10 NFL Draft Prospects Rising Up New York Jets' Big Board

John SheaContributor IIIMarch 21, 2013

10 NFL Draft Prospects Rising Up New York Jets' Big Board

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    The beginning of free agency has made it known that the New York Jets are in total rebuilding mode despite being just two seasons removed from consecutive AFC title game appearances.

    New general manager John Idzik refused to pony up the dollar signs necessary to hold on to in-house free agents like Dustin Keller, LaRon Landry, Mike DeVito and Shonn Greene.

    Instead, the Jets will look toward replacing a strong band of former starters with low-cost free agents this offseason.

    At least, that appears to be the plan.

    The Jets are staring down a dire salary cap situation, but shouldn't be entirely restricted from spending the cash necessary to improve upon a contingency of players that arguably underachieved in 2012.

    The following slideshow examines 10 top-tier NFL draft prospects who have risen on the Jets' big board after a brutal start to free agency.

10. Ryan Nassib (QB)

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    Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib reportedly had dinner with new Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg two weeks ago, according to ESPN New York.

    Nassib could aptly fit into the Jets' new-look West Coast offense. He lacks arm strength, but has solid field vision and is accurate in down-and-distance situations.

    The Jets will most likely add a rookie QB to the current depth chart via the draft. The roster currently features four quarterbacks, all of whom are arguably backups at best.

    Is Nassib the long-term solution for the Jets at quarterback? The answer to that question is subject to Idzik's rebuilding plan.

    The Jets are devoted to creating a quarterback competition in training camp, and a solid showing could win Nassib the huddle. That is, if Ryan doesn't rekindle his awkward affection for Mark Sanchez.

    Nassib completed just 62.4 percent of his pass attempts and threw 10 interceptions in his senior season and doesn't appear to be a quick fix solution for the Jets at quarterback, but he's enticing from a competitive standpoint.

9. T.J. McDonald (FS)

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    USC free safety T.J. McDonald is an aggressive defender who excels in slot coverage. He's the type of defensive back who fits Ryan's scheme; he also happens to be the son of the team's new defensive backs coach, Tim McDonald.

    McDonald is appropriately reckless; his physical style of play complements his ball skills. He totaled 109 tackles in his final collegiate season to complement three deflected passes and an interception.

    His most impressive performance happened in a lame-duck loss against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl, where he racked up 13 tackles despite a teamwide meltdown.

    At 6'3'' and 219 pounds, McDonald is the type of player who uses size to his advantage.

    The Jets are in the market for two safeties this offseason after losing LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell to free agency, so it would make sense to target McDonald in the third or fourth round.

8. Travis Kelce (TE)

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    Cincinnati tight end Travis Kelce missed the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine because of injury, but was an instrumental weapon throughout his collegiate career.

    Kelce is a big target at 6'5'' and 255 pounds. He had a breakout season in 2013, reeling in 45 catches and eight touchdowns totaling 722 yards. His best performance of the season happened in the Belk Bowl against Duke, where he caught five passes for 123 yards and a touchdown.

    The Jets need a new tight end after the departure of Dustin Keller because it's unlikely that the team would enter training camp with Jeff Cumberland at the top of the depth chart at that position.

    Kelce has the intangibles necessary to be an impact receiver and run-blocker at the next level, but his limited experience and injury issues are cause for concern.

    The Jets can't necessarily afford to gamble on could-be success, but Kelce would be a steal in the later rounds.

7. Kawann Short (DT)

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    Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short is an anchor in the trenches. He's listed at 6'3'' and 299 pounds, but is expected to gain a ton of weight this offseason after recovering from a lingering hamstring injury.

    Short is athletic and aggressive, and doesn't back down from the opposition. He finishes his blocks and plays through the whistle. He's a hard-nosed brand of football player who totaled 33.5 tackles for loss in his collegiate career.

    The Jets face serious uncertainty at nose tackle next season, given the release of Sione Pouha and the fact that third-year player Kenrick Ellis isn't ready to claim a starting role.

    Short could be selected in the first round of April's draft, which dampers the likelihood of the Jets landing him. However, it's possible for the team to acquire a slew of fresh draft picks, including a potential late first-rounder, if star cornerback Darrelle Revis is traded.

    The Jets are being forced to undersell their best player for multiple reasons, such as pending free agency and the fact that he can't be slapped with a franchise tag after next season. Still, he should net the Jets multiple draft picks, including a first-round talent, like Short.

6. Desmond Trufant (CB)

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    Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant is a high-caliber defender who excels in pass coverage. He's rarely beaten off the line of scrimmage, preventing receivers from getting open down field.

    Trufant has good field vision and strong awareness to react in coverage. There is a distinct possibility that the Jets will need to acquire a new starting cornerback before the season starts, given the rampant trade rumors involving Revis.

