Maccagnan’s first two drafts have yielded a few encouraging players — most notably defensive lineman Leonard Williams, the team’s most valuable player last season. But Maccagnan said he would be judged, like his predecessors, on his ability to identify a long-term starter at quarterback.
Last year, he used a second-round pick on a project, Christian Hackenberg, whose presence and potential hardly dissuaded the Jets from holding private workouts for the top four quarterbacks: Mitchell Trubisky (North Carolina), Deshaun Watson (Clemson), Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech) and DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame).
The scouting of football players has given rise to a new language. It’s barely intelligible.
Maccagnan dismissed the Jets’ extensive legwork as routine preparation, saying the importance of the position demanded a thorough search every year. But teams with stable or promising quarterback situations — Josh McCown, who turns 38 in July and was 2-20 as a starter across the last three seasons, is atop the depth chart — do not invest that kind of time and effort unless their interest is sincere.
Maccagnan has chosen a quarterback in the last two drafts — Bryce Petty, in the fourth round in 2015, preceded Hackenberg — and it stands to reason he will seriously consider taking another this year.
“I don’t think it’s a referendum on one or another player,” Maccagnan said of Hackenberg. “I think it’s until you’re in a position where you feel, ‘Hey, this is where you’re at,’ and we’re not at that position yet. But I mean, we may be. Time will tell.”
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Mike Mayock, a draft analyst for NFL Network, said in a recent conference call that none of the quarterbacks merited a high first-round grade. But teams are bound to take one early anyway, and if the Jets decide not to, they could collect a bounty of picks in exchange for the right to select Trubisky.
A possible partner, then, could be Cleveland, which has the No. 1 pick but would deal its No. 12 pick. The Browns also hold the first selection in Friday’s second round, No. 33, which would appeal to the Jets, who could either take the best player on their board or trade it again, for even more choices.
Beyond quarterback, the Jets’ most pressing need is to improve a secondary that lacks depth and quality and whose struggles compromised Coach Todd Bowles’s ability to blitz. They lack a top cornerback and a dynamic safety, but this draft is loaded with potential solutions, including cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State), Gareon Conley (Ohio State) and Tre’Davious White (Louisiana State) and safeties Jamal Adams (L.S.U.) and Malik Hooker (Ohio State).
Should the Jets buck a recent trend and select an offensive player in the first round for the first time since 2009, when they traded up with Cleveland to select Mark Sanchez, two tantalizing options would be L.S.U. running back Leonard Fournette and Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who could transform a position that accounted for only 26 receptions over the last two seasons.
Maccagnan has said he does not draft based on need because incorporating that variable can skew his evaluation process, but this year figures to be different. As he attempts to rebuild the Jets, with their seven (or more) picks, it would be a challenge not to.