The New York Jets are receiving unanimous praise for their selection of Quinnen Williams. By selecting Williams, the Jets decided against both drafting Josh Allen or trading down.
The New York Jets sat tight with the third pick and landed the best player in the entire draft, according to a plethora of draft boards. We’re not here to say taking Williams was the wrong decision. He is a scheme fit, as New York clearly coveted an interior disruptor with their first selection. This assertion is evidenced by the franchise falling in love with Ed Oliver leading up to the draft. Before we leave the 2019 NFL Draft cycle for good, let’s examine this more closely. Did the Jets really did hit this out of the park? Or did they eschew a potentially more valuable course of action?
Pass rush value
As outlined above, the only real alternatives to selecting Williams were drafting Allen or trading down. After deciding to stay put, New York made the conscious decision to prioritize the interior pass rush over pressure from the EDGE. In addition to this idea fitting Greg Williams’ scheme, interior pressure also pesters Tom Brady more than outside pressure. Both of these are perfectly fair rationales for choosing Williams over Allen.
However, the evidence tells us that outside pressure is still more valuable than inside pressure. We can all agree that Aaron Donald is the best defender in the NFL. However, his pass rushing impact still does not provide as much value as an EDGE rusher, despite coming from an inferior player to Donald.
EDGE rush vs interior rush
According to this study from the lead data scientists at ProFootballFocus, EDGE pressure provides far more value than interior pressure, at least in the context of EPA (expected points added):
“When pressure comes only off the edge the offense averaged -0.303 expected points added per play, only slightly below the overall mean. Pressure that comes only from the interior or the nose position results in an average expected points added per play of -0.178 and -0.213, respectively. Both of those are well below the overall average. In isolation, pressure off the edge provides far more value than pressure from the interior or nose.”
“On Donald’s solo pressures (70, including nullified plays), the opposing offense gained 4.9 yards per play and lost a total of 16.96 expected points. Compare this to the highest-graded edge rusher, Joey Bosa, whose solo pressures (46) cost the offense 41.89 expected points and resulted in 2.9 yards per play.”
“Doing this comparison for the five highest-graded pass-rushers at each position also yields interesting results. The top five interior pass-rushers (Donald, Fletcher Cox, DeForest Buckner, Geno Atkins, and Gerald McCoy) cost the opposition 75.30 expected points, averaged 2.34 seconds per solo pressure and saw offenses gain 4.1 yards per play. The top five edge rushers (Bosa, DEMARCUS LAWRENCE, CAM JORDAN, Melvin Ingram, and Von Miller) cost the offense 109.16 expected points, averaged 2.29 seconds per solo pressure and saw the offense gain 3.1 yards per play.”
While it has been established that EDGE pressure is more valuable than interior pressure, we cannot sit here and say interior defender X needs to be Y better than EDGE defender Z in order to provide more value. In other words, we cannot quantify just how much better Williams needs to be than Allen to provide more value to the Jets defense in this article. Perhaps brighter minds can answer that question, but that specific equation was not covered in the study.
What we can do, however, is proclaim there is a roughly equal chance of Allen and Williams hitting their maximum potential as NFL players. Study after study shows that the NFL draft is a complete crapshoot, no one really knows what they’re doing, and the odds of a player being better than the player draft directly behind him are only marginally better.
If both players have approximately the same odds of succeeding, it stands to reason the wise investment for New York with the third pick of the draft would have been to chase the positional value.
There is also the matter of the surplus value from the duration of the rookie scale contract. Williams has yet to sign his rookie deal, but Forbes is projecting him to receive a 4-year, $32.6 million deal, plus the fifth year option. This puts Williams at an average annual value of $8.15 million over the first four years of his deal.
To keep consistent with the PFF study, we can compare that average annual value to the top five paid defensive tackles (by average annual value) in the NFL. Donald, Fletcher Cox, Geno Atkins, Kawann Short, and Gerald McCoy average $17.58 million per season. That’s $70.32 million over the course of four years. If Williams is every bit elite as his pre-draft projection, he will provide $37.72 million of surplus value over the life span of his first four NFL seasons.
