The draft is just hours away now and this will be without a doubt the most important draft for the Jets since 2006. With a new GM and a lot of holes to fill, none the least being the departure of arguably the best Jets player ever, John Idzik has the task of kickstarting a rebuilding project after the worst season of the Rex Ryan era. The losses this offseason have been numerous – the Jets have lost ten starters from the lineup that started on opening day in 2012, and with two picks in the top fifteen and four of the top seventy-five, the importance of this draft can’t be understated. Following the jump, I’ll break down potential draft strategies for the Jets, from maximizing the value of having two top fifteen picks to attempting to build a defense that can ultimately be better for Darrelle Revis’ untimely departure.
The consensus in regards to the quality of the 2013 NFL draft isn’t very flattering. In comparison to the star-studded class of last year that saw two elite quarterback prospects go back-to-back at the top and two offensive skill players in the top five, the 2013 draft class will be lucky to see an offensive skill player go in the top fifteen. In fact, a report yesterday from CBS Sport’s Mike Freeman stated that an unnamed general manager had told him the 2013 draft class is the weakest he’s seen in at least ten years. It seems typical that the Jets would have two top fifteen picks in a draft devoid of top-tier talent, but this class does possess legitimate potential stars and depth at certain positions. This isn’t the best draft for the Jets to look for their future quarterback or a bluechip prospect at running back, but the Jets can get some very good prospects at positions of need. Where this draft does look promising is on the lines on both sides of the ball. There is an expectation of three offensive tackles going in the top six or seven picks with Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher being mooted as the first and second overall picks respectively. Draft experts expect a similar early run on defensive tackles, with Florida’s Sharrif Floyd being linked as high as third overall to the Raiders and Utah’s Star Lotulelei regarded as one of the draft’s best players on tape. Teams looking for a pass rusher in the top end of the draft have a number of potential superstars to choose from. Oregon’s Dion Jordan, BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah and LSU’s Barkevious Mingo are all high upside pass rushers and Georgia’s Jarvis Jones may be the best defensive player in the entire draft going strictly by on-the-field performance. All positions graded equally, the draft actually does contain two elite prospects. Alabama’s Chance Warmack and North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper are two of the highest rated talents at guard in recent memory and they could feasibly both go in the top fifteen picks. Outside of linemen, the collective group of defensive backs is regarded as the draft’s overall deepest position.
Life After Darrelle Revis
The Jets lost a special player when Revis was traded to the Bucs, as we all know. He’s a once-in-a-generation talent that the Jets cannot possibly find a like-for-like replacement for. His impact on the way the Jets play defense was unseen from a corner. Matching up with and eliminating a team’s #1 receiver in one-on-one coverage allowed Rex Ryan to do a lot with his defense, such as be more risky and creative with blitz packages and shading coverage to the other side of the field opposite Revis. In terms of the impact Revis had on the Jets’ pass defense, the numbers speak for themselves. The Jets can’t possibly expect to find another corner that can create this level of impact. What the Jets can do however is find a way to replace his impact overall.
Upon acquiring the 13th pick in the trade that sent Revis to Tampa Bay, several experts have been mocking a corner to the Jets with one of the team’s first rounders. Dee Milliner from Alabama, the draft’s top corner, has been mentioned at 9th overall and other prospects such as Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes or the fast rising Houston alum D.J. Hayden have been mentioned as possibilities with the 13th pick. Looking for the Jets to draft the best player on the board is one thing which Milliner could feasibly be if available, but in terms of need and maximizing value the Jets don’t really need a corner as much as they do other positions. With Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie as starters, the Jets were not only set at cornerback but it was a position of great strength. Even with the departure of Revis, the Jets still do have a legitimate #1 corner in Antonio Cromartie as well as 2010 first round pick Kyle Wilson. Wilson hasn’t played to his draft status, but the Jets enter a transitional season where younger players should and will be getting opportunities to stake their claim to long term starting positions before being given up on completely. With a healthy Darrelle Revis, the Jets were a strong pass defense but in a somewhat unconventional manner. They relied on strong coverage in the back end rather than a fearsome pass rush in comparison to most other top pass defenses like Denver, San Francisco and Pittsburgh.
The NFL is built on quarterbacks and pressuring the quarterback, and this is the Jets’ biggest area of opportunity. While the fantastic Jets roster of the 2010 season has consistently eroded since the end of that season, the one thing Tannenbaum had gotten right was the youth movement with big, athletic players he began to start in the Jets’ front seven. WIlkerson and Coples look to be a pair of fearsome interior ends, and Kenrick Ellis is a young and developing player that has the potential to be a dominant interior presence. The Jets hope Demario Davis can match Bart Scott’s intensity while being a significant upgrade in the athleticism departement and he did finish his rookie season with some bright moments. The only position left that needs investment is at rush linebacker . The fearsome edge rusher has eluded the Jets since the trade of John Abraham but the Jets are in a prime position to finally get it right. Ezekiel Ansah seems to be a lock to the Lions and Dion Jordan probably wil not be available by the 9th pick, but between LSU’s Barkevious Mingo and Georgia’s Jarvis Jones the Jets will be able to draft a player that has the ability to be a playmaking sack artist on the NFL level. The Jets are losing a truly special player in Darrelle Revis, but if in the first round the Jets can get it right with a pass rusher(or, at some point in the draft, two), the Jets could very soon have one of the best front sevens in the league, which in itself is invaluable.
