With the NFL Draft in the rear view mirror, it’s a good time to see exactly how the Jets did. There are many of us who immerse ourselves so deeply into the Craft that some may not appreciate all the hard work that went into the selections. There may also be new insights to what actually happened behind the scenes.
The fans who actually scout players can sometimes “fall in love” with a prospect. It’s very common, I myself always have my favorites, but I do so in the context of the Draft system. Players are scouted on the same basis every year, but where they are selected in the Draft may vary according to the strength of the class for that year. This year I had many second round grades on players I still listed as first round prospects because the number of highly rated players was considerably lower than an average class.
I had Baker Mayfield rated behind both Josh Allen and Sam Darnold back in 2018, but I still had Mayfield rated higher than any of the QB prospects in 2023. Even Bruce Arians agrees with my assessment (former SB winning coach of the Buccaneers). He stated “I can honestly say out of these four, I had Baker rated higher.”
So when teams were trading up to get a 2023 QB, many were more hopeful of success than absolutely sure they had the right player. I currently have both Caleb Williams (USC) and Drake Maye (N. Carolina) who are eligible to enter the 2024 NFL Draft rated as better QB prospects than any in the 2023 QB class.
Now let’s assess the Jets 2023 NFL Draft.
You can’t start a conversation about the 2023 draft without confronting the 800 lbs purple gorilla in the room. The Jets’ Draft was hijacked in a way by the Aaron Rodgers trade. I am not here to argue the merits or the desire to trade for Aaron. That’s water under the bridge. What is in contention is the compensation for such a trade and the time it took. These went down as disaster in my book as they stripped the Jets of any chance at quality free agents or the ability to sign their own players before they went to other teams.
The only justification for the trade to take as long as it did was the Jets holding out for a sweetheart deal. The rumor of the Jets’ interest in Aaron Rodgers goes back to early January, but the trade didn’t transpire until April 24th which was only 3 days before the NFL Draft. With teams busily setting up their Draft rooms the Jets had little hope of accruing more picks through the way of trades.
Had the Jets settled on pick #42 for Rodgers then you could say the wait was worth it. Yet the Jets not only gave up a second round pick. They also effectively gave up a 2024 first round pick and switched first round picks with the Packers which essentially took the Jets out of the running for one of the big four offensive tackles available.
I don’t know what went on during negotiations. It has been rumored and speculated that Woody and Chris Johnson had something to do with it. The bottom line was it left the Jets in a precarious spot with little wiggle room to upgrade their team. There may be a lot of smiles and back slapping going on in front of the camera, but behind the scenes it’s probably a much different story. The Jets still need pieces to their team that can be found if they play their cards right, but a looming salary cap disaster is waiting in 2024.
If Joe Douglas is truly the leader of the Jets he could have told Woody Johnson to go back to his mansion and wait for information on the trade. To have Woody and his brother in on the negotiations was a total travesty. If I was the Jets GM with a guaranteed 6 year contract I would have told Woody to stay home, or I wouldn’t make a deal. This way two NFL people could discuss the situation without Woody or his brother in the mix.
Onto the 2023 Draft…
1st round pick #15
Will McDonald Edge Iowa State 6’ 3 5/8” 239lbs
Some of my scouting report read as:
McDonald is an explosive edge player with elite length and a relentless playing style. He comes off the ball fast with a quick first step to put the tackle in peril right away. He’s a space player. Needs room to operate. He has a huge assortment of moves he can put together. His hands and feet work in unison to race to a side of the blocker while his hands clear the way knocking down the arms of his opponent. He’s most effective using a half man type rushing method where he is not pounding against an opponent who may outweigh him by 100 lbs. He played in an Iowa State defense that used a weird 3-3-5 alignment which didn’t play to his strengths. He is an excellent athlete with above average speed who plays fast. He played too often facing double teams with only 3 defensive rushers.
His talents are speed, length, and technique which doesn’t work well in close quarters against size. He still holds the Big 12 record for career sacks (34) which is one more than Von Miller. He also has 41 TFL and forced 10 fumbles in his years at Ames. He turns speed into power. He is fluid in space with loose hips to quickly work back inside on a rush or spin away from a blocker into the clear. He would be best used as an off ball OLB who can use his good speed plus excellent hand usage against a massive blocker. He would be using the blocker’s size against him since he would have outside/inside options. He could also work as a wide 9 rusher where he could also chase down RBs. McDonald is a dynamic player who can be a difference maker in the right defense. He has some excellent traits but size isn’t one of them. He does have elite length (34 7/8” arms) which allow him to keep tackles off his chest plate to use an effective strike-flip-rip move. As long as a team can keep him on the edges of the offense he has a chance to be special.
