The Jets' 2013 first-round picks surprised draft devotees, who expected an outside linebacker.
In 2013, draft experts and amateurs alike expected the New York Jets to select an outside linebacker in the first round. They selected cornerback Dee Milliner and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson instead.
Conclusion: It's more likely that a mock draft will be wrong than right, regardless of its source.
NFL mock drafts remind me of NCAA's tournament brackets. Anyone can prepare one. Endless arguments result. In the end, the actual results leave experts and amateurs alike scratching their heads.
Think about a mock draft as more of a conversation starter than a prediction. That's especially true before free-agent signings take place.
We've heard endless discussions about team needs. The combine has contributed hard data about draft prospects' potential. To complete the picture, we must know where free agents go.
Until that becomes clear, mock drafts are a long shot at best. Yet, in the spirit of providing grist for the conversational mil, here's my post-combine mock draft for the New York Jets.
This mock draft makes the following assumptions:
- The Jets will get Tampa Bay's third-round pick (No. 69) because of the Darrelle Revis trade.
- There is no trading of picks.
- Compensatory picks are not included.
- The Jets will re-sign tackle Austin Howard before the draft and defer a decision on guard Willie Colon.
- They will pursue veteran free agents to address their defensive secondary needs. However, they will take defensive backs in the draft as well.
- If they draft a running back, it will be because he has kickoff- or punt-return potential.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Check out this 2014 mock draft.
Scouting data not otherwise sourced comes from Bleacher Report's Pro Player Comparisons.
Combine workout results are from NFL.com.
Phillip Gaines impressed combine observers with his size and 40-yard dash time of 4.38 seconds. It wasn't enough to change his draft status, claimed NFL.com's Chase Goodbread and Mike Huguenin, who wrote, "Gaines, though, was seen as a potential third-day pick, and his fast time likely doesn't change that."
If that's true, Rex Ryan could get a cornerback with great instincts whom he could mold to play with Dee Milliner. With someone like Gaines in the wings, the Jets could sign an older veteran to play opposite Milliner for a couple of years.
In 2013, Gaines made 24 solo tackles and assisted on 12. He intercepted four passes, broke up nine passes and recovered a fumble. He received first-team All-Conference-USA honors.
At 6'0" and 193 pounds, Gaines has the size to knock away passes he can't catch. He follows a pass' trajectory well and makes his move while it's in the air. He moves well in space, which should make him a ball-hawking threat whenever he's on the field.
His combine profile acknowledges his skill in zone coverage. He'll have to prove the cynics wrong and develop man-to-man coverage skills to match if he wants to play a major role in a Rex Ryan defense.
Before he can exploit his ball-hawking ability in the NFL, Gaines will have to clean up his hip movements and footwork. Once he does, he could be a mainstay of the Jets' secondary for years.
After Dri Archer recorded the second-best 40-yard dash time in NFL Scouting Combine history, he may not be available by the sixth round. If he is, the Jets should grab him and give their return game a needed boost.
Archer's time of 4.26 seconds was only 0.02 seconds slower than Chris Johnson's 4.24. That may be enough for a team to ignore his 5'8", 175-pound frame and take a chance in an earlier round. They'd have to build a role for Archer, as scouts consider him a classic "tweener." He doesn't fit the classic mold for any skill position.
Archer compensates for his lack of height by adding outstanding leaping ability and agility to his speed. He finished among the leaders in his position group in the vertical jump, three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle.
In other words, get him in space and watch him go.
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah put it this way: "Archer's combination of raw athleticism and rare top speed figure to make him an attractive middle-round option for a squad in need of a special teams boost."
With any luck a team won't select him that soon because Archer sounds like the return specialist the Jets' special teams need. If he can bring the form that earned him the 2012 MAC Conference Special Teams Player of the Year award to Florham Park, opponents will kick the ball to him at their peril.
While the secondary is the Jets' biggest defensive need, outside quarterback pressure continues to be an issue. The numbers showed that Calvin Pace, Antwan Barnes, Garrett McIntyre and Quinton Coples combined for 18.5 sacks.
Look beneath the numbers, says ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini, and you'll see that at least a third of those sacks stem from missed blocking assignments or strong coverage. The outside linebacking corps, especially Pace, was better at being a clean-up crew than at forcing the action.
At the right price, that may be acceptable. Pace, however, is entering free agency and may seek to regain some of the pay cut he took in 2013. McIntyre is a restricted free agent. Barnes is still under contract but has questionable durability. After recording 2.0 sacks in five games, he missed the rest of 2013 with a knee injury.
That means Jets might shop for outside linebackers on May 8.
If they seek a speed-rusher, Ronald Powell might fit the mold. The 6'3", 233-pound Powell matched Buffalo's Kahlil Mack in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.65 seconds, despite suffering two left ACL tears in 2012.
He's played both linebacker and defensive end. His body type offers a great balance between athleticism and muscularity. If he doesn't make it at the NFL level, it won't be for lack of physical tools.
Instead, Powell must adjust to a world in which he's no longer the big fish. His place in the draft and his success in the NFL depend on it. His native athleticism has advanced him this far. Now he's in the company of similarly gifted athletes where the hardest worker often reaps the rewards.
If Ryan, Dennis Thurman and linebackers' coach Bobby April III can install the proper work ethic, Powell may become an outstanding pass-rushing threat from outside.