The Jets have lost their best player, their starting tight end, both starting guards, both starting safeties, desperately need at least one starting caliber outside linebacker, and could do with upgrading a multitude of positions on offense. The Jets have a number of holes to fill and can go a number of different ways in the draft, and fortunately enough are in a perfect position to take advantage of this draft’s talent pool.
John Idzik should and will be exploring many opportunities to move back and accumulate more picks in what is a draft that contains strength in depth rather than lots of quality at the top end, but finding a team that is willing to move up is never easy. Staying with two picks in the top fifteen, the Jets have a golden opportunity to land potential Pro Bowl caliber players at positions of need. Should the Jets stay at nine and thirteen, they are in a perfect position to land two of the following three positions: an elite guard prospect, one of the top pass rushers, and possibly the draft’s #1 offensive playmaker Tavon Austin will also be available.
This is a huge draft for the Jets. The Jets have fallen back into a stage of rebuilding but there is plenty of ammunition to expedite the process and get off to a great start. If Idzik keeps both of the Jets top fifteen picks, one of them needs to be a pass rusher – the player the modern defense is built around, and the with double digit sack potential that can help “replace” Darrelle Revis. The two candidates likely to be available, Barkevious Mingo and Jarvis Jones, are not players that come without risk though. Mingo is an unfinished product whose production in 2012 can be called into question, though he points to the scheme he played in at LSU as contributing to that. Jarvis Jones simply on tape is an explosive playmaker that looks the closest to anything this draft has in terms of an elite defensive prospect. Some scouts think he compares favorably on tape to Von Miller. However, his workout numbers were very poor and there are some concerns over a spine condition he may have. Georgia’s coaches reportedly told scouts before hand that Jones would be testing poorly, and to not let that mislead them, and Jones remaining very much in the top 15-20 picks discussion rather than seeing a free-fall in predraft discussions lends credence that scouts have generally accepted that idea as well. I think the Jets can feel very good about walking away with one of either of those players – but the risk you take in drafting one of them I think should be counterbalanced by the one “safe pick” the draft contains: going with one of the elite guard prospects.
If the Jets tonight finish with some combination of Mingo/Jones and Warmack/Cooper, that would be a brilliant start.
With the other picks in the top 100, the Jets can fill more needs with still hitting on some value. The biggest question of all though is if the Jets feel that “their guy”, if they even have one, at the quarterback position is still somehow there in the second round, would they pull the trigger? Perhaps not at 9 or 13, but if Geno Smith took a tumble would the Jets show a lot of interest? Could they like Matt Barkley enough or Ryan Nassib to take either if they are there in round two?
The Jets can fill other needs where there is value such as safety. Safeties like Florida’s Matt Elam, LSU’s Eric Reid, and Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien are all looked at as fringe 1st/2nd round players and one could fall to the Jets at 38th overall. The draft’s depth at corner begins to show, and the draft’s second ranked tight end, Zach Ertz of Stanford, has been a common mock draft selection for the Jets in the second round. Should the Jets knock off a need at guard and outside linebacker, I would look for the Jets to draft a safety or Ertz if available, should a quarterback not be on their minds.
In the third and fourth rounds expect the Jets to take a corner at one of those spots where the draft depth is strongest, particularly if the second round pick is not a corner. These rounds are always interesting because while these players can still be looked at as potential rookie contributors or perhaps even starters, teams seem to divert from need a bit more and start going with players they feel comfortable with regardless of position. For the Jets, this could be another outside linebacker, like Sio Moore of Connecticut or Cornelius Washington from Georgia, one of the draft’s most interesting prospects. It could also be a player at literally any position on offense – a receiver, a running back(much less likely with a Chris Ivory trade), a tight end if one has yet to be selected, even a right tackle to compete with Howard or another guard.
The most important thing is that the Jets look at this draft as being able to get at least four starters with four picks in the top hundred, two in the top fifteen. After the first four rounds, the draft becomes a lot less about who can improve a team’s immediate weaknesses and which players do you personally feel comfortable with or risky players who need a lot of refinement before they can expect to perform.
In regards to making up for the impact Revis had, the Jets can go in a very positive direction by hitting on a pass rusher early, potentially getting a fringe first rounder at safety, and taking advantage of the corner depth to get a prospect that could potentially push Kyle Wilson and play nickel as a rookie. The Jets could even double-dip on pass rushers too, getting one at the top of the draft and one later in the third or fourth rounds.
The important thing though is recognizing that the Jets are in a good position to maximize where the value of the draft is, and how to line it up with their needs.