Home / Sports / Mehta: In first draft for new Jets GM, what's not to Mike?

Mehta: In first draft for new Jets GM, what's not to Mike?

Leonard Williams of USC is rated very highly and, despite the Jets not having a need on the defensive line, new GM Mike Maccagnan snaps up the talented DL at No. 6 overall.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Leonard Williams of USC is rated very highly and, despite the Jets not having a need on the defensive line, new GM Mike Maccagnan snaps up the talented DL at No. 6 overall.

Mike Maccagnan has been on such a dream run since landing the job of a lifetime three months ago that you half expected this to happen Thursday night.

For all the curious decisions and bad luck that have littered the landscape through the years, the Jets might have added the best player in the 2015 NFL draft thanks to the rookie general manager’s core beliefs … and some good fortune.

Maccagnan scooped up USC defensive end Leonard Williams, coveted as the top player by many teams, with the No. 6 pick to bolster an already frightening defensive line that includes Mo Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison.

“I thought they were going to go for someone on offense or something …” Williams said. “I was really surprised.”

He certainly wasn’t the only one. Maccagnan, the lifelong scout who had toiled in anonymity for the better part of two decades, was tested early in his first draft in charge. His insistence in the run-up to the draft that he’d select the “best player available” was easy to dismiss, given the same lip service is offered by most GMs.

The Jets could have used an offensive lineman, outside linebacker or even a wide receiver to supplement the defensive upgrades made during a spending bonanza in free agency. There were rumblings that the Jets tried to move up to select Florida pass rusher Dante Fowler.

The 6-5, 300-pound Williams, who will likely play defensive end in Todd Bowles’ 3-4 scheme, was projected to be off the board before the Jets were on the clock unofficially by everyone on the planet.

The Raiders, who yearned for Ndamukong Suh in free agency, were a likely destination. They selected Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper with the No. 4 pick.

Washington, open to trading down at No. 5, had the first stunner of the night by selecting Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff, opening the door for the Jets to test Maccagnan’s core principles and grab the versatile game-changing defensive lineman.

“I don’t think we expected him to be there probably until we were on the clock and realized that Washington made their pick,” Maccagnan said. “We were kind of excited and surprised at the same time.”

Should he add a player at an already stocked position or trade down?

“I think teams fall into the same trap,” Maccagnan said. “They factor in things that have no bearing on the player being successful or not. I was very true to what I believe, which is when you get a player who is substantially better than players around him, you don’t really factor in need into your decision-making process.”

Bowles echoed that sentiment, making it clear that he’ll find a place for Williams in his scheme.

“When you pick that high,” Bowles said, “you can’t go for need and reach for something.”

So they didn’t.

Maccagnan, looking for the maximum return on his investment, admitted that “there weren’t any trade options that came across our desk that were worthy to move out of the pick,” so he made the “fairly easy decision” to take one of the top three players on their board.

“He’s just scratching the surface of the player he can be,” Maccagnan said of the 20-year-old.

Maccagnan holds true to his word, saying he would draft the best player available.Julio Cortez/AP

Maccagnan holds true to his word, saying he would draft the best player available.

The surplus in talent along the defensive front prompted obvious questions about whether Wilkerson, who has not participated in the voluntary offseason program due to unhappiness over his contract, is expendable. Maccagnan and Bowles maintained that they would like to keep Wilkerson, who is scheduled to make $ 6.97 million on his fifth-year option, but it might make sense to explore trade opportunities.

The Jets had conversations involving Wilkerson with teams before the draft, per sources, but nothing concrete emerged. Moving Wilkerson would be easier said than done, but the possibility can’t be ignored now that Williams, who had seven sacks as a junior last season, is in the fold.

Maccagnan has lived a charmed life since replacing John Idzik, revamping a porous secondary with a pile of cash in free agency and acquiring a bona fide No. 1 wide receiver (Brandon Marshall) for a bargain price.

Now, arguably the best player in the draft falls into his lap at No. 6.

“Quite frankly, I don’t think any mock draft had Leonard going beyond No. 5,” Maccagnan said. “Literally none.”

But there he was.

It’s been that kind of few months for the new GM.

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