In 2013, Dawan Landry played an invaluable role as the Jets' defensive signal-caller. He'll probably do the same in 2014, the second year of his two-year contract. Should that be the end of Landry's Jets career, Craig Loston could prove to be a worthy successor.
Unlike many draft candidates whose scouting reports beg for more aggressiveness, the 5'11", 217-pound Loston has the opposite problem. He's constantly looking to make the big hit. That's great if he learns to exercise judgment, especially in run defense where he tends to over-pursue.
This make-the-big-hit-at-all-costs approach may also explain his history of injuries, which caused him to miss games in all but one collegiate season. He even received a medical redshirt in 2009. Fortunately, he's a fast healer.
Should Loston make the Jets, he'll benefit from Landry's tutelage during 2014. That may leave the Jets with an interesting choice in 2015, whether to keep them both or let Loston bring his hard-hitting ways to the starting strong safety position.
Adding Terrence Brooks to the secondary might not increase the Jets' takeaway count. Instead, Brooks' athleticism might address another issue: giving up big plays.
During the combine, the 5'11", 200-pound Brooks displayed that athleticism with a 4.42-second 40-yard dash, 38.0-inch vertical jump and 119.0-inch broad jump.
Scouts question Brooks' durability and playmaking ability. He suffered a concussion in 2013, a consequence of his overly aggressive style. His profile also mentions average hands and a tendency to miss interception chances.
He is capable of playing any corner or safety position, making him a useful player even if the Jets sign a high-profile free safety. If he doesn't stick at safety, he might challenge Kyle Wilson for the slot cornerback role. His versatility also makes him a viable special teams player.
The Jets may start 2014 with Milliner as the most experienced starting cornerback. He'll have an easier life if a wide-ranging free safety like Brooks can support him.
This could be the second consecutive year that the Jets draft a guard in the third round. They must make such a move because of Willie Colon's uncertain status and Brian Winters' disappointing rookie year.
Richardson is a former Hurricane Katrina victim who ended his collegiate career as a first-team AP All-American and Outland Trophy finalist. The 6'5", 335-pound guard is powerful at the point of attack, skilled at angular movement whether pulling or blocking at the second level, and he has long arms and good body control.
He can play tackle as well as guard, making him suitable for backup duty if he doesn't win a starting job. He's used to a high-paced, no-huddle offense. Stamina will not be an issue.
Despite all that, scouts are concerned about his motivation. Maybe it's because Richardson has a fleshy midsection that hints at excess weight. Maybe they believe he lacks consistent focus. For a first-team All-American to lack motivation seems inconsistent in itself.
Speaking of patterns, the Jets drafted someone named Richardson in 2013. It seems that worked out well. This Richardson could continue the trend.
According to Troy "Hercules" Niklas' NFL Scouting Combine profile, he made the transition from collegiate outside linebacker to first-team All-Independent tight end and John Mackey Award semifinalist in less than two years. He's used to challenging transitions.
The 6'6", 270-pound Niklas makes an imposing target whether in the middle of the field or the red zone. He has the combination of size and agility that will make him effective whether he lines up next to the tackle or off-line.
He still has to refine his blocking and pattern-running skills, but that's not surprising for someone so new to the position.
At the combine, Niklas was among the leading tight ends in the bench-press drill with a 27-repetition performance and in the 60-yard shuttle with a time of 12.19 seconds. His low body fat percentage is evidence of his dedication to fitness.
In his Day 1 notes, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock remarked, "Niklas reportedly was just '80 percent' and didn't run the 40, though he did do the on-field drills." He'll have to support that claim with an impressive pro day.
Niklas isn't the ideal tight end for the Jets because of their immediate need for an impact starter. He would benefit from having a veteran available who could mentor him for a season or two. But, he's progressed so impressively in a relatively short time that it's hard to imagine him not being a big target for Jets quarterbacks for years to come.
Before Mike Evans did his combine drills, scouts liked his size, strength, hands and leaping ability. They had concerns about his speed and body control. Evans' combine performance has resolved these issues in his favor.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock called Evans, "a top-15 pick." If he isn't, the Jets should grab him.
Evans ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, acceptable for a 6'5", 231-pound wide receiver with a basketball mentality. An inch shorter than tight end Troy Niklas, Evans makes a big red-zone target as well, but he adds superior leaping ability that will help him grab balls thrown over his head or off-target. That should improve quarterbacks' completion percentages while reducing turnovers.
His combine profile cites a certain awkwardness and rigidity, an inability to obtain separation. His combine performance indicated otherwise.
NFL.com's Bucky Brooks gained a different impression:
Standing 6-4 3/4 and 231 pounds, Evans clocked a 4.53-second 40 and posted a 37-inch vertical jump. While those numbers don't jump off the stat sheet at first glance, when you consider his massive frame, the marks reveal a dynamic big guy with exceptional lower-body explosion.
Evans also displayed better-than-anticipated fluidity and body control in his route running. He was efficient getting in and out of the breaks, and flashes a burst tracking balls down on intermediate routes.
Most importantly, Evans caught the ball well in drills, exhibiting strong hands while snatching everything in his sizable strike zone. Given the impact big receivers are making on the league nowadays, Evans is an intriguing prospect with the potential to be a true No. 1 receiver.
Between Evans and Niklas, the Jets will have two big, strong targets ready to convert offensive opportunities from field-goal attempts to touchdowns.
Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid.