New York Jets GM gets his first shot to change tortured history of QB picks

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets do this quarterback dance every few years. For general manager Joe Douglas, it's a first.

In two decades as an NFL scout and executive, Douglas never has been a top decision-maker in the selection of a quarterback in the first round of the NFL draft. He was the Baltimore Ravens' area scout who wrote glowing reports on quarterback Joe Flacco in 2008, but he wasn't the guy who made the final call. From 2017 to 2019, Douglas was in charge of the Philadelphia Eagles' draft board as vice president of player personnel, but there was no quarterback interest because they had Carson Wentz.

Douglas drafted James Morgan last year in his first draft as the Jets' GM, but that was only a fourth-round pick -- nothing close to the massive investment he's planning to make Thursday with the No. 2 overall pick (8 p.m. ET, on ESPN and ESPN the App). This pick -- presumably, BYU's Zach Wilson -- will be a big factor in determining whether Douglas is a GM success or failure.

"I would say that I don't look at it from a legacy viewpoint," Douglas claimed. "I feel like every decision we make has risk. Obviously, the pick at No. 2, there's a huge spotlight on that. We understand that. But with every decision, you try to take the information and the information you have at hand to make the best possible decision that you can for the team moving forward."

Choosing a quarterback at the top of the draft is a lot different from picking, say, a pass-rusher. Essentially, you're hiring a new CEO for the company. Clearly, the Jets haven't figured it out; they've picked a league-high 10 quarterbacks in the past 15 drafts. Douglas calls it "the most important position in sports" -- and he's not wrong.

It involves more than identifying the strongest arm. If that were the only criterion, the success rate would be much higher than it is. Teams are falling out of love with their quarterbacks more than ever before. Four of the five quarterbacks drafted in the top 3 from 2016 to 2018 already are on their second team, including Wentz and ex-Jet Sam Darnold.

Even though he wasn't in the quarterback market at the time, Douglas graded Darnold as the top prospect in the 2018 draft, an evaluation that hasn't aged well. Darnold has been outplayed by classmates Baker Mayfield (Cleveland Browns), Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills) and Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens), all of whom were chosen in the first round. The good thing is, Douglas didn't have to sign his name to that preference.

This time is different.

This time, it's his quarterback.

On April 6, Douglas ended months of speculation by trading Darnold, signaling his preference to draft a quarterback -- "an incredibly huge decision to make," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. said before the trade. "In the history of the game, do you remember a decision that was as critical to an organization as this one is to Joe Douglas and the Jets?"

Douglas is betting on his ability to pick the right quarterback out of four options, assuming Clemson's Trevor Lawrence goes No. 1 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Some teams might prefer Ohio State's Justin Fields, who has incredible physical talent and big-game experience. Others might like Alabama's Mac Jones, who has the big-game experience, uncanny accuracy and a high football IQ. North Dakota State's Trey Lance has tremendous upside, but needs seasoning at the position.

The Jets are focused on Wilson, who is generally regarded as the draft's QB2. He's a bit undersized at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, raising durability concerns, but he might be the most natural passer of the group. NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said of Wilson: "Some people would take him over Trevor, just as a pure thrower. From every platform, from every arm angle, he can just do some unique things."

Wilson also fits the new scheme that will be installed by offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, which raises the age-old question: Do you draft a quarterback to fit the scheme or build a scheme around the quarterback?

"Obviously, scheme fit is important," Douglas said. "There are so many traits you look for. ... There's a lot that goes into it. Obviously, there's the physical traits that go into it: the arm talent, the athleticism. Then there's the intangible traits: the intelligence, the leadership, the mental toughness, the physical toughness."

Douglas wants a confident leader to take charge of his rebuilding program. How Wilson blends into the locker room will be critical to his success.

Scouts say there's no shortage of moxie in Wilson's personality. That can be a good thing or it can chafe those around him. Leadership is hard to quantify. The folks in the analytics world haven't developed an algorithm to measure it; they never will. In the early 2000s, Chad Pennington wasn't blessed with the strongest arm, but he had a way of commanding the huddle and bringing out the best in his teammates.

Former New York Giants GM Ernie Accorsi, who broke into the league under Johnny Unitas and later drafted John Elway and traded for Eli Manning, made a career of identifying franchise quarterbacks. He said they have an intangible trait that impacts those around them, "a feeling that when you're on the team bus and you're on the road, and you're a little more nervous than you are at home, you see him sitting there and you know you have a chance.

"I mean, that guy gives you a chance every week. That's why I went out of my way every time to try to get one."

This is Douglas' first, and perhaps last shot. Each of his three predecessors got only one swing at a highly-drafted quarterback: Mike Maccagnan opted for Darnold, John Idzik chose Geno Smith and Mike Tannenbaum rolled with Mark Sanchez. All told, they made the playoffs twice in 10 years with those quarterbacks (both with Sanchez).

Wilson will face enormous expectations. Ditto, Douglas.

"There's pressure on all of us," Douglas said.