5 Bold Predictions for New York Jets' 2014 NFL Draft Class
The point of making bold predictions about the New York Jets' 2014 draft class so soon after the draft has ended is not to test my crystal ball. It's to have some fun in discussing the reasons behind this class's selection.
Once again, the Jets threw a monkey wrench into the best-laid plans of draft prognosticators. While they didn't make a trade, they made a mockery out of most mock drafts:
- Although cornerback Darqueze Dennard was available, as were wide receivers Brandin Cooks, Kelvin Benjamin and Marqise Lee, the Jets selected safety Calvin Pryor in Round 1.
- Their third-round selection, cornerback Dexter McDougle, missed most of his last collegiate season with a shoulder injury.
- They didn't pick their first wide receiver, one of their biggest needs, until Round 4.
It's easy to condemn the Jets for not doing what fans and media expected. It's harder to deduce their underlying plan and judge them on its execution. These predictions should begin that process.
A few bold predictions won't reveal general manager John Idzik's master plan for rebuilding the Jets. They might shed some light on the roles a few pieces should play.
In case you're keeping score on my crystal ball, I've sequenced these predictions from least bold to most. To determine boldness, I use a combination of the prospect's draft selection and the accomplishment's degree of difficulty. A Round 7 pick leading the NFL in receiving is a bolder prediction than a Round 1 pick winning a starting job.
The predictions start after a look at some potential disasters. Check everything out and share your own.
Things That Could Go Wrong
Before reading bold predictions, look at the draft's potential dark side. Even the best picks can go bust. With so many relative strangers in the Jets' 2014 draft class, the possibility of failures looms large. Here are some possible disasters.
Neither Cornerback Makes the Team
Both Dexter McDougle and Brandon Dixon present an intriguing combination of strengths and weaknesses. No one is perfect, but the weaknesses of McDougle and Dixon could be flaws that prevent their success in the NFL.
McDougle brings to the Jets an impressive combination of speed, quickness, agility and team spirit. His biggest problem, apart from a lack of size, is durability. Injuries to his knuckles, collarbone and shoulder reduced his playing time.
McDougle underwent shoulder surgery after that injury limited his senior season to three games. The injury kept him from participating in the NFL Scouting Combine. If that's a portent of things to come, his professional career may not last beyond training camp.
He reputedly needs extra time, extra repetitions, to learn complex assignments. That's probably OK during training camp, if he has time to work on his own.
There's less preparation time once the season starts. That's especially true in short weeks, such as before a Thursday night game. How Dixon responds to such situations could determine his long-term future.
If neither McDougle nor Dixon overcomes their deficiencies, the Jets' cornerback situation will revert to its pre-draft condition.
The New Wide Receivers Don't Stretch the Field
For months, we've understood that the Jets offense needs a wide receiver who can stretch the field. He must be fast enough to elude the swiftest defenders and be strong enough to withstand the pounding from the NFL's best press coverage cornerbacks.
In the 2014 draft, the Jets got all of those things. Unfortunately, they may not have come in one package.
The most promising vertical threat comes in the form of 5'9", 165-pound Jalen Saunders. The former track team member ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine, 0.01 second slower than Odell Beckham Jr. and Sammy Watkins.
NFL Network's Mike Mayock called Saunders "one of [the] most physical receivers in football." Mayock thinks Saunders can play either in the slot or outside. Saunders' NFL.com profile suggests his size fits the slot better. Essentially, the argument goes, he'll last longer.
Shaq Evans and Quincy Enunwa have better builds. Both are 6'0" or taller and top 210 pounds.
Evans' NFL.com profile summarizes his potential in two words: "possession receiver." His 4.51 time in the 40-yard dash is identical to that of Mike Evans, but Shaq lacks Evans' size and leaping ability, which limits him as a deep threat.