If we pretend the Jets had taken Allen third and use the same projected contract for him, we can compare Allen against the top paid EDGE defenders in the league. The average annual value of the top five edge defenders in the NFL is $20.46 million. That works out to $81.84 million over four seasons, meaning Allen would have provided $49.24 million of surplus value over the course of his first four seasons. (For those wondering, based on the Forbes projection, Allen could potentially provide $59.04 million of surplus value to the Jacksonville Jaguars)
It makes sense that the position providing a more valuable impact gets paid more, and thus, a rookie locked into a below-market deal would provide more surplus value relative to free-market economics.
The process by which New York decided to select Williams is sound. He was one of the elite players in this class, perhaps the best overall prospect, he fits their scheme, and he figures to frustrate Brady. There is no hole in that logic. It is fair to wonder, however, if the Jets passed on an opportunity to wind up with a more valuable player in the short and long run, both in terms of on-field impact as well as financial considerations, by not choosing Allen.
The other option the Jets had was to trade the pick. We projected before the draft that the trade market for the third pick would not be as robust as New York would have liked. That seems to have materialized in real life. The Jets hung a fat “For Sale” sign on their pick the moment the clock hit triple zeros week 17. Still, no deal was made. While we will never know what offers were extended, New York decided even the best offer was not worth passing up Williams.
This is where it gets complicated. Since we don’t know what offers the Jets didn’t take, we can only work in hypotheticals. As discussed in our late March article, there isn’t much in the way of a modern historical precedent for someone trading into the top three for a defensive lineman. The only example since 2004 was the disastrous Dion Jordan trade that saw the Miami Dolphins send picks 12 and 42 to the Oakland Raiders for the third pick. However, context matters. The 2013 draft was a very poor class. Jordan was a vastly inferior prospect to both Williams and Allen.
That trade itself, 12 and 42 for 3, is relatively even according to the Chase Stuart draft chart. In the trade, Oakland profited only 2 points worth of draft capital from the transaction, the equivalent of the 166th pick. Such a profit is in stark contrast to what a team typically fetches when the team trading up is doing so in order to secure a quarterback.
If we stick with the twelfth pick of 2019 for our hypothetical, we can assemble roughly the exact same trade as in 2013. The Green Bay Packers selected 12th and 44th in 2019. There is a reasonable argument to be made that those selections were not worthy of forfeiting a chance at Williams (or Allen).
What would have been worthy?
However, the flip side of the argument is that while Williams (and Allen) are immensely talented, we have to circle back to how the NFL draft is a complete crapshoot, and the best strategy is to be the team holding the most lottery tickets. Considering this particular trade is rather equal in terms of draft capital, one can ascertain leaving the draft with two premium picks as opposed to “only” Williams would have been the more expedient maneuver.
We can also not rule out the possibility that New York could have received a better package than what Oakland got for Jordan. Again, Jordan was an inferior prospect to Williams and Allen. It stands to reason the Jets received a better offer in 2019, yet still chose to decline. Keeping with the same 12th pick, Green Bay was also in possession of the 30th selection. The Packers, given their elite QB and free agent spending spree, could potentially have been the type of team that saw itself one blue-chip prospect away from competing for a Super Bowl. Green Bay targeted defensive players in the first round and was aggressive later in the round in moving up for a specific prospect.
Had the Packers offered both the 12th and 30th picks, the Jets would have profited 4.1 points worth of draft capital, the equivalent of the 120th selection. Again, this to some may not be worth it to give up a chance to take Williams. To others, it would have been the better asset management procedure to split the third pick into two cost controlled individuals. In this particular hypothetical, New York could have walked away with an EDGE defender in either Brian Burns or Montez Sweat (or Rashan Gary, but in my humble opinion he is wildly overrated and was greatly over drafted), as well as whoever they viewed as the best corner in the class at 30. Which is greater: Burns/Sweat(/Gary) + Deandre Baker/Greedy Williams/Byron Murphy, or Quinnen Williams?
Again, this is a massive hypothetical. We have no idea if Green Bay ever made this offer. We also have no idea if any other team made any sort of similar offer to New York. All we know is a trade didn’t happen and Williams is now a part of Gang Green.
Williams pick is sound, but not great
The Williams pick is sound. He was one of the three best prospects and arguably the best player available. He fits a need and will annoy Brady. In no way was this a wrong selection.
In this author’s humble opinion, however, it was not necessarily the right decision.