The Big Gamble

By Tom Nolan
Jets Staff Writer
April 20th, 2004
The Jets should jump all over Virginia Tech's DeAngelo Hall if he is there at the 12th pick. (AP)
The Jets should jump all over Virginia Tech's DeAngelo Hall if he is there at the 12th pick. (AP)
The NFL Draft has got to be the biggest roll of the dice in pro sports. Mel Kiper Jr. and his hair can talk for months about 40 times and vertical leaping ability, but a General Manager might as well be huddled over a craps table at the Bellagio when you consider the amount of early round busts and late round gems that come out of the draft each year.

Let me throw some names out: Heath Shuler. Dan “Big Daddy” Wilkinson. Ki Jana Carter. Cedric Jones. Ryan Leaf. Akili Smith. Justin Smith. What do they all share? Well, in addition to being a greatest hits collection of some of the biggest NFL stiffs from the last 10 years, each was taken in the top 5 of their respective drafts. Now what about this group: Terrell Owens. Roosevelt Colvin. Fred Beasely. Zach Thomas. LaRoi Glover. Terrell Davis. Rodney Harrison. Tom Nalen. Common thread? A slew of recent Pro Bowls between them and the fact each was way past the 100th player taken on NFL Draft Day.

And I’m just scratching the surface. Any NFL fan looking for a good laugh should get a list of players selected from previous drafts to see the staggering amount of garbage teams waste early round picks on and the quality players that are left untouched until the later rounds.

I have particularly fond memories of the Jets draft gems. I was a little too young to appreciate the famous Ken O’Brien over Dan Marino selection, but one of my all-time favorite memories is the nauseous feeling I had sitting in the Madison Square Garden theater after I spent 5 minutes chanting “Warren Sapp! Warren Sapp!” with my green and white clad brethren only to hear Dick Kotite select Kyle Brady, Tight End from Penn State. Poor Brady looked like he was going to cry from the cascade of boos he was pelted with.

And fans, here’s a few Gang Green oldies but goodies you may remember: Coleman Rudolph, 36th player taken overall, 1993. Ryan Yarborough, 41st player taken overall, 1994. Alex Van Dyke, 31st player taken overall, 1996. Rick Terry, 31st player taken overall, 1997. Dorian Boose, 56th player taken overall, 1998.

To be fair, the Jets have gotten better at drafting. All was forgiven when the 2000 first round pick-four booty actually produced four starters including two Pro Bowlers and the team’s franchise QB. The Parcells 4 was a turning point in the draft history of this organization.

And though his free agency decisions have been suspect at best, Terry Bradway has been a decent rookie talent evaluator as well. Santana Moss, Lamont Jordan, Kareem McKenzie, Jon McGraw, Chris Baker, Victor Hobson and even Bryan Thomas have all contributed and collectively are not a bad group of picks.

But unfair or not, last year Bradway put all his eggs into one Dewayne Robertson basket and that will make or break his GM career. He gave up a lot and made the big move up to grab Robertson, but his season was disappointing at best. Fans are giving him a first year pass but he’s got to show noticeable improvement in his sophomore campaign or that “next Warren Sapp” label will wear off quickly. Similarly, Sapp had a weak rookie year, but followed it up 9 sacks in his second season and started to become a special player. Bradway has to be praying that Robertson does the same.

Our boys are sitting at 12 this year. Actually it’s the third time in the last ten years they’ve been at 12 and it seems to be a lucky number, as both players taken (Shaun Ellis in 2000 and Aaron Glenn in 94) turned out to be good, if not great, defensive players. Hopefully the third time continues the number 12 charm.

And continuing the number 12 tradition, defense should be the way to go once again. However I feel they should take a pass on the likely available Miami LBs DJ Williams and Jonathan Vilma and focus on the secondary.

The LB corps is by no means a team strength, but it has gotten a lot younger and faster since January. But the secondary still needs significant work. Who knows what David Barrett will be, and Donnie Abraham is not a fit for the new D or a long-term solution.

Bradway should do cartwheels if DeAngelo Hall is still there at 12 – Hall is the best CB prospect in the 04 draft AND can return punts - but I doubt it. More than likely they’ll be looking at Dunta Robinson from South Carolina, who would be a solid second choice. Good cover guy and a physical player that would be an upgrade for the team.

Monday’s NFL underclassmen ruling changes the first round a bit, as USC wideout Mike Williams will no longer be available – it’s theoretically possible he would have been available at 12, which would have made things really interesting for Bradway and Co.

With no second rounder, the first round pick becomes that much more important. I would not want to be Terry Bradway if his number one pick is a disappointment for the second year in a row. That will get him fired, with the added bonus of having his name become the target of an entire generation of irate Jets fans.

I realize it’s easy to be the Monday Morning QB and criticize my team’s decision making, but that’s why I’m a Jets fan and not Jets management. The casino floor is now open. Good luck Terry. Hope you get a comped room.

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