The upcoming 2013 NFL Draft will be a critical one for the New York Jets organization. The team has holes and lack of depth at multiple positions, and they need an influx of young talent in order to remain in contention in the AFC East. New general manager John Idzik has cleared up some cap room and filled a few holes, but there are still several positions that need to be addressed through the draft.
While this year's draft is arguably lacking in obvious stars, it has depth and value at several of the positions where the Jets need to land new talent, including linebacker, receiver and safety.
The Jets have all seven of their picks this year, one in each round. They could still acquire more picks in the future through some sort of trade involving star cornerback Darrelle Revis. However, since the rumors regarding Revis are conflicting and not entirely concrete, I will not assume any extra Revis-related draft picks.
Given the depth of the 2013 draft class and the needs of the Jets, the team should be hoping to land at least two immediate starters, perhaps even three or four this year.
Finding the right players will depend not only on the Jets' front office making the right decisions but also on serendipity allowing the players they need to reach them. In any draft year, teams are affected by the teams that pick before then. Whomever the Jets are targeting will inevitably be targeted by other teams as well.
Making realistic assumptions about where players might be picked and who might slip through the cracks, I present the best-case scenario for the Jets through all seven rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft.
In the 2013 NFL draft, the New York Jets should start by drafting Dion Jordan out of Oregon University, if given the chance.
The outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid and pass-rush specialist fits into the biggest need on the Jets' current roster and would be an absolute steal with the No. 9 overall pick.
The Jets' two biggest holes on defense are currently at the outside linebacker positions. Their strong defensive line, anchored by Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and Kenrick Ellis, was able to pressure but rarely sack opposing quarterbacks. Their outside linebackers failed them repeatedly, both in pass rushing and in coverage. Additionally, they were not as strong at edge-setting against the run as they had been in previous years. Overall, their outside linebackers were disappointing in 2012.
Having started to patch the holes at linebacker with the signing of veteran outside linebacker and potential starter Antwan Barnes, the Jets will doubtless be interested in a young player to flesh out the group. While many solid outside pass-rushers exist in this year's draft, Jordan is arguably the best one of the class.
With all of the athleticism and talent one could ask for in a draft prospect, Jordan boasts a 4.60 40-yard dash, 122-inch broad jump, 4.35 20-yard shuttle and a 6'6'' 248-pound frame. He is rated almost unanimously as a first-round prospect and is considered by many to be a reasonable option in the top 10 overall. According to analysis from CBSSports.com:
[Dion Jordan has] rare athleticism for his size with loose hips and smooth footwork to move naturally in any direction... Very good first step with natural bend and closing burst off the edge to flatten to the quarterback. Active and doesn't quit. Uses his length well with violent hand use, using quick mitts to make it tough for blockers to combat them.
While the Jets should be worried about other teams snagging Jordan prior to their opportunity, the most intriguing competition comes from the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles hold the fourth overall pick in the draft and would have to pass up on Jordan for him to reach the Jets and their No. 9 pick. The Eagles are in need of a pass-rusher, and their new head coach (Chip Kelly of Oregon) was Jordan's coach in college.
Furthermore, the Eagles have reportedly brought Jordan in for a visit.
The Jets cannot control what the Eagles do. Their first-round selection will ultimately be influenced by the eight teams who pick before them. However, when the No. 9 pick comes, as long as Jordan is available the Jets should take him. He has the potential to be a major, game-changing player in New York.
In a truly perfect world, the Jets would have quarterback Geno Smith or hybrid outside linebacker Jarvis Jones fall into the early second round. But realistically, neither of those players is likely to be around.
Instead, the Jets should target a man who is likely to be around at the start of the second round, quarterback E.J. Manuel. Manuel is a player whose stock has done nothing but rise over the past few months. According to Brian Bassett of TheJetsBlog.com:
[E.J. Manuel’s] stock has been rising and he’s seen by some as a potential late first round pick. The Jets would presumably consider him as a possibility with their second round pick.
NFLDraftScout.com has the 23-year-old quarterback out of Florida State as a solid second-round pick. Manuel has the height, the arm strength and the experience that puts him in a class where he could potentially be an impact rookie. He is not a sure thing like Andrew Luck was last year, but he is starting to look like the safest bet at quarterback in this year's draft.