Enunwa, the sixth-round selection, has the best combination of size and speed. The 6'2", 225-pound wideout might be this group's sleeper. His 4.45-second 40-yard dash time at the combine compares well with Beckham, Watkins and Saunders. His profile calls him a ”Big, tough, athletic, West Coast receiver who broke out as a senior." That breakout may account for his late draft selection.
Saunders should make the team because of his punt return skills. Evans and Enunwa will have to prove that someone should have taken them sooner. They are legitimate candidates for the outside receiving position opposite Eric Decker. If neither rises to the occasion, the Jets will have one new slot receiver in Saunders but be no better off on the outside than they were before the draft.
Disaster time is over. It's time for some bold predictions.
5. QB Tajh Boyd Will Start the Final Preseason Game and Make the Practice Squad
Drafting quarterback Tajh Boyd wasn't as much for 2014 as it is for 2015. If the Jets' best-case projections take place, Geno Smith will have established himself as the franchise quarterback. But they'll need to replace Michal Vick, who will be a free agent. What better way to do so than with a young, inexpensive guy with a live arm and mobility who has spent a year learning Marty Mornhinweg's system?
Having Boyd on the practice squad will help the Jets' peace of mind in 2014 as well. Vick has an injury-filled history, and Smith missed the Jets' second preseason game of 2013 with an ankle injury. Suppose both of them wind up injured. Having a known quantity available on the practice squad should make contingency planning easier.
This idea looks good on paper. It needs testing in the field. The Jets' coaches have seen Smith, Vick and Matt Simms work under game conditions. They should do the same for Boyd by starting him in the final preseason game. They'll get to see what he can do and gain insights into designing game plans that exploit his arm and legs.
Once 2015 comes and Vick departs, Boyd and Simms can compete for the No. 2 quarterback job.
Just for laughs, suppose Boyd wins, has to take over for an injured Smith and never loses the starting job. Another sixth-round quarterback will have made good.
4. TE Jace Amaro Will Surpass Jets' 2013 Tight End Production
In 2013, the Jets employed a platoon system at tight end. Its major participants were Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Winslow Jr. with minor contributions from Zach Sudfeld and Konrad Reuland.
In contrast, Jace Amaro caught 106 passes for 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013. His yardage set a single-season FBS record for tight ends.
Critics point out that the pass-friendly Texas Tech offense helped. So what. Amaro's arrival gives the Jets a new flexibility in deploying tight ends. He's a hybrid—part tight end, part wide receiver. That in itself gives the offense new possibilities and opposing defenses more problems.
It's not necessary that Amaro catch 106 passes in 2014. Even catching 70 passes for 900 yards and seven touchdowns would be a step in the right direction. Add between 25 and 30 catches, 375 yards and four touchdowns from Cumberland (projections based on 2012 and 2013 statistics) and tight end becomes a very productive position for the Jets.
You'll see Amaro and Cumberland both play in single and double tight-end formations. Amaro will typically play as an inside receiver if the Jets use him as he was deployed in college, although he has in-line and H-back experience. Cumberland will play the traditional in-line position.
It's this flexibility that will make Amaro a potent weapon in offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's offense and open up opportunities for Cumberland when both men are on the field at the same time.
3. OL Dakota "Bull" Dozier Will Win the Starting Left Guard Job
There were once two parts to offensive lineman Dakota Dozier's prediction. Part I was supposed to be fun. Rex Ryan was going to take the "I" from Dozier's last name to give him the nickname "Dozer."
I'm still going to propose Part II.
Suppose that in camp Dozier mows down a few defensive linemen and plays like the "pancake machine" that he was in college. Then his nickname won't matter. He'll have a chance to fulfill the bold part of this prediction, winning a starting job.
Dozier's NFL.com profile suggests that, like Brian Winters in 2013, his best NFL position is either guard or center. Winters struggled with pass protection in 2013. If Dozier lives up to the potential he displayed against top-caliber opposition such as LSU, Winters will have to fight for his job at training camp.
