There’s a classic YouTube video titled “NY Jets Draft Blunders” that has amassed nearly two million views. It shows an ESPN-produced montage of Jets fans reacting in despair to the team’s draft selections in the ’80s and’ 90s, like when the team famously chose quarterback Ken O’Brien over the future Hall of Famer Dan Marino in 1983. In some cases the cascade of jeers begins at the mere mention of the position being drafted – a first-round fullback? – even before the player’s name is revealed.
It’s a 1-minute 38-second snapshot of what Jets fandom has often been. Recent history hasn’t been much better for those who root for the Giants. Over the past five seasons, the teams share the league’s worst record, 22-59, and a major factor in that inglorious mark has been draft-day decisions that proved worthy of those famous boos.
Which is why what happened Thursday night was in itself newsworthy: The Jets and the Giants each had good plans for drafting in the first round that they executed well, creating excitement around their selections. In other words, the teams didn’t give their fan bases anything to boo about.
Both entered Round 1 of this year’s NFL draft with two picks apiece in the top 10, a godsend for rosters with holes at some of the game’s most important positions. At pick No. 4, the Jets secured the player many evaluators viewed as the top cornerback this year, Ahmad Gardner of Cincinnati. With the No. 10 pick, one of the first-round selections they picked up through the 2020 safety trade Jamal Adams to Seattle, the Jets added a target for their second-year quarterback Zach Wilson in Ohio State receiver Garrett Wilson.
By the time the Giants were on the clock for the first time, defensive players had been taken with each of the first four picks, one of the scenarios the team had gamed out in advance. They decided to use the fifth pick on Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, hoping he could help return the team to the days of having a fearsome pass rush. The Giants knew they could still get one of the top available offensive tackles at the seventh pick, and they did: Alabama’s Evan Neal, who will bookend the line with Andrew Thomas, a 2020 first-round pick.
But at the end of the night, the Jets had one more surprise: They traded back into the first round to nab Florida State edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II, a player many analysts had expected to be taken in the top half of the first round. General Manager Joe Douglas said at a news conference Thursday that the team began to discuss making a move for Johnson around pick No. 15, before striking a deal with the Tennessee Titans to take him at No. 26.
“You get three impact players at three premium positions – you dream of it happening,” said Coach Robert Saleh. “It was a really good day.”
Of course, there’s no guarantee that any draft pick will pan out, no matter how sound of a decision it seems at the time. The Philadelphia Eagles once conducted an analysis of the success rate for first-round picks, defining success as drafting a player who became a full-time starter for at least two of his first four seasons, and determined there was about a 50-50 chance of hitting on a player no matter where in the first round he was taken.
But with solid strategies, and a bit of luck, both the Jets and the Giants came out of Round 1 with players who give them a chance to deliver a much-improved brand of football from what their fans have had to endure the last few years. .
“I’m hungry,” Thibodeaux said. “And I feel like New York is the pinnacle of a dog-eat-dog world.”
Both teams are at inflection points. For Douglas, entering his third draft with the Jets, the roster was still in a place where it needed to get better in a hurry, for the sake of Saleh, Zach Wilson and Douglas himself. And after an uncharacteristic revolving door in East Rutherford, NJ, the Giants’ new regime of General Manager Joe Schoen and Coach Brian Daboll is trying to get the franchise back on course.
There are still six more rounds of the draft, and months before any of these players will play in an NFL game, but Thursday night felt like a win for two organizations that haven’t had many in recent years.