7 2014 NFL Draft Picks That Could Be Opening-Game Starters for New York Jets
One of the few silver linings surrounding the fact that the New York Jets still have several holes on their roster after free agency is that they should have no trouble finding room on their roster for rookies to make an immediate impact.
Given their massive needs at receiver, tight end and cornerback, just about any player they take in the first couple rounds at those positions will have a great opportunity to start.
While starting rookies may not be the best for the Jets in the short term, there are plenty of long-term benefits to getting youngsters on the field early and often to accelerate their development. Here are some draft picks that could be opening-game starters for the Jets.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
In a crowded group of first-round wide receivers, where Marqise Lee separates himself from the pack in terms of his fit with the Jets is his interlocking skill set with the newly acquired Eric Decker.
Decker's skill set allows him to make contested catches on deep passes, getting most of his yardage through the air. Lee, on the other hand, is a master at taking a stick route and turning it into a huge gain with his great balance and ability after the catch.
A steep decline in production from his breakout 2012 season will give teams pause, especially since he battled knee injuries throughout last season.
However, if Lee can avoid the injury bug and get back to the caliber of player he was two seasons ago, Lee may wind up as the best receiver in this year's class and an instant starter for the Jets.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Outside of Sammy Watkins (who has no chance of being available when the Jets pick at 18), there is no receiver in this draft the Jets should feel more confident about inserting into their starting lineup than Odell Beckham Jr.
Despite his average height (5'11"), Beckham Jr. has all of the tools that would allow him to be inserted into the opening-game starting lineup without showing any indications of his professional inexperience. Boasting tremendous body control, hands and route running, Beckham Jr. would make life easy on any wide receivers coach because of his pro-readiness.
Beckham Jr. even eased any concerns about his speed with a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the combine.
While his average size may limit his upside somewhat, whoever drafts Beckham Jr. will be getting one of the most pro-ready players at his position.
Austin-Seferian Jenkins, TE, Washington
He may be the third tight end taken in the draft, but Austin Seferian-Jenkins has as good of a chance to start for the Jets as the other two player taken before him.
For one, it seems unlikely that Eric Ebron would be available for the Jets' pick at 18, and a trade-up seems unlikely for the conservative John Idzik.
Texas Tech's Jace Amaro would certainly be in play, but his relatively one-dimensional game makes him more of a role player in his first season than Seferian-Jenkins, who has the tools to play a more complete game at the next level.
While a willing blocker, Amaro was rarely used in this aspect of the game in college. Meanwhile, Seferian-Jenkins is well-experienced in this area, perhaps too much—he seemed to grow tired of blocking as the season went on as his effort waned.
Seferian-Jenkins will be drafted after Amaro because of character and drops issues, but he has a more complete game than the incumbent starter, Jeff Cumberland, and would have a realistic chance of taking his job in training camp. Meanwhile, Amaro would be used in more of a complementary role while he develops the rest of his game.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oklahoma State
While he may lack the polish of Marqise Lee or Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks brings an important element to his game that cannot be taught or replicated by others—speed.
His 4.33 40-yard dash is exactly the type of speed the Jets need in their otherwise-slow receiving corps to stretch the field and open things up for Eric Decker and Jeremy Kerley.
The downside to Cooks is that he is not quite as polished as Lee or Beckham in terms of his route running, but his mere presence on the field would pose a threat to defenses that they must respect, making him an easy decision to start immediately despite his shortcomings.
It may take Cooks a bit more time to adjust to the pro game than the other first-round receivers, but his raw talent still makes him a far superior option to any other option on the depth chart.
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Adding journeyman cornerback Dimitri Patterson gives the Jets some insurance at the cornerback position headed into the season, but you can bet that they would love to replace a middle-of-the-road starter in Patterson with a bona fide prospect if they get the chance.
Of all of the cornerbacks in this year's draft, Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard would be an ideal fit based on his skill set. Dennard excels in press-man coverage thanks to his tremendous flexibility and strength at the line of scrimmage.
For a team that likes to run as much aggressive, man-to-man coverage as anyone else, Dennard is as good of a fit to the Jets as any other team in the league.
The biggest concern surrounding Dennard is his less-than-ideal speed (4.51 40-yard dash). As dominant as he is at the line of scrimmage, the rare times in which he loses the battle up front could be costly with his average recovery speed.
Still, Dennard possesses a lot more ability than a 30-year-old Dimitri Patterson and would be a welcome addition to the Jets' starting lineup.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Jets are comfortable with their current starting tandem of Antonio Allen and Dawan Landry for at least one more season, but that does not rule out a possible upgrade at the safety position.
As reliable as Landry is at the strong safety position, adding a player of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix's caliber would give the Jets a strong, young tandem of safeties they could build their secondary around.
With his diverse range of cover and tackling skills, the Jets would insert Clinton-Dix in the starting free safety spot. This would allow Allen to move over to his more natural position at strong safety, upgrading two positions with one selection.
Meanwhile, Landry would be able to contribute as a rotational third safety in "big nickel" packages, which is a much more palatable role for someone his age (31).
Based on the magnitude of their other needs, it seem unlikely that the Jets would use a luxury pick on a somewhat solidified position so early in the draft, but they would not make such a move without the intention of starting Clinton-Dix immediately.
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Like Darqueze Dennard, Justin Gilbert stands out as an in-your-face press-man cornerback who is not afraid to play physical at the line of scrimmage—making him another ideal fit in Rex Ryan's defense.
In many ways, Gilbert is an even more desirable prospect because of his more impressive measurables. His impressive 4.37 40-yard dash will make general managers more comfortable using their top selection on him than the slower Dennard or Kyle Fuller.
Gilbert is known for being able to make game-changing plays with his aggressive play, but it does come back to haunt him at times. His proneness to giving up catches because of his aggressiveness will lead to some growing pains in the NFL.
While he will frustrate coaches from time to time with his somewhat-undisciplined play, he would be a dynamic presence opposite Dee Milliner with more upside than any other cornerback in this class, making him an easy decision to start over Dimitri Patterson.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com.