Youmans: Jets deserve hype after crushing NFL draft

May 7, 2022 06:39 PM
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When the smokescreens cleared from NFL draft weekend, the Jets emerged as winners. It’s an unofficial win, of course, because draft grades and rankings are subjective, but the Jets arrived in Las Vegas as desperate losers and left with a pocketful of hope.

A New York Post headline hyped the work of Jets general manager Joe Douglas by declaring he “crushed the draft.” The Post sometimes sensationalizes its headlines.

Douglas did appear to cash in on the first day of the draft. By adding Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson and Florida State defensive end Jermaine Johnson, the Jets filled needs at three positions and grabbed elite talent. In the second round, Douglas scooped up Iowa State’s Breece Hall, the highest-rated running back on the board.

Still, the most important player Douglas drafted remains the one he took at No. 2 last year — quarterback Zach Wilson. What happened in Vegas won’t mean much if Wilson is a bust.

“I think the Jets did well in this draft,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “If the quarterback can live up to his potential, they have the other pieces now. Eight wins for the Jets would be a good year.”

The Jets did not shake up the world or the Super Bowl odds board, yet their past two draft classes should lead to a brighter future. When BetMGM opened NFL season win totals on March 31, the Jets were tagged with a total of 5.5. Is that number too low?

Wilson’s play will provide the answer, one way or another. The former BYU gunslinger was a flop as a rookie, passing for nine touchdowns with 11 interceptions and posting a 3-10 record in his starts. With an improved cast around Wilson, the time for excuses has expired and he needs to be much better.

The Jets have had six straight losing seasons — averaging 4.5 wins per year during this miserable stretch — while finishing last in the AFC East five times. The last quarterback to pilot the Jets to a winning season was Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2015.

The road back to respectability remains a long shot. DraftKings has posted the Jets’ win total at 5.5 (Over -130) and their Super Bowl odds at 100-1.

“The Jets took some money because they had a good draft, but we didn’t change anything,” Avello said.

At the Westgate SuperBook, only two teams are showing improved Super Bowl odds after draft weekend — the Eagles moved from 50-1 to 30-1 and the Saints moved from 60-1 to 30-1 — and each adjustment had a lot to do with non-draft deals.

Philadelphia, which picked Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis in the first round, acquired veteran receiver A.J. Brown in a trade with Tennessee. New Orleans, which traded up to grab Ohio State receiver Chris Olave in the first round, signed veteran safety Tyrann Mathieu. The Saints now have a dynamic receiver duo in Olave and Michael Thomas to complement quarterback Jameis Winston.

“I like what the Saints did,” SuperBook oddsmaker Ed Salmons said. “If they get any quarterback play, they can make the playoffs.”

Salmons moved the Titans’ odds from 18-1 to 30-1 after the Brown trade. He also adjusted the Cardinals from 30-1 to 40-1 after Arizona’s top receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, was dealt a six-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

Bookmakers were ready to put the NFL draft in the rear-view mirror before it started. I talked with three Las Vegas book directors and all said they were again on the short end of the draft prop market. Avello also said DraftKings took a big hit outside of Nevada.

“It was more of a loser than just a small loser,” Avello said. “It’s one of those things that if you break even, you’re going to have a good day. But we’ll be back again doing it next year.”

Youmans' five biggest winners

While a draft absent of star quarterbacks has a minimal impact on futures odds and win totals, there were several teams that made obvious improvements. Analyzing the draft is an important step toward handicapping next season. I ranked the Jets’ class No. 2, with these teams filling out my top five:

1. Chiefs

It was premature to predict Kansas City’s demise. Yes, the offense will miss Tyreek Hill, who was traded to Miami mostly for financial reasons, and a defense in decline lost Mathieu to free agency. Since becoming the team’s general manager in 2017, Brett Veach has proven to be a sharp talent evaluator and he nailed this draft.

The Chiefs addressed their primary need positions in the first round by getting Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie and Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis. It’s tough to replace Hill, but Veach found a similar speed receiver in Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore as a second-round steal. Wisconsin linebacker Leo Chenal, a third-round pick, will step in and boost the run defense. This class could help K.C. keep control of a stronger AFC West.

3. Ravens

If it seems Baltimore aces the draft every year, it’s basically true. Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton and Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum are first-round picks who should start the first week. Michigan outside linebacker David Ojabo, UConn defensive tackle Travis Jones and Minnesota offensive tackle Daniel Faalele, who’s 6-foot-9 and a few meals shy of 400 pounds, fit the Ravens’ physical style.

4. Giants

After the first day, the Giants were in position to take the top spot in the rankings, but they made a few questionable picks later in the draft. Their superb picks in the top 10 — Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal — will provide immediate help on both lines. Indiana linebacker Micah McFadden was a fifth-round sleeper who has the potential to be a rookie starter.

5. Packers

I was prepared to criticize the Packers after they went defense with their two picks in the first round and again passed on a receiver. Green Bay actually made a shrewd move, however, and traded up in the second round to grab Christian Watson, a 6-4 speed receiver from North Dakota State. Watson is exactly what Aaron Rodgers needs as a replacement for Davante Adams. The Packers’ execs redeemed themselves with a solid draft class from top to bottom.

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