Another year, another heartbreaking loss in the AFC Championship game on the road for the New York Jets. It’s no secret that Rex Ryan expects the Jets to win the Super Bowl this season after coming up just short the past two seasons.
While many are worrying about the potential for there to be a lockout in 2011, Ryan is focusing on strengthening his roster during the offseason. Whether it's through free agency, trade or through the draft, Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum will look to add pieces to the roster in order for Gang Green to get to that next level and get past the AFC Championship Game.
The offseason has been very busy for the Jets, as they have a lot of questions going into the draft. It will be extremely tough for Tannenbaum to keep everyone from last year’s team, and that is where the 2011 Draft comes into play.
In two-and-a-half weeks, no matter which collegiate standouts decide to shake Roger Goodell’s hand at Radio City Music Hall, the 75th annual draft will take place. There will be lots of green jerseys watching on at Radio City Music Hall as their team has six picks in 2011.
If the Jets use their picks wisely, they can add talent to an already skilled team. Here are the five biggest needs for the Jets that Mike Tannenbaum will look to address.
In an era where 300-pounders feature on the frontline of many teams, the Jets decided to release a 300-pounder of their own. After three up-and-down seasons, Kris Jenkins is now a free agent.
Jenkins was dominant in 2008 with the Jets but missed most of the 2009 and 2010 seasons with a knee injury and now finds himself without a job.
His presence was needed the past two postseasons, especially against the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game in which the Jets gave up 121 rushing yards and one touchdown to Rashard Mendenhall.
Right now, New York needs a defensive lineman to clog the middle and draw double teams like Jenkins did in the past. They need someone to shut down the run and give the Jets some depth at defensive tackle with 31-year-old Sione Pouha and 34-year-old Trevor Pryce getting up there in age.
In addition, defensive end is another area of concern. Arguably the best pass-rusher on the team last year, Shaun Ellis, is currently unsigned, leaving the Jets thin at that position.
The defensive line for the Jets combined for only 8.5 sacks last season. One thing is for certain, Gang Green needs a legitimate pass-rusher if they want to be the dominant defensive team that Rex Ryan wants them to be.
There are few teams in the NFL that have a better combo of inside linebackers than the Jets. Bart Scott and David Harris intimidate teams and get in on just about every tackle. The outside linebacker position, however, could use a little help.
Whether it is a defensive lineman or linebacker, the Jets absolutely need a pass-rusher. There were way too many times last season where quarterbacks had all day to throw the ball. This cannot happen against any quarterback, let alone Ben Roethlisberger in the AFC Championship Game.
Jason Taylor is likely to retire and the very disappointing Vernon Gholston is a free agent, leaving the Jets with Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas. Both are good players, but there needs to be more depth at that position over the course of a 16-game regular season plus the playoffs.
Bryan Thomas is 31 years old, so the Jets could look to find a replacement for him in the long run. Calvin Pace is also in his 30s and has suffered some injuries the past few seasons, which could bother him in the future.
The Jets took a huge hit last year when their “defensive quarterback,” Jim Leonhard broke his leg in December. He called all of the plays and was the leader of the defense. Once he went down, it was clear there was a lack of depth at the safety position.
Eric Smith was no match for Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and just about every tight end out there. The defense was exposed with teams picking the Jets apart in the middle of the field for huge chunks of yards.
Leonhard will be back next season, but it is uncertain whether or not his teammates at the safety position will also return. Brodney Pool, Eric Smith and James Ihedigbo are all free agents which leaves the team with few alternatives if they do not re-sign.
Cornerback is probably the most important position on defense for Rex Ryan. His defensive schemes revolve around his talented duo of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. The tighter they blanket receivers, the easier it is for Ryan to dial up his signature blitzes.
Revis ended his holdout last summer by signing a four-year, $46 million contract, but this year it is Antonio Cromartie who is due money. He is a free agent, and his demands might be a little too steep for Woody Johnson.
Last year’s first-round pick, Kyle Wilson, did not impress much last year, leaving Drew Coleman and Dwight Lowery in charge of covering opposing receivers for the greater portion of the 2010 season.
If Cromartie doesn’t sign, the Jets might want to look at drafting a replacement.
Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Jericho Cotchery make up one heck of a receiving core. The three combined for 2,083 yards and 15 touchdowns and provided second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez a lot of weapons. The Jets would love to have all of them back for 2011, but that might be unrealistic.
When the Jets traded for Santonio Holmes, they knew he was going to miss the first four games of the season due to suspension. They also knew that he would be a free agent at the end of the season along with Braylon Edwards.
Now, the Jets are left with a tough decision. Do they try to sign both, or will they choose to sign only one of the star receivers?
If they go with the latter, they will need some help at the wide receiver position because Brad Smith is also a free agent and Jericho Cotchery is coming off injury.
Some other positions the Jets could look at in the draft are offensive line, backup quarterback and running back.
New York recently released Damien Woody, and his backups Robert Turner and Wayne Hunter are also free agents. In addition, Vladimir Ducasse looked overmatched since he took his first snap in the NFL.
The backup quarterback position might be overrated, but football players are one play away from a major injury. Mark Brunell is now 41 years old, and Kellen Clemens has not impressed so far. In the event that Sanchez can’t play, the Jets need a dependable No. 2.
With regards to the running back position, LaDainian Tomlinson doesn’t have much left in the tank and Joe McKnight hasn’t lived up to his potential. Once LT retires, Shonn Greene needs another running back to share the carries with. Oh how the Jets wished they hadn’t let little Danny Woodhead go.
2010 was supposed to be the year. The team consisted of several players with expiring contracts who came together to try and win a Super Bowl. The reality is there might not be enough money to go around. If that is the case, the draft will provide them with an opportunity to fill some of their holes.