Now I had McDonald rated as the 28th best prospect in the Draft so I liked him quite a bit . The problem is he was not the 15th best player in this Draft. I had him rated higher than most of the “experts.” As you can see in this video clip the Cyclones play a funky 3-3-5 defense which is meant to stop the pass. McDonald faced a lot of double teams or linemen with help. He beats a big tackle here (Kaitori Leveston) of Kansas State who is 6’ 5” 330 lbs with good length. Leveston is a nice player I like for next year’s Draft, but I think he may be best used as a guard. He played at OT in 2023 because Cooper Beebe (who is my highest rated IOL player in 2024) plays inside at guard.
The problem here is that the 3-3-5 defense did not fit the skill set of McDonald, especially at his weight. Yet he still set records for sacks and TFL so he must have been extra special at what he did well.
Dane Brugler of The Athletic who has been an NFL scout for years had McDonald rated as the #46th prospect in this year’s Draft. Now Dane and I disagree a lot so it’s not a surprise that he had McDonald that low, but he was in the same ballpark (like most scouts) as others. Here are some of the problems he saw in McDonald.
Linear-built with a slender, lean-muscled body type … lacks defined bulk, especially in his lower half … average play strength will be more noticeable versus NFL talent … too easily pushed/steered from the pocket …immature pass-rush setup and move-to-move transitions … undeveloped secondary measures … too often finds himself too far upfield and behind the quarterback … lackluster speed-to-power moves … doesn’t consistently play stout in the run game and can be moved from his spot … inconsistent run discipline and late to leverage gaps … disappointing production as a senior.
McDonald was not the player I expected at that point of the Draft. I felt (like many) that the Jets were caught off guard by the trade in front of them and were ill-prepared to make a trade which is all on Joe Douglas. As an NFL GM you have to anticipate problems; picking at #15 was a problem for me, and it was a mistake by the Jets’ brain trust to allow the switch of picks. The fact they didn’t prepare for the possibility to trade out of that spot ahead of time was a problem. If they could have traded down 7-10 spots and selected McDonald I think would have been a huge win for the Jets.
Fans and teams focus most on the first round with good reason. The majority of Pro Bowl player come out of the first round. Plus if you trade your pick in order to move down in this round you get the most Draft capital in return. The Bears after trading their #1 pick selected their offensive tackle in Darnell Wright and got WR DJ Moore, pick #61, a 1st in 2024, a 4th in 2024 and a 2nd in 2025 which can help them become a contender if they make the right selections. This gives them hope for the future.
Bottom line is I like the player, but I hate the way they got him. They lost Draft capital they desperately needed. There is no way the Jets had McDonald rated at #15 so they didn’t use a BPA approach. Joe Douglas can no longer preach to the fans he used that method ever again. You can’t pick and choose when you abide by your drafting mantra. When you do it’s not a true mantra but a justification. If (as the Jets say) McDonald was their intended pick all along they should have traded down a week before the Draft and picked up extra capital. If a team trades up long before the Draft into a mid 1st round they should get that pick for less capital than trading up on Draft day. The Jets could have had a couple of extra picks depending on how far down they wanted to slide. It was a missed opportunity. You don’t get many chances to gain draft picks in the NFL.
2nd round pick #43 overall
Joe Tippmann C/G Wisconsin 6’ 6” 313 lbs
Some of my scouting report reads as:
Tippmann is a tall, country strong center prospect with excellent movement skills and hands like catcher’s mitts. He has a high football IQ. He makes all the line calls and helps his QB set protections. He has very quick feet for his height. He has excellent snap to step quickness. He gets out quick to get his hands on his opponent before he can make his move. He has above average lateral agility to cover either “A” gap from leakage or stunts. He is able to make short or long pulls which makes him a candidate to play as a guard, giving him some versatility. He played only 11 snaps at right guard.
He does an excellent job in combo blocks by getting to then securing that first block before he is able to reach the 2nd level to clear an alley. His upper body strength is excellent with solid core power to bulldoze opponents away from the action. He has a solid anchor when he plays with the proper pad level. He has allowed a single sack, 4 QB hits and 4 QB hurries in 1,445 snaps in 2 years as a center. He is a great positional blocker who can wall off a lane for his runner while keeping his man out of the play. He will also use the opponent’s momentum against him, pushing him far down the line and into his own teammates. He has the best movement skills in this class, would be ideal in a zone based system where he can get out to open a lane.
