010: 30th Pick- Jerry Hughes (Kyle Wilson)
Wilson had first round talent when it came to celebrations, but beyond that there was nothing. Drafted to either give the team contract leverage with Darrelle Revis or to create some superunit in the secondary it only took one season for the Jets to change course and commit big to Revis and Antonio Cromartie while Wilson saw little action. In fairness Hughes probably would have had a hard time initially in New York but at least there was something there which perhaps the coach could have brought out earlier.
2009: 5th Pick- BJ Raji (Mark Sanchez)
Originally I was going to say Brian Orakpo who would have been a perfect fit for the defense when healthy, but that’s too far of a jump to consider for the 5th pick overall. The Jets original pick was 17 which would have been too late to take a player like Orakpo too so I don’t see that argument. The fact was this was a terrible draft between Matt Stafford at 1 and Orakpo at 13. Raji would have been a nice young addition to the line but he flamed out quickly as well. This was certainly bad, despite all the fun memories like the butt fumble, but given the year not much would have worked out and Raji is a stretch at 5, IMO, but we’ll go with him.
2008: 6th Pick- Jerod Mayo (Vernon Gholston)
This is like no mans land in many drafts. It’s the spot where the productive players are often off the board and you end up selecting work out freaks who flashed in college and that was what happened with the Jets. Gholston has zero ability to play football and barely even saw the field with the Jets. Mayo had a nice career with the Patriots and would have given the Jets a nice one two punch at the ILB position. The Jets ended up paying a big price to fill that spot the next year when they signed Bart Scott in free agency.
2008: 30th Pick- Jordy Nelson (Dustin Keller)
This draft set the wheels in motion for what occurred with the franchise starting in 2011. Keller was an ok player whose career was cut short after a terrible knee injury while playing with the Dolphins but this was a bad reach on a team that was desperate for play makers. Would Nelson have had a great run with the Jets? Probably not as it took him a long time to develop in Green Bay, but I can still pretend that somehow it would have worked out with the Jets. You could argue that Brandon Flowers would have also been a solid addition to complete the secondary.
2007: 14th Pick- Darrelle Revis (Darrelle Revis)
The drafts of 2006 and 2007 were the reason the Jets were good through 2010 and still had some credibility afterwards. Revis was one of the best defensive players of his generation. It does not get better than that.
2006: 4th Pick- D’Brickashaw Ferguson (D’Brickashaw Ferguson)
While Ferguson was never Orlando Pace, he was a competent starter for about a decade and a borderline Pro Bowler in many of those seasons. Ferguson would have been the Jets best option last year at left tackle as well but a late push for a pay cut pushed him into retirement. There was nothing wrong with this pick and he’ll be in the Jets ring of honor one day.
2006: 29th Pick- Nick Mangold (Nick Mangold)
Mangold was the best center of his era and a very good starter through 2015. Mangold was named to 7 Pro Bowls and twice made the All Pro team. Outside of the Revis selection this was the Jets best draft pick of the last 20 years.
2004: 12th Pick- Jonathan Vilma (Jonathan Vilma)
This is a tricky one. At the time the Jets ran a 43 defense and for what NFL offenses were and the type of defense they were running it was important to have this position covered. Vilma was terrific for the team in 2004 once he became a starter and was a Pro Bowler in 2005. But the Jets head coach wanted out which led to a change that did not fit Vilma’s skillset whatsoever and he was traded away in 2007. I think it would be wrong to classify this a bad pick because of that.
2003: 4th Pick- Kevin Williams (Dewayne Robertson)
Robertson was supposed to be this young phenom that was going to terrorize the quarterback from the interior and completely transform the Jets pass rush. He ended up with 14.5 sacks in 5 years and was gone from the league due to bad knees just a year later. Williams had 23 sacks in his first two years alone in the NFL and played until 2015. Had the Jets moved up for him history may have been very different for Herman Edwards tenure in New York.
