With numerous positions where improvement is possible, the Jets should be looking to take the best available player in each round, rather than picks that are reach-based on need alone.
Based on the Jets roster needs, offensive and defensive schemes, and the best prospects available, I break down who would be the best fit for the Jets' franchise going forward at each position on both offense and defense.
Depending on how other teams make their picks, the Jets would be best served choosing some subset of these players to enhance their roster as much as possible.
Here are the best players for the Jets to consider at each position.
Geno Smith is the best possible fit at quarterback for the New York Jets, not only because he is the best quarterback prospect in the 2013 NFL Draft, but also because his skill set fits with the Jets' new West Coast offense.
Smith has moved up and down the draft boards over the past few months, but he has remained as the top-ranked quarterback in the class. He will almost certainly go in the first round. The question is whether he will go somewhere near the top or towards the bottom.
New Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is known for running a West Coast offense that is unusually pass-heavy. Even for the Philadelphia Eagles in the past, with access to running back LeSean McCoy, he went with a pass-heavy offense. Thus, expect Mornhinweg to focus the lion's share his efforts on educating whomever becomes his starting quarterback in 2013.
Smith is in many ways a near-perfect prospect for any team looking to run a West Coast offense. He has speed, accuracy and the ability to make quick decisions. Within the West Coast offense, quarterbacks are often asked to make relatively short throws based on a few concrete options quickly. Smith's high energy and toughness are also traits that the Jets have sought during the Rex Ryan era.
During his impressive 2012 collegiate campaign, Smith threw for 42 touchdowns and only six interceptions. More importantly, he completed 71 percent of his passes, demonstrating accuracy that can translate to an NFL offense. His ability to complete short passes efficiently makes him well-suited to a West Coast offense.
The teams that will most importantly need to pass on Smith in order for him to reach the Jets at the No. 9 pick are the Cleveland Browns, the Arizona Cardinals and the Buffalo Bills. Those teams are all in need of franchise quarterbacks.
If those three teams pass on Smith, which is a realistic possibility, then the Jets have every reason to consider him their new franchise quarterback.
If the Jets choose to pursue a running back in the draft, their best option would be Giovani Bernard out of North Carolina.
A short but powerful back, he could potentially become the full-time, reliable starter the Jets have not had since Thomas Jones. According to Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com:
[Giovani Bernard] had a solid Combine. He ran well in the 40 and looked good in the receiving drills. Size concerns are his biggest negative. Bernard was an electric play-maker for North Carolina this year. He dominated conference play including a massive day [23 carries for 267 yards] against Virginia Tech. Bernard found the end zone in every game he played in 2012. Bernard ran for 1,228 yards and 10 touchdowns this season while averaging 6.7 yards per carry. He also hauled in 47 passes for 490 yards and five touchdowns. Bernard averaged 16 yards per punt return as well, and even scored on two of them.
Without a doubt, Bernard brought tremendous production to North Carolina and was a versatile and elusive back.
Bernard's receiving skills would be important in New York in addition to his abilities as a running back. The Jets have suffered from having a lack of backs in the passing game since the loss of LaDainian Tomlinson.
Bernard has received comparisons to DeAngelo Williams. He is viewed as a third-round prospect. The third round is the earliest one in which I could see the Jets strongly considering a running back as a candidate. As such, Bernard is the best fit for the Jets at running back if he drops to them in the early third round.
Given that the Jets currently have three starting wide receivers in Santonio Holmes, Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill, I do not see them seeking an early-round prospect at wide receiver.
Instead, I see them targeting a player more like Marcus Davis out of Virginia Tech. While you may not see a lot of people writing about Davis, he is a player with some serious potential. The Jets should ideally hope to grab him all the way in the seventh 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 Davis before anyone else does.
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, though he might not be drafted at all.
Regarding the risk/reward trade-off inherent in drafting Davis, 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 the time to take risks in the NFL draft. High-ceiling, high-risk, offensive skill players present one solid option for doing just that. If Davis is still available early in the seventh round, he would be an optimal final pick for New York.
Since there is no real chance of the Jets considering a tight end in the first round, let us look ahead to second-round prospects at tight end.
Zach Ertz out of Stanford is arguably the best tight end prospect in the 2013 NFL Draft and would be a reasonable second-round option.
Sean Yuille of PrideOfDetroit.com recently argued for Ertz as the Jets' best possibility for their early second-round pick:
I went with [Zach Ertz as the Jets' second-round pick] because I considered him a safer pick and because the Jets need all the help they can get on offense. The tight end position has really evolved over the last few years, and here the Jets add a weapon for whoever is the starting quarterback this year and in the future.
