American Football

The key decisions mean everything for the Jets and the rest of the NFL


NFL: Scouting Combine
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Manning vs Leaf question shows the difficulty

With the Jets again sitting at home, out of the Playoffs the only vestige of solace for Jets fans again is to hope the NFL Draft will bring them the players to make the team a winner. Those Draft decisions are crucial to every franchise. Make the right move, and you accelerate the building process. Make the wrong move, and you can debilitate your team more than you would have by not drafting at all. You see spending time trying to coach poor prospect takes time away that could be spent doing something positive for the team.

Decisions made in the next few months will have a profound effect on the Jets and every NFL franchise. It’s incredibly difficult to build a sound, strong NFL franchise but it takes only a few foolish moves to tear apart even the best of teams.

One of the most profound examples of making the right decision would be seen in the 1st round of the 1998 NFL draft. It’s been called the Peyton Manning Draft, but that is not the whole story. You seem, of the 30 1st round selections 4 would become Hall of Fame players. If you chose correctly you got a gem. If not you would be disappointed.

For what it’s worth the Jets had no selection in the 1st round of the 1998 Draft because they had to forfeit their 1st & 3rd round picks to the New England Patriots as a result of signing restricted free agent Curtis Martin. So in a way the Jets actually got the 5th Hall of Famer via their 1st round pick. Parcells (the head coach and GM) told the press that if he still had his pick he would have selected Vonnie Holliday a DE from North Carolina who was chosen by the Packers. Holliday wasn’t a Hall of Famer, but he had a fantastic career playing in 214 NFL games making 415 tackles and 62 12 sacks.

The main draw of the Draft was wondering who would select each of the great QB’s; Ryan Leaf from Washington State and Peyton Manning from Tennessee. The Colts and the Chargers (1st & 2nd picks) were both taking a QB, but who would go first? Many in the scouting community felt that Leaf was the better prospect because he had the stronger arm and was a much better athlete than Manning. Manning was more cerebral of the two with Peyton having the advantage of a father (Archie) who was a great NFL QB to learn from. While Peyton had a great career at Tennessee playing in 45 games in 4 years he could never beat Florida which was a solid team those years.

In the end Peyton was the #1 pick and went on to have a Hall of Fame career. He chose the #18 uniform number in honor of his older brother Cooper who was a solid WR prospect of his own. Cooper learned in high school he had a condition called spinal stenosis which is a narrowing of the spine which pinched some nerves. Playing football was life threatening to him so he had to stop playing long before he had a chance to become a pro.

Ryan Leaf went on to become one of the biggest Draft misses of all time. He played in only 25 NFL games throwing 14 TDs with 36 INTs. He last played in 2001 and had a series of legal troubles which cost him jail time.

The 3rd pick in that draft was Andre Wadsworth a fast, powerful DE from Florida State. Wadsworth had some terrible knee injuries and ended up playing only 36 career games and retired after the 2000 season.

The 4th pick in the draft was Charles Woodson a DB from Michigan. The uber athletic Woodson would retire the same year as Peyton Manning (2015) with 997 career solo tackles, 65 INTs and 20 sacks. He too like Peyton has a bust of himself in Canton, Ohio.

The 5th pick in the draft was Curtis Enis a RB from Penn State. Enis made one start before tearing a knee ligament in his 2nd game. The knee never responded from the surgery which led to a degenerative condition in his knee and he retired (like Wadsworth) in 2000.

Later in that same Draft after DE Jason Peter (38 career games) and RB Robert Edwards (28 career games) were selected, the Minnesota Vikings selected the most intriguing player in the Draft, Randy Moss. Moss grew up very poor in rural West Virginia.

Moss was a high school star who was recruited to play at Notre Dame ( it was his childhood dream to play at Notre Dame) but was let go from his scholarship when he was arrested for beating up two other boys in his high school. The boys were bullies. They had instigated the fight by calling Moss some horrible names. Problem was that one of the boy’s father was prominent in the town and swayed the court to punish Moss. Moss was sent to jail (for 3 days as part of a 30 day sentence) then put on an 18 month probation. He later attained a scholarship to Florida State. Before the season began it was said that Moss failed a court ordered drug test, and the dean of FSU refused to honor Moss’s scholarship.

