When these few, fateful words, the Jets' 2012 season, and perhaps the future of Rex Ryan as ruler of the Gang Green kingdom, could go down in flames. Thankfully for Jets faithful, there are not many turns the Jets can take in the draft that would fail to cure at least one of their mounting ills.
It may be difficult to pin down what actually might be the best and worst hands the Jets could play in Radio City this coming April until free-agent movement irons itself out, but there are some choices that the Jets brain trust could make that would qualify the 2012 NFL draft among the worst in team history.
There is no denying the reality that current Jets inside linebacker and resident loudmouth Bart Scott has many more days behind him than in front of him as a professional football player.
The significant role of an inside linebacker in the Rex Ryan/Mike Pettine defensive scheme is unquestionable and with the limited number of available free agents at this position, this could be first on the shopping list for Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum.
The Jets will have a difficult decision to make should they decide to pursue a defender in Round 1, and will have an even more precarious decision, albeit narrowed in options, to make should they focus on their linebacker corps.
There are only two inside linebackers entering this year’s draft class that are potentially capable of being selected in the top 75 picks. These two players, Hightower and Boston College standout Luke Huechly, stand alone as the only real recruits worthy of a first-day selection.
The Jets have the capability of making a huge mistake here should they choose Hightower over the record-setting Kuechly, but it would not surprise me in the least if they did.
Hightower is the larger of the two candidates, standing two inches taller and coming in at a pre-draft weight 23 pounds heavier than his ACC counterpart. Hightower has also been assessed as a fraction of a second faster than Kuechly in the 40-yard dash.
When you add to these statistics the fact that Hightower played for an SEC powerhouse in Alabama, he has the upper hand in exposure and perhaps even in significant-game experience over Huechly.
As a follower of ACC football, I have become quite familiar with Kuechly and I believe that the Jets would be making a reprehensible mistake if they were to pass on him if available. The former Eagle received three of the highest honors awarded to collegiate defensive players in 2011 including the Butkus Trophy, the Lott IMPACT Trophy and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.
Kuechly accumulated 191 tackles this past season for Boston College, 102 of them solo. The two-time consensus All-American may very well be the hands-down most aggressive tackler on the field and is custom-made for the Rex Ryan style of defense.
All of this said, Jets fans have been here before. It is Warren Sapp/Kyle Brady déjà vu all over again. With their sights set on returning their hard-nosed defense to prominence and the probable defection of Bart Scott, will the Jets choose flash over substance?
I will have to agree with the majority of draft analysts who believe that this 2012 draft class, while long on players who can change the fortunes of desperate teams, is short on first-day-quality quarterback talent. Beyond the Andrew Lucks and RG3s of the world, many of the future signal-callers are projects at best.
Danger looms here for the Jets, as their current quarterback situation has devolved into nothing better than a dumpster fire. With several members of Jets management and team members addressing the fact that third-year incumbent Mark Sanchez has suffered because of a lack of competition behind him, it worries me very much to think that the Jets may leap at the first available arm to pop up on their war-room draft board.
Unless by act of divine intervention conjured by Tim Tebow’s praying hand itself, Luck and Griffin will be long gone by the time the Jets are on the clock at pick No. 16. After those two, the possibility that the Jets find the competition for Sanchez they are looking for is slim to none.
By allowing their eyes to even wander in the general direction of the available quarterback pool before halftime on day two would be disastrous, so much so that I cannot believe that even the Jets are capable of such a misstep. Given that this is an examination of the worst possible scenarios, I cannot discount the fact that we are talking about the New York Jets here and there is no behavior too impossible.
I do believe that if the Jets are fortunate enough to be in a position to draft a quarterback the likes of Boise State’s Kellen Moore or Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins as late as the third or fourth round, they would do themselves a great service by firming up their depth under center. Anything before that point in time would definitely qualify as a worst-case scenario for Gang Green.
Very much in the same vein that the inside linebacker position in the Rex Ryan system retains so much influence over first- and second-level movement, there may be no more important of a position on the entire Jets defensive depth chart than strong safety.
Time and again Ryan has extolled the virtues of having veteran defender Jim Leonhard as his defensive quarterback in the secondary, managing and coordinating all of the on-field coverages for his squad-mates.
Ironically, the strong safety position is now as similarly vulnerable as inside linebacker, as Leonhard suffered his second consecutive season-ending injury. Worse yet, this is Leonhard’s second injury to his legs that will require surgery to repair. That does not bode well for a player whose position demands full field coverage and speed.
The depth of available safeties in this year’s draft is shallow. Another former member of the Alabama Crimson Tide, Mark Barron, is the only player at the position to be ranked inside the top 70 players entering the draft.
With so many gaping holes on the Jets offense and with the deeply fractured situation at other skill positions, it would definitely be a poor decision for defensive-centric Ryan to select a defensive back on the first day.
Sadly, Barron may be too enticing for the Jets to pass up on draft day. The 6’2” first-team All-SEC award winner has a respectable 4.56 40 time and is considered an NFL-quality tackler. Several mock drafts have the Jets choosing Barron with the first pick.
This potential selection is interesting in that Barron could quickly turn into a genius strategic move given active Jets free-agent movement. Assuming that the Jets will inevitably spin their wheels until they decide what to do with Sanchez, it’s a safe bet that this first pick will be better put to use elsewhere.
This last entry in the potential disasters that could befall the Jets in the 2012 drafts rests not in what the Jets could do wrong, but in what they would fail to do.
There is no denying that beneath the still-smoldering shambles, the Jets locker room needs an attitude adjustment, a swift, impactful extraction of everyone and anyone who would rather see the team fail just to prove themselves right.
Where there is chaos, opportunity lies. Dysfunctional family members Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Bart Scott could very easily garner a handful of draft picks in exchange for their services in 2011, as well as absolving the Jets of their mountainous contracts. There is also no shortage of lowly teams with money to spend that could make a splash in their respective divisions with the poaching of any one of this unholy trio.
When you picture an organization in a position like the one St. Louis finds itself in at the moment—a team second to pick in each draft round, a young talented quarterback led by a new head coach looking to develop his favored signal-caller and a fanbase looking for any reason but to buy a ticket—swapping a draft pick or two for a group of veteran offensive weapons might start to look awfully enticing.
For the Jets not to take advantage of the situation, for them not to put the assets of players who have one foot out the proverbial door anyways, would be at best regretful and in reality foolish.
There is plenty of healing that can be accomplished by the Jets in a very short time this offseason, but only if they put their best foot forward and grab the brass ring in the way Rex Ryan promised he would but has yet to actually do.