nfl draft history jets
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The NFL Draft is nearly approaching. To honor the occasion, let’s take a look back at the Jets’ last 15 first-round picks.

The 2021 NFL Draft is finally arriving on Thursday night, and thanks to the Jets‘ putrid 2020 season and last summer’s trade of Jamal Adams to Seattle, New York owns the No. 2 and 23 overall selections in the first round. What they will do with the second pick is obvious; what they will do at No. 23 isn’t and remains a mystery.

There’s additionally a chance the Jets trade their 23rd pick and move up in the draft.

But regardless, the organization will attempt to hit the nail on the head with its opening-round selections, something that hasn’t been all too common in recent years.

When you look back at the team’s last 15 first-round picks, you begin to cringe at most of them. However, there were a few who made impacts for New York, whether it was for the short or long term.

So how do the recent Jets first-rounders match up with one another?

15. Alabama CB Dee Milliner (2013 No. 9 overall)

Utilizing a No. 9 pick on a guy who eventually was out of the league a few years later?

Despite the number of below-average first-round picks by the Jets in recent memory, it wasn’t all that difficult to decipher the No. 15 slot.

While Milliner possessed great potential coming out of Alabama, injuries played an ugly and unfortunate role, preventing Dee from taking part in more than 21 games through his first three seasons.

It’s a shame too — when Milliner played in 13 games during his 2013 rookie campaign, he racked up 56 combined tackles, three interceptions, and 17 pass breakups.

14. Ohio State DE Vernon Gholston (2008 No. 6 overall)

Jets fans cringe at this name, so I’m sorry for bringing him up (even though you did decide to click on this article).

Gholston was supposed to be a game-changing defensive end for Gang Green, and instead, combined for just 42 combined tackles and zero sacks (yes, zero) in 45 games across three years.

This is all even more astonishing when you consider his collegiate success at Ohio State (he recorded 22.5 sacks combined during the 2006 and 2007 seasons and earned a spot on the 2007 All-Big Ten first team).

The Jets released Gholston prior to the 2011 campaign.

13. Ohio State LB Darron Lee (2016 No. 20 overall)

Drafting someone at No. 20 overall just to eventually trade him for a sixth-round pick — not an ideal situation in the long run.

Darron Lee, in 2016, was supposed to add talent to a defensive unit that was fourth in total yards allowed the year prior, and although he was a healthier asset than Milliner, he struggled to find his niche in Florham Park.

Lee recorded Pro Football Focus grades of 45.5 and 44.2 through his first two seasons, which contributed to the Jets’ decision not to exercise his fifth-year option ahead of the 2019 campaign.

12. USC QB Sam Darnold (2018 No. 3 overall)

Many fans liked Sam Darnold and believed his failed tenure in Florham Park was moreso a result of poor coaching and unreliable offensive assistance.

Of course, those supporters are correct, but he’s still low on the list because it’s unsatisfactory to be traded three years after being selected No. 3 overall, especially when you were supposed to be the franchise’s top quarterback since Joe Namath.

Darnold’s production wasn’t enough to warrant keeping him during the 2021 offseason and the injuries were additionally an issue. Darnold missed 10 games through his first three seasons — nearly 21% of a possible 48 matchups he could’ve participated in.

11. Boise State CB Kyle Wilson (2010 No. 29 overall)

The Jets employed the top passing defense in 2009, and to add fuel to the fire, they drafted Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson in the back half of the 2010 first round.

Wilson was one of the better cornerbacks in the country coming out of Boise State, having earned first-team All-WAC honors in both 2008 and 2009.

But when you use a first-round pick on a certain player, you expect that player to be an eventual long-term starter — that never became the case with Wilson.

After starting 15 games in 2012, Wilson’s role quickly diminished. The defensive back was on the field for 42% of defensive snaps in 2013 and 30% in 2014 after seeing time on 89% of the defensive snaps in 2012.

10. UNC DE Quinton Coples (2012 No. 16 overall)

Again, when you use a first-round pick on someone, you expect that player to be a long-term starter and to at least sign a second contract with the team.

That didn’t occur with defensive end Quinton Coples, which is why he’s No. 10 on the list.