In an NFL where tight end is becoming increasingly important, Ertz has stood out from this year's draft class as one of the most promising young tight ends. He especially impressed NFL scouts in his most recent 2012 campaign at Stanford. NFLDraftScout.com sums up his breakout year:
[Zach Ertz] became the featured tight end in 2012 as a junior [including 14 starts], finishing with a team-high 69 catches for 898 yards, [13.0 yards per catch average] and six touchdowns, earning First Team All-Pac 12 and All-American honors. Ertz decided to skip his senior season and enter the 2013 NFL Draft. Ertz was part of a crowded depth chart over his first few seasons at Stanford, but emerged as the team's No. 1 offensive weapon in 2012 and led the nation in receiving yards by a tight end. He has developed as a blocker and is usually sure-handed, but still needs to improve his consistency in both areas. Ertz has very good body control and toughness for the position and plays like a wideout in the body of a tight end.
With former starting tight end Dustin Keller off the team, the Jets should be looking to find a new receiving tight end who can have a real game-changing impact. Of all the tight ends in this year's draft, Zach Ertz is the most likely to achieve that type of potential.
Offensive tackle is a need for the Jets this year. However, given the class of tackles available in the 2013 NFL Draft, it is hard to imagine the Jets reaching for one in the early rounds. Instead, their best bet would be to grab Brian Winters in the later rounds, ideally Round 5.
Right tackle is an important spot in the Jets offense that needs to be addressed sooner or later. While Austin Howard served as an acceptable stop-gap in place of former Jets starter Wayne Hunter in 2012, and could potentially start for another year, the Jets will eventually need to find a stronger player to fill out their offensive line.
Winters, an offensive tackle out of Kent State, is a player who can possibly fill that position for New York in the long-term. 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 more effective player.
Pass-blocking has been Winters' weakest point so far in his development, 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 at a high standard, perhaps high enough for him to start in the NFL as a rookie, especially if the competition is not exceptional (which Howard is not). According to NFLDraftMonsters.com, there is cause for optimism when it comes to Winters:
At worst [Brian 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 that he spent at Kent State, playing in 50 games altogether. He is an NFL-ready right tackle and could fill a need for the Jets franchise right away or down the road. If he is available in the later rounds (from the fifth on), he would be a great fit in New York.
Offensive guard Chance Warmack is a true standout at his position. He is not only viewed as the best interior offensive lineman in the 2013 NFL Draft; he is viewed as one of the best guard prospects in recent history. To quote Vinnie Iyer of SportingNews.com:
[Chance] Warmack is built to control the action inside, combining his powerful frame with smooth feet and strong hands. He looks the part of a durable long-time Pro Bowler. He's the safest pick in the early first round, and the Jets (No. 9) and Titans (No. 10) are the likeliest landing spots.
Warmack is widely viewed as a safe and obvious prospect. While offensive guard is not one of the most highly valued positions in the NFL, Warmack is just about as highly rated as a guard prospect could possibly be. He is the best fit at the position for any team in the league.
Bob Sturm of FoxSportsSouthwest.com gushed over the guard prospect:
It isn't often that the NFL drafts an interior offensive lineman in the Top 20 picks of the 1st Round. In fact, as it goes, this almost violates a certain truth about the NFL on how you just don't do that in this league. It is considered wasteful to draft premium players at non-premium positions in most cases... Chance Warmack has been the #1 dream in all of my draft scenarios since we started looking at these players in September. Warmack played in 5 games as a freshman at Alabama and then started every game since including 13 more games as a senior. He has played against every possible opponent in every possible situation since he has taken his spot at Left Guard for the Crimson Tide. And he has dominated the man (or men) across from him ever since.
With Matt Slauson gone and Brandon Moore perhaps on the way out as well, the Jets have offensive guard as an immediate need. It would be hard to imagine a better fit than Warmack.
Star Lotulelei could be considered the best overall talent in the upcoming draft and could become a dominant force at nose tackle. Within the Jets' heavily 3-4 defense, nose tackle is of key importance, and as such a player like Lotulelei has to be considered in the first round.
Even at No. 9 overall, Lotulelei would be a solid pick for the Jets.
