The Biggest Questions for New York Jets Heading into the 2013 NFL Draft

Philip SchawillieContributor IIIApril 3, 2013

The Biggest Questions for New York Jets Heading into the 2013 NFL Draft

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    Heading into the 2013 draft, the biggest questions for the New York Jets aren't confined to the football field. The turnover in both the front office and coaching staff leads to questions about whose agenda holds sway as the Jets try to restore the winning ways that brought them to the brink of the Super Bowl in 2009 and 2010.

    That speculation will continue no matter who the Jets pick. If the draft focuses on offense, pundits will call it a win for new coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. On the other hand, if defensive selections rule the day, those who view Rex Ryan as a glorified defensive coordinator will claim his agenda has gained control.

    However, the breakdown of draft selections may reflect the composition of the draft pool itself more than the power struggles in the Jets' back rooms.

    It's possible that, with the exception of wide receiver, viable defensive talent will remain after viable offensive talent is gone. It might make sense to address offensive needs in the early rounds.

    General manager John Idzik's free-agent signings have taken a balanced approach, addressing both offensive and defensive needs. However, continuing that approach in the draft requires that appropriate talent be available through all seven rounds. If it is not, common sense demands that Idzik respond accordingly.

    The Jets have lost or may lose the following starters because of cuts or free agency:

    • Defensive tackle Mike DeVito
    • Guards Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson
    • Linebackers Calvin Pace and Bart Scott
    • Nose tackle Sione Pouha
    • Offensive tackle Austin Howard
    • Running back Shonn Greene
    • Safeties Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry
    • Tight ends Jeff Cumberland and Dustin Keller
    • Wide receiver Braylon Edwards

    In addition, outside linebacker Bryan Thomas may retire and cornerback Darrelle Revis may be traded.

    That's a potential loss of eight defensive starters and six offensive starters. (I only count tight end once.)

    Of these, three are salary cap casualties and six have signed elsewhere. No matter who the Jets draft, they'll need to find additional bodies among undrafted free agents, other teams' discards and even their own cuts, re-signed more economically.

    No matter how they fill their roster, the Jets must tackle major issues of direction and strategy as they head into the 2013 draft. Some of the biggest questions follow.

    Unless otherwise stipulated, I used the following sources:

QUESTION #5: Where Do the Free-Agent Signings Fit?

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    The Jets' free-agent signings addressed acknowledged needs at quarterback, running back, guard, defensive tackle and outside linebacker. Heading into the 2013 draft, the question is how the Jets perceive these players. Are they at the top of the Jets' depth chart or have issues from the past relegated them to part-time duty?

    Quarterback David Garrard made the Pro Bowl in 2009. Outside linebacker Antwan Barnes recorded 11 sacks in 2011. Running back Mike Goodson averaged 6.3 yards per carry in 2012. If these players could recapture the form of those seasons, they would represent significant upgrades in performance for the Jets.

    The problem is, these performances have been the one-of-a-kind variety. Garrard never had another Pro Bowl season. He has not played a down since 2010. Goodson's impressive yards per carry stat comes from a year in which he carried the ball 35 times in 12 games. His seasonal high for carries, 103, took place in 2010, his second year, when he averaged 4.4 yards per carry. Barnes has not had more than 4.5 sacks in any other year.

    If the Jets draft another defensive tackle, guard or outside linebacker, that doesn't automatically relegate Barnes, defensive tackle Antonio Garay or guard Willie Colon to backup duty. They need depth at those positions.

    In fact, the Jets' depth chart at ourlads.com lists Barnes, Colon and Garay as starters. Goodson is Bilal Powell's projected backup at running back, as Garrard is to Mark Sanchez at quarterback.

    That could change on draft day.

    Drafting a running back like Alabama's Eddie Lacy, Wisconsin's Montee Ball or South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore would signal Goodson and Powell that the feature back position is far from decided and competition will reign. Likewise, drafting a quarterback like West Virginia's Geno Smith or Tennessee's Tyler Bray could mean reassigning both Garrard and Sanchez to clipboard duty.

QUESTION #4: How Significant Are Non-Football Issues?

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    Suppose the Jets' turn in the 2013 draft comes and Georgia's Alec Ogletree is available. If the Jets want an inside linebacker, would they draft him in spite of his four-game suspension for failing a drug test and his DUI arrest?

    Would Utah's defensive tackle Star Lotulelei's heart condition keep him out of green and white? Would Cal wide receiver Keenan Allen's knee injury, which prevented his participation at the NFL scouting combine, exclude him as well?

    These issues have dropped Ogletree and Allen a couple of places each on NFL.com and NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks' draft board. Would the Jets pass on these players if available?

