BGA: The Expendables – Rookie Special

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Every year, teams have to let some players go. Even though the Jets brought back Sione Po’uha, Bryan Thomas and Nick Folk, they chose not to bring everyone back. Since preseason, I’ve been keeping track of the progress on the guys who left so we could at least start to form some views on whether letting any of these guys loose was a mistake or a smart move. If you missed any of these updates, go here, here, here and here.

By popular request, I’m now going to turn my attention to some of the players that the Jets could have had. Rather than being former Jets that were considered surplus to requirements, these are guys that the Jets could have signed or drafted during the offseason, but chose to go in another direction.

After the jump, all of the details from the 2012 season for each of the potential Jets draft picks contributing elsewhere. There will be another update next week, featuring players who were targeted in free agency but not signed.

Before we start, we must make the obvious disclaimer that one season is far too early to assess the value of a player selected in the NFL draft. For example, who would have guessed 12 months ago that the Bilal Powell would look much, much better than the John Conner pick when 2013 rolled around? However, it does give us some idea of their short term contributions and overall potential.

I have based the selection of these players on who TJB readers were calling for at the time the picks were made…

Bruce Irvin, DE, Seattle

The Jets would have had to trade ahead of Seattle if they wanted to get him with their first pick. Irvin came out of the blocks fast, with 4.5 sacks and 12 pressures in the first five games, but his production slowed over the second half of the season. He still finished up with 8.0 sacks, 12 QB hits and one forced fumble, but struggled all season against the run with just nine solo tackles and two missed tackles and was used mostly as a pass rusher (74% of the time) as a result. It seemed like he hit a wall after the bye week, with just one sack in six games, although he did have a sack in the wildcard game. His performance against the Falcons this week was his lowest graded of the year by some margin though. Still, he is already an effective situational player and shows signs of being a great pick if he can improve against the run.

Melvin Ingram, OLB, San Diego

On the face of it, Ingram had a much less productive season than Quinton Coples, who was selected just ahead of him. He ended up with just 1.0 sacks and one forced fumble. However, he was pretty effective at generating constant pressure from the outside linebacker position, as he backed up veterans Jarrett Johnson and Shaun Phillips. Ingram had at least two pressures in 11 of the 16 games, despite the fact he played less than 50% of the time in all but two. Unlike Irvin, he wasn’t just used situationally, rushing the passer less than 60% of the time. As a result, he graded out okay against the run (25 tackles), although he did also miss seven tackles. It’s early, but Ingram is a more complete player than Irvin at this stage of their respective careers. However, Irvin’s speciality far outweighs any strengths Ingram has.

Chandler Jones, DE, New England

Jones, who went three picks after Ingram, was looking like a shoo-in for defensive rookie of the year after the first half of the season, but started to struggle with the rigors of NFL life following the bye week. Jones had six sacks and eight QB hits over the first half of the season, but no sacks and just one QB hit in the second half. He also had no pressures in the first playoff game this week. He did miss some time with injuries, but still played over 280 snaps after the bye, 48 more than Coples (who had four sacks and six QB hits over the same timespan). Jones did a good job against the run, with 34 tackles and only three missed tackles, although he did play over 200 more snaps than both Irvin and Ingram. It will be interesting to see whether the league has Jones figured out or if he can put together a full season like his first half of this year by remaining healthy.

David DeCastro, OL, Pittsburgh

Had the Jets decided to go in another direction with their first pick, David DeCastro was considered by many to be the safest pick in the draft and was also reportedly someone in whom the Jets had interest. Unfortunately, he got injured in preseason and didn’t play until week 15 as a result, so it’s a bit difficult to assess his performance. In his first game, he graded out well against Dallas, but did get beaten for a sack. In his second game, he graded out poorly in the running game and also gave up two sacks and three pressures against the Bengals. He only played 11 snaps in the season finale. It’s going to be tricky to judge how good DeCastro is anyway because the Steelers linemen perhaps grade out worse than they would on another team by virtue of the fact that Ben Roethlisberger is more likely to make a throw under pressure than get rid of the ball early to avoid it. His first step will be to remain healthy.

Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Houston

One other option available to the Jets was perhaps to trade down several spots and still get a pass rusher like Whitney Mercilus, who went 26th. On the face of it, Mercilus was a much better pick than Ingram because he had six sacks. However, Ingram actually generated pressure at a much better rate and had more of an impact against the run. Mercilus had a tendency to grade out poorly in those games where he got significant playing time, so he might be better suited to a situational or rotational role at this stage of his career. His pressures had a tendency to come in bunches too – he had zero pressures in eight of the 16 games. Six sacks is nothing to be sniffed at though, especially for a Jets team that struggled to get any pass rushing production from their outside linebackers in 2012.

