Jets Rookies Prove Maccagnan Has Eye for Talent

Halfway through their preseason slate, the New York Jets’ first-teamers haven’t exactly performed like a juggernaut during their limited time on the field. However, while splitting the first two exhibition games -- a 23-3 loss to the Lions that was every bit as ugly as it the score indicates and a 30-22 win vs. the Falcons that was a whole lot prettier -- Gang Green’s key rookies showed that new GM Mike Maccagnan may know a thing or two about building through the draft. 

As I’ve said before, I didn’t like the selection of defensive lineman Leonard Williams with the 2015 NFL Draft’s sixth overall pick, because I don’t think a franchise coming off a 4-12 pick should be drafting for depth instead of filling vital areas of need. Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson are both stalwarts that are still in their mid 20s, while the immovable Damon Harrison -- you don’t get the nickname “Big Snacks” for your slightness of frame -- is a load in the middle at the age of 26.

However, as we’ve seen over the past few weeks, the Jets’ defensive line appears to have the depth of your average kiddie pool. Wilkerson, who’s in the final year of his contract and seeking a huge new deal, has been inactive in the preseason with a hamstring injury, while Richardson is apparently thinking of leaving pro football behind for a starring role on “America’s Most Wanted.”

Then, there’s the fact that Williams showed on Friday night that he’s a force in his own right. The precocious 21-year-old out of USC got to Atlanta’s QBs with impugnity, racking up 1.5 sacks and getting on the scoreboard with a safety. Meanwhile, LB Lorenzo Mauldin, a third-round choice out of Louisville, has shown that he too can consistently pressure the passer, although he may be out for some time after injuring his knee during Sunday's practice.

On the other side of the ball, after appearing out of his league -- the NFL, that is -- in the first exhibition game, QB Bryce Petty looked like a different player against the Falcons. Petty connected on 12 of 19 pass attempts on Friday night, including a 13-yard scoring strike to DeVier Posey that was a testament both to Petty’s arm strength and the receiver’s hands.

Before Game 2, I’d viewed Petty largely as a product of a Baylor system that allows no-name quarterbacks (not including RGIII, that is) to put up Madden-like numbers without the talent to back it up. I don’t anymore. He not only has a solid arm, but good feet. He may not be much on the 40-yard dash, but he’s athletic enough to get out of trouble and make a good play out of a difficult situation. I look forward to seeing more from Petty. And, when the 2016 NFL Draft is upon us, I’ll defer to Maccagnan’s judgment just a bit more than I did this time around.

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