Since the underwhelming conclusion of their 2011 regular season and subsequent media fallout, which highlighted locker room dissension and coaching staff distrust, the New York Jets as an entire organization are facing perhaps the most critical offseason in franchise history.
Everything is on the line for the 2012 season, including Rex Ryan's tenure as head coach and Mike Tannenbaum's reign as general manager, despite both being favorites of franchise owner Woody Johnson.
Regardless of the over-hyped media headlines, the New York Jets' fan base has much to look forward to towards the 2012 NFL season, which predicates on the Jets' front office making the right decisions to make the franchise a playoff contender.
The 2012 NFL Combine was nothing short of spectacular. This year's draft class has incredible depth in offensive linemen, wide receivers, defensive linemen and linebackers, but are simply unimpressive everywhere else.
Obviously, the direction in which the Jets take towards the 2012 NFL Draft relies heavily on the actions (or inactions) they take in free agency.
I have made draft projections for all seven rounds, including viable alternatives, in the event the original selection is unavailable. By drafting up a realistic draft scenario, fans have a better idea of the direction the Jets are most likely trending towards.
If the 2012 NFL Draft were to take place this weekend, this is how I see it going down.
Melvin Ingram would be the ideal pick, but he is a top ten selection.
Whitney Mercilus is the best 3-4 OLB prospect in the first round aside from Melvin Ingram, Ronnel Lewis or Nick Perry.
At 6'4" 261 pounds with a 34-inch arm length, Mercilus has the physical ability to create separation from opposing linemen and the athleticism to play sideline to sideline. At the combine, Mercilus looked fluid in position drills and had 27 reps on the bench with a 32-inch vertical.
He's the closest prospect to Melvin Ingram in both explosiveness and athletic ability.
Most mock drafts that you will find have the 16th pick going to either Trent Richardson or Courtney Upshaw. It will be difficult to argue against the Jets taking Richardson if he drops to them, as he is the best running back in the draft.
However, this year's running back class has great prospects that will be available in the second and third rounds, notably David Wilson and Doug Martin.
In regards to Courtney Upshaw, despite him having experience in a complex, hybrid 3-4 defense at Alabama, it can be argued that his combine performance was an individual assessment of his abilities.
At 6'1" 272 pounds, he has a larger build than the typical 3-4 OLB. However, in the drills he showed his weaknesses in lateral agility, flexibility, pass rushing technique repertoire and coverage skills, all of which are essential to being a play making 3-4 OLB in the NFL.
He may have had a great career in college, but the Jets need a pass rusher that can work the edge and disrupt the backfield. From his performance in drills, Upshaw seems limited in those abilities.
This selection will happen in only two scenarios:
1) The Jets do not sign a WR in free agency.
2) The defensive player they want is no longer available.
This year's draft class may have incredible depth at the wide receiver position, but there are only two or three that are day-one starters. Michael Floyd is one of them.
Michael Floyd is arguably the best wide receiver in the 2012 NFL Draft, at 6'3" 220 pounds, he would line up as the No. 2 wide out opposite of Santonio Holmes, with Jeremy Kerley in the slot and Dustin Keller lined up at tight end.
Floyd was considered only a possession receiver, but his sub 4.47 40 time, silenced critics of his ability to stretch the field and provide deep play options up top.
If the Jets do not take a 3-4 OLB at No. 16, it is almost a given they will select Michael Floyd.
The New York Jets' biggest need outside of a pass rusher and right tackle is at the safety position.
The only safeties under contract heading into the 2012 season are Eric Smith and Tracy Wilson.
Wilson is nothing more than a special teams contributor and emergency backup, whereas Smith should have been released.
Smith could not cover opposing tight ends, was a severe liability in coverage and overran opposing running plays (i.e. the November 17, 2011 matchup in Mile High Stadium).
Mark Barron is the undisputed best safety prospect in the 2012 NFL Draft.
In most mock drafts he is projected as a late first-round pick to a second-round pick. I personally believe he will slide into the early stages of the second round given his recovery from surgery and the achievement of several prospects at the NFL combine that have catapulted their stock into the first round.
Being that he is recovering from surgery to correct a hernia, he was unable to perform at the combine.
He should be ready for Alabama's pro day, but if the Jets are somehow able to select Barron in the second round (given Tannebaum's history to trade up in the NFL draft), the Jets are primed for a significant comeback in 2012.
The Jets most glaring need going into 2012 is between a pass rushing OLB or offensive guard/tackle.
Wayne Hunter was a travesty, giving up 8.5 sacks and penalized 11 times in his first season as a starter.
Given that the Jets had one of best offensive line coaches in the NFL in Bill Callahan, Hunter's performance is inexcusable. He is nothing more than a backup getting paid a starter's salary.
In this analysis, it is projected that the New York Jets will select a pass rusher in the first round and look to address their other needs in the rest of the draft.
If Kelechi Osemele is available at the 47th selection in the second round, the New York Jets have no other choice but to make him their second-round pick.
