Even though Eric Mangini has not been employed by the New York Jets for three years, his impact is felt on this team every time they take the field. In the three NFL Drafts that Eric Mangini served as head coach for, the Jets selected players such as Dustin Keller, David Harris, Nick Mangold, D’Brickishaw Ferguson, and the most dominant player at his position, Darrelle Revis. All of these players have had a positive impact on the Jets team, which have gone to the AFC Championship the past two seasons and will need a win and some help to reach the playoffs for a third straight season.
Off the top of your head, name me some players that Rex Ryan has drafted that have had as big of an impact? The most obvious choice is Mark Sanchez. While showing pulses of brilliance at times through his first two seasons, especially in the playoffs, Sanchez has regressed in his third season. Other draft picks, such as Shonn Green, also have had some positive effect. But over the past two seasons as the featured back, Shonn Green has never been able to rise to being one of the premier backs in the NFL. His rookie season is still his best season, a sign of, like Sanchez, regression. Kyle Wilson, a highly touted cornerback that the Jets drafted in the first round of the 2010 draft because of his physicality, is currently all over SportsCenter highlight reels for missing a tackle on Victor Cruz’s 99 yard touchdown reception.
Other draft picks tell mostly the same story. Joe McKnight’s brilliant special teams play of blocking a Dallas punt in the most recent season opener, has been overshadowed by two fumbles on returns – a black eye on Mike Westhoff’s usually stellar special teams crew.
If you’re still having trouble thinking of impact players that the Ryan regime has drafted, it’s probably because there aren’t that many to begin with. Since 2009, the Jets have made 13 selections in the NFL Draft, or roughly, four per draft. Part of that is because they sacrificed a lot to move up in the draft to acquire Sanchez.
This season, with the Jets struggling to make the playoffs, and team depth being one of the big reasons why they have not, perhaps we can look at the Jets recent drafts as the reason why. When Nick Mangold went out with an injury, the Jets offensive line looked like an offen-sieve line against the Baltimore Ravens. Isn’t the draft where you find a replacement for your starting safety just in case he has to go on IR… and then go on IR the following season too?
It may sound like I’m being overly critical of Rex Ryan, but where he has lacked in drafting prowess, he’s made up for with his in-game coaching, which despite the team’s struggles in 2011, have been solid over the course of his tenure. Ryan has also had success in the free agent market, where he has brought in Santonio Holmes, Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard (solid even if he has gone on IR the past two years), LaDanian Tomlinson and, for better or worse, Antonio Cromartie.
But most of the players Jets fans root for on draft day are players that came though the Mangini draft. In addition to the players I mentioned at the top of the page, Leon Washington, Brad Smith, Vernon Gholston were also Mangini picks, as well as a few defensive backs, Drew Coleman and Dwight Lowery that increased the Jets depth at that position in Ryan’s early seasons.
For all of Mangini’s thoughts, and there are a lot of them from in-game situations, the man knew how to draft players, a talent he no doubt learned from Bill Belichick in New England. Belichick treats draft picks as if they are valuable stocks in a Fortune 500 company and their success is largely due to an incredible front office of some of the best scouts in the game. How else could you strike it rich on both Tom Brady, and Matt Cassel, in addition to countless other draft picks?
Mangini was close to cashing in on his drafting investments. His first year, 2006, the Jets made the playoffs behind a healthy Chad Pennington and a solid defense. In 2007, because of more injuries and inconsistencies from Pennington, the team never found itself, went 4-12, with seven of those loses coming in games decided by a touchdown or less. In 2008, with Brett Favre under center, Mangini’s Jets were the talk of the town when they defeated New England and previously undefeated Tennessee in back-to-back-weeks in late November. The Jets went to Thanksgiving Dinner with a record of 8-3, holding a tie-breaker for a first-round bye and an outside chance of gaining home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Then Brett Favre got a case of the Old Man Syndrome, the Jets stopped running the ball with Thomas Jones, and the team couldn’t find a way to beat lowly teams such as San Francisco or Seattle in December. A 1-4 finish cost the Jets a playoff appearance, and ultimately, Mangini’s job.
Where Mangini left off is where Ryan took over. Ryan added his ingredients to an already potent recipe, and the Jets were one game away from the Super Bowl. Ryan has brought in Sanchez, which has been filled with highs and lows, but it has been his in-game coaching, particularly with the defense and – when the team is going well – running the ball that has been the biggest reason for the Jets success. The defense under Mangini was a very soft defense, whereas Ryan’s is an in-your-face, I’m-Going-To-Kill-You sort of approach. There have been times when the defense has broken down, but as in the case of Ryan’s defensive unit from his coaching days in Baltimore that sometimes gave up more than it should have, perhaps that comes from having an offense that is, for the most part, inept.
Rex Ryan was able to inherit a defense with a young David Harris, a young Darrelle Revis and pieces of a puzzle on the offensive line that were already in place. Through his first two seasons, Ryan did an extraordinary job of keeping that puzzle from falling apart. But the offensive line has had its worst year since 2005, the Jets have looked dismal on defense since Jim Leonhard went on IR, and the Jets are a loss or a win from another playoff contending team from watching the playoffs on TV. Maybe the Jets will find that team depth is the missing piece in this puzzle’s new look, and find that, like Mangini did, the draft is the way to go.