Tippmann is a two year starter but he still needs some development. He can be a starter in a zone based systemin the near future, it’s where he projects to do his best work. He has the ability to be a top 10 center is he develops.
I really liked this pick as Tippman was my highest rated pure center on the board. (I had Peter Skoronski as my top rated interior line player in 2023.) In this clip you have a blitz package in a 6 man rush so Tippmann picks up the A gap blitz then stones his man. He is able to maintain control of a quicker player in space without letting him gain an inch.
Tippmann combines great strength, size, power and intelligence in a package that can play anywhere on the interior line. Dane Brugler had Tippmann rated as the #43 prospect so he was perfectly spot on here. I had Tippmann rated as my #32 player in this draft so I felt the Jets got great value with the pick plus it fills a need with the ability to work with AVT for the next decade barring injury. So nice job.
4th round pick #120 overall
Carter Warren OT Pittsburgh 6’ 5 1/2” 311 lbs
Some of my scouting report reads:
Warren combines great size, length and strength with a wingspan of a California Condor to guard the edge of an offense. He has 37 starts at Pitt all at the left tackle position. His season in 2022 was cut short by meniscus tear in game 4. He plays best in pass protection when he keeps a consistent 45 degree angle to his opponent then using his length to push the defender to either side of the QB. His natural size gives him an advantage since a rusher must find a way around him which usually takes him on a poor path to the QB. He has quick feet for his size, he has the ability to develop with NFL coaching.
He has a solid but unspectacular anchor and can be pushed back by powerful opponents but he usually find a way to hold his ground. His arms are like tree limbs but they have limited power. He doesn’t get great results from his punch to halt a rush. He is more of a maintainer (in that he holds his area) rather than a dominator. He doesn’t use his size to great advantage. He prefers to play it safe rather than take control of a rep. He has enough core strength to compete against any opponent. He won’t be bullied by power. He is a team captain and a quiet leader on the offensive line.
You can see here he is not trying to attack his man. He is giving ground while maintaining a cushion between himself and the QB. You can also see the quick feet. He has excellent movement skills for a man his size; this can be developed. He needs a better understanding of leverage and when to assert his physical ability on his opponent. This was a successful rep but he could have cleared his man to the outside allowing his QB a cleaner window to see downfield. It would have also given the QB a route to escape if pressure had come from the opposite side. Carter was my 127th rated player in the draft. Dane Brugler only rates his top 100 players so he was outside of the top 100. Given the situation, this was an excellent 4th round selection.
5th round pick #143 overall
Israel Abanikanda RB Pittsburgh 5’ 10 3/4” 216 lbs
Some of my scouting report reads:
Abanikanda is a rocked up physical specimen with great explosive ability and the long speed to outrun defenders. He is a tough kid who likes to run between the tackles, nearly all his runs start there until he breaks free or bumps them outside. He is not a big kid, but he has perfect size to run inside with a body that seems to absorb contact then keeps right on going. He can be explosive if he finds a lane,. Once he gets out in the open field he is hard to catch. He has such excellent long speed that he destroys tackling angles of chasing defenders. They don’t realize the true speed he has. He is also a tackle breaker. He has great balance to bounce off or (with his strength) pull away from solid arm tackles then blast through the hole. He has good short field vision once he is in the hole, he sees creases before they appear than jump cuts to them leaving defenders behind.
He protects the ball well with only a single lost fumble in three years (390 rushing attempts). He could be an ideal one cut runner in a wide zone scheme. He has the vision, the explosive ability, the talent to run through arm tackles, and great long speed. He is a player suited to play in a Kyle Shanahan style offense. He is still just a kid (doesn’t turn 21 until October) with room to learn and grow. He can play in a running back committee or be a bell cow type back. He averaged almost 22 carries a game in 2022. Abanikanda finished as the NCAA statistical champion in scoring (11.6 points per game), total touchdowns (21) and rushing touchdowns (20).
Abanikanda is an exciting runner but he lacks any real receiving ability, and his pass pro is also unrefined. Yet he has the ability to be a real running threat with game changing ability. He can be effective in any offensive scheme.
Abanikanda has good acceleration along with excellent long speed. As you can see here he just runs away from defensive backs. He will need to work on his receiving skills (38 receptions in 3 years) which were mostly dump off-screen type passes plus he is not a natural hands catcher. His pass protection is also poor as he doesn’t attack the rusher but instead looks to absorb the hit which doesn’t work. Still his size-speed-power ratio is near exemplary for a RB no matter where he is selected. He can work on the rest.