The FSU head coach was Bobby Bowden who went to bat for Moss, but the dean would not relent. Bowden flew to West Virginia to tell Moss of the news. He liked Moss so much he had to tell him the news face to face. Bowden once said of Randy, “As good as Deion Sanders. Deion is my measuring stick for athletic ability and this kid is just better.”

Bowden knew he would get criticized for offering Randy a scholarship but said, “Some kids need a dadgum break. I’m not one of those guys who has tried to build my program by recruiting problem players. But there are times when you have to take a second look. I think a lot of it is from people who are jealous they don’t have him. I know criticism is coming. I expect it. But if I can’t take it, I might as well get out of coaching.”

Moss ended up going to play at Marshall with Chad Pennington as his QB. Moss ended up having 982 receptions for 15,292 yards with 156 TDs. Moss is the most gifted receiver I ever scouted. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018.

Shortly after that with pick #26 a little known guard from LSU was selected to not much fanfare. He was a lunch bucket type of player without a lot of special traits. All he had was a desire to be great with a heart the size of Pittsburgh. The 9 time Pro Bowler and 6 times All-Pro spent two seasons with the Jets, and now Alan Faneca is in the Hall of Fame after being inducted in 2021.

It’s rare to get 4 Hall of Fame players selected in a single round of the draft, but for those who choose wisely there are huge benefits to your team. There are special years like 1989 when 4 of the first 5 players selected in the draft became Hall of Fame players. Of course on the flip side there are years like 1991 and 1992 where no 1st rounder became a Hall of Fame type player. Others selected later were actually better players. You have to choose wisely.

The point of this is you can’t always tell which college football star will become a great pro. I’ve said it before that college is checkers while the NFL is chess. It’s not the same game. The best minds in the NFL couldn’t say who would be the better pro between Manning and Leaf but their careers and lives were complete opposites. At the time these players were considered a toss up to who would be the best.

I know fans get upset with the choices that their team make, especially at QB. The best you can do is find a player with talent. Make sure he has a solid work ethic and above average intelligence. Still there is no guarantee that player will develop the skill to be a quality QB. There is a huge discrepancy between talent and skill. Talent you are born with (for the most part) skill is developed. Great coaching can help. You need great coaching, but there are still no guarantees that player develops the skill needed.

The NFL now has a lot more decisions for GMs to make. There is free agency where a mistake can cost you a lot of salary cap space and UDFAs where you can find cheap core players who can be huge contributors or even starters. You need to figure out what to do with your own free agents; who to keep and who to let go. There are also trade considerations where one smart move can be a huge boon to your team and make later decisions clearer.

Every GM has to have a vision of his team then find the most efficient way for that vision to become true. The decisions they make everyday in terms of players on the roster directly affect that vision either positively or negatively.

The point of the matter is the Jets have a lot of decisions to be made on a number of positions not least of which is the QB position. Also there are coaching positions like QB coach and offensive coordinator.

The offensive line (Joe Douglas thinks is most important) has hindered a rushing attack that in the last 5 games has averaged (per carry) Bills 3.5 yards, Lions 2.3 yards, Jags (without Chris Streveler) 1.1 yards, Seattle 4.4 yards, Dolphins 1.9 yards.

After two years (except 12 a game) Mekhi Becton has finally lost weight and is ready to play. Do you think Joe Douglas should trust him? All off season (previous to this season) long I pounded the drum saying we cannot count on Mekhi Becton and George Fant because of their injury histories. My worst fears came true.

Joe Douglas opted to have (after he was hired as GM) a rookie head coach, a rookie offensive coordinator, and rookie QB. This was a recipe for disaster, which it turned out to be. Of course Joe Douglas was still kind of a rookie too.

It doesn’t make a difference what happens with the bottom of the roster (where most decisions are made) if the right decisions aren’t made with the most pressing problems.

Joe Douglas has a lot of work to do.

He’d better make the right decisions.

What do you think?

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