New York Jets Combine Preview: Top Targets, Sleepers and Prospects to Watch
The next phase in the draft evaluation process in nearly underway, as the annual NFL meat market (otherwise known as the NFL Scouting Combine) is just days away.
While the 40-yard dash may be the "sexiest" event of the combine, the core of the event is what happens behind closed doors: the medical evaluations and in-person interviews.
The speed, agility and strength drills are helpful for making sure players measure out to their output on tape, but their performance in these drills won't have an overwhelming effect on their draft stock.
Here are a few players the New York Jets will be very interested in watching at this year's combine.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Jets will spend the majority of their preparation for the draft on this biggest need, the skill position players, starting by evaluating the most talented wide receivers in the country.
Marqise Lee was in the same category as Sammy Watkins to be considered as the top receiver in college football, but an injury-plagued junior campaign has cast a cloud of doubt around Lee's chances to become a true No. 1 receiver in the NFL.
Lingering knee issues and a stagnant USC offense forced Lee into a short-route specialist, generating most of his yards on low-risk plays. The result was a disappointing season in which he recorded about 1,000 fewer receiving yards on half of his receptions from a year ago.
What the Jets (and every other team interested in drafting him) must do is determine how much of his inability to generate more plays through the air can be derived from Lee's injury.
At the combine, Lee will have nothing more to hide as he undergoes the most intense medical examination of his life. Whether or not doctors believe that Lee's knee will be a lingering issue into his NFL career will determine whether or not he is the second receiver drafted.
Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
Small-school cornerback prospect Pierre Desir will turn plenty of heads in an event that values athletic ability above all else. The lengthy, fluid-moving cornerback will look the part of an NFL defensive back at the combine, despite coming from a relatively unknown program at Lindenwood.
Desir started to make a name for himself at the Senior Bowl, recording an impressive interception in the game to ease some of the concerns about him making such a dramatic jump in competition to the NFL.
The combine is tailor-made for a player like Desir—not only will he not have to cover NFL-caliber receivers, but he gets to show off his physical gifts to scouts and coaches, helping him scrape off the small-school label.
If Desir has as strong of a showing in the combine that he had at the Senior Bowl, he has a chance to fly up draft boards for teams looking for nickel and dime cornerbacks to contribute early in their careers.
Robert Herron, WR, Wyoming
The Jets won't have to look too intensely to find Robert Herron on the combine turf, as his blazing speed will separate himself from the rest of the pack in this controlled environment.
Herron brings an element that the Jets offense is starved of—speed. Herron is one of the fastest players in the draft and should put up one of the fastest numbers at the combine. Herron's speed would be welcome in the Jets' pedestrian return game.
Herron, however, is far from a finished product. He does not have a lot of experience running a full route tree from his Wyoming days, which will result in a high learning curve in his transition to the NFL.
Still, if Herron puts on the combine performance he is capable of, the receiver/returner-needy Jets may take a serious look at using a late-round pick on him.
Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech
One of the most explosive defenders in this draft, Jeremiah Attaochu has tremendous upside as a rush linebacker.
Attaochu, however, draws a lot of concern because of his relatively thin frame for the position. He struggles to hold up well against the run because of his inability to anchor. At just 243 pounds, Attaochu will have to gain some weight if he is going to have any hopes of being a full-time player.
The question for Attaochu is not whether or not he can gain weight in an NFL weight program—the issue is whether or not he can add weight without losing the speed off the edge that makes him a desirable draft pick in the first place.
At the combine, NFL teams will find out whether or not Attaochu was able to put a bit more weight on his frame, as well as whether or not he lost any explosiveness since the Senior Bowl in the process.
If Attaochu checks in at the same sub-250 number that he did at the Senior Bowl, NFL teams will not view him as a three-down player, putting a huge dent in his draft stock.
Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
One of the most polarizing players in this year's draft, Logan Thomas is in position to gain some momentum with this year's combine.
Thomas' best assets are his size and raw arm talent. The size of an outside linebacker (6'6", 260 pounds), there is no question about his ability to sustain hits at the next level (he missed just one half of football in three years at Virginia Tech due to injury, suffering a concussion in his final bowl game). His size and presence will impress on its own.
In fact, Thomas' size suggests that he may be able to play some tight end in the NFL if quarterback does not work out for him. In fact, he was originally recruited to Virginia Tech as a tight end.
Still, Thomas is more than just a big body playing quarterback. As inconsistent as he can be, he flashes the ability to throw the ball as well as anyone. He tends to miss high on a lot of his passes, but his arm strength and sometimes-impressive anticipation skills are tough to ignore.
Given their need for a quarterback to push Geno Smith (and possibly a developmental tight end), Thomas may be able to fill two needs with one body for the Jets.
