New York Jets: Fresh 7-Round Predictions Post-Week 1 of Free Agency
With the first wave of free agency in the past, team needs around the NFL are starting to become much clearer, making draft predictions much easier to complete—for most teams, that is.
Despite their newfound salary-cap flexibility, the New York Jets have been reluctant to make any big splashes outside of their acquisition of wide receiver Eric Decker. Factoring in their release of Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie, the Jets are essentially in the same position they were in before the start of the new league year.
In fact, one could argue that the Jets have more needs to address than they did before the markets opened.
There is still plenty of time for the Jets to patch up their roster before the draft, but it appears as if they may be forced to draft for need much more often than they would have liked.
Here are the latest seven-round projections for the Jets after the first week of free agency.
Round 1: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Even after adding Eric Decker, the Jets are still very deep in the market for a new wide receiver, especially that of the young variety that oozes upside.
Marqise Lee has a ton of ability as a receiver that excels after the catch, able to turn a five-yard stick route into a long gain. However, a massive drop in production in 2013 (about half the catches and 1,000 fewer yards from 2012) has all but removed him from top-10 consideration.
It appears as if the Jets are willing to overlook his statistical drop, showing an immense amount of interest in Lee at his pro day last week:
There is reason to believe that Lee's decline in production stems more from his environment than his ability. Dealing with nagging knee injuries and subpar quarterback play, Lee was set up for failure last season.
Lee would be an ideal fit opposite Eric Decker, who excels in making contested catches downfield and in the red zone. Lee's game is similar to that of Santonio Holmes, moving the chains and turning small plays into huge ones.
By adding a top-tier receiver in the first round, the Jets will have successfully revamped their receiving corps in Geno Smith's make-or-break season.
Round 2: Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
Having not made any moves at the position outside of retaining Jeff Cumberland, the Jets still have a massive hole at the tight end position that needs to be addressed before the start of the season.
The former defensive end excels as a receiver, boasting a ton of athleticism and flexibility that allows him to gain separation. He also has the strength to make contested catches.
While he does have a lot of versatility as a player who was used both as a blocker and a receiver, in-line blocking is hardly his strong suit. He is not polished in terms of using his strength properly, not delivering the amount of quality, sealing blocks that he is capable of.
Still, given the fact that he has only played the position for two seasons at Notre Dame, the sky is the limit for how well-rounded of a player Niklas can morph into with some NFL coaching.
Round 3: Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
Lindenwood may not be a world-renowned football factory, but they produced a tremendously athletic cornerback prospect in Pierre Desir. With ideal size (6'1", 198 pounds) to match his fluid-movement ability, it is a wonder why he was not a more coveted recruit coming out of high school.
The DII All-American had a tremendous week of practice at the Senior Bowl, notching an interception in the game to help fend off some concerns that come with prospects who play outside of the DI realm. There are some concerns about his long speed—he ran a 4.59 40-yard dash at the combine.
Meanwhile, the Jets find themselves in a somewhat desperate situation at cornerback, having missed on several free-agent targets (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was the most recent to slip out of their hands). As of now, the Jets' starting three cornerbacks are Dee Milliner, Kyle Wilson and Darrin Walls.
In fact, if the Jets are unable to add another proven player at this position at some point before the draft, they may be forced to use a much earlier pick on a cover man, especially given the importance of the position in Rex Ryan's defense.
Round 4 (from Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Antone Exum, DB, Virginia Tech
Above all else, Rex Ryan's defenses are known for their versatility and scheme flexibility—which is exactly what Virginia Tech's Antone Exum brings to the table.
Slowed by an ACL injury he suffered last offseason, Exum may provide great value at this point in the draft as a second-day talent as a third-day pick. Exum is extremely physical at the line of scrimmage, has great instincts and has solid ball skills to boot—making him a logical candidate to make the transition to safety.
The Jets have at least a serviceable pair of safeties in Antonio Allen and Dawan Landry, but plugging in another young prospect to hopefully take over for Landry next season would be a great bonus.
Right off the bat, Exum would contribute as a special teams ace and a "big-nickel" safety, eventually working his way into the starting lineup.
Round 4: Trai Turner, G, LSU
With no replacement in sight for last year's starter, Willie Colon, new bodies must be added to the guard position before the start of the season.
LSU's Trai Turner jumps off the table with his raw athleticism, running a quick 4.93 in the 40-yard dash. He excels as a power blocker, locking on to defenders and using his raw strength to drive them back.
Turner, however, can be susceptible to some of the quicker defensive tackles in the country, as he is lacking in his lateral agility. His frame is a bit too top-heavy, making it difficult for him to keep balance when moving back and forth.
With the proper NFL weight-training program, Turner could fix some of his balance issues that inhibit him as a pass-protector to become more of a well-rounded guard at the next level.
Round 5: Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
Based on their interest in players like Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jets are clearly not content with their current situation at running back. Despite the effectiveness of Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory last season, the uncertainty of Mike Goodson's ACL injury has them back in the running back market.
For a third-down runner, the Jets are much better off finding cheaper, younger options in the draft as opposed to bringing in a worn-out free agent like Jones-Drew.
Baylor's Lache Seastrunk has everything the Jets would need in a change-of-pace back. With tremendous speed and acceleration, Seastrunk is dangerous in space and outside of the tackles. However, he struggles to consistently gain yardage inside the tackles, where his smaller frame is unable to break as many tackles.
For the Jets, Seastrunks' weaknesses won't be much of a problem—after all, they have Chris Ivory to take care of the inside running. Seastrunk would be the ideal replacement for Mike Goodson as a mismatch on third downs that can beat a linebacker to the edge on short passes and screens to generate big plays.
Round 6: James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech
Even with the return of Calvin Pace, as reported by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the Jets still have a need for a young edge pass-rusher to eventually take over for the veteran linebacker.
James Gayle offers a lot in terms of his ability to bend around the edge. His size (6'4", 259 lbs) makes him the perfect player to mold into a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.
However, despite his frame, Gayle can be somewhat susceptible against the run. He has average instincts and tends to stand a bit too tall when trying to get leverage.
Despite his flaws, a player like Gayle would make perfect sense for the Jets now that Pace is back in the fold. While Pace takes care of the dirty work on the first two downs, Gayle can substitute in as a situational pass-rusher. Meanwhile, he can develop his run-defense habits on the practice field.
By the time Gayle morphs into an all-around player, the Jets will have already moved on from the 33-year-old Pace.
Round 7: Shaquelle Evans, WR, UCLA
Even after adding Decker and Lee (at least in this mock-draft scenario), the Jets are too starved for offensive weapons to pass up on them when they have a chance to add them.
Shaquelle Evans looks the part at 6'1", 213 pounds. He excels when making tough catches in crowds to move the chains. He always looks to gain extra yardage after the catch when he has the chance.
As well as he is making exceptional catches on contested balls, he is prone to dropping easier ones that do not require as much concentration. His average top-end speed and acceleration limit his big-play ability.
Evans' ceiling may be a bit limited because of his lack of speed, but his size and competitiveness make him an instant chain-mover who can get the Jets out of a pinch if one of their top receivers go down with an injury.