    Idzik's free-agent signings suggest that the answer may be "no." While the potential upsides of players like running back Goodson and outside linebacker Barnes are appealing, Idzik's free agents have dark sides as well. Whether it's because of season-ending injuries, involvement in on-field controversies, or a combination of the two, many of these players have checkered pasts. (Search Pro Sports Transactions for logs of each player's signings, trades, injuries and fines.)

    This isn't a criticism of Idzik. He had to do the best he could with limited resources. He didn't spend a lot and he got players with potential. However, the short-term nature of Colon's, Garay's and Garrard's deals suggests that he knew the players' downsides as well.

    If Idzik applies the same philosophy to the draft, he might be able to exploit other teams' doubts by acquiring talented players whose issues with character or injuries pushed them down the draft board. He might be able to, for example, get first-round talent at a third-round price.

    However, the costs in reduced playing time because of injuries or in negative off-field publicity might make the Jets' brain trust think twice before considering such moves. Locker-room chemistry and public image are issues the team must not ignore.

QUESTION #3: What Are the Jets' 2013 Priorities?

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    Seven draft picks are not enough to fill every hole left by salary cap-induced cuts and free-agent departures. In other words, the needs that the Jets' draft addresses should indicate their priorities for 2013.

    The stagnant offense has been a target of fans and media alike. However, if the Jets plan to focus on offense, they'd better strike in the early rounds. To illustrate, at publication time, drafttek.com's board included only two feature running backs, five guards and four tight ends in its top-100 picks.

    Conversely, drafttek's top 100 also includes 13 cornerbacks, 10 outside linebackers from 3-4 defenses and eight safeties (four strong-side safeties and four free safeties).

    In other words, if this Jets' draft stresses defense, don't read it as Ryan's triumph in some titanic power struggle. It may just be a case of linking team needs with what the draft is giving them.

    Plus, if the Jets use an early-round pick to draft a top guard, running back or tight end, that will indicate a commitment to improvement on both offense and defense.

    Taking what the market or draft offers and adjusting your personnel strategy to match may well represent Idzik's approach to player recruitment: Know your needs, know your budget, know what's available and seize opportunities as they arise.

QUESTION #2: Will Darrelle Revis Remain a Jet?

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    One of the most-discussed questions heading into the 2013 draft is the future of Revis. Speculation abounds on topics like the success of his recovery from 2012's season-ending torn ACL, his contract negotiations or the lack thereof, and attempts to negotiate a trade.

    If Revis is still a Jet come draft day, there is a sure-fire way to determine his long-term status: See if the Jets draft a high-profile cornerback.

    Say the Jets draft a leading cornerback prospect like Alabama's Dee Milliner, Florida State's Xavier Rhodes or Washington's Desmond Trufant. These players shouldn't just make their teams, they are projected to be capable of starting immediately. One could forgive Jets' media and fans for concluding that Revis' days in green and white were numbered should the Jets make such a pick.

    On the other hand, if the Jets ignore cornerback prospects in the draft, Revis will be more likely to take the field for Gang Green in 2013.

QUESTION #1: What Is the Jets' Quarterback Strategy?

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    Quarterback play must improve if the Jets wish to improve. However, the combination of available talent and other team needs will determine the approach they take in 2013 and beyond.

    West Virginia's Smith has emerged as the consensus head of the 2013 draft's quarterback class. Other candidates, such as USC's Matt Barkley, North Carolina State's Mike Glennon and Syracuse's Ryan Nassib are considered less likely to make an immediate impact. However, other contenders for a high-round selection are emerging, like Tennessee's  Bray, Miami of Ohio's Zac Dysert and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson.

    The Jets could justifiably focus on needs other than quarterback this year. They may not wish to expose a young quarterback to what might be a Swiss-cheese offensive line should they fail to replace guards Slauson and possibly Moore.

    However, pressure from fans and media to draft a replacement for Sanchez will be strong. The Jets have the following options:

    • Use their first-round draft pick to select Smith if he is available. He would compete for the starting job.
    • Use a later-round pick to draft the best available alternates. They could either compete with Sanchez for the starting job or with Greg McElroy for his roster spot.
    • Wait until next year, when better prospects, like Alabama's A.J. McCarron and Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas, are available.

    With so many needs to fill, waiting until 2014 to draft a quarterback might be the most prudent course to take. Although many have given up on Sanchez, he'd get one more opportunity to redeem himself. That assumes he beats out Garrard for the starting job.

    However, Sanchez will have nowhere to hide if he disappoints again. The 2013 season is truly his "make it or break it" season.