In selecting Osemele, the New York Jets have an offensive lineman that can play both inside and at right tackle.
At the NFL combine, Osemele came in at 6'6" 333 pounds with the longest arm length of any offensive line prospect with a 36-inch reach.
He continued to make an impression with a bench press of 32 reps, given his arm length, that is an incredible performance. Osemele is an instant upgrade at right tackle to complement an offensive line that already has three Pro Bowl linemen.
As mentioned before, the New York Jets have not made any indications as to what they will do in free agency, however they lack the cap room to make any significant acquisitions.
Also, being that the only safeties that would have fit in Rex Ryan's defense were franchised, the Jets must address the safety position in the draft.
Assuming that Mark Barron was not available in the second round, the Jets would feel fortunate if Markelle Martin slid to the third round.
In a class that is weak in safety talent, Markelle Martin may very well be selected in the latter part of the second round, but he is projected to be a third-round prospect.
Markelle Martin was a playmaker for Oklahoma State University. At 6'1" 202 pounds, he displayed great range throughout the season with 65 tackles, five tackles for a loss, 11 passes broken up and two forced fumbles.
He is more known for his jarring hits than his ball skills and elusive speed.
If Markelle Martin can bring his penchant for forcing turnovers, he is a welcome addition to a Jets defense that needs a free safety that can make game-changing plays, as well as possess the physical ability to match up and run with opposing tight ends.
Rex Ryan has yet to have a safety with that kind of ability since his days in Baltimore with Ed Reed.
This year's draft class is stacked at the skilled positions.
Despite the world's love affair with Trent Richardson, I stand by the belief that a running back should never be taken in the first round when there are talented prospects at the same position for greater value in the later rounds.
The only exception to that rule is Adrian Peterson.
It is possible that Martin falls to the third round with Trent Richardson, David Wilson and Lamar Miller all projected to be drafted between the first and second rounds before him.
Even though I like David Wilson's one-cut explosiveness that was shown throughout the season, he is a second-round prospect. Being that I project the Jets to select a safety or offensive lineman in the second round, that would leave the later rounds available for a possible running back.
That running back is Doug Martin.
Doug Martin is an incredibly talented running back that has first-round grade potential. Doug Martin has the frame you want in a running back at 5'9" 223 pounds, and unlike David Wilson, does not have problems with ball security.
At the NFL combine Martin had 28 reps on the bench and posted a 4.47 40 time including a 1.57 10-yard split, while also showing impressive footwork and agility in the drills.
His combine performance translates into an explosive downhill runner that can break tackles with power or finesse, being the perfect fit to an offense that lacks a consistent running game.
Bart Scott was given permission to seek a trade and that opened a vacancy at the ILB position.
Josh Mauga is not the answer as a legitimate starter, despite being effective against the run.
Keenan Robinson played multiple positions on Texas' defensive front, but his perfect fit would be in the middle of a 3-4 defense to capitalize on his athleticism and technique.
He also has the speed and quickness to pass rush when he lines up on the outside, having that versatility is the embodiment of a player that Rex Ryan wants on his defense.
At 6'3 240 pounds, he can line up inside and outside. His ability to play sideline to sideline makes him an attractive selection in the fourth round to provide depth at multiple linebacker positions in a complex, hybrid scheme.
Joe Adams was only referred to as a dynamic punt returner while in college with little mention of his receiving talent, despite posting 54 receptions for 652 yards and three touchdowns last season.
At least, that was his profile up until the Senior Bowl where he showcased his dynamic run-after-the-catch abilities as a receiver.
He is one of several "sleeper" prospects that should have been considered in the earlier rounds, but due to marginal production in college and a deep receiver class, he is a steal in the later rounds.
At 5'11" 190 pounds, Joe Adams is sensational in the return game similar to Jeremy Kerley, but he can also hold his own if lined up in the slot or lined up on the outside.
Given the nuances of Sparano's offense, Joe Adams would have opportunities to produce being that the new scheme favors short to middle receiving patterns.
However, Adams has the talent to be a deep threat, as he ran a sub 4.5 40 and possesses a 36-inch vertical.
It should be noted that similar to Baylor's Kendall Wright, Joe Adams' 40 time does not accurately translate into his game speed when he's on the field.
Joe Adams can flat out fly.
Probably one of the most significant snubs of the 2012 NFL Combine, Aaron Henry was a defensive standout at Wisconsin.
Not only did Henry play safety, but at 6'0" 210 pounds he started his college career at cornerback, possessing fluid hips and great footwork for a safety.
However, Henry lacks the production and tackling ability that his counterparts who are projected to go earlier possess.
He has natural speed and lateral agility to change direction and move in man coverage. He has the talent to match up well with the prototypical tight ends that are becoming a staple in the NFL.
There is no guarantee that the Jets will be able to select Markelle Martin or Mark Barron in the draft given their early-round grades, however, Aaron Henry is projected as a late-round pick which allows the Jets ample opportunity to select him.
