If all goes well for the Jets this season, their 2023 draft class might join some dubious company.
Let’s explain: Since the Jets last made the playoffs in 2010, the fewest starts made as rookies by one of their draft classes was by the group from 2012 (14).
It was a harbinger of bad things to come: Seven of those eight picks were out of the league by 2016, and the other (third-rounder Demario Davis) played his best elsewhere.
Not only is there a chance that the 2023 class makes fewer than 14 starts, it could be seen as a goal.
It would mean injury-plagued veterans stayed healthy and rookie development wasn’t jeopardized by asking for too much too soon.
After years of drafting plug-and-play starters by necessity in the early rounds, the Jets were able to copy a strategy mastered by the Eagles and imitated with mixed results by others: Project two or three years down the road on the offensive line and defensive line depth charts and fill holes before they open.
Even with coach Robert Saleh’s commitment to using two waves of four-man defensive fronts to save legs for the fourth quarter, first-round pick Will McDonald might only play about 12-15 snaps per game as a rookie.
But the hope is McDonald and second-year pros Jermaine Johnson (first-rounder) and Micheal Clemons (fourth-rounder) prove worthy replacements if 2024 free agents Carl Lawson and Bryce Huff leave, so that the Jets are not without leverage and needing to chase edge rushers next offseason.
Whereas the Eagles had six defensive linemen log 300-plus snaps last season, the Jets actually had a league-high eight.
“If I need to get off the field on third down, who do I want to go get the quarterback? It’s Will McDonald,” one scout with a second-round grade on McDonald told The Post when reviewing the Jets’ options at pick No. 15. “It was a little bit of a reach, but they are going to use him as a specialty guy with Lawson and Clemons playing on the early downs. He’s 235 pounds, so is he ever going to be an every-down player? Maybe.”
On the other side of the ball, the Jets drafted Joe Tippmann in the second round. He has the best chance among the rookies to start even though the Jets re-signed three-year starter Connor McGovern to a one-year deal just three days before the draft in a move that looked at the time like insurance. It might have been a strategy cue viewed through the lens of making proactive selections.
Four of the Jets’ final five picks are no higher than No. 4 on the preseason depth chart, though offensive tackle Carter Warren and running back Israel Abanikanda are at positions where injuries forced eroded depth that far down last season.
“When you factor in his character, his intelligence, his size and athleticism, Tippmann was a good value for them,” the scout said. “All the outside-zone runs and pulls he can do from the center position are kind of like a [Eagles center] Jason Kelce.”
There’s mention of the Eagles again, so let’s take a look at how Jets general manager Joe Douglas’ previous organization has used the draft-and-stash thinking that accompanied his McDonald and Tippmann selections with five of the past six linemen the Eagles have selected in the first or second rounds.
LG Isaac Seumalo, 2016, 2nd round: Played 29.6 percent of the offensive snaps as a rookie, and made 15 starts over three seasons behind Allen Barbre and Stefen Wisniewski before becoming a full-time starter in 2019. When he was due for a starter’s pay raise, the Eagles let him sign a three-year, $24 million deal with the Steelers.
DE Derek Barnett, 2017, 1st round: Played 41.1 percent of the defensive snaps in zero starts as a rookie before replacing free-agent departure Vinny Curry. One year later, Chris Long retired. The injury-plagued Barnett has started 45 of 50 games played since 2018 for the Eagles.
LT Andre Dillard, 2019, 1st round: Played 28.9 percent of the offensive snaps as a rookie who was drafted in anticipation of the stalwart Jason Peters’ departure. Dillard lost the job of replacing Peters to former seventh-round pick Jordan Mailata and signed with the Titans earlier this offseason.
LG Cam Jurgens, 2022, 2nd round: Played 2.9 percent of the offensive snaps as a rookie with guard/center flexibility to replace either the free-agent Seumalo or the aging Brandon Brooks or Kelce. Jurgens is in line to start following Brooks’ retirement.
DT Jordan Davis, 2022, 1st round: Played 20.2 percent of the defensive snaps as a rookie, but is projected to start in 2023 in place of free-agent departure Javon Hargrave.
Sure enough, the Eagles continued the strategy in 2023, using first-round picks on defensive tackle Jalen Carter and edge rusher Nolan Smith, both of whom can contribute in rotation as rookies and fill the spots possibly vacated after this season when Fletcher Cox, Barnett and Brandon Graham become free agents.
Graham, who was a first-round pick in 2010, but didn’t become a full-time starter until after Trent Cole’s departure in 2015, shows how far back this philosophy goes.
“It takes conviction to do it like that,” one longtime NFL executive said. “Nowadays, there is public pressure after Year 1 to declare a rookie who doesn’t contribute much a ‘bust.’ Philadelphia has earned the right to say, ‘Trust us.’ Not many teams have a roster deep enough to be drafting backups with premium picks.”
Other recent examples of the draft-and-stash approach to the line of scrimmage include:
Packers: After developing 2016 first-round pick Kenny Clark into a second-year starter and fourth-year Pro Bowler, the Packers slow-walked 2019 first-round pick Rashan Gary, who has 15.5 sacks in 25 games since becoming a full-time starter. They will try it again this year with 2022 first-rounder Devonte Wyatt.
Saints: Marcus Davenport never became the pass rusher the Saints hoped after trading a lot of draft capital and easing him into a rotation in 2018. He lost the starting job he gained in 2019 and left via free agency. Left tackle Trevor Penning was a 2022 first-rounder after Terron Armstead left in free agency, but only started once as a rookie. His time is now.