Manuel's weaknesses are common ones that nearly all rookie quarterbacks suffer from. As Sigmund Bloom of BleacherReport.com summarizes:
Manuel hasn't demonstrated that he can patiently go deep into progressions or process defenses at an advanced level. In general, he wasn't asked to do many advanced tasks as a passer at Florida State. He sometimes looks hesitant to pull the trigger and tends to err on the side of taking his checkdown option.
Like just about every other rookie quarterback ever, Manuel will need to learn to handle the more complex offenses in the NFL and learn to go through full progressions. All in all, he is a promising prospect who could compete for a starting job right away in New York.
In the third round of the 2013 NFL draft, there may be significant pressure on the Jets to pick a running back. Players like Joseph Randle out of Oklahoma State and other mid-level running backs may be considered or inspire rumors.
Nonetheless, having already drafted three running backs in the past four years with mid-to-high picks (Bilal Powell, Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight, two of who remain on the team), it would be prudent to fill a position of more urgent need.
That position is safety.
If LSU safety Eric Reid is still around in the early third round, the Jets should feel lucky to have the opportunity to grab him. A talented playmaker, he has garnered significant praise from WalterFootball.com:
Reid had a breakout 2011 season. He was part of phenomenal secondary with safety Brandon Taylor and cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu and Reid tied for the team lead with 76 tackles each. Reid also had two interceptions, two tackles for a loss, three passes broken up and two forced fumbles. He was a Second-Team All-SEC pick in 2011.
Regardless, Reid could realistically be available in the early third round for the Jets. His stock fell slightly in 2012, which could work to the Jets' advantage. To quote WalterFootball.com:
Reid had an inconsistent junior year to hurt his draft stock. He seemed to miss Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne and Brandon Taylor. Reid's splash plays were down, and he didn't have as large a presence. Reid especially needs to improve his pass-coverage skills for the NFL.
While Reid is currently not a perfect prospect, which third-round pick is? He could be a steal in the third round and has all of the promise one could ask for in a mid-round pick. An athletic and talented player who is developing his pass-coverage skills, he could team up with recently-signed safety Dawan Landry in the defensive secondary.
The Jets need to add at least one starting outside linebacker this offseason, maybe two. The position that is so important in their heavily 3-4 defense has decreased in quality over the past few years. DeVonte Holloman out of the University of South Carolina would make a great addition, to be paired with Dion Jordan, Antwan Barnes or whoever else earns the starting job on the other side of the field.
Projected to be a late third-rounder or early fourth-rounder, Holloman could easily be around for the Jets when they pick near the beginning of the fourth round. According to Derek Stephens of CBSSports.com:
[Holloman has an] athletic-looking frame with a sturdy, thick base and long arms. Exhibits strong play-recognition and anticipation against the pass. [He diagnoses] the run early, and takes good angles to the football. Anticipates and approaches the gap with good timing on runs between the tackles.
A highly athletic senior standout, Holloman caused trouble in the backfields against SEC quarterbacks for all four years he was playing. With a 4.5 40-yard dash time (according to NFLDraftScout.com), Holloman has more to offer physically than many of the other highly-rated linebacker prospects.
Holloman is moreover capable of playing strong safety if necessary, though he remains a more suitable prospect at outside linebacker. Within Rex Ryan's unorthodox defensive schemes, he could potentially serve in a hybrid role, but he could also become a full-time starter. Veteran linebackers Calvin Pace and Bart Scott played only limited snaps in 2012 because they were not quick enough to perform in certain formations, and they are now gone from the team.
With Holloman's flexibility and athleticism, he has shown that he might be able to become an every-down linebacker right away.
In an ideal situation, he will be available in the early fourth round, and the Jets will grab him.
Right tackle is an important spot in the Jets' offense that needs to be addressed. It does not have to be filled right away by a top draft pick, but a long-term solution has to be thought about. While Austin Howard served as a stop-gap in place of former Jets starter Wayne Hunter in 2012 and can potentially start for another year, the Jets will eventually need a better answer to fill out their offensive line.
