Ranking the New York Jets' Biggest Needs to Address in the 2014 Draft
The New York Jets succeeded in making it through free agency without overspending on new additions, but their inaction on the open market has made them extremely reliant on the draft to fill their main remaining needs.
General manager John Idzik was able to fill some of the roster holes with short-term solutions like Dimitri Patterson and Willie Colon, but there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the status of the defensive backfield and skill position players on offense.
Relying on rookies to fill needs is always risky business, but the Jets picked a good year to do so. This draft is loaded with talent in all seven rounds, especially at the positions where the Jets need it most, particularly wide receiver.
Here are the remaining needs the Jets must address in the 2014 NFL draft.
Advanced stats provided by Pro Football Focus.
Projected Starters: Antonio Allen, Dawan Landry
Between the up-and-coming Antonio Allen and the steady veteran Dawan Landry, the Jets have a viable set of safeties to survive the 2014 season.
There is a difference, however, between having a group that will merely make it through and one that gives a team an edge to win games.
In 2013, Landry proved in his first year as a Jet to be a quality free-agent signing. Landry's a sure tackler who doesn't take unnecessary gambles, but the Jets need to look to get more dynamic at the position. Antonio Allen has shown great promise as a man-to-man coverage specialist, but he could benefit from a move to his more natural position at strong safety.
The only way for Allen to replace Landry at strong safety (whether it be this year or next year) would occur were the Jets to acquire a rangy free safety prospect with supreme cover skills. Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Louisville's Calvin Pryor or Jimmy Ward of Northern Illinois would all fit the mold.
Problem is, the only way the Jets are getting their hands on one of those is with a first or second-round pick. While these players would essentially upgrade the safety group at two positions (with Allen moving over to strong safety), the Jets have too many pressing needs to spend a "luxury" pick on a safety.
Instead, look for the Jets to either spend a lower pick on a developmental prospect or simply address the position next year when Landry's contract expires.
5. Outside Linebacker
Projected Starters: Calvin Pace, Quinton Coples
The Jets got unexpected production from this position from Calvin Pace last year, and retaining him gives them a serviceable option opposite Quinton Coples for one more season.
Still, the Jets are kidding themselves if they believe the 33-year-old Pace can be their long-term solution at the position, even on the heels of a career-high 10-sack season. There is no question that Pace's play in 2013 was a massive improvement over his disastrous 2012 campaign, but the Jets must anticipate a drop-off in his production given his age.
Given the enormity of their other needs, the Jets can afford to wait to address this position. Ideally, they should look to add a mid-round pass-rushing project like Missouri's Michael Sam or Virginia Tech's James Gayle who can contribute immediately on passing downs while they develop behind Pace.
This way, the Jets, by anticipating a need before it becomes urgent, will be well prepared for when Pace's contract expires in two seasons.
Projected Starters: Brian Winters (LG), Willie Colon (RG)
Perhaps one of the most overlooked needs on New York's roster lies at the guard position, where there are at least as many questions as there were at this point last year.
At left guard, the Jets will continue to place their bets on last year's third-round pick, Brian Winters. Since being forced into the lineup in Week 5, Winters' initiation into the NFL has not been smooth. According to Pro Football Focus, Winters was responsible for 10 sacks in 11 starts, finishing as the fifth-worst guard in football (77th out of 81 guards who played enough snaps to qualify).
Meanwhile, free-agent misfires have forced the Jets to risk their fate on Willie Colon's torn bicep. Colon played well last season at right guard, surrendering just one sack all season—but his injury history should make New York very nervous about his ability to again hold up for a 16-game season.
The Jets do have some depth at the interior guard positions, as they spend a fifth-round and a sixth-round pick last year on Oday Aboushi and William Campbell, respectively. However, the fact that both players were not active for a single game does not exactly exude confidence from the Jets that they are capable of starting if needed.
The Jets will be able to get by at this position if Winters improves (he did have a strong game in the season finale) and Colon stays healthy, but there are too many questions marks at this position to leave to chance.
3. Tight End
Projected Starter: Jeff Cumberland
Retaining Jeff Cumberland allowed the Jets to avert disaster at the tight end position, but the team has done nothing to improve on what was one of the lesser tight end groups in the NFL last year.
In fact, the Jets have only gotten more desperate for talent at the position over the past two months, as they no longer have Kellen Winslow Jr. on the roster to support Cumberland.
Evidenced by their decision to extend Cumberland, the Jets are hopeful that he can develop into a starting-caliber player in his fifth professional season. While Cumberland has flashed ability (particularly as a receiver), asking a player who has never eclipsed the 400-yard mark in his career to be prominent presence in your passing attack is quite a leap of faith.
Because of the top-heavy nature of this year's tight end class, the Jets need to seriously consider using a first- or second-round pick on the position if they want a well-rounded group to start the season. Otherwise, adding a blocking specialist (such as Georgia's Arthur Lynch) should be a priority in the later rounds.
While landing a player like North Carolina's Eric Ebron or Texas Tech's Jace Amaro would be an ideal way to instantly obtain a dynamic combination of tight ends, the Jets should be content with simply filling the gaps in the position before the season starts at this point.
2. Wide Receiver
Projected Starters: Eric Decker, David Nelson
Even after adding the top free-agent receiver in Eric Decker, the Jets are still set to field one of the weakest receiving corps in the NFL next season—a testament to how desolate this position has been over the past few years.
There are two primary ingredients missing from the Jets' receiver depth chart: speed and depth.
Adding a player like Oregon State's Brandin Cooks in the first round or Ole Miss' Donte Moncrief in the second should be able to give them the speed they need to stretch the field. Luckily for the Jets, this draft is as deep as any in recent memory at the receiver position. Their twelve picks will allow them to completely rebuild their receiver corps from the ground up.
Mike Mayock forecasting the Jets draft: "I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Jets picked multiple wide receivers this year."— Seth Walder (@SethWalderNYDN) February 18, 2014
They should be able to land starting-caliber players as late as the fourth and fifth rounds, giving them flexibility to focus on other needs early on while still getting the help they need at the position.
If the Jets can add a speedster to take the load off Decker and Jeremy Kerley while also restocking the position with other young talent to be groomed, they can turn what was one of the worst position groups in the league into one of the strengths of the team.
Projected Starters: Dee Milliner, Dimitri Patterson, Kyle Wilson (slot)
The Jets may be known for their long-standing issues on the offensive side of the ball, but their top concern lies at the crux of declining defense at the cornerback position.
Adding Dimitri Patterson in free agency to replace Antonio Cromartie helps lessen the blow of the rapid decline in talent over the past couple years, but the Jets are a long way off from fielding the elite pair of cornerbacks Rex Ryan needs to execute his scheme.
The Jets are also putting a heavy amount of faith in the development of former first-round pick Dee Milliner. While he finished the season strong with three interceptions in New York's final two games, asking him to make a full 180-degree turn from a season in which he was benched on three separate occasions is s significant gamble.
Plus, slot cornerback Kyle Wilson is on the last season of his rookie contract, which could open up yet another hole next season.
While the cornerback situation can only improve this year after fielding one of the worst starting tandems in the league, the Jets are not going to be able to play the elite pass defense they have grown accustomed to under Ryan without having two strong corners they can rely on week in and week out.
Most teams would be content with the combination of Milliner and Patterson for one more season, but the demands of Ryan's defense push this need to the top.