NFL Draft 2011: The Jets Needs, and Five Round One Targets
By reaching the AFC Championship game for the second straight year during the 2010-2011 season, the New York Jets proved that they will be a force in the NFL for years to come.
Gang Green is already set, both now and for the future, at several positions.
On offense, they have a young quarterback in Mark Sanchez, two young running backs in Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight and a great foundation on the offensive line with pro-bowlers D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold.
On defense, the Jets feature perhaps the best football player on the planet in cornerback Darrelle Revis.
He is accompanied by middle linebacker and team MVP David Harris, likely-to-improve sophomore cornerback Kyle Wilson and a previously undrafted defensive lineman in Mike Devito.
At every other spot on the roster, the Jets could afford to either upgrade or add depth.
With NFL free agency now on hold because of the lockout, Jets General Manager Mike Tannenbaum can add players in only one way: via the draft.
What follows is a list of five draft prospects who, as they mature, will in turn help the Jets mature into the yearly contender that they look poised to become.
Wide Receiver: Jon Baldwin, Pitt
The Jets wide receiver corps last year featured two stars in Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes. Jerricho Cotchery was extremely overqualified as a third receiver.
With both Edwards and Holmes needing to be re-signed, it's unlikely that the Jets have enough money to keep both players, though they're trying.
Of the two, Holmes appears more likely to stay due to Edwards' off the field issues. If you ask almost any Jets fan, however, Edwards has been the more reliable receiver despite Holmes's clutch contributions in 'Tone Time.
If the Jets lose one of the two, they may look to give Mark Sanchez another weapon in the passing game.
The good news is that even despite a drop-off in talent after A.J. Green and Julio Jones, this is still a very deep draft class for pass catchers.
Jonathan Baldwin, Randall Cobb, Leonard Hankerson, Jerrel Jernigan, Torrey Smith and Titus Young are all currently fighting to climb into the late first round.
Of the group, Baldwin is certainly the most appealing. He is an imposing physical presence at 6'5", 230 pounds.
But Baldwin also has great hands, deceptive speed and he's fearless going over the middle. He's also tough to bring down with the ball, and he isn't afraid to throw a stiff-arm or two.
The two concerns about Baldwin are a sometimes questionable motor, and the fact that his numbers declined between his sophomore and junior seasons.
In 2009, Baldwin recorded 57 catches for 1,111 yards with eight touchdowns. Despite 53 grabs in 2010, his yards per catch fell from 19.5 to 15.5, giving him just 822 yards on the year with five touchdowns.
Despite his struggles, Jonathan Baldwin has the body and the skills to succeed in the NFL right away.
Defensive End: Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple
Muhammad Wilkerson is easily the biggest star to come out of Al Golden's rejuvenation job on Temple's football program.
The 6'5", 305-pound lineman is extremely versatile and played both tackle in a 4-3 and end in a 3-4 during his collegiate career.
Wilkerson is blessed with tremendous size, but he also has the power/speed combo that scouts love to see.
At his pro day, Wilkerson put up 27 reps of the 225-pound bar. He also broke the 4.9 mark in the 40-yard dash.
He is adept both at pass rushing and at defending the run. Wilkerson gets great push and he has that vitally important explosive first step. Even when blocked, he has the ability to improvise in order to make plays.
What's not to like about an athletic specimen with a great motor who decided to leave college a year early?
Mel Kiper Jr. predicted that if Wilkerson stayed for his senior season, he'd be a top-10 pick next year.
It's unlikely that the Temple product will still be on the board when the Jets pick at No. 30. But with their longest tenured player, Shaun Ellis, now 33 years old, the Jets need to start searching for a replacement.
Trading up a few spots for Wilkerson would be a good start.
Nose Tackle: Stephen Paea, Oregon State
Stephen Paea may not have the ideal size for a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense, but nobody is ever going to question his strength.
That's because at the 2011 combine, Paea shattered the bench press record by recording 49 reps of the 225-pound bar. He owns all of Oregon State's weight room records for defensive linemen.
Paea is listed at just 6'1", 311 pounds, but he plays so much bigger. His natural strength gives him the ability to occupy two blockers at once, which is vital for a nose tackle.
He plays low to the ground and delivers a punishing bull rush to whoever is in his way. Paea is also an intense competitor, and he loves to deliver the big hit.
After a second straight season-ending knee injury, Kris Jenkins's career as a starter is likely over. The team has already cut ties with the fan favorite, leaving Sione Pouha, a very underrated player, as the man in charge.
Due to missionary work, however, Pouha got a late start on his football career. He's already 31 years old, and the Jets need to make a move for the future.
The nose tackle is the anchor of a 3-4 defense. Stephen Paea certainly showed he could do that in college. I expect the Jets to ignore the height concerns and target their future anchor with the 30th overall pick.
Outside Linebacker: Jabaal Sheard, Pitt
In 2009, the Jets failed to make it to the Super Bowl because they didn't have enough depth to cover the Colts receivers.
In 2010, the problem was the lack of a blue chip pass rusher who could get to Ben Roethlisberger.
The pass rush, or lack thereof, was the Jets biggest weakness last season.
Calvin Pace is a fine player, but he's on the downside of his career. Bryan Thomas is a solid player as well, but he's not good for any more that 5-6 sacks per season.
The Jets need to find a player who can get pressure off of the edge.
That's where Pitt's Jabaal Sheard comes in.
During his senior season, the 6'3", 260-pound Sheard was named the 2010 Big East Defensive Player of the Year. He recorded nine sacks with 14.5 tackles for a loss and four forced fumbles.
Sheard played weak-side defensive end in college, but his speed-rushing skills should translate nicely to outside linebacker at the next level
He also has a high motor and he doesn't stop coming until the play is finished.
The late first-round talk for linebackers may surround UCLA's Akeem Ayers, but Jabaal Sheard could be a real sleeper.
Safety: Rahim Moore, UCLA
The crop of draft eligible safeties is very week this year, but Rahim Moore is considered to be head and shoulders above the rest.
The free safety started all 37 games of his collegiate career, registering 119 tackles and 14 interceptions.
He had 10 picks during his sophomore year alone, but that total fell to just one during his junior year once quarterbacks knew to avoid him.
Moore has terrific ball skills and better hands than most receivers. He is excellent in pass coverage and he has great closing speed against the run.
He also takes the proper angles on ball carriers, which helps to limit big plays.
Moore isn't overly strong, however, and he will struggle against blockers in the NFL. He'll have to improve his strength if he wants to become a stout run stopper and an all around great player.
But Rahim Moore is a very smart player, and his pass defense should eventually be among the elite at the safety position.
With the 5'9" Jim Leonhard currently manning the free safety spot, the Jets could afford to add a playmaker to the last line of their secondary.