Buccaneers: Four of their five top picks in a draft class from 2018-22 were along the line of scrimmage. Right tackle Tristan Wirfs was a Day 1 starter. The other three had to earn their way after making no more than eight starts as a rookie. Defensive tackle Vita Vea is a Pro Bowler. Joe Tryon and Logan Hall are projected starters in 2023.
According to schedule
“America’s Team” never had to contend with American Dream.
Yes, we’re talking about the shopping mall in East Rutherford.
NFL executive Mike North revealed this week on “The Adam Schefter Podcast” that the Jets might be interested in becoming the annual hosts of the NFL’s “Black Friday” game. Jets-Dolphins will be played at 3 p.m. on Nov. 24 in the league’s first game held the day after Thanksgiving.
It was a matchup determined with input from Amazon, which will broadcast the game and hope that multi-tasking fans in the lucrative New York and Miami markets are shopping while watching.
“The Jets, once they found out they were the host team, then started to think about, ‘Hey, is this something we could make a permanent fixture as part of the NFL schedule?’” said North, who also identified the Bengals as a team interested in becoming annual hosts. “Maybe they didn’t raise their hands in February, but now that they have been selected as the Black Friday host, I think they might be interested in it, too.”
The Cowboys didn’t become “America’s Team” until after they began playing every Thanksgiving, starting in 1966, when general manager Tex Schramm agreed that the Cowboys would join the Lions as annual Turkey Day hosts. It has been that way since, except in 1975 and 1977.
But it’s a much different world now. The NFL accounted for 82 of the top 100 most-watched broadcasts in 2022. The Jets are about 50 years too late to use one stand-alone holiday window to grow their fan base.
What they might be risking, however, is angering the core of the fan base. For season-ticket holders, an annual “Black Friday” game means commuting to the Meadowlands, which is home to the second-largest mall in the United States in addition to MetLife Stadium.
American Dream opened its doors at 7 a.m. on “Black Friday” last year. Beware, early tailgaters.
The mall began a $150,000 season of giveaways last year by distributing gift cards and tickets to amusement park attractions to entice crowds to what was its fourth “Black Friday” but the first without the limitations created by construction delays or the COVID-19 pandemic.
Any talk of the Jets as regular hosts of a game on the biggest shopping day of the year needs to be put on ice until it is proven whether the Meadowlands and its surrounding roadways can handle the traffic and parking demands of two giants such as the NFL and “Black Friday” colliding.
Here are three other quick thoughts on the schedule:
1. Something’s got to give: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has won nine straight starts on “Monday Night Football.” The Jets are 23-35 all-time on Mondays, including three straight losses since winning another quarterback’s much-anticipated debut in the 2018 season opener (Sam Darnold). The Jets host the Bills in Week 1 and the Chargers in Week 9 on Mondays.
2. Rest up: The Jets have a season-long net advantage of plus-12 rest days before games over their opponents, which is tied for most in the league with the Bears and Commanders, according to Sharp Football. Saleh might not want to mention this to his old boss Kyle Shanahan because the 49ers head coach has to find a way to overcome a mind-boggling net of minus-20 rest days.
3. Rodgers factor: While we are witnessing Rodgers’ impact on primetime scheduling, on ticket sales, on the morale of teammates and more intangibles, his biggest impact needs to be on the Jets’ record. I penciled in the Jets at 11-6 with Rodgers. With the same exact roster but Zach Wilson at quarterback … I came up with 6-11. That’s a difference of five wins. Is that realistic?
For what it’s worth, Pro Football Reference calculates a numerical Approximate Value for every player’s individual seasons (dating back to 1960). Rodgers’ Approximate Value to the Packers in each of his 13 full seasons as the starter since 2008 was never less than 13. In that same span, only one Jets quarterback reached an Approximate Value of 13 (Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2015). Wilson scored a 4 in nine games last season.
Want to catch a game? The Jets schedule with links to buy tickets can be found here.
Warren, in the fourth round, and Abanikanda, in the fifth round, became the 12th and 13th players, respectively, from the University of Pittsburgh drafted by the Jets since 1960.
Only Penn State (27), USC (18), Nebraska (16), Michigan (16) and Ohio State (16) have produced more Jets draft picks during that span, which includes the franchise’s days as the New York Titans of the AFL.
Here’s how the first 11 Pitt products fared with the Jets:
Fred Cox, kicker, 28th rounder in 1961: 0 games for Jets, 210 career games
Jim Cunningham, fullback, 14th-rounder in 1961: 0 games for Jets, 41 career games
John Kuprok, end, 23rd-rounder in 1962: 0 career games
Ray Popp, linebacker, 16th-rounder in 1964: 0 career games
Jeff Ware, linebacker, 13th-rounder in 1964: 0 career games
Jim Sweeney, center, 2nd-rounder in 1984: 116 games for Jets, 228 career games
Troy Benson, linebacker, 5th-rounder in 1985: 58 games for Jets, 58 career games
Bill Wallace, wide receiver, 12th-rounder in 1985: 0 career games
Mark Gunn, defensive lineman, 4th-rounder in 1991: 55 games for Jets, 70 career games
*Darrelle Revis, cornerback, 1st-rounder in 2007, 108 games for Jets, 145 career games
Jason Pinnock, defensive back, 5th-rounder in 2021: 12 games for Jets, 26 career games (still active for Giants)
*Hall of Famer
Source: Pro Football Reference
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