I had Abanikanda as my #71 prospect so this is excellent value in the 5th round. I had a feeling that some of the less high profile RBs would slip so this was great work by the Jets to see that and then exploit that situation. Nice, nice job.
6th round Pick #184
Zaire Barnes LB W. Michigan 6’ 1 3/8” 233 lbs
Barnes was a surprise pick as he played inside as a linebacker but is undersized with a lean frame that doesn’t fit as an NFL ILB. He has some speed (4.56/40) with good athleticism which makes him a candidate to be a special teams maven to start his career. He also had 8 PBU including an INT in 2022 so he may have some value as a WILL where he doesn’t have to work through blocks as a standard inside off ball LB but can use his athleticism to run down or cover RBs in the flat. He nearly doubled his career totals for tackles with 93 total (59 solo) tackles in 2022. Here he is playing as a middle linebacker in an upset of Pitt in 2021 with a fumble recovery.
Barnes has some solid 1st step quickness but his ability to read and react to the play is hit or miss. He is never going to develop into a stack and shed ILB, but that doesn’t mean he is incapable of developing into a productive player. The NFL is evolving new position standards all the time, and I can see where Barnes can play a Robber/Joker role near the line of scrimmage like a beefed up Jamal Adams who can be a blitzer or an extra edge player which would be difficult for an offense to account for.
For his size he has good upper body strength and decent length (32” arms) with good agility and overall athleticism. Barnes is a little older than most of the player is the draft as he will be 24 years old before the season begins so many teams would shy away from a developmental player of his age. It is why I had Barnes just outside the top 400 players in the draft (410) which is common for players like Barnes.
Many fans don’t realize how many players are eligible for the NFL draft; it’s over 2,000 a lot from smaller schools. I mean my 371st player in the draft was Lindsey Scott Jr. QB from Incarnate Word who had a 71% completion rate, 321 completions for 4,657 yards with 60 TDs in 2022. Not a career, just 2022. He started at LSU before transferring.
The Jets obviously felt they needed a WILL on their team who they think can develop. Barnes has the requisite athleticism to possibly develop while also being an asset in special teams until he does. At pick #184 you are looking for a skill set that you can use plus maybe fine tune into an asset. The Jets felt Barnes fit the bill so maybe they are right.
I probably had 10-15 other players I was hoping the Jets would draft and my thoughts were Barnes would have been a UDFA the Jets could of had without using a pick. Of course maybe the Jets really liked him after working him out and felt he wouldn’t last in the remaining 70+ picks. Although I had others I liked I can’t disagree with the selection.
6th round pick #204
Jarrick Bernard-Converse CB/S LSU 6’ 0 3/4” 197 lbs
JBC (as I will call him) is a size/speed/athleticism type prospect who has amazing experience (56 career starts) but is still young having just turned 23 years old. In his 5 college seasons (4 at Oklahoma State and 1 at LSU) he has played all over the secondary. He has played each safety position, in the slot, and as an outside corner. He has had mixed results along the way with 4 career INTs and 27 PBU but allowing 19 TDs into his coverage. He is known as a solid tackler but often is an ankle grabber, not an aggressive, physical knock down punisher. He has good length (32 1/4” arms) with quality upper body strength. His athleticism is near off the charts with a 42” vertical, 6.94 3-cone score and a 4.40/40.
He has suspect instincts that will need to be worked on, and his transitions are poor so he will probably be looked at as a free safety type prospect. Of course one advantage of finding super athletic prospect is their ability to contribute right away on special teams. This way the Jets could use a minimal salary player to replace Justin Hardee who is a special teams only guy with a $2.35 million cap hit.
Here is JBC against Alabama earlier this year making a play.
That was one of only 5 INTs that Bryce Young threw on the year. JBC has had some impressive years in college with 112 combined tackles in his pure freshman and sophomore years. As an outside corner he had 95 tackles combined the last two year which is a lot for a primary outside corner.
Again you can find players you prefer at this point of the Draft. Everyone has their super sleeper who they wanted. Yet in a shallow class like this one, to find two athletic players with workable skill sets is basically what you want to do. I had JBC outside my top 400 (at 432) because of his high number of TDs given up, but he has the tools to play as a single high safety if you can develop him correctly. I had no problem with this selection.
