If the NFL Draft is the equivalent of a Superhero movie franchise, then the later rounds are the casting calls for the extras. For all the attention on the first round on Thursday, April 29, in Cleveland, Friday is really when the meat of the Draft is served up. Then Saturday, with Rounds 4-7, a dessert buffet stretching more than five hours beacons all draftniks.
For the past several months, GM Joe Douglas has largely been like your voice-mail greeting: consistent each time you hear it. "Ultimately for us to get to where the great teams are, the most consistent teams are, you do that through the draft. It's the most team-friendly market in sports. For us to really be that team that's consistently competing for Super Bowls, we have to hit on our draft picks."
For the Jets, the focus the past couple of weeks has been on the team's prodigious draft capital: 10 picks this year and 11 in 2022. This year, the Jets have five picks in the first three rounds, and half of those 10 picks in subsequent rounds.
"That's where the scouting process really kicks in and we can reap the benefits of having a good process," said Dan Zbojovsky, the director of personnel operations, speaking with Eric Allen and Ethan Greenberg on The Jets Official Podcast. "Players down the line, especially the undrafted ones, that's really a scout-driven process, working that back half of the draft. In a lot of ways it's just as exciting Day 1 and Day 2 [of the draft]. The scouts get to take the wheel and put a stamp on the type of player we'll have in the building."
In addition to Zbojovsky's job of herding the Jets' scouts throughout the year, he is actually the person on the phone with the league office when it comes time to make a pick.
"I'm the one in communication with the league to make sure we can convey our pick or any movement," he said. "I'm in communication with [GM] Joe [Douglas] and [HC] Robert [Saleh] and Mr. Johnson and all the scouts, discussing options and direction. At the end I'm able to send the name to the league and submit the pick itself. It's a cool process, to be at the center of things. It is exciting.
"It's always nerve wracking and the most exciting thing for me is if we're doing an on-the-clock trade. The entire room is working, we have scouts working with the other team in terms of discussing the trade, but we still have to be ready to do the pick if the trade doesn't work out. There are a lot of nerves as time ticks down. Really, the event is awesome and I'm looking forward to it."
The 'Fun Time'
ESPN analyst Jim Nagy can't wait until Saturday comes during the draft.
"That's the fun time, especially for scouts," Nagy told Olivia Landis of nyjets.com. "You can really build your roster, the locker room, and get some cheap labor on the rookie salary and perhaps let some veterans go and save on the salary cap."
That may be an extremely pragmatic way to look at things, but business is business.
Nagy had some notable and possibly productive players in mind who are likely to still be available once the sun comes up on May 1 and Day 3 of the draft.
He likes: Michigan RB Chris Evans ("One of the top-testing running backs. A good value pick."); Purdue LB Derrick Barnes ("He can play on the ball or off the ball and can rush the quarterback. A great motor. A great pick if still there."); and Notre Dame OL Robert Hainsey ("You don't have to address the offensive line early because there are so many good ones. He played center at the Senior Bowl and he had never snapped a ball before. And he looked great. He looked like a starting center.").
"There are some really great players available on Day 3," Nagy said. "But you have to keep fingers crossed someone doesn't see those players the same way you do, and then they don't fall to you."
Mocking Mike Tannenbaum's Mock Draft
The Jets' former general manager is among the many producers of those gazillion mock drafts. Who's right? Who's wrong? And who will remember any of the prognostications that come close of business on May 1?
"I have my critics," he said. "Like my 14-year-old son, he had more problems with my mock draft than anyone."
That said, Tannenbaum has his preferences ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft. One is USC tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker, another is Alabama CB Patrick Surtain III.
"I think sometimes we overcomplicate things," he said. "Take a guy like [Alabama CB] Patrick Surtain. He's a great player, he's a good person. He's a plug-and-play player. If you're the Dallas Cowboys, you put him in and in 10 years you'll be happy. He has great ball skills. He's been coached by Nick Saban ... Those are, to me, the foundational bedrock players at a premium position."