Brian Winters, an offensive tackle out of Kent State, is a player who can fill that position for New York, possibly in the short term but more likely in the long term. While one could imagine him being picked as early as the late third round of the draft, he could realistically be available for the Jets in the early fifth round.
At 6'6'' and 294 pounds, Winters' body and skill set are those of an NFL-caliber offensive tackle, and it has been suggested that adding ten pounds to his frame would make him an even stronger player.
Pass-blocking has been Winters' weakest point thus far, which is common among young offensive linemen. He has quality hand placement but tends to overextend his outside foot, which can compromise his balance in pass blocking.
His run blocking is already high quality, perhaps good enough for him start in the NFL as a rookie, especially if the competition is not exceptional. If he can continue to improve his impact blocking beyond the line of scrimmage and into the second level, he could be of immediate value to any run-heavy offense. The Jets' offense might not be as run-heavy as in the past under new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, but, doubtless, the running game will remain vital. According to NFLDraftMonsters.com, there is cause for optimism:
At worst Winters can be a starting [right tackle] who can be a liability at times in pass protection, but in the best case Winters will be a starting tackle who fits into a zone blocking style scheme.
Winters started every game in his four years at Kent State, playing in 50 games in all. He is an NFL-ready right tackle and could fill a need for the Jets right away in 2013. He could alternatively be brought in more slowly and prepare to step into the role in 2014. The Jets would be hard-pressed to find a better pick in the fifth round.
At tight end, the Jets do not have a gaping hole, but they could definitely use some support and some depth. They recently re-signed Jeff Cumberland. Cumberland was the de facto starter in 2012 with Dustin Keller (who is now gone) injured for most of the year. Cumberland's abilities place him somewhere on the borderline between a solid backup and a mediocre to average starter.
While Cumberland could serve as a passable starter in 2013, especially in the passing game as a receiver, he could use some competition, especially from someone who is a stronger blocker.
According to NFLDraftScout.com, Chris Gragg (a tight end out of Arkansas), is projected to go in the early sixth round, which is where the Jets will ideally select him. Gragg has flashed enough promise to demonstrate that he has a relatively high ceiling. One of the reasons his draft stock has fallen is the concern about his health. From the same NFLDraftScout.com report:
Chris Gragg started out the 2012 season on fire, catching a combined 14 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns in the [Arkansas Razorbacks'] first two games, but he struggled with leg injuries throughout the rest of the year. If he can prove he's healthy, the 6'3'', 246-pound Gragg could earn a similar draft-day grade as his former teammate, D.J. Williams, whom the Green Bay Packers selected in the fifth round two years ago.
Gragg's injuries are cause for some hesitation but not necessarily anything worth adjusting his draft stock over. In either case, the risk is reasonable for a sixth-round draft pick.
With such a high ceiling, Gragg is someone the Jets have to consider if he is available early in the sixth round.
It is always challenging to find quality players in the seventh and final round of the NFL draft. The best hope is to find players who have gone unnoticed nationally. If the Jets are paying more attention than some other teams, they may have the chance to grab Marcus Davis out of Virginia Tech.
Davis is an under-the-radar talent at wide receiver.
At 6'4'', Davis is a tall, athletic, speedy and promising prospect with a high ceiling. He has been projected by some to be a seventh-round prospect. It is of course possible that he will not be drafted at all.
If the Jets do manage to snag him late, Davis will have the opportunity to join forces with Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill to potentially complete a young receiving squad for the future of the Jets' franchise. In the short-term, he will also get to play alongside Santonio Holmes, who should be healthy in 2013 and ready to return at the No. 1 receiver spot.
Regarding the risk/reward trade-off, Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com summarizes:
A talented but frustrating prospect on tape is Virginia Tech's Marcus Davis, who is expected to test very well in Indianapolis. Effort and consistency are large issues that will be tough to overlook, but with impressive numbers in the 40-yard dash and vertical jump, Davis could prove to be worth the risk based on his athletic potential.
The seventh round is definitely a time to take risks in the NFL. High ceiling, high risk, offensive skill players present one option for doing just that. If Davis is still available early in the seventh round, he would be a perfect final pick for the New York Jets.