Entering the NFL Draft on Thursday night, I was sure, along with many of the draftniks and NFL experts, that the New York Jets would use one of their picks, maybe even their first round pick, on a pass rushing defensive end or outside linebacker that would fit in perfectly with Rex Ryan’s blitz-happy 3-4 scheme. But with their first, second, and fourth round picks the Jets drafted a cornerback, guard, and running back. Maybe that’s why Ryan and Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum are running the Jets and the rest of us are just commenting on them. And the new players might be forcing out some old ones.
The Jets first pick on Thursday night, the 29th overall, was Boise State cornerback and Piscataway, N.J. native Kyle Wilson. He was picked between a defensive tackle (Jared Odrick) and an outside linebacker (Jerry Hughes) that many thought the Jets would covet. The Jets had Wilson ranked high on their draft board, he is a Rex Ryan style corner that can hit and make big plays, and were very happy to see Wilson fall to them at #29. The ball-hawking corner will slide right into the nickel package behind Darelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, and ahead of Dwight Lowery.
Their second pick, the 61st overall, was UMASS guard Vladimir Ducasse, a hulking run blocker with a quick first step that is likely to step into the starting left guard spot right away as the Jets are likely to release veteran guard Alan Faneca. The former Steeler was brought in to be an anchor of the Jets offensive line, and judging by the results of the Jets rushing attack, did his job. But the Jets feel that his $7.5 million salary for 2010 is too much for a 34-year-old lineman on the decline, even in an uncapped year. The Jets needed depth for their O-line, but adding one player and cutting another doesn’t make the depth chart any deeper.
The Jets traded up in the fourth round to the 112th spot to draft Mark Sanchez’s former backfield mate at USC, Joe McKnight, a runner that can catch passes out of the backfield and play a part in the return game. He is viewed as a slightly less dynamic version of Reggie Bush, but still has the ability to make some big plays. Sounds a lot like former Jets running back/return man Leon Washington, who was traded to the Seattle Seahawks for a fifth round pick after the Jets landed McKnight. Washington iscoming off a broken leg and a contentious contract negotiation, and maybe the Jets didn’t believe he will be the player he once was. For the past two and a half seasons, Washington was the Jets homerun hitter, turning small plays into big gains and becoming a fan-favorite along the way. Jets fans will surely miss seeing him on Sundays, and will put the pressure on McKnight to make an immediate impact. McKnight will take over Washington’s role in the offense, becoming the third head next to Shonn Greene and LaDanian Tomlinson as the Jets Cerberus running attack.
The Jets used that fifth round pick they got from Seattle to further improve said rushing attack, drafting fullback John Conner out of Kentucky, one of the top-rated fullbacks on the board. Aside from helping the Jets take down a team of Terminators, Conner will be the heir to veteran fullback Tony Richardson, who became one of the best run-blockers in the league during his tenure. Fullbacks are never a sexy pick, but for a team that runs as much as the Jets, you can’t have enough able-bodied blockers.
Even though the Jets brought in Jason Taylor (who is going to look really strange in green and white instead of teal and orange) their pass rush is the weak link of the defense. Ryan uses his secondary to single-cover the receivers so he can rush as many linebackers and lineman as possible, but the Jets lack that singular threat like a Jared Allen, DeMarcus Ware, or Julius Peppers that makes opposing offensive coordinators sweat out a game plan to stop them. Having a pass rusher of that ilk can allow the Jets to blitz one less guy, allowing a linebacker to fall back in coverage against a tight end or running back, preventing the Jets from being shredded by screens and short passes like they were last season. Taylor will help, but he will not be enough to make the Jets pass rush a feared entity.
A draft cannot be truly evaluated as a success or failure until four or five years after the fact. A draft we love now can look awful after a few seasons, or a bland draft can turn into a franchise saver. There’s just no way of knowing until the players step on the field and we see what they are really made of. This was the Jets blandest draft in a while (especially compared to last year when they traded up to get Sanchez and Greene) but it was preceded by an active trade-market and free agent signing. You can include Taylor, Tomlinson, Cromartie, and Santonio Holmes in the Jets draft class.
Gang Green used the draft to bring in some new blood, but did they leave their weak-link untended? Only time will tell. But the Jets could regret not getting that explosive pass-rusher they desperately needed.