Ruben Randle, WR, NY Giants

Randle is a guy the Jets could have taken at wide receiver instead of Stephen Hill, perhaps removing the need to trade up. He went late in the 2nd round, with the 63rd pick. Randle’s final numbers were 298 yards and three touchdowns on 19 catches. However, entering the ultimately meaningless last game of the year against the Eagles, he had just one TD catch and a catch rate of just 54%. Still, he showed promise against the disappointing Eagles, by catching all four targets for 58 yards and two scores. Randle’s 15.7 yards per catch average is impressive and boosted by him making four catches of over 35 yards, as he had an impressive five catches on seven attempts on balls thrown over 20 yards down the field. He also had only one drop. Randle had six catches for 82 yards against the Browns in week five, but other than that didn’t catch more than two passes in a game until the final week. He ended up being more productive than Hill on both a per-snap and a per-target basis, although it’s pretty obvious that was influenced by who was throwing each of them the ball.

Bobby Massie, OT, Arizona

Another guy Jets fans were crying out for in the third round was Bobby Massie. Massie got off to a horrendous start, giving up an unbelievable 13 sacks in the first half of the season, despite the fact that the Cardinals were giving him plenty of help. However, in the blink of an eye, he managed to turn things around and put together an extremely solid second half of the season. He didn’t give up another sack and was only penalized once in the second half of the year. He’s not yet an impact run blocker, but if he can play like he did after the bye, he’ll solidify himself as a good NFL starter. You have to wonder whether he would have been given the chance to turn things around by Jets fans though had the same situation arisen with him starting here and getting off to a slow start.

Lamar Miller, RB, Miami

Another position some Jets fans wanted addressed with the third round pick which ultimately netted the Jets Demario Davis was running back, with Lamar Miller high on many people’s wish lists. In limited action, Miller ran for 250 yards on 51 carries, an average of just under five per carry, not bad for a change of pace back. He broke runs of 19, 22 and 28 yards. Miller also caught six passes for 45 yards but had one drop. If he could pass protect a little better, Miami might have given him a bit more playing time, but they clearly didn’t trust him in that role, as he did it less than once per game until the last game of the season. He did only give up one pressure in pass protection though.

James Hanna, TE, Dallas

Hanna was a guy who was considered pretty good value in the 6th round, but actually went one pick ahead of the Jets fourth pick, DB Josh Bush. If they wanted to move up, they’d likely have had to surrender a 2013 pick to do so. Hanna didn’t play much for the Cowboys, but caught eight passes for 86 yards on 11 targets.

Ryan Lindley, QB, Arizona

Lindley was considered by many to be the best quarterback on the board at the time. He actually went one pick before Hanna, so again the Jets would have had to move up to get him. As Jets fans will recall from the 7-6 win late in the season, Lindley was totally out of his depth as a rookie, but maybe he has some potential that will be realized in the years to come.

Alfonzo Dennard, CB, New England

Dennard was a good value pick that the Jets could perhaps have taken with one of their sixth round compensatory picks. Instead they went with the Baylor duo of Terrance Ganaway and Robert T. Griffin, neither of whom made the team. Dennard has managed to win a starting job in New England with Devin McCourty moving to safety. He started seven games during the regular season and allowed a completion percentage of just 52.5% when targeted and just 2.6 yards after the catch per reception. However, he did get beaten for five touchdowns. The Jets actually have pretty good depth at cornerback, so it’s not certain that he’d have helped them much this year, even with the injury to Darelle Revis.

Cam Johnson, OLB, San Francisco

The former Virginia DE was another value pick in the seventh round. The Jets didn’t have a seventh rounder until right at the end of the round where they had two compensatory picks (which, remember, cannot be traded). With the 49ers’ defensive depth, it’s hardly surprising that Johnson didn’t play much this year. He saw action on just 11 defensive snaps.

Trevin Wade, CB, Cleveland

Wade is another guy that could have been good value at the end of the seventh round. The Jets could have taken him instead of Antonio Allen or Jordan White. Wade played 201 snaps as a slot corner, but 172 of these were concentrated within four games. He was targeted 10 times, giving up six catches for 115 yards, but was beaten for touchdowns of 28 and 50 yards.

Vontaze Burfict, LB, Cincinnati

Burfict is a guy many Jets fans were calling for late in the draft. Once considered a good prospect, Burfict went undrafted mainly due to character concerns. He exceeded everyone’s expectations by starting 14 games and racking up over 100 tackles. He wasn’t very productive as a blitzer and did miss seven tackles and commit five penalties, but played almost 1,000 snaps on a defense that was good enough to reach the postseason. Often players that drop off everyone’s board in this fashion don’t tend to pan out, but on this occasion, Burfict has been good value. It will be interesting to see how high his ceiling is, though.

James Brown, OL, Chicago

Brown, another undrafted free agent, finally got to see some action on the Bears’ struggling line late in the season. He made three starts, including one game where he gave up two sacks, struggled in the running game and committed a penalty, but did much better over his last two games and will look to build on that next year.

Lucas Nix, OL, Pittsburgh

Nix was also seen as good potential value at the back end of the draft but went undrafted. He did not play on offense until the final week, when he played 27 snaps against the Chargers and actually graded out well. He’s another player who we’ll get a much better idea about next year.

Chris Polk, RB, Philadelphia

Another undrafted player thought to have good value was Chris Polk. He didn’t get to play on offense at all, but did appear in a few games on special teams.

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about whether the guys highlighted above would have been better choices than the players the Jets took. See you in a few days with an update on players the Jets were linked with in free agency but did not sign…