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New York Jets Were Right to Target Defense in Draft's First Round

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25:  Dee Milliner (R) of the Alabama Crimson Tide stands with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as they hold up a jersey on stage after Milliner was picked #9 overall by the New York Jets in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 25, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
Chris Chambers/Getty Images
James DudkoFeatured ColumnistDecember 17, 2016

The New York Jets made the right decision to target defense with their first-round picks in the 2013 NFL draft. Dee Milliner and Sheldon Richardson may not have been popular choices, but they improve the unit that is most likely to help the Jets contend in 2013.

"Better the devil you know" and other familiar tropes aptly apply to the Jets' dealings in the first round. Fans should remember, it was Rex Ryan's defensive scheming that got the Jets to consecutive AFC Championship Games.

Yet, the simple truth is that despite how bad the offense had become, Ryan's defense was also no great shakes in 2012.

The unit needed fixing after finishing 20th in points and 26th against the run. Ryan and general manager John Idzik made the right calls on Day 1 of the draft, particularly when they selected Richardson. Using the pick earned in the Darrelle Revis trade on the cat-quick defensive tackle was a clever move. Richardson will help the Jets return to a more attack-minded brand of defense.

He increases the number of combinations and variety of alignments Ryan can deploy up front. One such alignment will be the traditional "Bear" 46 look, made famous by Rex's father Buddy.

That scheme relies on a T-N-T alignment that has three interior defensive linemen cover both guards and the center. This creates tremendous pressure up the middle.

The Jets flirted with 46 looks in 2012 but didn't quite have the ideal weapons to pull it off. Imagine Richardson's stunning off-the-snap quickness combined with Quinton Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson.

Richardson gives the Jets the real means to unleash havoc on blocking schemes. That can only be good news for a team that's had its struggles getting to the quarterback.

The Jets logged a mere 30 sacks in 2012. Expect that number to improve with Richardson added to the mix.

Many may have wanted an edge-rusher, but that's precisely why Antwan Barnes was signed. When healthy, Barnes is a dangerous blitzer off the edge. Every rush end also benefits from attention paid to pressure in the middle.

Who really hates pressure through the middle? Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The New York Giants proved that in two Super Bowls, as did the Jets in the 2010 AFC Divisional Round.

If the Jets are going to win the AFC East, they're going to have get past the Patriots. No matter what offensive players they take in this draft, they're never going to win shootouts with Brady and the Pats. That's why it made more sense to load up on weapons that can stifle New England's chief offensive threat.

That argument also supports the selection of Milliner. It was surprising to see so much disappointment regarding this pick. The Jets needed another cornerback after trading Revis. Antonio Cromartie is excellent, but Kyle Wilson has flopped since being drafted in the first round in 2010.

Admittedly, Wilson's struggles don't help endorse Ryan taking another corner in the first round. However, Milliner could be the ideal fit for his schemes.

His skill as a blitzer is certain to be used in the elaborate pressures Ryan's mercurial brain can concoct. Yet it could be Milliner's experience playing for Nick Saban at Alabama that proves the most valuable.

Saban runs a complex, demanding scheme. That should help Milliner quickly delve into the box of tricks that forms Ryan's multiple system.

The AFC East has seen the arrival of wide receivers Mike Wallace, Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson. They join Buffalo Bills star Steve Johnson.

Competing in a division with that kind of receiving talent made cornerback an obvious pick for the Jets.

Watching Mark Sanchez falter his way through the last two seasons naturally increased the demand for offensive help. However, the Jets are totally lacking options. They have already added a pass-catching running back in Mike Goodson. They also still have Santonio Holmes.

More important than personnel, the schematic shift heralded by the arrival or Marty Mornhinweg, could make the biggest difference. His high-percentage West Coast offense might be the perfect complement to a marauding defense. And the Jets could even make a more radical change in the remainder of the draft.

Ryan and Idzik could be tempted by Geno Smith in Round 2, according to New York Daily News writer Manish Mehta.

If the Jets do try to groom a new quarterback, it will put even more pressure on the defense to carry the team. That will soon justify picking Milliner and Richardson on Day 1.

All things considered, the Jets were absolutely right to target defense in the first round.

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