Commentary

Jets' 2006 draft a foundation for success

Smart planning and a little luck got first-year GM Mike Tannenbaum a haul for the ages

Updated: April 23, 2011, 2:13 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

The success or failure of a draft can't be accurately judged until five years later. We decided to take a look back and review the Jets' 2006 draft.

Mike Tannenbaum was nervous. It was the night before the 2006 draft, his first as the New York Jets' general manager. With two picks in the first round, his mind was racing with possibilities as he tried to relax at home.

His cell phone rang. It was Bill Parcells, who called to wish him luck. Tannenbaum received sage advice from his mentor, who basically told the young executive -- only 37 at the time -- to solicit input from others in the draft room, make the best decision for the franchise and, above all, remain calm when the unexpected occurs.

The unexpected occurred almost immediately.

"Literally, as soon as I hung up the phone, I saw ESPN flashing, 'Breaking news: The Houston Texans have agreed to terms with Mario Williams,'" Tannenbaum recalled.

The Texans, picking first, stunned the league by opting for Williams over Reggie Bush.

Tannenbaum, who owned the fourth pick, started thinking of the potential domino effect. He took Parcells' advice -- no panic -- and after two days, 10 picks and one underrated trade, the Jets had themselves one of the best draft classes in team history.

Their two first-round picks, left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold, have become Pro Bowl players. They anchor a very good offensive line and should be around for several seasons, as both signed long-term extensions last year.

The Jets scored big in the fourth round, too, selecting all-purpose weapons Brad Smith and Leon Washington within 14 picks of each other. They also picked up valuable contributors in the third and sixth rounds, safety Eric Smith and cornerback Drew Coleman, respectively.

If second-round quarterback Kellen Clemens had developed into a winning starter -- he was third string last season -- the Class of '06 would be considered an all-timer. The only bust was third-round linebacker Anthony Schlegel, who was long on intangibles but short on athleticism.

Five players from that draft remain on the roster, but take a closer look.

On Day 1, Tannenbaum acquired the Washington Redskins' second-round choice in '07 --thanks to a clever trade down in Round 2 -- and used it to trade for Thomas Jones, who would lead the team in rushing for three straight seasons. The Jets recouped a fifth-round pick for Leon Washington, whom they felt they had to trade last year because of injury and contract issues, and parlayed that choice into new starting fullback John Conner.

"It was a really important draft for us," said Tannenbaum, looking back to '06. "It really helped set a foundation."

Tannenbaum and first-year coach Eric Mangini wielded the most power in the draft room, but they were surrounded by an experienced group of top scouts. Tannenbaum's predecessor, Terry Bradway, was a key voice in the room. It was a potentially awkward dynamic, but it worked -- and still does. Longtime personnel man Dick Haley, with four decades in the business, also contributed in what was his final draft with the Jets.

On the morning of the draft, Tannenbaum, with an eye on Bush, called the New Orleans Saints to express a cursory interest in the second pick. It never got serious. The Jets gladly waited for Ferguson at No. 4.

"All along, we felt Brick was the right guy for us," Tannenbaum said. "The year before, we lost two quarterbacks to season-ending injuries. We needed a left tackle; we couldn't block guys like Jason Taylor. To me, even if John Elway was in the draft, it didn't matter because we needed better pass protection."

As the first round unfolded, Tannenbaum, feeling frisky, placed a call to the Detroit Lions at No. 9. He explored the possibility of trading up for quarterback Matt Leinart, but that discussion never got far. File that under "Good non-move."

Tannenbaum stood pat and selected Mangold with the 29th pick. The Jets had him rated closely with running back DeAngelo Williams and tight end Marcedes Lewis, who went 27th and 28th, respectively. Bradway lobbied hard for Mangold, and he fell into New York's lap.

Shortly after the pick, Tannenbaum received a call from Baltimore Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, who congratulated him on the choice. He told Tannenbaum the Ravens were torn between Mangold and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata at No. 12. Ngata turned out to be a terrific pick as well.

"He said we got unbelievably lucky," Tannenbaum said of Newsome. "He was incredulous that Nick lasted so long."

Sometimes you get lucky; sometimes you make your own luck. Example: Washington's stock had fallen because of a poor senior year at Florida State, but Haley, who knew the Florida schools as well as anyone, saw his potential as a junior and pushed for Washington.

A little earlier in the fourth round, the Jets employed outside-the-box thinking, picking Smith -- a record-setting quarterback at Missouri -- and projecting him as a receiver/kick returner. Now he's one of the most dangerous all-purpose weapons in the league.

"Every time he had the ball in his hands," Tannenbaum said, "good things happened."

Good things happened for the Jets on back-to-back days in April 2006 -- and the impact still is being felt.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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