Apr 30, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Leonard Williams (Southern California) poses for a photo with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected as the number sixth overall pick to the New York Jets in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Who are the five best New York Jets first-round draft picks since 2000?
The NFL draft is not a place where the New York Jets have had consistent success. They have been featured in the draft a lot, and been memorable even more often. It just hasn’t always been for good reasons. Ask a Jets fan about Kyle Brady if you want to get them going. Many are still burned by the fact that they left Warren Sapp on the board to select Brady.
It has been a multi-generational problem as well. Ask an older Jets fan about Johnny “Lam” Jones, Olympic track star that had no experience as a wide receiver. That didn’t stop the team from drafting him, and with the second overall pick no less.
How about the more recent picks? How did things turn out with Vernon Gholston, or Dewayne Robertson? Those were landmark players, weren’t they? Or, dare I say his name in the presence of the fan base: Mark Sanchez? The Jets traded up to get that guy, now he can’t even see the field. Needles to say, it hasn’t been good.
But, it hasn’t been all bad. Leonard Williams is a prime example. He, however, hasn’t been around long enough to qualify for the forthcoming list. Today, we are counting down the five best first round picks the Jets have made since 2000, starting with a quarterback at No. 5.
Oct 23, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; A New York Jets helmet on the bench displays a sticker with the number 90 in memory of former New York Jet Dennis Byrd who was killed in a car accident last week. The Jets face the Baltimore Ravens today at MetLife Stadium. The Jets are wearing Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
All Jets fans remember when Bill Belichick was the head coach. His “tenure” ended after one day, when he scribbled his resignation onto a napkin, resigning as the “HC of the NYJ.” During that nasty back and forth with the New England Patriots, the Jets ended up with four first-round picks in the 2000 draft. One of the four selections was quarterback Chad Pennington out of Marshall.
Pennington didn’t have the strongest arm in the sport, but he was deadly accurate, eventually leading to his holding the career completion percentage record at 65.61. But for him, the story began in 2002 when Herm Edwards inserted Pennington into the starting role, handing him the job and putting Vinny Testaverde on the bench. After a loss to the Chiefs, the Jets went on a tear under Pennington, posting a record of 8-4 with him as the starter. He completed nearly 69% of his passes that year, threw for 22 touchdowns versus only six interceptions while posting a passer rating of 104.2.
He also led the team to a 41-0 Wild Card win over the Oakland Raiders.
The following year was when the injuries began. It started with the preseason wrist injury and on to the well-documented arm injuries throughout his career. However, when he was on the field, it didn’t stop him from being, for the most part, productive. Look back at 2004 for example. He injured that arm in 2004, missed only a small amount of time, and nearly led the team to the AFC title game.
2005 was a short year for Pennington, again due to the injury to his throwing arm. However, remember that day in Jacksonville? His arm was almost falling off, and he returned to the game, nearly taking the Jets to a win, before his season ended the week after the game. There are still vivid memories of a pass to the end zone, floating like a duck, that hits Wayne Chrebet in the hands. It would have given the Jets the win, but the flight of the ball made it difficult to catch.
The bottom line is that whenever Chad Pennington was healthy, the Jets made the playoffs. If not for the injuries he likely would have been higher on this list.
Nov 10, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker John Abraham (55) sacks Houston Texans quarterback Case Keenum (7) during the game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Arizona won 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
4. John Abraham, OLB
That 2000 draft was a bountiful one for the Jets. Five selections prior to Pennington, they selected John Abraham out of South Carolina. The team had been desperately looking for that pass rusher to remind of days gone by. Mark Gastineau had been gone a long time. They needed to get pressure off of the edge. In comes Abraham.
He made an impact right away, posting 4.5 sacks and forcing two fumbles in 2000. He became a starter in 2001 and earned his first Pro Bowl selection and was named first team All-Pro. That year, Abraham logged 13 sacks, six forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. In New Orleans, Abraham posted a whopping four sacks in a win over the Saints.
Abraham backed that up with a 10-sack performance in 2002, earning him is second Pro Bowl selection. Abraham was selected to the Pro Bowl once more with the Jets (2004), and recorded double-digit sacks once more with the team as well (10.5 in 2005).