When was the last time you remember a draft where a 6'4" 310-pound left tackle that played every game of his college career for a D-I powerhouse would be available in the fifth round?
This draft class has such great depth in offensive line talent that a possible third-round prospect can be available in the fifth or sixth round.
That is the current grade of Don Barclay, who along with Aaron Henry, was also snubbed from being invited to Indianapolis for the NFL combine.
Don Barclay played at left tackle and at guard, and in the same philosophy that I applied to Osemele, having a lineman that can be utilized at different positions in the line is invaluable.
You can always throw a tackle to play guard, but you can not throw a guard to play tackle if they lack the experience and arm length to do it.
Don Barclay has the arm length, the experience and technique to play different positions on the line and provides solid depth to a Jets offensive line that lacks it.
Once a highly-prized recruit that left LSU after recruiting violations who found a second home north of the border and balled out in Canada, Akiem Hicks has much to prove and is currently projected as a sixth-round pick.
At 6'5" 320 pounds, Hicks possesses the raw physical attributes to play the five technique as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. With the arm length of 35.125 inches, he can easily separate and shed blocks to collapse the pocket.
Hicks played DT/DE at the University of Regina, which may indicate he can be shifted around the defensive line to create mismatches due to his size and athleticism.
The defensive line would benefit from Hicks.
Muhammad Wilkerson was an excellent draft selection, Mike Devito is strong against the run, whereas Kenrick Ellis could not break into the starting lineup (in addition to the uncertainty of his pending court case) and Sione Pouha is a free agent.
Akiem Hicks would add excellent value to the Jets defensive line, which at the moment is one of the few bright spots of their defense.
When your top pass rusher is Aaron Maybin, a former first-round draft pick of the Bills who never produced a single sack until joining the Jets, there is a problem.
Most of Maybin's sacks came off great coverage and being lined up to exploit speed mismatches, in which he would simply outrun the slower linemen.
Aaron Maybin needs to add bulk in order to be considered a legitimate pass rusher.
Jamal Westerman still shows potential but he struggled against the run, where he was eventually replaced by Garrett McIntyre towards the latter half of the season. Neither is a pass rushing threat.
Enter Sammy Brown.
A former JUCO transfer, the 6'3 240 pound Sammy Brown totaled 21 sacks in two years at Houston, and his 2011 campaign included 93 tackles, 13.5 sacks and 30 TFL.
The Jets need talent at OLB with Bryan Thomas likely being released or restructured so that 2012 is his last season, and Calvin Pace is simply overpaid and not producing.
Assuming the Jets do not address a pass rusher in the early rounds, Sammy Brown will provide a legitimate prospect for Rex Ryan to have as a project as he did with Terrell Suggs in Baltimore. You can teach technique, you can't teach talent.
Nick Folk is average and with a team that is attempting to rid itself of its inconsistencies, Folk is no exception.
Folk's field goal completion percentages the past three years were 64.3, 76.9 and 76.0, hardly what you expect from a kicker on a team that desperately needed points due to a lackluster offense.
Blair Walsh, 5'10" 190 pounds, is projected so low because he had an incredibly sub-par season, converting only 19 for 31 field goal attempts. However, his 2011 season should not overlook the strength of his resume over the span of his career at Georgia.
The following points are noted from CBS Sports:
- Set NCAA record with at least one FG in 45 games
- Set UGA & SEC record with 412 points scored, which ranked second in NCAA history
- Set school record for career PATs with 184
- Set school record for consecutive PATs made as he made the first 119 of his career.
Consistency is the key to special teams play and Blair Walsh has that.
Similar to the justification for the Blair Walsh selection, the Jets punting unit was also inconsistent.
If the Jets do not draft a kicker in the seventh round, they would be best advised to draft a punter.
T.J. Conley's gross punting average of 42.7 was ranked 30th out of all 32 punters in the NFL for the 2011 regular season.
Supporters for Conley may cite the average return yards on punts, punts that were fair caught and punts downed inside the 20. But those stats can all be attributed to stellar special teams play by a well-coached Mike Westhoff unit, and not because of the "strong" leg Conley was perceived to have had.
T.J. Conley needs competition going into 2012 and there is no prospect more fitting than Shaun Powell out of FSU.
Powell, at 6'4" 235 pounds, looks more the part of weak side linebacker than punter, but he has been described by scouts on CBS Sports as being, "a proficient rugby-style punter, who has improved his directional accuracy while limiting returning opportunities."
"Shawn Powell would have been the nation's leading punter with a 47.0 yard average, but he does not have enough attempts. Still, he has enabled FSU to lead the nation in net punting. Powell has dropped 43-percent of his kicks inside the opponents' 20," says NFLDraftScout.com.
Not to mention, he was a consensus All-American immediately following the 2011 season.
The Jets need to draft the talented special teams ace to give them opportunities for better field position during the 2012 regular season, something Conley proved he could not do.