Projecting the Performance of the 2011 New York Jets Draft Class
I did this last year and thought it might be a fun thing to try again this year, especially since there has been almost nothing to talk about this offseason. The projections are based on two basic criteria. The first criteria is the positional success rate in the round and the second is the Jets history when picking in that slot. For the positional success rate I am using the period from 1997 thru 2008 as the base years, though if a player has proven to be a solid pro that was drafted in 2009 and 2010 they will be included as well. The Jets era goes back to the 2001 draft since the front office scouting is essentially the same then as it is now, though more weight will be put on picks made from 2006 onward.
Last years projections said that Kyle Wilson should be a solid starter, but likely not a star, Vladimir Ducasse would be a disappointment but with a somewhat lengthy career, Joe McKnight would be a nice late round find with the upside of a 800 yard season, and that John Conner would be lucky to last more than two years. The jury is still out on all of the players, though the Wilson and McKnight predictions look poor right now. Lets move on to the 2011 class.
First Round Pick: DT Muhammad Wilkerson
As I have pointed out in the past the value of the defensive tackle grows as the draft moves on. By that I mean that most people taken at the position drafted very high bust in the NFL so teams should not invest heavy money in them, making Wilkerson a much smarter pick at 30 than say the Jets drafting DeWayne Robertson at 4. DT’s with pro potential are usually big players that have their way with undersized linemen in college and often have a lazy tag applied to them. It’s a real jump in class when they come to the NFL and many do not have the work ethic to improve their technique or conditioning and quickly fade off into the sunset.
21 selections were made in the 11-32 range of the first round at the DT position with 5 being selected to a Pro Bowl and 3 being named All Pro. That equates to around 24% being top players at the position and 14% having something of an elite season or more in them. In looking at players who have become long term starters since they were drafted we can bump that number to 50%. 35% would probably be considered flops. Most players, if they can contribute, do last at least the full length of the rookie contract with the drafting club. Busts are often given up on within 3 years.
A few interesting items of note on the draft slot. The only Pro Bowler to be drafted outside the teens was Trevor Pryce, the player whom Rex Ryan has compared Wilkerson to. Pryce is really the only true standout player of the 10 taken outside the teens, though there have been some productive players maintaining starting roles in that grouping as well. Wilkerson is the only true small school player drafted since 1997. John McCargo from North Carolina State would hold the smallest program distinction before Wilkerson.
The Jets have had 7 picks since 2001 in the later part of the first round, one of which is Wilson so we will just throw that one out for the time being. The team has been exceptional in selecting talent here. Of the 6 players, 4 have played in a Pro Bowl and 2 have been named All Pro. That is impressive. The worst of the group is LB Bryan Thomas who has been a long term starter for the club, so all 6 have contributed. If Wilson busts that makes him the first in 10 years to do so.
Thomas, C Nick Mangold, and TE Dustin Keller were the 3 of the 6 taken outside the teens and two of those players represent the two worst picks the Jets made. Mangold is one of the best, but at a can’t miss position, so that tempers the prospects for Wilkerson somewhat. Thomas and Wilson are the small school grabs from the Jets, so that also is a bit of a yellow flag.
Based on the track record one has to assume that the odds are very high that Wilkerson will at least be a competent player for the Jets and will probably have less than a 10% chance of falling into that total bust category. In terms of the 11-32 part of the round, the Jets have been two times as likely as the rest of the league at finding a Pro Bowler and 1.5 times as likely of finding a Pro Bowler in the 20s, during the 2001-2008 time frame. That bodes well for Wilkerson probably giving him a 15-20% chance of being a Pro Bowl quality player despite being drafted at the bottom of the round. It is highly likely that the worst case scenario would be a competent starter who plays for at least 7 years for the team before moving on. You could do a lot worse than that and playing as a 34 Defensive End such a performance would be perfectlty acceptable.
Third Round: DT Kenrick Ellis
You can’t expect to find a star in this round and expecting a guy picked here to be a star is very unrealistic as only 4.2% of players taken in this round have made a Pro Bowl since 1997. The goal here is to find starters and contributors and the Jets have not done too badly in that regard. Of the Jets 8 selections in the third round only two have been flat out busts- LB Anthony Schlegal and CB Derrick Strait. Only 1 player would probably be considered a good player, T Kareem McKenzie, though the book isn’t closed on RB Shonn Greene and DT Sione Pouha has been a late bloomer. TE Chris Baker and S Eric Smith contributed to the team and even RB BJ Askew had a moment or two, though it was with Tampa Bay moreso than with the Jets.
How do those picks grade out? McKenzie is a clear A and probably the best 3rd round tackle taken since 1997. Pouha would likely grade as a B. He ranks in the top third of the 27 DTs taken in round 3 and could get better, though he was an older draft pick and may not have the shelf life to show big improvement. When it’s all said and done Baker is going to rank around 7th in receptions and 5th or 6th in yards among all 3rd round TE’s. He would also grade about a B. Eric Smith would grade a C for being a contributor while Askew would grade similarly. The other two would be F’s.
The DT has been a slightly better than average top line producer in the third round, with 7.2% of the picks going to a Pro Bowl, though it should be noted that it took time for both of the Pro Bowlers to make it. Darnell Dockett of the Cardinals made his first Pro Bowl in his fourth season and has exploded since then, becoming the gold standard for the round. Randy Starks made a Pro Bowl in his 7th season and second NFL team. There is about a 25% chance of being a majority of career starter and a 50% chance of lasting in the league beyond the rookie contract. 50% of the position just flat out busts and is gone in a few seasons.