Coples racked up just 16.5 sacks combined through his first three years with the Jets and saw his role diminish during his fourth season in 2015 (he only started two games out of the first ten before the Jets released him in the middle of the year).

The 30-year-old hasn’t played in a regular-season game since 2015.

9. Louisville S Calvin Pryor (2014 No. 18 overall)

Calvin Pryor could’ve been a long-term asset of the defensive backfield but was instead traded to Cleveland in 2017. However, we put him in the single digits because of his production for the few years he was in Florham Park.

Pryor recorded at least 60 combined tackles in each of his three seasons with New York and served as both a defensive and special teams weapon.

8. USC QB Mark Sanchez (2009 No. 5 overall)

Look, I understand Mark Sanchez benefitted greatly from superb rushing attacks and defenses in the pair of trips to the AFC Championship. But you can’t knock his contributions toward the last above-average era of Jets football.

We can’t put him too high on the list though — he only played four seasons for New York (he missed the entire 2013 campaign) and threw 68 touchdowns to 69 picks.

7. Louisville OT Mekhi Becton (2020 No. 11 overall)

Mekhi Becton is a star in the making at left tackle. The Jets trusted him to perform on the quarterback’s blindside during his 2020 rookie campaign after an offseason greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic — a highly difficult task. And in response, Becton recorded a solid 74.4 Pro Football Focus grade.

If he can just stay healthy, the former Louisville standout will have a bright future in New York.

6. Alabama DT Quinnen Williams (2019 No. 3 overall)

After a shaky rookie season, Quinnen Williams in 2020 proved why he was one of the top players in the 2019 draft class.

Williams portrays versatility from the defensive line and can perform as a run-stopper (55 combined tackles last year) and pass-rusher (seven sacks and 14 quarterback hits).

If he can just remain consistently healthy, Quinnen should be a star and another long-term piece within this Jets roster.

5. Purdue TE Dustin Keller (2008 No. 30 overall)

Dustin Keller was one of the more underrated tight ends in the league while with New York and proved to be a notable part of the offensive unit during the 2009 and 2010 AFC Championship-bound seasons. He caught 45 and 55 balls in those two years, respectively.

Keller additionally led the Jets in receptions (65) and receiving yards (815) during the 2011 campaign.

4. USC DE Leonard Williams (2015 No. 6 overall)

Leonard Williams provided significant production for the Jets in 2016 when he recorded 68 combined tackles and seven sacks en route to his first-ever Pro Bowl. Although he struggled thereafter, the Jets were still able to notch a notable return for him in a 2019 trade with the crosstown-rival Giants, receiving multiple draft picks when his contract was expiring anyway.

3. Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson (2013 No. 13 overall)

Sheldon Richardson was a productive pass rusher following his 2013 draft selection, recording eight sacks and 21 quarterback hits during a Pro Bowl 2014 season.

He was additionally successful on the run-stopping front — Richardson notched at least 60 total tackles in three of the four seasons in which he was with Gang Green.

2. Temple DE Muhammad Wilkerson (2011 No. 30 overall)

Muhammad Wilkerson comes in at second on the list due to his long-lasting production, something that’s very uncommon when you speak on the Jets’ last 15 first-rounders.

Across seven years, Wilkerson succeeded as both a pass-rusher (two seasons with double-digit sacks) and run-stopper (three seasons with at least 60 combined tackles) and earned a Pro Bowl nod along with two second-team All-Pro selections.

He was also consistently healthy, having only missed seven regular-season matchups through as many years with New York.

1. LSU S Jamal Adams (2017 No. 6 overall)

Although he was only with the team for a few years, Jamal Adams proved to be one of the more dominant safeties in the NFL on the Jets, which is why he comes in at No. 1 on this list.

And even though they traded him, the Jets still received a haul in return — two first-rounders, a third-rounder, and safety Bradley McDougald were provided to Gang Green for Adams and a fourth-round pick.

Adams was a Pro Bowler in both the 2018 and 2019 seasons and a first-team All-Pro during the latter campaign.

Ryan Honey is a staff writer and host of the Wide Right Podcast.