    Trufant is a solid prospect, although he's not the type of player who can virtually replace Revis, who is still widely considered to be the best cornerback in the NFL, despite missing most of last season with a nasty ACL injury.

    The 186-pound defensive back totaled 31 tackles over 10 games in his senior season. He also recorded five deflected passes and one interception.

    Trufant is one of the top cornerback prospects in the nation and could be on the Jets' radar if Revis is actually traded.

5. Quinton Patton (WR)

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    Louisiana Tech wide receiver Quinton Patton is the type of playmaker whom the Jets need on offense. He's an efficient route-runner who uses arm length and sleek agility to outplay defenders.

    Patton is a big-play threat despite his average speed. He was massively impressive in his senior season, reeling in 104 receptions for 1,392 yards and 13 touchdowns.

    Still, his ability to transform into a durable threat in the NFL is debatable because of the speed factor. Patton seldom breaks away from defenders.

    He relies heavily on athleticism and wing span, but he's not going to stretch out at 6'2'' among defensive backs at the next level. His ability to pull down tough catches in tight coverage makes him enticing from a draft perspective, though.

    The Jets aren't desperate for wide receiver depth, but Patton would be a good fit in Mornhinweg's West Coast offense because of his ability to make plays underneath in traffic.

4. Shamarko Thomas (SS)

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    Syracuse safety Shamarko Thomas has steadfastly risen to elite status among prospects at his position. He was wildly impressive at the annual scouting combine, demonstrating lightning speed and swift agility.

    Thomas arguably put up the best combine performance among all defensive backs, earning top-tier draft value. He recorded 53 tackles in his senior season.

    He's usually the smallest guy on the field at 5'9'' and 213 pounds. NFLDraftScout.com ranked him as a seventh-round pick before the combine, where he was a top performer in four categories.

    Thomas was clocked at 4.42 seconds, according to NFL.com, recording the fastest 40-yard dash time among safeties since Chris Clemons in 2009.

    He's an attention-grabbing, hard-hitting undersized safety who has decent potential and could be drafted as high as the third round.

    Are the Jets buying the hype surrounding Thomas?

    It would be surprising if the team's brain trust don't consider him an intriguing talent.

3. Star Lotulelei (DT)

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    Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is an interior lineman capable of stopping the bleeding up front for the Jets. He's a top-10 talent and has the potential to be drafted first overall.

    Lotulelei brings enormous size to the table at 6'3'' and 311 pounds. He shoves around offensive linemen like its no one's business, constantly clogging the middle of the field.

    Lotulelei owns the trenches. He racked up 41 tackles, four deflected passes and five sacks in his final collegiate season. It's unknown how highly the Jets value Lotulelei, although it would be surprising if the team were to pass on him if he drops to the ninth overall pick.

    He displayed bone-crushing strength at Utah's pro day, pumping 38 reps to help deflate doubt over the condition of his heart.

    It's been established that the Jets need a new nose tackle in their standard 3-4 base, and Lutolelei is considered to be among the best candidates to fill that void.

2. Jarvis Jones (OLB)

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    Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones is a beastly edge rusher who is capable of making an immediate impact at the next level.

    The Jets are thin in the linebacker department and need to replenish a weak depth chart that formerly featured veterans Bart Scott, Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace.

    Jones tallied 85 tackles, including 24.5 for loss, to complement 14.5 sacks last season. He was a Butkus Award finalist and also earned All-SEC honors.

    He's the type of player who can cover most of the field. He's solid in pass coverage, but is best at pummeling ball-carriers behind the line of scrimmage, as seen on the stat sheet.

    Jones' draft status was formerly hindered by what was thought to be a spinal-cord injury. Don Pompei of National Football Post recently reported that leading NFL orthopedist, Craig Bingham, has cleared Jones of his supposed condition, ridding the All-American linebacker of serious concern.

    The Jets need to revamp a broken-down defense that struggled to apply pressure to the quarterback in 2012, thus making Jones a potential draft target.

1. Barkevious Mingo (DE)

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    LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo should be near the top of the Jets' draft radar. He's not a perfect fit for Ryan's 3-4 base defense because of size, but is arguably the most talented pass-rusher in this season's draft.

    Mingo wreaks havoc for ball-carriers in the back field, breaking off the edge to beat his block and make the tackle. He needs to add significant size to sustain success on an every-down basis at the next level, though. Mingo checks in at 6'4'' and 241 pounds.

    Ryan's dismantled defense needs players who can put pressure on the quarterback, and Mingo fits that bill. The explosive pass-rusher racked up 38 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season.

    ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have chalked Mingo as the Jets' first-round pick in their latest mock drafts. It's a legitimate possibility, regardless of concern over size. His style of play would translate effectively in the 3-4 base.

    It's crucial for the Jets to select a premier pass-rusher in the draft to help solidify a rebuilt defense.