The 2014 NFL draft for the New York Jets was historic as the organization kept and used all 12 picks they had secured from trades. After three straight seasons of missing the postseason, head coach Rex Ryan and GM John Idzik understand that time is short and patience is running thin.
The draft history of the Jets is one of missed opportunities, questionable decisions and historic blunders. The outcome of the 2014 draft won’t be known for a few seasons, so in preparing to rate each pick lets look back at the Jets draft history to decide the most productive draft.
Looking back at the Jets draft history reminds me why this team has not reached the Super Bowl since the NFL and AFL merged. No team around at the time of the merger has won fewer division titles than the Jets 2. If you have time, do yourself a favor and look at the history of Jets second round picks. You will wonder how a franchise can consistently swing and miss. This is the first of a 3 part series I will do in analyzing the history of New York Jets draft picks.
The 1970s were a dismal decade for gang green. They never reached the postseason, nor did they even have a season above .500. From 1970 to 1976 the Jets were just plain brutal in drafting players. Of the 121 players the Jets drafted over that span, only 3 made Pro Bowls during that period.
The 1977 draft class would be different, and start rebuilding a Jets team that saw them reach the postseason 4 times from 1981-1986, coming within a game of the Super Bowl in 1982. In the first round the Jets drafted T Marvin Powell with the 4th pick overall out of USC. Powell played 9 seasons with the Jets, making 5 Pro Bowls and earning All-Pro honors 3 times.
Wesley Walker was the Jets 2nd round choice, taken 33rd overall from California. Walker was perhaps the best deep threat in team history, catching 438 balls for 71 TD in his 11 seasons as a Jet. His 71 touchdowns still rank as the second most in team history, trailing only Don Maynard’s 88. Walker made the Pro Bowl twice, while also earning All-Pro in 1978. Walker started to make his presence felt in his second season with the Jets, combining with fellow 1977 draftee QB Matt Robinson (more on him later) on 6 of his 8 TD catches that season for a team record (min. 45 receptions) of 24.4 YPC and career-high 1,169 yds. The 90th overall pick in the 1977 draft saw Scott Dierking, a fullback out of Purdue, name called. Dierking would go on to make 50 starts for the Jets from 1977-1983, rushing for 2,900 yds and 18 TD. Dierking’s high point in his career was scoring the game-winning TD in the Jets 17-14 upset of the Los Angeles Raiders in the second round of the 1982 postseason.
If you ask Jets fans, I mean real Jets fans who their favorite all-time player was, many would say the Jets 6th round pick Joe Klecko out of Temple. Perhaps the greatest defensive player ever to wear the green and white, Klecko made 4 Pro Bowls (only player to START at 3 different positions DE, NT and DT), while earning All-Pro honors twice in 1981 and 1985. Klecko was the most important of the vaunted “Sack Exchange”, often earning double and triple teams allowing others such as Mark Gastineau to get to the QB. In 1981 Gastineau and Klecko became the only teammates in NFL history to record at least 20 sacks in the same season*.
Kevin Long, a RB out of South Carolina, was the 195th pick of the 1977 draft. Long led the Jets in rushing in 1978, finishing with 954 yards and 10 TD. Long is one of just six Jets RB to rush for at least 10 TD in a single season. Overall, Long started 33 games for the Jets from 1977-1981, finishing with 2,190 yards rushing and 25 TD. The Jets next pick, an 8th rounder number 200 overall, was G Dan Alexander out of LSU.. Alexander became one of the longest tenured offensive lineman in team history, making 182 starts from 1977-1989. Only Randy Rasmussen made more with 199.
Joe Namath finished his Jets career in 1976, the same year the Jets drafted Richard Todd, whose 110 TD and 18,241 yards passing both rank third all-time in team history. However, in 1977 the Jets were not convinced Todd was the right man to lead them, which is why they drafted QB Matt Robinson out of Georgia with the 227th pick of the draft. Named the Jets starting QB in the fourth game of 1978, Robinson led the Jets to 6 victories, throwing for 13 TD. He then started the 1979 season as the starting QB, but after failing to tell coaches about a thumb injury, threw an INT to cost the Jets a certain win in a season opening OT loss to Cleveland. Furious with Robinson, the Jets never started him again and dealt him to Denver in the offseason.
Well there you have it, the best draft in team history saw the Jets draft three Pro Bowl players, one long-time starter on the offensive line, two adequate RB and one dishonest QB. Does this say all we need to know about the sad history of this franchise? By the way, just for disclosure purposes, NFL.com did a piece on the best draft in team history and came up with the same season (I didn’t know about it until after I starting writing – I promise).
My next post will evaluate the top five drafts in team history. Until then…
*- the NFL didn’t officially count sacks until 1982