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NFL Draft Preview: Jets seek instant impact


The Sports Xchange

FLORHAM PARK, N.Y. — The first 100 days for a new NFL general manager are generally a no-lose proposition. With rare exception, a new general manager gets showered with optimism, as well as the benefit of the doubt, from a fan base eager to embrace him after his predecessor was fired for underperformance.

Even by those standards, though, New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan has enjoyed a whale of a first 100 days at the helm in suburban New Jersey.

Maccagnan, who was hired Jan. 13 and officially celebrates his 100th day on the job on April 23, had an easier path to acceptance thanks to the deposed John Idzik, who managed to lose his job after just two years. Idzik moved like molasses in free agency, specialized in empty corporate speak that inspired little belief in his so-called vision and alienated people inside and outside the Jets’ offices by carrying himself like the smartest guy in the room even though he’d never occupied a general manager’s office.

So Maccagnan, the former director of college scouting for the Houston Texans, would have been a big hit simply by showing up and displaying a bit of self-awareness and modesty at his introductory press conference. He’s done a lot more than that.

In a matter of days, Maccagnan undid all the damage Idzik inflicted upon the cornerback position — where ex-head coach Rex Ryan was playing street free agents last season — by luring potential Hall of Famers Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie back to the Jets for a second go-round. Revis, of course, was traded by Idzik in April 2013 and Cromartie was allowed to walk without receiving an offer following the 2013 season.

Maccagnan further deepened the cornerback corps by signing Buster Skrine, formerly of the Cleveland Browns, as well as Marcus Gilchrist, who can play either safety or cornerback.

Idzik talked a good game about fostering competition in a manner similar to his former employer, the Seattle Seahawks. But he played favorites with his draft picks — offensive linemen Oday Aboushi and Will Campbell, the Jets’ fifth- and sixth-round picks in 2013, were on the 53-man roster but inactive for every game of their rookie season — and most notably never allowed quarterback Michael Vick to compete for the job last summer with mistake-prone Geno Smith.

That turned out to be a ruinous mistake when Smith played so poorly over the first half that Ryan had no choice but to turn to Vick with the season already down the drain.

Maccagnan, on the other hand, acquired quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is nobody’s idea of a franchise player but who can at least challenge Smith and provide adequacy if thrust into the starting lineup. He also added to the Jets’ depth by retaining 30-something linebackers Calvin Pace and Jason Babin, re-signing veteran guard Willie Colon and signing guard James Carpenter, offensive linemen James Brewer and Corey Hilliard, defensive ends Stephen Bowen and Kevin Vickerson and running back Stevan Ridley to deals.

And Maccagnan displayed aggressiveness rarely displayed by Idzik when he sent a fifth-round pick to the Chicago Bears in exchange for volatile wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who provides an impressive upgrade at one of the few positions Idzik managed to improve upon. He also re-signed linebacker David Harris to a three-year contract that could allow a career-long member of the Jets to retire as a member of the green and white.

These moves simply make the Jets competitive again. To end a nearly five-decade championship drought, Maccagnan will have to either find the franchise quarterback that has eluded the Jets since Joe Namath’s decline or build a formidable defense for new head coach Todd Bowles.

Maccagnan’s boldness in his first 100 days on the job means the Jets will be a team to watch on draft day, whether they stay at No. 6 and continue to bolster the defense or move up in an attempt to grab quarterbacks Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota. No matter what, he has already proven he is, in every way, the opposite of Idzik.

2014 Record: 4-12, 4th in AFC East

First Draft Pick: #6 Overall

BEST FIT: OLB Shane Ray, Missouri

The Jets need a quarterback most of all and have a general manager in Mike Maccagnan who doesn’t seem afraid to make a big move, but the off-field concerns for Jameis Winston and the questions surrounding Marcus Mariota’s ability to transition to the pro game make it unlikely they’ll trade up for either player. The Jets will once again be a defense-first team under new head coach (and former Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator) Todd Bowles, so expect Maccagnan to address a long-standing pass-rushing issue by selecting Ray, who set a school record with 14.5 sacks last year and was named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year. Calvin Pace and Jason Babin are both 34 years old and Quinton Coples has failed to meet expectations in his first three seasons, so Ray could be an impact player immediately upon his arrival.


1. Quarterback: Geno Smith has provided ample evidence over the last two years to indicate he’s not the long-term answer. Neither is recent acquisition Ryan Fitzpatrick. But the Jets aren’t likely to nab either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, so they’ll have to hope Maccagnan can find a Tom Brady type in the mid-to-late rounds.

2. Outside linebacker: The Jets’ pass rushing corps is filled either with aging players (Calvin Pace, Jason Babin) or disappointments (Quinton Coples). New head coach Todd Bowles will have at least one new anchor by the end of the draft.

3. Offensive line: The Jets can probably get by with what they have this season. But center Nick Mangold and left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson are each entering their 10th seasons, right guard Willie Colon and right tackle Breno Giacomini are coming off disappointing seasons and left guard James Carpenter has missed 19 games in four NFL seasons. So adding young depth, both for 2015 and beyond, is a must.

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