7th Round Pick #220
Zack Kuntz TE Old Dominion 6’ 7 3/8” 255 lbs
Kuntz I believe was a real steal at this portion of the Draft. The Jets already have 4 TEs on the roster so they had no intention of drafting another one, but when a player on your board drops down so low you almost have to take him. I had Kuntz ranked at #169 in this draft so for the Jets to grab him at #220 was a steal.
Oh by the way congrats on the Jets making their first round seven selection since 2016. It was high time the Jets actually made a pick in the seventh. What is ironic is the Jets traded away their 7th round pick so this pick came via Las Vegas who got it from Arizona. I mean if I were a GM I would insist on a 7th round pick to be added in every deal. You just get so much value in a 7th round pick it’s insane not to horde them.
I’m going on a tangent here, but here me out. Every decent UDFA has to be fought for plus you have to guarantee some money to them which can reach the $100,000 mark. 7th round picks can’t negotiate plus they must sign a minimal contract with zero guaranteed money. Why not stockpile a bunch of 7th round picks to get the players you want to sign? I know Maccagnan always traded away his 7th round picks because he felt they had little chance of becoming great players.
Just in this Draft alone the Jets drafted Kuntz while Andrew Vorhees, a guard from USC, was also there. I had Vorhees as a 4th round prospect until he injured his knee at the Combine. You draft him, put him on IR for the year, and see what you have in 2024. Jason Taylor is a safety out of Oklahoma State who I had ranked at #140. Kenny McIntosh RB from Georgia who works well out of the backfield was my #163. Moro Ojomo DT Texas who I had at #210 could have filled an important role in a shallow Jets DT room.
The point is these are lottery ticket that cost you near pennies with a chance of filling valuable roles on a team. They may never become more than a decent backup, but for the cost that is a deal. A lot of drafted players in mid to high rounds become the same type of player for a lot more money against the salary cap. You can’t build a team that way, but you can inexpensively fill out the back end of your roster.
Anyway back to Kuntz.
Kuntz was originally a Penn State player but after two years on playing primarily on special teams with merely 3 receptions for 26 yards in 21 games he decided to transfer to Old Dominion to develop his game. Sadly Covid hit, and he sat out the 2020 season as a precaution. He came back in 2021 to record 73 receptions in 13 games with 5 TDs primarily as a chain mover. He returned in 2022 only to suffer a knee injury in the 5th game of the season. Even though he was coming back off a serious knee injury he was expected to blow up the Combine as a tight end, which he did.
Kuntz is a physical specimen who has 34” arms with the wingspan of a Pterodactyl (83 1/8”). He had a vertical jump of 40” a broad jump of 128” and did 23 reps on the bench with those 34” arms. To give you a idea of how great that bench press was you have to understand that the longer the arms the harder it is to get that many reps on the bench. He did more reps than Brian Bresee DT from Clemson selected in the 1st round (#29) with arms 1 1/2” shorter than Kuntz. Kuntz was 1st in the tight end class in athleticism with a 94 athleticism score among TEs. Here is Kuntz in action.
Kuntz does need work. He needs to catch the ball better which is easy to work on. Just set him up to catch 300 balls a day from the JUGS machine, and he will be a star in no time. Kuntz also has the right attitude saying, “I’m going to go out there and work my tail off, I could be the first pick in the draft or the last pick in the draft, it wouldn’t make a difference for me. I’m going to go and do whatever I can to be the best version of myself. Like I said, refuse to lose and do whatever I can to help the team.”
Joe Douglas stated why he choose Kuntz in the first place, “We were sitting there at the top of the seventh round and just going through some of the guys who just had that freak factor to him and he was right there at the top — the size, the speed, the length, the jump, just everything: and another guy who may have been drafted a little sooner if not for the injury this year.” J
This was a no brainer of a pick but was only available since the Jets had a 7th round pick. A great GM is able to find players late in Drafts that will become contributors down the road once they get into the system. Maybe Joe Douglas learned something this year about drafting. We can only hope so.
I really believe that Joe Douglas totally messed up the 1st round by being oblivious which is a major sin. He has been around long enough to understand how things work, but he was totally undermined. It cost the Jets a lot of Draft capital, but I believe he did do an excellent job once he escaped the opening round.
So there you have it from my prospective.
None of us know for sure how this Draft will help the Jets, but we hope it does.
Joe Douglas is on the ropes this year, and the move to bring in Aaron Rodgers is his huge punch that he believes wins him the bout. We will soon see if it is successful.
We all hope he is correct….
So what do you think?