While it would not be out of the question for Lotulelei to go as high as first overall, there has been some concern about his health. As Chris Mortensen of ESPN summarized:
[Star Lotulelei] was discovered to have an abnormally low Ejection Fraction, detecting that the left ventricle of his heart was pumping at only 44 percent efficiency, sources said. The normal range is between 55-70 percent efficiency... Lotulelei is the No. 1 overall player as ranked by Scouts, Inc., and has been rated as a top-5 draft prospect by ESPN draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay.
This concern about his heart health was viewed for a time as a barrier to him being an extremely high pick. However, no major danger was ever confirmed regarding his heart, and there is no concrete reason he should not currently be considered a top option in the draft. The most recent reports provide evidence that his heart is in a healthy state. It is still possible that he could be chosen even before the Jets' turn at No. 9 overall. As Alex Welch of SBNation.com predicts:
There's no telling where [the Philadelphia Eagles] will go with the No. 4 pick in the draft. With the medical concerns put behind him, Lotulelei could by vying for a spot with the Eagles. SB Nation's Dan Kadar ranks him as the No. 2 overall player in this year's class. He would anchor the middle of the line for [Eagles' head coach] Chip Kelly's new defense.
Assuming Lotulelei is still available when the Jets get on the clock at No. 9 overall, he would be a fantastic option for them. He is easily the best fit for them along the defensive line.
When it comes to linebackers, the Jets need to focus on the outside, rather than the inside. On the inside they have a quality veteran in David Harris and a solid young starter in Demario Davis.
Having now begun to patch the holes at outside linebacker with the signing of veteran outside linebacker and potential starter Antwan Barnes, the Jets will doubtless be interested in finding a young player to flesh out the group. Dion Jordan out of Oregon is arguably the best linebacker in this year's NFL draft class.
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 more than a few to be a lock to be a top 10 overall pick. He is a player the Jets should feel comfortable grabbing with the No. 9 overall pick if he is available. 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.
The Jets should of course be worried about other teams taking Jordan prior to their opportunity at No. 9 overall. Perhaps the most dangerous competition comes from the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles hold the fourth overall pick in the draft. Additionally, the Eagles are in need of a pass-rusher, and their new head coach (Chip Kelly of Oregon) was Jordan's coach in college. The Eagles have reportedly brought Jordan in for a visit.
If Jordan slips by the Eagles and the other teams in the first eight, then the Jets should pick Jordan over any other prospect. He is the best possible fit at their position of greatest need.
Safety is not the most critical hole for the Jets currently and should not be addressed in the first couple of rounds. Especially with the recent signing of veteran safety Dawan Landry, there is flexibility there.
The best place for the Jets to address safety would be in the early third round if Eric Reid out of LSU is still available. A highly talented playmaker, Reid has garnered 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.
With his talent and high ceiling, it would not be out of the question to see Reid going off the board in the second round. The best reason to think Reid might remain around until the third round is the small drop in his stock from his slightly disappointing junior season. To further 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. He was burned through the air throughout 2012.
Picking up quality starters in the third round is always tough and can be critical for building a strong franchise. Reid is the type of player who could become a franchise player and would be a steal in the third round. He is the best safety for the Jets to target this year.
Ironically, safety was not even Reid's original position, according to Reid (via Bob Bajek of ProFootballWeekly.com):
Alabama’s Eddie Lacy was the star running back at my high school. I knew that position wasn’t going to work for me, so that’s why I switched to safety.
One question that will shape the Jets' 2013 draft options is the situation surrounding Darrelle Revis. The star cornerback and best player on the team may be traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the coming weeks.
If such a trade were to occur, there are two likely outcomes. The first is that the Jets would have an extra first-round pick. The second is that they would suddenly need a cornerback.
If both of those things occur, then Dee Milliner out of Alabama would become an excellent fit in New York.
Milliner is viewed as a clear first-round prospect and the best cornerback in the 2013 NFL Draft. The suggestion has been made that Milliner could potentially be a replacement for Revis. To quote NFL.com's breakdown of Milliner as a draft prospect:
During his outstanding junior season, [Dee Milliner] recorded 54 tackles, two interceptions, and a stunning 22 passes defensed on his way to a unanimous selection to the first-team All-American and All-SEC teams. He helped anchor the secondary for another National Championship season for the Tide, recording two passes defensed as he covered standout Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert in the BCS Championship game.
Milliner appears to be the obvious best defensive back in this year's draft. As such, if the Jets do part with Revis, they should replace him with Milliner. He is the ideal fit at a position that would instantly become a team need.