15 NFL Combine Prospects That the New York Jets Must Closely Watch
With limited financial resources at their disposal to repair their depleted roster, this year's draft has paramount importance for the Jets' success in 2013.
The combine is important and should not be taken too lightly, but it is best used as a affirmation of tape study rather than an indicator of talent. If a player runs well on tape but puts up mediocre 40 times, it should be a cause for concern—but not a reason to completely flip around your draft board.
Here are the players the Jets need to keep a close eye on during next week's combine.
Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse
If the Jets are planning on building a team that sustains success, they must find themselves a quarterback sooner rather than later.
Selecting ninth, the likes of Geno Smith and Tyler Wilson may be out of their reach, but prospects like Ryan Nassib could be viable options to be the Jets' future at the game's most important position.
Nassib struggles with some decision-making on the field, but he has a good arm with solid accuracy. Most of all, his poise and intelligence are off the charts.
Mike Mayock on QB Ryan Nassib:"When coaches get involved they're going to fall in love with his work ethic and intelligence."— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) February 18, 2013
Nassib's stock should rise during the combine interviews, but the Jets need to stop themselves from falling in love with a player just because of his work ethic. After all, work ethic and poise at the college level were some of the biggest reasons why Rex Ryan wanted to draft Mark Sanchez back in 2009.
Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
Now that the release of Calvin Pace is official, the Jets find themselves in need of two starting outside linebackers and will likely need to spend a first- or second-round pick on the position.
Mingo is one of the most explosive players in the draft whose game is predicated around his initial first step, but his production dipped off a bit in the middle of the 2012 season, planting a seed of doubt into evaluators' minds.
Still, players are drafted because of their traits, not college production. If Mingo tests well at the combine, it will validate all of his rare physical traits that flash on film. Otherwise, there may be a reason why Mingo was not as productive as expected in 2012.
Mingo played a bit light for an NFL outside linebacker at LSU at 230 pounds. However, he claims to have gotten much "bigger and faster" in recent months. The Jets, along with the rest of the NFL, will certainly be interested to see how he moves if he has indeed added bulk to his frame.
It would be the story of the combine if Mingo flunks the combine drills, but the Jets still need to keep an eye on his results to ensure that he is indeed worthy of a top-10 pick.
Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon
Dion Jordan is one of the few defenders in this draft that compare to Mingo in terms of athletic ability. Originally recruited as a tight end to Oregon, Jordan has shown the ability to rush the passer as well as dropping into coverage. In fact, he was assigned to cover slot receivers at times.
However, that does not mean Jordan is a prospect without questions. He is a bit of a one-trick pony as a pass-rusher; he tends to rely on his speed and bend to run around tackles. Jordan will have to show more change-of-direction ability in the combine drills to prove he can be a versatile rusher.
While Jordan is coming off a torn labrum, he will be a near-full participant, as he will not be able to do the bench press.
The Jets will need to keep an eye on Jordan to see if he's affected by his torn labrum injury and see that he lives up to his reputation as an athletic specimen.
Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
From a pure talent standpoint, Bray has as much to offer as any other quarterback in this draft.
Inconsistent during his disappointing career in Knoxville, Bray would make a handful of jaw-dropping throws per game—which he would follow up with a bad decision. There is also a fair argument that the success that Bray did have was a result of him being surrounded by a luxury of talent at the receiver position.
This upcoming draft process is hugely important for Bray, particularly in the interview process. He will need to convince NFL teams that he is not the weak-minded, immature player he is perceived as.
After a rather embarrassing run-in with the law last summer, Bray faces an uphill battle in making this happen.
It is unlikely that Bray will be a first-round pick, but a nice showing at the combine could vault him into the top two or three rounds.
Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh
Coming off a brutal ACL tear, Ray Graham had a stellar season at Pittsburgh, showing the burst, speed and power you would not expect from a player with supposedly fragile knees.
Graham is a physical runner with enough lateral agility to be considered as a possible every-down back. For the Jets, he could be an ideal complement to Bilal Powell, assuming Shonn Greene goes elsewhere in free agency.
However, there will still be a thorough medical evaluation of Graham, as no team is going to blindly spend a draft pick on a player with an injury history that plays the game's most physically demanding position.
If Graham's knee checks out, he could be taken as early as the second day of the draft.
Jordan Reed, TE, Florida
With the real possibility of Dustin Keller going elsewhere in free agency, the Jets could find themselves with a massive hole at the tight end position.
Reed is not an ideal in-line blocker, but he is a size mismatch with linebackers and safeties. He runs good routes, has great hands and can make an immediate impact on a Jets team that is void of playmakers at the position.
However, because he is a bit of a one-way player, he has limited value on draft day. If he runs as well as Dustin Keller did at the event back in 2008, he could be a second-round pick.
If the Jets do take a chance on a player like Reed, their need for a blocking tight end become even more paramount.
Marcus Davis, WR, Virginia Tech
In theory, the Jets have their starting receiving corps set. However, the Jets' complete lack of depth at the position was one of the biggest reasons for the offense's ineptitude in 2012, making finding talented developmental receivers later in the draft a priority for new GM John Idzik.
There is not much not to like about Davis from a physical standpoint, as he's drawing comparisons to Dez Bryant. He has good size at 6'4", runs well and can make plays on contested catches with good body control. Terrific after the catch, he was responsible for just about every big play from the Hokies' otherwise stagnant offense in 2012.
The issues with Davis stem from concentration issues, as he has struggled with drops and sometimes shows inconsistent effort in plays not designed to go his way.