Because the better picks came before Tannenbaum made the final calls we will proceed with more caution in projecting Ellis and it is highly unlikely that he will be one of those few Pro Bowl talents. The Jets are two times as likely to produce a contributing player than the rest of the league which should minimize the bust potential down into the 20% range. The question is can Ellis be a starter at the Nose for the team or will he be a fill in rotational guy leading the Jets to extend Pouha and rotate the two players? Considering Tannenbaum has yet to find a starter in the round the odds would seem to favor being a rotational guy rather than a starter. The upside might be that of Pouha where it takes Ellis a few years to come into his own at which point he can become a solid contributor to the team.
Fourth Round: RB Bilal Powell
If there was a pick that caught people off guard it was probably this one. I’ve said before that I don’t think the team is sold on Shonn Greene after last year’s slow start and Joe McKnight’s issues were documented early on. So now they go back in the draft and get Bilal Powell hoping to find another set of young legs for the third time in three years. The 4th round has produced a few short term success stories at the position. Marion Barber and Rudi Johnson both became starters and fantasy football superstars for two years or so, and the Jets very own Leon Washington was quite the popular player in NY. LeRon McClain of the Ravens was also a find in the 4th. With 10% of all 4th rounders being a Pro Bowler this is certainly a high upside position for this late in the draft.
To make the position more enticing for the drafting team we can see just how many contributors are being found. The 4th round is filled with one hit wonders as well as quality backups. With the NFL having changed from one back to multi back systems, that makes these players more valuable now than they were 6 or 7 years ago. Names like Michael Bush, Domanick Williams, Michael Pittman, and Leon Johnson were all capable players picked in this round. History says that there is a 50/50 chance that you will find a guy that can contribute over the life of his rookie deal.
The Jets fourth round history has been solid. Washington made a Pro Bowl while S Kerry Rhodes and WR Jerricho Cotchery are both quality NFL starters. WR Brad Smith has been a valuable special teamer and was one of the top return guys in the NFL the last two years. S Dwight Lowery has found his way in and out of the lineup. The Jets also had two flops in S Jamie Henderson and DT Alan Harper early in the decade while T Adrian Jones proved to be average for a 4th round tackle. In general the Jets are much better than average in the 4th round and the recent history has been excellent.
There is no reason for the Powell projection to be any different than McKnight’s last season. Powell should be a solid rotational guy with somewhere around an 75-80% chance to contribute and a slightly better than the 10% average chance of being a 1 time Pro Bowler. Maybe the Jets whiffed on McKnight, but history says that it is not likely that they whiff on the same position, in the same round, two years in a row.
Round 5: WR Jeremy Kerley
In the fast reactions coming out of the draft there seemed to be a thought that the drafting of Jeremy Kerley somehow means something to how the Jets are approaching the future with WR’s Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes. I doubt the two are even remotely related. Finding a starting quality WR in this round is basically a near impossible feat. Of the 46 WR’s taken between 1997 and 2008 not one has made a Pro Bowl for their receiving ability. Not 1 has started for the majority of his career. The best player has been Steve Breaston, who is basically a 700 yard receiver playing opposite one of the top 3 WR’s in the NFL. The Bears Johnny Knox, also selected to a Pro Bowl mainly for special teams contributions, drafted in 2009 could be the first consistent 1000 yard receiver if he breaks out in 2011. Nearly 70% of the WR’s taken in the round end up with less than 10 receptions over the course of their career. Even if you want to factor in all the players in the rounds after this, there is basically less than a 5% chance of finding a good number 2.
The Jets draft history in the round has been poor. The best pick was G Jonathan Goodwin in 2002, who only started a handful of games for New York. He did become a Pro Bowl player when he signed with the New Orleans Saints. S Erik Coleman started for the Jets and Falcons. Everyone else has been a total bust. Between the Jets failures and the failure of the position in general it’s not realistic to expect much out of Kerley. There is about an 80% chance that he won’t catch more than 10 passes in his NFL career with the team and his upside would look to be as a 4th receiver on the team.
Round 7: QB Greg McElroy; WR Scotty McKnight
There is not much to be expected in round 7 and the Jets draft history certainly follows that theory. 40% of the Jets picks never played a game with the team and 50% played just a handful or less of games. DT James Reed and WR Chansi Stuckey are the only two to see real playing time and the upside here is finding a special teams player. The Jets are slightly worse than the rest of the NFL in this round, but in fairness have also placed almost no value on the round in the past.
Picking a QB clearly mean no hope of finding a special teams player. Can McElroy be a long term backup? Most likely not. 73% of the 7th rounders are gone from the league in less than 3 years and only 15% look to be on track to last past their rookie deals. Considering the way the Jets seem to hold onto QB’s and sacrifice roster spots to do so it is probable that he will be one of the 27% that remain at least 3 years in the league, but expecting anything more than that is by no means realistic.
Wide Receiver, on the other hand, can be a special teams contributor. There have also been more gems found in this round at the position than found in round 5 where more heralded prospects are chosen. Donald Driver is a star and both TJ Houshmandzadeh and Marques Colston are just a notch below that level. Why are there a few more good players here than in an earlier round? Just a guess, but the WR position is one where there are a ton of good athletes who can be accused of being lazy. A player from round 7, knowing they have been passed on by so many teams and have minimal chances to make it, may work just a bit harder to reach that potential. The less than 10 reception potential is identical between the two groups, right around 70%.
None of this means that McKnight is destined to be a good player. The norm is to not really see the field in their few years in the NFL and that should be McKnight’s expectation, especially considering 50% of the Jets 7th rounders rarely played any meaningful snaps for the Jets. But there should be a better chance that he can be that 300 yard a season Stuckey type than the teams earlier draft selection at the same position.