New York Jets: 9 Biggest Draft Failures in History
A trip down memory lane is a vacation Jets fans should rarely take.
Beyond the rare instances of a fleeting dance with success, the Jets have spent the better part of this entire generation more often than not hovering slightly below mediocre and faintly above embarrassing.
One possible cause of this seemingly inbred ineptitude is documented in the archives of the NFL draft. Since 1980 (and in truth, beyond), the Jets' front office has had very few Radio City draft day performances to be proud of.
The masterful Jets draft in 2000 that brought All-Pros Shaun Ellis, John Abraham, Chad Pennington and Laveranues Coles to New York and those in 2006 and 2007 that ended with D’Brickshaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, Brad Smith, Leon Washington, Darrelle Revis and David Harris adorned in green seem to be more dumb, statistically inevitable bits of luck than strategic genius.
Over the past 22 drafts, the New York Jets have decided to pass on enough Hall of Famers to fill an entire wing of the legendary Canton temple, opting to go the way of the potential diamond in the rough.
Here are the roughest of those blotches staining Jets' draft history including a listing of notable players overlooked by the Jets.
Vladimir Ducasse: 61st Pick in 2010
On the Board: Jordan Shipley, Jimmy Graham, Eric Decker, Aaron Hernandez, Antonio Brown
The jury is still out, and always seems to be still out, on big Vlad. His inconsistent play and inability to process pro-level blocking schemes has led to only one start for Ducasse since entering the league.
With the three very serviceable wide receivers, two incredibly talented tight ends and a question mark looming with Braylon Edward’s contract elapsing at the end of 2010, one would have thought the Jets should have prepared for the inevitable.
Vernon Gholston: 6th Pick in 2008
On the Board: Chris Johnson, Rashard Mendenhall, Matt Forte, DeSean Jackson, Ray Rice, Jermichael Finley, Mario Manningham.
I would be hard pressed not to rank the Vernon Gholston failed experiment as the worst draft bust in Jets history.
There's nothing more detestable than a professional athlete who shows a lack of desire to improve. A lack of fire, in reality, was the only thing Gholston showed during his time with the Jets.
Other than a weak effort to return to the Jets at a reduced price following another woeful campaign in 2010, it was glaringly obvious he was not going to cut it at the professional level and would soon be unemployed.
Gholston showed no appreciation or additional work ethic even when given a second and third chance at adapted positions on the Jets defense.
Ironically, many of the talents that the Jets passed on in order to claim Gholston will be highly valued free agents in 2012.
History, it seems, may have the chance to correct itself.
Dewayne Robertson: 4th Pick in 2003
On the Board: Terrell Suggs, Troy Polamalu, Willis McGahee, Nnamdi Asomugha, Rashean Mathis, Anquan Boldin, Osi Umenyiora, Jason Witten
Raise your hand if you would exchange a slow, lumbering defensive tackle who never recorded more than 25 solo tackles in a season and only produced 16 sacks over a six-year career, for any one of the talents listed above.
No takers? There are almost as many Pro Bowl trips between those eight players as Dewayne Robertson had tackles during his career as a Jet!
This entry is one of those that does not require explanation or beating into the ground; the list above tells the entire story.
I know the last time I searched the web for popular replica jerseys, I saw Dwayne Robertson listed right along Asomugha, Witten, Polamalu or McGahee. Sure.
Kyle Brady: 9th Pick in 1995
On the Board: Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Curtis Martin
Considered by many to be the seminal evidence of Jets draft incompetence, the selection of Kyle Brady over three future Hall of Famers was the exact moment in time when Jets fans around the world were put on notice; a sure thing, can’t-miss prospect can be missed if he happens to fall in the spastic lap of Gang Green.
“We want Sapp” echoed throughout the always present Jets fandom in Radio City, all of them beaming confident smiles that suggested there was no way their beloved team could miss this layup. Seventeen seasons later and Jets fans have not since, and will never again, assume that the Jets front office will grant their wishes.
Introducing even more cruel irony, the Jets chose an awkward and athletically limited tight end in Brady over a running back who would later turn out to be one of the Jets greatest free-agent acquisitions in team history while becoming one of the greatest Jets of all time—Curtis Martin.
The moral of the Brady story will undoubtedly last forever. Jets fans will never completely trust the brainpower behind the Jets organization to make decisions that are in the best interests of the team. This is all thanks to the fateful decision made in 1995.
Blair Thomas: 2nd Pick in 1990
On the Board: Junior Seau, Emmitt Smith, Shannon Sharpe
The most difficult aspect of writing a hindsight column like this is the difficulty one has in transporting themselves back into the front offices and war rooms at a time when decisions were made that may have seemed appropriate at that time.
It's easy for anyone to look back and question why a hot collegiate prospect, who for whatever reason, produced nothing as a pro, was selected over a sixth-round long shot from Slippery Rock State who just happened to find the right groove and proceeded to greatness.
The selection of Blair Thomas in 1990 was not one of those instances. Not only did the Jets waive their opportunity at quite possibly the greatest rusher in professional football history, they did so without much justification even at that time.
