Mike Maccagnan is about to face his toughest challenge yet.
He was named 2015 Executive of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America after turning a 4-12 Jets team into a 10-6 club that barely missed the playoffs. After setting the bar high, Maccagnan is tasked with assembling an even better team that will be postseason-bound. But can the general manager put together another impressive draft performance with even fewer picks (six)?
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We’re about to find out.
Thanks to the Jets’ poor 2014 season, Macccagnan was gifted the sixth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, which he used to take defensive lineman Leonard Williams. Making a selection at No. 6 is easy, considering there are studs littered throughout the Top 10. Picking at No. 20? That requires more skill, more research and far more front-office debates about prospects.
In Thursday night’s Round 1, every position will be on the table for the Jets. The stalled contract talks between the organization and free agent Ryan Fitzpatrick won’t preclude them from taking a quarterback. The Jets tried to trade up to No. 1 but decided Tennessee’s asking price was too steep. (The Titans ultimately traded it to the Los Angeles Rams.)
Although Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, the quarterbacks projected to go No. 1 and 2 overall, may be out of reach, the Jets still can try to get Memphis’ Paxton Lynch. Maccagnan remained tight-lipped about their level of interest in the 6-7 quarterback, but he noted Lynch “has a degree of skill that is intriguing.”
The Jets, however, have several pressing needs: quarterback, edge rusher, offensive lineman, tight end and cornerback. Perhaps they’ll stay at No. 20 and select the best player available. Maybe they’ll be able to pull off a trade to move up in the order. Then again, they might think it wise to move down to retain more picks.
It’s only Maccagnan’s Year 2 on the job, so he’s still a bit of a wild card. Some scoffed at the Jets’ decision to take Williams, arguably the most talented player on the draft board, because they already had defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison. But Maccagnan overlooked team needs and stuck to his best-player available principle. A year later, Harrison is with the Giants and the Jets still are looking to unload Wilkerson and his $15.7-million salary for the upcoming season.
The NFL Draft is sure to feature several surprises, and it’s anyone’s guess who the ultra-secretive Jets will select on Day 1. But the stage is set for the biggest test of Maccagnan’s career. The future of the franchise may depend on it.