2002: 22nd Pick Ed Reed (Bryan Thomas)
Thomas was a hard pick to really wrap your head around. The Jets had young pass rushers who were good yet they made the move for Thomas who was a bit of an unknown but had great measurables. They ended up taking a safety, Jon McGraw, in round 2 to make sure they had Thomas. They missed out on the best safety of the generation in Reed by making the decision. Thomas had an ok career with the Jets but was never a difference maker and McGraw was a nobody.
2001: 16th Pick- Steve Hutchinson (Santana Moss)
I actually liked Moss, probably more than most, and felt he got scapegoated in 2004, but Hutchinson has a chance to be in the Hall of Fame and would have given the Jets a low cost rookie at a position they could have used at the time. The Jets offensive line was still pretty good for a few more seasons, but this would have been tremendous had it occurred.
2000: 12th Pick- Shaun Ellis (Shaun Ellis)
Ellis had a terrific run with the Jets that spanned 11 seasons for the team. Ellis was the starting defensive end on 6 playoff teams and as good an all around player as anyone. The fact that his career spanned 4 head coaches and multiple defensive schemes is a pretty strong indication of how good he was.
2000: 13th Pick John Abraham (John Abraham)
Jets fans had a love/hate relationship with Abraham in his 6 year Jets career, but they haven’t had a better pass rusher since he left New York. I always wonder how Abraham would have done with a different coaching staff as he had a tendency to “go into business for himself” at times on the field. There were also questions about desire as he seemed to miss the biggest games with injuries. If you could have put the more mature Abraham that played in Atlanta on the Jets he would have been devastating.
2000: 18th Pick Chad Pennington (Chad Pennington)
Speaking of love/hate relationships there was Pennington. Pennington was one of the first casualties (that I noticed at least) of age of increased communication between the explosion of more and more media outlets plus the advances in the internet which made sharing thoughts on players much easier. Pennington led the Jets to their lone division title since 1998, but was often injured and his arm strength became a national punchline. Hard to really pick a much better player for where he was drafted that year even if things didnt go as planned.
2000: 27th Pick- Keith Bulluck (Anthony Becht)
The closest comparison in today’s league to Becht is probably Anthony Fasano, a solid blocker who can add a few first downs or touchdowns in the passing game. Becht had a long NFL career, but only five of those were with the Jets. Bulluck played for 10 years with the Titans and would have been an infusion of youth into what was a group of linebackers getting a bit long in the tooth.
1997: 8th Pick- Tony Gonzalez (James Farrior)
This was a tough draft for the Jets. The Jets moved down from number 1 where they could have selected Orlando Pace. The Jets then made another trade to lose Walter Jones to gain a few more picks and eventually selecting James Farrior at 8. Farrior had a really good and long career but it was with the Steelers. With the Jets he struggled to start and was a disappointment. Jones and Pace are in the Hall of Fame and Gonzalez will soon join them. Im not sure anyone could even name any of the extra picks they netted with those trades. While this began the start of the Jets best period of football since Namath, its drafting for 3 years under Bill Parcells was abysmal.
1996: 1st Pick- Simeon Rice (Keyshawn Johnson)
It was no secret that the Jets were going to draft Johnson, who had a nice career with the Jets before his demands for a new contract saw him shipped out of town, but he never lived up to the billing of being the top overall pick. Other players had far better careers and there were a number of other players selected at the top of the draft that may have improved the team. I went with Simeon Rice who was a dominant pass rusher in Arizona and Tampa, and one of the catalysts for the Bucs Super Bowl win. Johnathan Ogden was also available to the Jets.
1995: 9th Pick- Warren Sapp (Kyle Brady)
The scene from the draft is now famous with fans chanting “we want Sapp” and the commish informing the crowd that the Jets drafted Brady. This was basically the peak of ineptitude for the Jets who not only didn’t take BAP but didn’t take a position of gross need either. The Jets could have put together the Bucs type of championship defense in 95 and 96 but instead became the laughingstock of the NFL.
1995: 16th Pick- Hugh Douglas (Hugh Douglas)
I see this as similar to the Vilma pick. Douglas was a good fit and good player for what the Jets were doing at the time, but an eventual head coaching change sealed Douglas’ fate. Ty Law would have had the far longer career with the Jets than Douglas, but this was an acceptable selection.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.