With a chance to throw against air and show off his raw ability, Thomas may creep up some draft boards after the combine.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
If the Jets plan on using their first-round pick on a new tight end, they will have an enormously difficult decision to make when deciding between Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro and Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Heading into this season, Seferian-Jenkins was considered by many to be the best prospect at his position, but an underwhelming 2013 season left scouts wanting more from the physical specimen.
He has a huge frame and the strength to be an effective blocker, but he seemed disinterested in the secondary aspects of the game, not always putting in full effort in his blocking. He also left a lot of yards on the table after the catch, recording 402 fewer yards than his 2012 season.
Seferian-Jenkins will put on a show in the physical events, but the Jets will learn the most about Jenkins in the interview room where they can get to the bottom of his lackluster production in 2013 and how much of it can be derived from his character.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
After breaking out as one of the best receivers in college football this past season, there is a lot to like about Odell Beckham Jr.'s future in the NFL.
Boasting tremendous body control and hands made of super glue, Beckham Jr. has a lot of playmaking ability for a player who has underwhelming size (5'11"). He is also a sound route-runner and savvy after the catch.
However, outside of his size, there is one major concern surrounding Beckham Jr.'s game—his top-end speed. He can be caught from behind too easily, which is a problem that will only cause him more trouble in the NFL when he plays against faster cornerbacks.
As a result, the 40-yard dash will carry heavy importance for Beckham. if he posts a time that is much better than expected, he may solidify himself as a top-15 pick. Anything less, however, may push him down to the bottom of the first round, as many teams will classify him as nothing more than a No. 2 receiver.
Beckham has a bright future in the NFL no matter what his 40-yard dash time is, but teams looking for receivers in the first round will be hesitant to use their top pick on a player who may not be capable of developing into a "true" No. 1 receiver.
Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama
Even if the Jets wind up bringing back Calvin Pace, they need to stack the outside linebacker position with some young talent to develop in the wings so they no longer have to be reliant on slower veterans.
Alabama's Adrian Hubbard is a solid all-around player who can perform a lot of roles at outside linebacker, is able to rush the passer, top the run and drop into coverage when needed.
However, while Hubbard is a jack-of-all-trades, he is a master of none. He is not particularly explosive when rushing the passer and is nothing more than serviceable in coverage, at least when compared to NFL linebackers.
Hubbard will have a chance to quell the stereotypes that surround his game with a strong combine performance. If he performs better than expected, teams will start to look at him as a player with more upside than just a plug-and-play type of player.
The Jets will be more in the market for a developmental outside linebacker with room to improve. If Hubbard wants to improve his draft stock, he must prove that he is a more explosive athlete than he is given credit for.
Antone Exum, CB/S, Virginia Tech
Because of the uncertainty surrounding his ACL injury, Antone Exum is one of the most difficult players to project in this year's class.
When healthy, Exum is an extremely physical cornerback who competes as hard as anyone for jump balls. He excels in press coverage and is fluid enough to turn and play the ball properly.
However, in addition to his ACL injury that sidelined him for the vast majority of the 2013 season, there are concerns surrounding his ability to run deep with some of the faster receivers in the NFL. He was able to rely on his technique to hold up collegiate players, but he will not be able to shut down receivers as consistently at the next level.
It is for this reason that Exum may be an excellent candidate to make the transition to safety in the NFL. With his combination of being able to diagnose plays and make big hits, Exum has the tools to make the position switch—but drafting a player to play a position he has little experience playing in is always a risk.
With the Jets in need of a free safety to take over long term after Dawan Landry's contract expires in 2015, Exum could be their low-cost solution in the middle to late rounds
At the combine, NFL teams will certainly be interested in the medical evaluation of Exum, but they will also keep an eye on how well he performs in some of the defensive back drills in terms of his footwork and flexibility.
Dri Archer, RB/WR, Kent State
Otherwise known as a "poor man's Tavon Austin," Kent State's Dri Archer may be the Jets' answer to their issues in the return game while giving their offense an added dimension of speed.
Many teams will pass on Archer because of his underwhelming size (5'8", 178 pounds), but his combination of speed and quickness will cause the speed-deprived Jets to salivate over Archer's skills.
Archer will stand out in the speed and agility drills, but he will draw some concern at the weigh-in if he does not add a least a little bit of muscle onto his frame. If he does add some weight, he must be careful to do so without taxing his biggest asset—his speed.
Archer had a chance to be an early pick following his breakout junior season, but a disappointing senior campaign that featured just 982 all-purpose yards (he had 2,577 yards as a junior) caused his stock to plummet.
Still, if the Jets have a chance to snag Archer in the middle to late rounds, he could provide tremendous value as another weapon they can add to their inconsistent offense and pedestrian return game.
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