In any case, he should test rather well in the drills and should see an increase in his draft stock.
If taken somewhere in the fifth, sixth or seventh rounds, Davis could provide excellent value developing on any roster and could potentially become a stud if given the right coaching.
Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Tyler Wilson is arguably the best pure thrower in the draft, and he plans on showing off his arm by throwing at the combine.
However, unlike Nassib, Wilson does not have great poise under pressure and is not generally regarded as a great leader, which makes the interview process very important for Wilson's stock.
In any case, Wilson has a chance to close some ground on Geno Smith by showing off his arm talent throwing in shorts in a controlled environment.
If Wilson shows off some of the arm talent he displayed during the Senior Bowl practices, he could put himself back in the conversation to be a top-10 selection come April and be the Jets quarterback of the future.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
The Jets are still hoping that Stephen Hill can emerge as their No. 2 target, but his inconsistent rookie season leaves the door open for a new regime that has no ties to Hill to find a more reliable, dynamic presence to line up opposite Santonio Holmes.
Patterson is a special athlete with the ball in his hands, as he excels both as a receiver and a punt returner. He a combination of speed, size and agility that simply does not come along very often.
There are two issues with Patterson's game that could prevent him from being a top-10 selection. For one, he is a bit of a body-catcher and has been known to drop easy catches. He is also raw in his route-running.
The most important drills for Patterson will be the catching drills, and not just showing that he can catch the ball—he must show that he can naturally catch the ball with his hands, away from his body. If he does that, he should be in play for the Jets' ninth-overall selection.
Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
On the field, Jarvis Jones is exactly what the Jets have been craving from the outside linebacker position for the last four years.
A wizard with his hands and explosive off the ball, Jones may be the best pure pass-rusher in this class and a sure-fire top-10 pick.
However, there is a rather significant medical issue that will always hang over Jones: In his days as a USC Trojan, he was diagnosed with a condition known as spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column.
USC doctors refused to clear him, as more hits could lead to long-term spinal damage. Eventually, Georgia doctors finally cleared him, leading to his transfer, but whether or not he will be able to last in the NFL is yet to be determined.
Jarvis Jones' medical evaluation will be among the most scrutinized at the combine, and you can bet the Jets are going to be very interested in what the combine doctors have to say about Jones' health.
Keenan Allen, WR, Cal
Just a few months ago, Keenan Allen was regarded by many to be the top receiver in the class.
While he does not have any glaring weaknesses in his game, the consensus is that Allen is simply not special enough in any area of his game to be worthy of a top-15 selection.
— T. Shields, Esq.(@Shields3L) February 15, 2013
At the combine, Allen has a chance to prove his doubters wrong in the speed and agility drills. If he performs well, he could be taken before the Jets pick again in the second round; otherwise, he may very well still be on the board on the second day of the draft.
The Jets should keep a close watch on Allen to see if he is worth taking a chance on if he slips to the top of the second round.
Gavin Escobar, TE, San Diego State
If the Jets are unable to snag Jordan Reed on the second day of the draft, Gavin Escobar could be a nice consolation prize.
Like Reed, Escobar is very much a one-way tight end who is not going to blow up defensive ends as a blocker, but his large frame and athleticism make him a tough mismatch for safeties and linebackers.
While he does not come from a storied program like Florida, Escobar has virtually the same physical traits as Reed and could perhaps provide even better value if taken in the middle rounds of the draft.
If Escobar tests similarly at the combine, his stock could see a dramatic increase.
Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt
While Zac Stacy may only be 5'8", he could end up being one of the biggest steals of the draft.
Stacy is short, not small; his strong lower body gives him a build similar to that of Maurice Jones-Drew. Like MJD, Stacy is a physical back that averaged 5.5 yards per carry in the SEC. He also has reliable hands, making him a potential three-down back.
Stacy can likely be had in the middle-late rounds, where he could be a perfect replacement for Shonn Greene with his physical running style. He may not be an NFL starter right away, but he should be able to contribute early as a rookie and help share the load with Bilal Powell.
Oday Aboushi, OT, Virginia
With three soon-to-be free agents along the offensive line, the Jets must do their homework on offensive linemen to at least build depth.
Aboushi is listed as a tackle, but he is far too slow with his feet and lacks the ideal arm strength to play the position in the NFL.
He is best suited at guard, where he strong initial punch helps him control defenders at the line of scrimmage. Voted as the team captain, Aboushi is a high-effort player that will make blocks at the second level.
There are, however, some questions regarding his natural athleticism. How he performs in the agility and footwork drill will make the biggest impact on his draft stock.
For the Jets, Aboushi could be a mid-late round selection that could give them depth in case one or both of their current starting guards leave. In the least, he could give Vladimir Ducasse added competition for one of the starting guard positions.
Tony Jefferson, FS, Oklahoma
Earlier in the draft process, Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson was regarded as a potential first-round pick.
Now, Jefferson is in damage-control mode after a report came out stating that his former coaches are questioning his work habits.
From an on-field perspective, Jefferson has all of the making of a first-round pick. Jefferson has good instincts and can cover a lot of ground in a hurry. He is versatile enough to drop deep in coverage or line up in man-to-man.
He is a bit out of control with some of his tackles, which may explain why his coaches are so frustrated with him.
The combine is going to be huge for Jefferson to clear the air and dispel this anonymously sourced report. If he can do that, he could be in consideration for the Jets to take him in the second round with both LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell up for free agency.