Lichtenstein: Don’t Expect Many Of Maccagnan’s Draft Gems To Shine For Jets This Season

Steve Lichtenstein
April 29, 2019 - 12:37 pm
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I’ll say this for Mike Maccagnan: The Jets’ general manager did not navigate through the 2019 NFL Draft as if he thought it could be his last in this capacity.

Who knows how much more patience Jets owner Christopher Johnson has for a GM with a 24-40 record in four seasons? One who has already had the opportunity to tear down and rebuild the roster to his liking?

Twice.

However, Maccagnan, who refused to talk about his job security with reporters after the Draft’s conclusion on Saturday, did not alter his underlying principles with his initial six selections. Despite reports that Maccagnan was somewhat eager to acquire a second-round pick, having surrendered his own a year ago in the trade with Indianapolis so the Jets could move up three slots to snag franchise quarterback Sam Darnold, he steadfastly rejected all potential deals that would have required him to dip into the Jets’ future draft assets vault.  Of his three draft-day trades, only one was to move up—and that was just one slot from 93 to 92 in the third round, costing him a mere seventh-rounder.

Unfortunately, with so many holes still to fill even after a spendthrift free agency period, Maccagnan needed to produce an “A” draft to give his club a chance to compete in December.

And possibly assure that he still has a job in January.

Despite my previously stated qualms with Maccagnan’s initial selection of interior lineman Quinnen Williams with the third overall pick over edge rusher Josh Allen, at least the consensus opinion is that Williams will be ready to help right away.

After that?  We likely won’t know the complete results of Maccagnan’s haul for a few years, but my initial take would be to grade his draft as a “?”

I actually liked some of Maccagnan’s mid-round picks—as developmental projects.

How could you not be piqued by third-round selection Jachai Polite’s numbers at Florida? While Allen received the top pass rush grade of all edge rushers by profootballfocus.com, Polite ranked fourth. His 11 sacks placed him seventh in the nation. He forced six fumbles.

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A perfect fit for a team in dire straits at this position, right? Well, Polite dropped like a stone in the draft after making awful impressions at the NFL Scouting Combine and his subsequent Pro Day, where his 40 time (5.0 versus 4.84) was actually worse.  He reportedly criticized the Packers for “bashing” him after his interview. ESPN’s Rich Cimini reported that a scout said, “(Polite) doesn’t have issues—he IS an issue.”

Just what the Jets needed — another player with character concerns.

Maccagnan was ready to buy every excuse. Polite gained weight, thinking he would be drafted as a defensive end. He’s 21, an age where not every player displays perfect maturity.

He’s a wild card.

Similarly, tackle Chuma Edoga, the Jets’ other third-round selection, also fills a team need.  He received PFF’s second-best pass-blocking grade among draft-eligible tackles and had a solid performance at the Senior Bowl.

However, USC suspended Edoga one game for violating team rules and he was ejected from another after making contact with an official.

If Todd Bowles was still the Jets’ head coach, I’d say he’d fit right in.

Maccagnan is hoping Edoga can use this season not necessarily to play, but to learn from veteran starting tackle Kelvin Beachum, who is in the last year of his contract and, interestingly, the player with whom Edoga’s scouting report on NFL.com named as a contemporary comparison.             

With his fourth-round pick, Maccagnan chose West Virginia’s Trevon Wesco, the third consecutive year Maccagnan has taken a mid-round tight end. If Wesco’s selection means that Eric Tomlinson’s days as a Jet are numbered, that can’t be a bad thing, even if Wesco’s college stats (28 career receptions) seem paltry.

Look, I get that you are less likely to find perfect players the further you go down in the draft and not having any picks between three and 68 further handicapped their odds of finding an obvious impact player.

That left Maccagnan to do what he supposedly does best, even if he hasn’t done it all that well in New York—mine for hidden gems.

Such stones, though, often come with imperfections, such as scary medical histories. The Jets’ last two picks, linebacker Blake Cashman (fifth round, Minnesota) and cornerback Blessuan Austin (sixth round, Rutgers), are flat-out injury risks.

Cashman is a “Rudy”-type (if Rudy Ruettiger went from an obscure walk-on to team captain) who underwent three shoulder surgeries in college. Even if healthy, it would take a deep depletion of the Jets’ inside linebacking corps for him to see the field for anything other than special teams snaps.

Austin’s last two college seasons were cut short by ACL tears in his left knee. Whereas he may have been a top-flight corner previously (though I continue to be puzzled over how many Rutgers defensive back alums made it to the NFL given how awful their pass defense has been over the years), how much speed and agility has he lost? Maccagnan said he expects Austin to begin training camp on the PUP list.

Excluding first-round picks (and 2016’s Darron Lee might not be long for this team). Maccagnan’s draft record isn’t inspiring. Only five (including punter Lachlan Edwards) of his previous 24 post-first-round selections are projected starters.

Unfortunately for Maccagnan, I don’t see that ratio improving after this season.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.