Emmitt Smith rushed for nearly 1,600 yards in his final season as a Florida Gator, surpassing his previous career best of 1,341 set two years earlier. Blair Thomas, in his senior season at Penn State, rushed for 250 less yards than Smith amassed in 1989 and did so in spite of being a showcase talent on a Paterno-style, rush-heavy Nittany Lion offense.
Smith of course went on to become among the most prolific rushers in league history, rushing for more yards in his first two seasons with Dallas than Thomas provided for his entire six-year career.
I suspect that the other two players here, one already inducted to the Hall of Fame and the other a sure future candidate for induction, would justify Thomas listing among the worst draft blunders in Jets history. The association with Emmitt Smith only serves to bring tears of shame quicker.
Dave Cadigan: 8th Pick in 1988
On the Board: Michael Irvin, Randall McDaniel, Thurman Thomas, Ken Norton, Bill Romanowski
The 1980s were no kinder to the Jets than the 1990s and 2000s would be, and the last draft debacle for Gang Green in the decade added a bit of salt in the wounds when the neglect of two future Hall of Famers was aggravated by overlooking a star in the making that would go on to become on the greatest weapons in the history of a fierce divisional rival.
Among all others, one could almost excuse the Jets for their faux pas in 1988. The 788 receiving yards posted by Michael Irvin in his senior season at Miami lent little to suggest he would go on to be the airborne threat he would be in Dallas. Meanwhile the Jets were quite settled on the receiving trio of Al Toon, Wesley Walker and tight end Mickey Shuler. They were also content with near 1,000-yard rusher Freeman McNeil carrying the load in their offensive backfield.
The blame that must be accepted by the Jets here is the potential Thurman Thomas showed as a college rusher at Oklahoma State. Thomas’ 1,797 all-purpose yards from scrimmage and 250 rushing attempts for the Cowboys in 1987 dwarfed that of McNeil’s 944 yards on 219 carries in 1987. Thomas, at least on a collegiate platform, showed he had the tools to be an every-down back that could help take the Jets offense to the next level.
Unfortunately for the Jets, Thurman Thomas exceeded every expectation asked of him during his professional career and did so while facing them twice each year while a member of the Buffalo Bills.
Ken O’Brien: 24th Pick in 1983 and Al Toon: 10th Pick in 1985 (TIE)
On the Board in 1985: Jerry Rice, Randall Cunningham, Andre Reed, Mark Bavaro, Herschel Walker, Kevin Greene
On the Board in 1983: Dan Marino Darrell Green, Darryl Talley, Roger Craig, Richard Dent
These two entries have been combined for two reasons.
Firstly, whenever the history of the New York Jets is complete, there will always be mention of the fact that the Jets passed up the opportunity to draft Jerry Rice and Dan Marino. As a Jets fan growing up, you become intimately familiar with the history of your beloved Gang Green in the years before your time.
You are inundated with the lore of Broadway Joe, you learn about the little known fact that John Riggins was a Jet well before he took his monstrous rage to Washington, you get a history lesson on Lou Holtz’ stint as Jets head coach that will probably take longer to speak of than his actual term lasted and you learn to loathe everything Buffalo; it's all part of the official Jets' lifetime fan package.
Part of that package is coming to terms with and understanding the fact that your team, in a three-year span, passed on drafting two of the greatest football players to ever play their position.
In doing so, the Jets instead drafted a wide receiver in Al Toon who in an eight-year pro career squeaked by the 1,000-yard receiving plateau on only two occasions (also the number of seasons he was able to complete due to injuries) and a quarterback in Ken O’Brien whose decade long NFL career languished in mediocrity beyond a dramatically failed 1986 playoff push.
The second reason these two entries are combined is that, as a long-time Jets fan, these two “Plan B's” still remain among the dearest names in team history. The echoes of “Toon” may have been silenced when the walls of the original Meadowlands came down, and the quagmire surrounding the current quarterback disaster in New York may have pushed any memory of Kenny O to the farthest reaches of our memory.
However, Jets fans still appreciate the contributions these two players made towards the Jets organization in the 1980s and early 90s.
Still. Dan Marino and Jerry Rice?…Really?
Marion Barber: 30th Pick in 1981
On the Board: Mike Singletary, Chris Collinsworth, Howie Long, Rickey Jackson, Russ Grimm
The year is 1981 and the newly christened New York Sack Exchange has taken metropolis by storm.
The uber-aggressive quartet of Mark Gastineau, Joe Klecko, Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam wreaked havoc on every opposing quarterback they faced while leading the league with an amazing 66 sacks.
Here you have one of the most dominant, yet unheralded front fours of all time flying around Shea Stadium without much contribution from their linebacker counterparts.
The drafting of Marion Barber qualifies for this list simply because of spite.
Long-time Jets fans (by that I mean those who still conjure up stomach acid when hearing the name Browning Nagle) were denied the euphoria of seeing the addition of Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary to the Sack Exchange.
Dear god, they probably would still be making the Bradys and Mannings of the football world run for their lives today if those elusive stars would have aligned.