There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of conventional wisdom in the NFL about how to build a winning franchise, but certainly building through the draft is the most often mentioned method. Although recently released Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum certainly had some hits (see Darrelle Revis) he also was in charge of some major misses like Vernon Gholston.
Although it’s difficult to discern who exactly was in charge when certain picks were made we’re going to assume it was Tannenbaum for the last five years and break down what went wrong.
Mistake No. 1: drafting Vernon Gholston sixth overall in 2008
Rumors have swirled around suggesting that former Jets coach Eric Mangini was the driving force behind this mistake in talent evaluation that surely set the franchise back. Although the 2008 draft was a weak one, the Jets had the biggest swing and miss on the board—by a long way. At the No. 6 spot the Jets could have taken All-Pro linebacker Jerod Mayo, All-Pro tackle Ryan Clady, quarterback Joe Flacco, cornerback Aqib Talib, or even 2,000-yard running back Chris Johnson.
Instead they chose Gholston, a 6-foot-4-inch, 260-pound defensive end who certainly could wow anyone with his build but played just sparingly for three seasons before being released after 2010. He hasn’t made it back into the NFL since then. It was a major swing and miss for a franchise that needed a franchise player.
Although the Jets grabbed Dustin Keller 24 picks after Gholston and then got a decent defensive back in Dwight Lowery in the fourth round, the draft was still a major bust thanks to the Gholston pick.
Mistake No. 2: trading up to take Mark Sanchez fifth overall in 2009
After Brett Favre’s mostly forgettable season at quarterback in 2008 the Jets made a coaching change (Rex Ryan in for Mangini) and then dealt with Mangini’s new team, the Cleveland Browns, to move up to take the USC star. To get one of the NFL’s lowest rated passers in 2012, the Jets surrendered three players, their second-round pick, and their first-round (17th overall) pick to Cleveland for the fifth overall selection where Sanchez was waiting.
The quarterback is clearly the most important position in football and the Jets had another swing and miss here. Although Sanchez performed well in the postseason in his first two seasons he never took it to the next level. His regular season numbers in 2012 were among the worst in the NFL.
Although Matt Stafford (taken first overall) was the only quarterback in this draft who has put up good numbers the Jets somehow, someway needed to replace Favre adequately and failed to do so. Had they been able to fill this one position with an above-average player, combined with Ryan’s tremendous defensive coaching, Tannenbaum would surely still be in charge today and New York would be in the playoffs.
The miss on Sanchez stained the entire draft for the Jets. Ever the aggressors the Jets also moved up to take Shonn Greene in the third round and then selected guard Matt Slauson in the sixth. Though Slauson has done well starting at guard, Greene is probably an average running back. For the second straight season the Jets struck out in the draft.
Mistake No. 3: the 2010 draft
After the Jets roster was weakened following two straight subpar drafts the Jets needed to make up for it in 2010. Unfortunately for their draft position, they had made it to the AFC title game and had to wait until the 29th selection before they took cornerback Kyle Wilson.
Wilson is a starter this year, though he wouldn’t be if Revis were healthy, and because of the Jets’ clear lack of confidence in him after one season, they had to resign fellow corner Antonio Cromartie. Clearly you would like to find a starter in the first round as opposed to the nickel back that Wilson has been thus far.
With their second-round pick the Jets took offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse. Ducasse has seen even less playing time than Wilson. In fact the Jets started the much-maligned Wayne Hunter over Ducasse in 2011 and then started the undrafted Austin Howard at tackle this past season—again over Ducasse.
With their fourth-round pick the Jets took Joe McKnight who has been a good kick returner and looks decent as a running back, though the Jets prefer Greene and Bilal Powell instead. Overall he was an average fourth-round selection. But with McKnight and Wilson being the best two players the Jets took (fullback John Conner, who is no longer with the team, was taken in the fifth round) the draft void was now three years running.