How does the New York Jets 2016 NFL Draft class look three years later?
The New York Jets entered the 2016 NFL Draft riding high following a surprising 10-6 season that saw them just miss the playoffs in their first season under the Bowles/Maccagnan administration. While the initial sting of choking away a playoff spot initially hung over their heads, the joy and optimism surrounding the team eventually set back in. After all, the Jets were still riding a wave of FitzMagic after the gnarly veteran had led the team out of the depths of mediocrity putting together a career year. The team had a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker and a 1,000-yard rusher in Chris Ivory. The Jets defense was still led by the likes of Muhammad Wilkerson and Darrelle Revis who were fresh off Pro Bowl appearances. Optimism reigned supreme, but that optimism would soon fade away into the depths of Jets misery.
Sports Illustrated gave the Jets a fairly generous grade of a B- despite the overwhelming consensus that the Christian Hackenberg pick was a complete disaster. It’s interesting to note that much of this was due to the near-universal praise of the Darron Lee selection in the first round. Lee was given credit for his athleticism and blitzing ability but fast-forward three years later and the Ohio State product finds himself on the trade block. Other picks praised were the selections of Jordan Jenkins, Juston Burris, and Charone Peake which all worked out to varying degrees of success.
FanSided was a bit harsher than Sports Illustrated was docking the Jets a bit more for the “atrocious” pick that was the aforementioned Hackenberg. Once again, however, Lee was praised as a great pick as was fellow linebacker Jordan Jenkins. One interesting takeaway is that neither of these draft reviews mentioned right tackle Brandon Shell who is perhaps the most consistent and reliable starter to come out of this draft. It just goes to show that it could be near impossible to predict a player’s success before they ever step on to an NFL fan. With the exception of Christian Hackenberg, of course.
Round 1 (No. 20)
Darron Lee was seen as a prime example of the “new age” of NFL linebackers. He was undersized but possessed the sideline-to-sideline speed to match-up with opposing tight ends and running backs while also being an excellent presence in the run game. His athleticism was expected to carry him at the next level while the weaker parts of his game caught up to speed. Unfortunately, this isn’t entirely what happened. Lee was constantly overmatched defending the run as he struggled shedding blocks of much larger offensive linemen.
On top of that, his athleticism could only carry him so far as he didn’t have the football instincts to be acceptable in coverage. While he improved immensely in 2018, a four-game suspension ended his season prematurely and it would ultimately be a surprise to see him take the field for another snap with the Jets. Given that Dallas Cowboys stud linebacker Jaylon Smith was taken just 16 spots later, this pick has to be considered a failure.
Round 2 (No. 51)
While it may be unfair, this is the pick that will forever be remembered from the Jets 2016 draft class. Perhaps one of the most egregious draft-day decisions in the history of the franchise, the selection of Christian Hackenberg in the second round was immediately met with widespread criticism.
This is a rare instance of initial reactions ultimately proving to be accurate.
Hackenberg never suited up in a game for the Jets, instead spending two seasons taking up a roster spot before being sent packing to the Oakland Raiders ahead of the 2018 season for a conditional seventh-round pick. He now spends his days in the Alliance of American Football as a member of the Memphis Express, a team that has already benched him in favor of Tennessee Titans outcast Zach Mettenberger and more recently fellow draft bust Johnny Manziel. A fitting conclusion to the once promising career of Hackenberg.
Round 3 (No. 83)
Of the players listed so far, Jordan Jenkins is the most likely to still be a member of the Jets in 2019. For a third-round pick, Jenkins has carved out a pretty successful career for himself thus far. The Georgia product was a day one starter for the Jets but did little to impress during his first two NFL seasons. Jenkins, however, had a breakout year in 2018 tying for the team-lead with seven sacks as he was able to develop more as a pass rusher. Still, Jenkins is more of an edge defender than a true edge rusher but he does a good job holding down the SAM linebacker role for the Jets. Other players that could have been considered here in hindsight are Green Bay’s Kyler Fackrell and Baltimore’s Matt Judon. However, while those two may be better overall pass rushers, Jenkins is a pretty solid all-around player and was a quality pick for the Jets here in the third round.
Round 4 (No. 118)
Aside from the obvious disaster that was the Christian Hackenberg pick, the selection of Juston Burris was likely the worst of the 2016 draft. The physically imposing cornerback showed promise early on his career earning a pair of starts in his first two NFL seasons but eventually fizzled out following inconsistent play. Burris was most recently a member of the Cleveland Browns but he remains unsigned for the 2019 season, although expect the NC State product to find his way into a training camp for some team.
Round 5 (No. 158)
The best value pick of the entire Jets 2016 draft class came courtesy of a little-known offensive tackle prospect out of South Carolina. Brandon Shell was taken all the way at pick No. 158 but he has quietly become one of general manager Mike Maccagnan’s biggest success stories to this point. Shell was seen as a project coming out of college, a mauler who was a very effective run blocker but needed help in pass protection. Not only has Shell developed into a quality NFL starter, but he’s arguably the most reliable piece on the Jets offensive line. A rare mid-round success for Maccagnan with the underrated and underappreciated Shell.
Round 7 (No. 235)
Very rarely is it considered a smart move to draft a specialist in any round of the NFL draft, but if you’re going to do it, you might as well in the seventh round. Lachlan Edwards isn’t anything special as a punter, but he’s spent the last three season developing into a mid-tier player at his position. He struggles with coffin corner kicks but generally gets good hang time on his punts allowing the coverage team to converge on the returner quickly. Not a flashy pick, but Edwards is still on the team and likely will be in 2019 so that has to count for something.
Round 7 (No. 241)
Calling Charone Peake a wide receiver would be an inaccurate label of the value he actually brings to the team. Peake has just three catches over the last two seasons but has still played in 16 games over that same time. That’s because he spends significantly more time playing special teams than he does on offense. The Clemson product is regularly a gunner on the punt coverage team and has been one of the more reliable special teams contributors for the Jets over the last three seasons. And that’s about all you can expect out of a seventh-round pick.
In retrospect, the Jets 2016 draft class was a very peculiar class. The team woefully mishandled their first two selections with their second-round pick of Hackenberg being one of the worst in the franchise’s history. However, they did manage to land a pair of starting caliber players in the mid-rounds with their selections of Jordan Jenkins and Brandon Shell. On top of that, they made good use of their seventh-round picks drafting two solid special teamers who still remain on the roster to date in Lachlan Edwards and Charone Peake.
The class will be remembered for the failures at the top with Lee unlikely to even make it the length of his rookie contract and Hackenberg having never even played a professional game. However, the team did manage to salvage the class by snagging a few mid-round steals. Still, it’s hard to get excited about a class headlined by Lee and Hackenberg.
Altogether, the Jets 2016 draft class did manage to give the team a few solid building blocks including five players that remain a part of the roster at the time of writing. Still, the class’ legacy will forever be tarnished by the horrid selection that was Christian Hackenberg, a pick that still haunts the organization to this day.