When the wackiness in the Top 5 was over, Mike Maccagnan looked like a giddy schoolboy with a pocket full of stolen candy.
The football gods did the Jets general manager yet another solid by giftwrapping one of the most talented players in the NFL draft for him. Two years after Leonard Williams landed in the Jets’ lap with the sixth overall pick, All-America LSU safety Jamal Adams slipped to Gang Green with the sixth overall pick Thursday night.
For all the rumblings about Maccagnan’s desire to trade down, the nuttiness of the first half hour of the draft turned this into the ultimate no-brainer. “We were quite happy,” Maccagnan said with a smile that didn’t do justice to his level of joy.
If the GM were physically capable of doing cartwheels up and down One Jets Drive, he probably would have done so given this fantastic and fortunate circumstance. Alas, he has a lingering ear infection and vertigo at the moment (no, really).
The Bears shocking move to swap picks with the 49ers to grab North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 2 pick set in motion a wild chain of events that helped the Jets get Adams, who was a projected Top 5 selection by every draft guru across the land.
The Jaguars took LSU running back Leonard Fournette with the fourth pick before the Titans, looking to move down, stayed put to surprisingly select Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis.
Maccagnan, Todd Bowles and the rest of the Jets brain trust had their choice of a number of quality options for a team with a litany of needs. Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore and Alabama tight end O.J. Howard would have filled glaring holes, but Adams was the clear choice.
“It wasn’t a long discussion,” Maccagnan said about weighing his options when the Jets were on the clock.
Adams will infuse Bowles’ maligned secondary with toughness and smarts. His style has drawn comparisons to Giants breakout star Landon Collins.
“There may be some similarities people can draw,” Maccagnan said of the two young New York safeties. “From a physical, aggressive, hitting standpoint, they are similar.”
Adams — whose father, George, was a former Giants first-round pick that won a Super Bowl playing for Bill Parcells in 1986 — has the skill set to be a difference maker all over the field. His high football I.Q. and intangibles made this a solid and safe pick for Maccagnan, who must hit on this draft as he rebuilds a wayward team coming off a five-win season.
“I’m happy,” Bowles said without breaking into a smile. “He was one of the guys we had rated very high. We weren’t expecting him to fall to us.”
Neither was Adams, who admitted that he was “definitely surprised” that he fell out of the Top 5.
“(The Jets) were definitely saying that if I slipped to No. 6, there would be no questions asked and that they’ll come and get me,” Adams said of the message the Jets relayed during his pre-draft visit to the team facility earlier this month. “They kept their word and they delivered.”
Bowles will need Adams to deliver to improve a secondary that routinely sprung leaks last season. Adams was a strong safety in college (only five career interceptions), but the Jets won’t confine the 6-0, 214-pounder to a box safety role. Adams’ instincts, tackling and ferocious bent will be welcomed additions to a defense lacking that on the back end. Adams plays with an attitude and confidence that is contagious.
Expect him to be a vocal leader sooner than later.
“We knew he was an Alpha dog coming in,” Bowles said. “(That’s) a culture we’re trying to create. I think he’s great. He’s going to help us a great deal.”
Maccagnan, frankly, needed the good fortune after a painful year that washed away a lot of the good will built up in his first season. Everything went right in 2015. Nearly everything went wrong in 2016.
Williams is the cornerstone of Maccagnan’s rebuilding process. He had been the only untouchable player on an otherwise barren roster. If Adams is the game-changing presence that the Jets envision, Maccagnan will be in business.
“We’re going to get this thing rolling and we’re going to get back to that Super Bowl,” Adams said moments after becoming a Jet.
The Lombardi Trophy is still way off in the distance, but this was a pivotal piece to a puzzle that isn’t close to complete.
No. 6 proved to be lucky again for Mike Maccagnan.