His 53.5 sacks rank Abraham third on the franchise’s all-time list. He may have been a “tag and trade” victim when he was sent to the Atlanta Falcons, but that doesn’t diminish his impact on the Jets while he was on the roster.
Nov 27, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell (19) scores the game winning touchdown in front of New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
3. Darrelle Revis, CB
Now, before you all lambast me for putting Revis lower than No. 1, at least hear me out.
After being selected in the first round of the 2007 draft, Revis made his impact early and often. He became the starter immediately and posted three interceptions as a rookie. He went on to be selected to the Pro Bowl five times while wearing a Jets uniform over two separate stints. Revis was also named first team All-Pro three times while in New York.
There were great moments as well, throughout his time with the team. All of us, as Jets fans, have them. One personal one was the 100-yard interception return on Sept. 11, 2011 against the Dallas Cowboys. Frankly, he made Tony Romo and Dez Bryant look bad that day. Think back to 2010. He didn’t post an interception because nobody threw the ball to his side of the field. You can’t get much more dominant than that.
If this selection was solely based on the field, he would be the hands down number one. I mean, who has an island named after them? Not too many players, that’s for sure.
However, as I have written previously here at NFL Spin Zone, the Revis story doesn’t stop on the field. His multiple holdouts hamstrung the team. He held out as a rookie, and also had a televised holdout in 2010. Despite the ire sent towards John Idzik, he had no choice but to trade him due to his money demands. Revis’ return to New York came only because the Jets overpaid, and after a bad 2017, he told the New York Post that he should be treated with class.
This clouds the legacy. Sorry, it does. Add that to the way his career in New York ended on the field. It’s not only that he played poorly, but there were times he didn’t appear to care either. He cannot be No. 1.
Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Jets center Nick Mangold (74) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Jets 28-3. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
2. Nick Mangold, C
The next two guys were interchangeable, but No. 2 is edged out just slightly. The year was 2006. The Jets were coming off of a 4-12 season. They had a new coach, Eric Mangini, and a new general manager, Mike Tannenbaum. It was their first draft together and they knew they had to rebuild the offensive line. Late in the first round, they selected Nick Mangold, center from Ohio State. The rest, as they say, was history.
Mangold became the starting center right from the first game of his career and never relinquished the role until the end of the 2016 season, which was cut short due to injury. He started 164 out of 164 career games and didn’t even miss a game until 2011. During the prime of his career, he was widely considered the best center in the game and his matchups in the trenches were always worth watching. They were the “game within the game,” you might say.
He was able to endure as the leader of the offensive line, despite going through a multitude of quarterbacks and coaches. The quarterbacks ranged from Chad Pennington all the way to Ryan Fitzpatrick. His offensive coordinators went from Brian Schottenheimer through the final days with Chan Gailey. Through it all, Nick Mangold remained the unquestioned leader of the Jets offensive line.
He was selected to the Pro Bowl seven times and was a first team All-Pro twice. Mangold was a leader on and off the field, and well-deserving of this list. And he would be No. 1 if not for another legendary member of the Jets O-line.
Feb 3, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; New York Jets player D’Brickashaw Ferguson sits court side during the game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Indiana Pacers at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
1. D’Brickashaw Ferguson, OT
D’Brickashaw Ferguson was the first lineman that Tannenbaum selected in that 2006 draft, nabbing him with the fourth overall selection. The offensive line needed a major overhaul. Someone needed to keep Chad Pennington, or whoever else was going to play quarterback, on their feet. Everybody—even non-football fans—is aware of the importance of the left tackle. It’s the “Blind Side,” given widespread notoriety by the book and subsequent movie featuring the story of Michael Oher. Mangold became one anchor of the offensive line.
Ferguson was selected to be the other. And oh, what an anchor he was. He became the starter as a rookie and started every single game at left tackle until his retirement after the 2015 season. That’s right, Ferguson didn’t miss a single game. Despite the pounding that he took playing such an important position along the line, No. 60 was always there protecting the quarterback’s back.
He was selected to the Pro Bowl three straight times (2009-11). However, that wasn’t the simple extent of Ferguson’s story. The best word to describe his career would be “consistent.” Ferguson was never the guy you heard about being out of position. If a left tackle is really doing his job, you don’t hear his name called that often. Why? Because he is taking care of his opponent. He is sealing off the right defensive end, keeping his quarterback clean and opening holes in the running game.