New York Jets Draft Retrospective: Vernon Gholston 10 years later

With the sixth pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, the New York Jets select….
Vernon Gholston. Defensive end, Ohio State.

When Roger Goodell’s words echoed throughout the chasms of Radio City Music Hall, Jets fans in attendance roared with delight. They thought they were getting one of college football’s best pass rushers and would finally have and edge rusher that the franchise had desperately been lacking. Scouts and football experts feed into this as they raved about Gholston’s talent and how he could be a Pro Bowl pass rusher. Little did fans and those draft experts know that not only would Gholston become not only one of the biggest busts in Jets history, but one of the most disappointing careers in recent memory.

For many fans, Gholston will be remembered as one of those cautionary NFL combine tales. It’s clear why, he blew everyone away at the NFL combine. Not only did he tie for the most bench press reps at the entire combine, but took first place in most drills among defensive ends.

Vernon Gholston: 2008 NFL Combine Results

40 Yard Dash 4.65 ( 1st among DE)
Bench Press 37 (Tied for Most at combine)
Vertical 35.5 (1st among DE)
3 Cone 7.12 (5th among DE)
Broad Jump 125 (1st among DE)

People remember him as a workout warrior, and while that certainly helped his draft stock you can’t forget that Gholston was a dominant defensive player at Ohio State. In just 25 games Gholston has 21.5 sacks and over thirty tackles for a loss as a defensive end. Many experts, including Mel Kiper Jr. strongly believed that Gholston was the best projected 3-4 pass rusher in the draft.

No matter the position or scheme, Gholston never could find his place with the Jets

It wasn’t a great draft position for the Jets who were coming off a 4-12 season. Even though the team would eventually land Brett Favre in August, much like the 2018 draft the Jets were at sixth with even less quarterbacks to choose from. The only quarterback selected in the top 10 was Matt Ryan. Gholston proejected to fit right into Eric Mangini’s 3-4 scheme and give the Jets woeful pass rush an upgrade. Their sack leaders from the previous season, with five apiece, were middle linebacker David Harris and the now over thirty-year-old defensive end Shaun Ellis.

Looking back nearly a decade later the pick made sense for the Jets, but Gholston was a dud. In his rookie contract Gholston had a clause that if he recorded one sack he would earn a million dollars. He never collected. Even with two of the best defensive minded coaches in football, Eric Mangini and eventually Rex Ryan, neither coach was able turn Gholston into a role player let alone a starter. His career was a failure for a top 10 pick with only 42 careers tackles and as for sacks, to quote Dean from the movie Animal House “zero point zero.”

In the following decade the defensive end position has been boom or bust for the New York Jets. while the team has drafted Leonard Williams, Sheldon Richardson, and Muhammad Wilkerson, the team had another colossal first round bust in Quenton Coples.

It is hard to pinpoint why Gholston didn’t work in New York. Was it a scheme fit? His commitment? There isn’t one specific reason. My take is that he didn’t have the speed and hand skills to get around the corner in the NFL and when he realized this Gholston’s confidence plummeted. That could be part of the reason, but you can never pinpoint one reason why a player fails in the NFL because like in engineering there is never just one cause for a disaster.

In the past decade there might not be a bigger disaster as a first round pick than Vernon Gholston was for the New York Jets.

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