A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Blue chip for Gang Green: As an economics major at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, Mike Maccagnan studied risk versus reward — a concept he applies to his current job as general manager of the Jets. Based on risk and reward, Quinnen Williams was perhaps the safest big decision he has ever made. No player is a 100 percent sure thing, but recent trends show the former Alabama star is as close to “can’t miss” as there is in today’s NFL.
Williams was trained by the best. Alabama has churned out several highly drafted defensive tackles in recent years, all of whom have found success on the NFL level. Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen, first-round picks by the Washington Redskins in 2018 and 2017, respectively, are ascending players. Marcell Dareus, picked No. 3 overall in 2011 by the Buffalo Bills, was an All-Pro in 2014 before a decline got him shipped out of town.
“[Williams] isn’t a gigantic, huge, overpowering guy, but the rest of it is perfect for this day and age of football,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told the NFL Network last week, alluding to Quinnen’s quickness, power and instincts.
Remarkably, Williams played only 151 snaps before breaking out in 2018. He was a rotational player before climbing the depth chart at the Tuscaloosa football factory.
“The tradition continues,” said Jets radio analyst Marty Lyons, a former D-line player and Crimson Tide star who was a first-round pick of the Jets in 1979. “It’s the tradition of Alabama football. Sometimes you have to sit and wait and learn, but Coach Saban always has a philosophy. When you get your opportunity, you have to take advantage of it. Quinnen did. I think he has a lot of upside.”
The bust rate for highly drafted defensive tackles is very low. Of the 15 picked in the top 15 since 2010, only two can be considered busts — Danny Shelton (Cleveland Browns, 2015, 12th overall) and Nick Fairley (Detroit Lions, 2011, 13th overall). On the flip side, six have reached multiple Pro Bowls — Aaron Donald, Gerald McCoy, Ndamukong Suh, Fletcher Cox, Dontari Poe and Dareus.
While Suh and Donald made the Pro Bowl as rookies, it would be unfair to expect the same of Williams. Suh and Donald were four-year players in college, giving them an extra year to mature physically and emotionally. Williams, 21, is still developing, but his future is bright.
2. The Saban connection: Williams and coach Adam Gase have something in common. Actually, that something is a someone — Saban.
Like Williams, Gase worked under the legendary coach in college. At Michigan State, he was an undergraduate assistant on Saban’s coaching staff, basically a behind-the-scenes grunt eager to cut his teeth in the coaching profession. Gase must have done a good job because he was invited to join Saban’s first staff at LSU, where he served as a graduate assistant (GA).
A closer look at the Jets’ draft class reveals two more Saban connections. Florida pass-rusher Jachai Polite (third round) played for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who worked as the Michigan State defensive line coach from 1996 to 1998 — yep, the same time Gase was there.
West Virginia tight end Trevon Wesco (fourth round) played for a position coach named Travis Trickett, a GA on Saban’s 2007 staff at Alabama.
If you’re going to have these type of ties to a particular coach, you can do a lot worse than Saban, who has won six national championships.
3. ‘Wake’ up: Of the 17 rookie free agents who signed with the Jets, the most fascinating is Wake Forest wide receiver/kick returner Greg Dortch, a 5-foot-7, 173-pound spitfire who averaged one touchdown per game in college. He led the ACC last season with an average of 145.8 all-purpose yards per game. He recorded 89 receptions for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns, and he also scored twice on punt returns.
In three seasons, Dortch scored 19 touchdowns in 20 games.
Clearly, Dortch’s size was the main reason he wasn’t drafted, but there’s a big heart in that small body. In 2017, he punctured his small intestine while landing on a pylon as he scored his second touchdown against Louisville, but he stayed in the game and scored two more touchdowns. He was rushed to the hospital later that night and underwent emergency surgery, ending his season.
Dortch couldn’t have landed in a better place because — maybe you’ve heard? — the Jets need a punt and kickoff returner after losing All-Pro Andre Roberts in free agency.
4. Four! The draft is a week old, but this is an interesting trend. Of Maccagnan’s 15 draft-day trades over five years, five have occurred in the fourth round, including two this year. Why so active? Teams get antsy overnight after the third round. Some realize most of the good players are gone and look to trade down; others still see value in the remaining players and want to trade up. When Day 3 begins, it gets a little hectic.
In Round 4, Maccagnan has traded down four times and up once, but none of these moves have yielded a solid contributor. The first three trades produced quarterback Bryce Petty (who is out of the league), linebacker Dylan Donahue (who is out of the league), running back Elijah McGuire (backup) and wide receiver Chad Hansen (free agent). Perhaps the trend will be reversed this year with Wesco and linebacker Blake Cashman, who was chosen with a fifth-round pick that came in a fourth-round trade with the Tennessee Titans.
Or, maybe the Jets are better off staying put in the fourth. See: tight end Chris Herndon.
5. Crowded QB room: The addition of quarterback Luke Falk, who was claimed on waivers on Friday, is a clear indication Gase isn’t sold on Davis Webb as the No. 3. Why would he be? After all, Webb has yet to take a regular-season snap. Neither has Falk, but he has a connection to Gase because he spent last season with the Miami Dolphins. Gase likes Falk’s potential, so he pulled him off waivers for the second year in a row. (Last September, he was released by the Titans, the team that drafted him in the sixth round in 2018.)
The Jets will take four quarterbacks to training camp, which means one has to go. Falk, Webb and Brandon Silvers are fighting for two spots. Sam Darnold and Trevor Siemian are set as the No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
The Jets love those former Pac-12 quarterbacks — Darnold (USC), Falk (Washington State) and Webb (Cal).
7. Where’s Adam? The Jets won’t have a rookie minicamp, per se, but they will have a rookie orientation, starting Friday. Gase, who curiously wasn’t seen or heard from during the draft (no news conferences, no face time on the war-room cam), will emerge from his bunker to address the media at the start of the orientation. He also didn’t attend the team’s uniform launch party on April 4. He cannot be accused of hogging the offseason spotlight.
Organized team activities begin May 21, at which time the focus will shift to running back Le’Veon Bell, who hasn’t been showing up for voluntary workouts. The OTAs, too, are voluntary, but they take on greater importance because they’re legitimate practices, sans contact. It would be bad form if Bell continues to stay away.