That's right. If Dozier matches Winters as a run blocker and surpasses him as a pass-blocker, the Jets will have a new starting left guard in 2014.
Now that's more like a bold prediction.
2. CB Dexter McDougle Will Take Patterson's Job and Lead Jets in Interceptions
Before a shoulder injury ended Dexter McDougle's final college season, he had played three games for the University of Maryland in 2013 and had three interceptions.
No New York Jets defender had more in 16 games.
It would be next to impossible for McDougle as a rookie to match that three-game pace. But it wouldn't be impossible for him to lead the New York Jets in interceptions. After all, Jets still lack a ball hawk in the secondary.
McDougle's collegiate history suggests that he'll be ready to try. As a senior, he participated as much as possible in team activities after his injury, even attending away games. That kind of dedication augurs well for his ability to learn the Jets defense in time to contribute in 2014.
Dimitri Patterson's injury history suggests that McDougle has a good chance to get a start. Patterson has appeared in all 16 regular-season games just once in his career, in 2010 with the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2012 and 2013, he was active for 15 of a possible 32 games.
Now consider the following scenario:
Patterson starts as the Jets' No. 2 cornerback in 2014. That gives McDougle time to learn the system and get in some practice before seeing game action. Suppose Patterson starts a few games, suffers some sort of injury and goes on injured reserve. McDougle takes over.
Chances are, he'll only need four interceptions to lead the team. If he replaces Patterson in either Weeks 7, 8 or 9, he'll need about one pick every other game.
He'll get plenty of chances to make them. Opponents will test the rookie much as they tested Dee Milliner in 2013.
McDougle has a ball-hawk's mentality. He tries to outthink quarterbacks and wide receivers. That's a double-edged sword as he's susceptible to fakes. He'll either guess correctly and make a big play or guess incorrectly and pay the price.
Because of that, McDougle may give up as much from surrendering big plays as he contributes with pass breakups and interceptions, even if he leads the team.
His challenge will be to strike a balance between coverage responsibilities and gambling to create turnovers.
1. WR Jalen Saunders Will Lead the NFL in Punt Returns
It's hard to imagine a 5'9", 165-pound player like Jalen Saunders winning the job as the Jets' No. 1 wide receiver. The pounding he'd take from constant press coverage couldn't be good for his health.
Limit Saunders' role to change-of-pace situations and special teams and his biggest asset, speed, becomes a bigger weapon while his biggest liability, size, becomes a smaller concern.
Look at what Saunders accomplished as a punt returner in college. He returned 31 punts for 465 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 15.0 yards per return.
In 2013, the NFL's leading punt returner in terms of yardage was Dexter McCluster with 686 yards. McCluster returned 58 punts for an average of 11.8 yards per return. The NFL's leader in average yards per return for players with at least 25 returns was Antonio Brown. He returned 32 punts for 409 yards, averaging 12.8 yards per return.
If Saunders maintained his collegiate productivity, he'd need around 47 returns to top McCluster. That's asking a lot.
The point here is not to make some outlandish prediction for the sake of boldness. Instead, it's to highlight who or what on the Jets might benefit most from the team's 2014 draft.
And it's special teams.
Jets' fans didn't get to enjoy draft-day trades made by their team that would bring marquee prospects to MetLife Stadium. They did get fodder for improved special teams' play, according to ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini:
The happiest guy in the building might have been new special teams coach Thomas McGaughey. Except for quarterback Tajh Boyd, the draft is filled with prime candidates for special teams. That should help improve the overall athleticism on a unit that showed signs of decay last season. The most dynamic addition is Saunders, who scored on two punt returns last season [emphasis mine] and averaged 15.4 yards.
That's what will give Saunders a shot at the punt return title. His speed is important, but what's more important is the improvement in special teams play around him.
Bonus bold prediction: Saunders will challenge for the slot receiver job in 2015 if Jeremy Kerley leaves via free agency.
Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid.