Grading the NFL draft is stupid. I can talk about value, the pros and cons of moving up and down and of choosing particular players all I want, but in the end, all that will matter is how well the players play.
This year takes that notion to the extreme. The Jets entered the draft with just six picks, and they came out of it with just three new players. Mike Tannenbaum moved the equivalent of eight players for two. If the two (Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene) come as advertised, then the draft will be a rousing success. If one of them (Sanchez especially) falters, then 2009 could have been a disaster, a wasted opportunity to address several needs.
Mark Sanchez has all the makings of a franchise quarterback. He throws the ball with pinpoint accuracy with above average arm strength. He's known as a great leader, and he's a smart, intangible-laden football junkie. USC fans loved him, and he's tailor made to be beloved by Jets fans as well.
Rex Ryan and Tannenbaum fell in love with Sanchez during the offseason, and they got him. You have to admire that. If they are right, the Jets have a franchise quarterback, one they've been searching for since Joe Willie Namath retired.
The best thing about the Sanchez deal is the value. Abram Elam, Kenyon Coleman, and Brett Ratliff are all replaceable. In fact Jim Leonhard has already taken Elam's position, and Sanchez is replacing Ratliff. Coleman's departure means the Jets are putting a lot more faith in free agent acquisition Marques Douglas as well as former undrafted free agent Mike DeVito. Still, Coleman had a fairly high salary cap number, and he was a JAG. On top of that, them, the only compensation was the 2nd round pick to move up 12 spots high in the first round. The Jets saw an opportunity to provide their old coach with a few players he values more than the rest of the league, and as a result, they stole Mark Sanchez.
When I first heard the Jets traded up to the first pick of day two, I assumed it was for DE Jarron Gilbert. Coleman's departure opened up a starting spot, and I thought Ryan would want to bring in a young 3-4 DE who seemed to be a great fit. But the Jets identified Iowa tailback Shonn Greene as far and away the best player on the board, and they decided they had an opportunity to get a player they loved who likely wouldn't have fallen to the Jets selection. Greene was the best runningback in college football last year, and he is a load at 5'11", 227. He only ran a 4.65 at the combine, but was down to 4.5 at his pro day.
Still, while Greene looks to be a great complement to Leon Washington, giving up a 4th round pick (and a 7th) to move up to take a 3rd runningback is not a move this team should have made. If Greene is as good as the Jets think he is, then it's a moot point, but it made more sense for this team to hope Gilbert, Michael Johnson, or Greene fell (unlikely) or to grab a receiver and a defensive end to help. Jets' brass must have identified a huge drop in the level of talent in what many consider a very weak draft. We'll see.
All this trading gave the Jets just one more pick, and with it, the team chose OG Matt Slauson
from Nebraska. He's a nasty and versatile guard with good size, and offensive line coach Bill Callahan coached him during his tenure as head coach of Nebraska. Many were surprised at the choice of an offensive lineman with the last pick, but I like this move. A late round receiver would not have been any better than Brad Smith, Chansi Stuckey, or David Clowney, and the team is hurting for offensive line depth. Slauson can play multiple positions on the line, and was one of the top linemen in the Big 12.
The lack of picks means opportunities galore for undrafted free agents, who are listed below.
Undrafted Free Agents
TE Andrew Davie - Arkansas.
DE Jamaal Westerman - Rutgers
DL Matt Kroul - Iowa
P T.J. Conley - Idaho
TE Robert Myers - Utah State
DE Zach Potter - Nebraska
TE J'Nathan Bullock - Cleveland State (former basketball player)
S Emanuel Cook - South Carolina
QB Chris Pizzoti - Harvard
OT Tavita Thompson - Oregon State
OT Kyle Link - McNeese State
FB Brannan Southerland - Georgia
OT Ryan McKee - Southern Mississippi
WR Britt Davis - Northern Illinois
C Michael Parenton - Tulane
DL Ty Steinkuhler - Nebraska
S Keith Fitzhugh - Mississippi State
Of this group, Cook, Pizzoti, Myers, Link, Conley, Potter, Davie, and Myers appear to have the best chance to make the team.
Cook was a highly touted safety in college, but his lack of size and some off-field concerns knocked him out of the draft. He declared as a junior after being declared academically ineligible for South Carolina's bowl game. He's considered a tough and productive run stopper.
Pizzoti may be best known for telling the media that during the sixth round, the Jets called him and told him there was a deal for him if he wasn't drafted. Both sides mutually like each other, and with Eric Ainge's personal concerns, there's an opportunity for him to be the third quarterback. He has the size and the smarts (he's a Harvard kid).
Link has good size and athleticism at tackle. He is new to the position after starting his college career at tight end, but he's a developmental project who could surprise down the line.
Conley had college football's best punting average last season at 47.43 yards per kick. There is no incumbent at the punter position, so Conley could be your opening day punter if he punts like he did at Idaho last year.
Potter is another former Nebraska player. He has the size to be a 3-4 defensive end (6'6", 280), and he's a solid run stopper. He could be this year's Mike DeVito, except bigger. Some outlets had him ranked as a mid-round prospect.
The last two, Myers and Davie, may make the team simply due to the lack of numbers at tight end. Davie played three non-descript years at Arkansas. He offers good size, decent hands, and fairly good blocking, though he lacks speed. Myers is a poor man's Dustin Keller, as he's 6'3", 243 with good speed and good hands. He's had major injury concerns in college, so he barely played, but he has impressive measurables for an H-Back type tight end.
My Grade: A-.
Trading up and giving away depth is not a way to build a football team, but getting a franchise quarterback is. Sanchez has all the tools, and if he lives up to the hype, this draft automatically deserves an A. Greene is a good looking tailback prospect who should form a dynamic thunder and lightning with Leon Washington. Slauson adds depth to an offensive line that drastically needs it. Other needs, such as tight end and defensive end, can be added through free agency.
The undrafted free agent class looks rather promising, with several players primed to make the roster. Several of them could have been 6th or 7th rounders in this year's draft, and the Jets need to get a couple contributors from them if they want any young depth.
The grade would have been higher if: they didn't trade up to bring in a 3rd runningback. Greene is good, and Thomas Jones is probably gone after this season, but RB wasn't an immediate enough need to warrant giving up a 4th round pick.
What this draft could have looked like without any trades?
1. WR Percy Harvin
2. RB Shonn Greene
3. DE Jarron Gilbert
4. TE Anthony Hill
6. OG Matt Slauson
7. S Emanuel Cook