After remaining mostly inactive on the open market in free agency, New York Jets general manager John Idzik has forced himself into a must-win situation during the 2014 NFL draft. The Jets own 12 picks in the upcoming draft, enabling the team to fill multiple glaring voids on their 53-man roster.
While the Jets remain stagnant in handing down big money to front-line free agents, they face the difficult challenge of adding an additional starting-caliber wide receiver, a pass-catching tight end, a cornerback who can excel in press-man coverage and a safety who can prevent big plays. Idzik isn't touted as a high-quality talent evaluator, increasing the importance of player scouting.
Terry Bradway, former Jets GM and current senior director of college scouting, will presumably serve as Idzik's right-hand man in the war room on draft day, where the Jets will ideally add several immediate-impact players. Winning the draft won't be a simple feat to accomplish for the Jets, who likely won't boast the luxury of adding a so-called premier offensive weapon in the first round.
The Jets highly covet multiple receivers in this year's draft. While their chances of snagging a player such as former Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins remain slim-to-none, New York would immensely improve their offense by adding former Louisiana State standout Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham was monstrously impressive at the annual scouting combine.
They could also benefit from dynamic-speed threat Brandin Cooks, who shredded the Pac-12 for 1,730 receiving yards to lead the nation.
Adding a proficient receiver to complement newly acquired target Eric Decker is a must for the Jets in the draft. Failing to address this need will leave the Jets offense decrepit regarding playmaking talent yet again in 2014. This would allow opposing defenses to double-cover Decker in zone packages and essentially force underdeveloped quarterback Geno Smith into tight throwing situations.
Idzik understands the Jets' incredible need for another athletic wideout and will surely look to draft a player of that magnitude, but he doesn't need to do that in the first round.
This year's draft is deep with receiver talent, offering Idzik and Co. the ability to nab a potential difference-making downfield target in the either the second or third round. That might not be a popular decision at Radio City Music Hall on May 8, when the Jets take over the clock at No. 18 overall, but New York needs to fill several holes on its roster.
The key for the Jets to contend for a playoff spot in the 2014 season is defense, a category that "Gang Green" ranked 11th in last season, their lowest mark during the Rex Ryan era. The biggest reason for the Jets' slight drop out of the top 10 was their secondary.
As a unit, the Jets defense appeared stout, mostly because of the team's front seven, but its secondary was mediocre at best, frequently allowing big plays while enabling opponents to sustain drives. The Jets' passing defense ranked 22nd in yards allowed, giving up 247 yards through the air per game.
For Idzik to win the draft for the Jets, he needs to consider selecting either a cornerback or safety in the first round. The two most logical scheme fits would be former Michigan State press corner Darqueze Dennard, who is expected to be available when the Jets are scheduled to make their first selection.
Dennard doesn't possess the type of size Ryan likes his cornerbacks to flaunt, but he's a stingy defender who seldom allows receivers to gain separation. He excels in man coverage, which would benefit Ryan's exotic blitz packages.
Another legitimate first-round option for the Jets secondary is former Louisville safety Calvin Pryor, who will reportedly meet with team officials this week, according to Gil Brandt of NFL.com (h/t Twitter). Pryor can cover the entire field. He recorded 75 total tackles, including 5.5 for loss, with four passes defended, three interceptions and two forced fumbles in his final collegiate season.
The Jets' current safety tandem of Antonio Allen and Dawan Landry simply didn't get the job done in 2013. New York needs an upgrade in their defensive backfield. Pryor is most certainly a viable option.
Aside from drafting an impact player who can greatly improve the Jets secondary in the first round, Idzik must then address the team's need for a starting-caliber tight end, which could be achieved at No. 49 overall. Potential second-round tight end targets include former Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro, who was very impressive at the combine, and former Notre Dame TE Troy Niklas.
Both players demonstrated a sufficient ability to catch passes downfield in 2013. Niklas averaged 15.6 yards per reception on 32 catches while Amaro racked up 106 total receptions for 1,352 yards.
The Jets would be best off drafting a receiver in the second round, despite also needing a big-play tight end, specifically because they could perhaps have the chance to select former Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the third round.
Seferian-Jenkins is a solid talent, but concern over a lingering stress fracture in his right foot has depleted his draft value to some extent. Drafting Seferian-Jenkins in the third round would be an Idzik-ian move, considering his tendency to take fliers on players attempting to overcome injury.
The second round is loaded with big-time receiving talent, such as former Penn State wideout Allen Robinson, who boasts outstanding leaping ability. Acquiring Robinson would give Smith added cushion when making throws downfield.
While Robinson doesn't boast outstanding speed, he has the ability to go up and snag balls mid-air, which means Smith wouldn't need to be pinpoint accurate on his pass attempts when throwing to the Big Ten's leading receiver over the past two seasons.
Other second-round options include former Vanderbilt standout Jordan Matthews, who registered 1,477 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in the SEC in 2013, and former Clemson WR Martavis Bryant, who was overshadowed to some degree last season because of Watkins.
Bryant averaged a whopping 22.2 yards per reception on 61 catches in his college career. He spent just one full year as a starter, but he is an outstanding talent capable of changing the complexion of a game in an instant.
Idzik will ultimately maintain his deliberate manner of roster construction on draft day. It's relatively unlikely for the Jets to make a trade, despite owning a dozen draft picks. Defense has ruled draft day during the Ryan era.
While that might not seem like a wise decision in this year's draft for the Jets, it's probable for the front-office brass to prioritize adding a front-line defensive back at No. 18 overall. The Jets will then look to shore up their playmaking ability thereafter.