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Greenberg: The Mizzou Kid, the New Direction

Posted Apr 30, 2013

The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on newyorkjets.com represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the New York Jets organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Jets officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.

After finishing 30th in the NFL in passing in 2012, the Jets continue to catch their share only of abuse. How, their fans ask, could they not have invested one pick in seven rounds on a receiver?

Never mind that they took Stephen Hill — and with a No 2. choice -- last year and Jeremy Kerley the draft before, plus have Santonio Holmes, lost in Week 4 in 2012, returning. Never mind that the supposed wasteland of offensive talent that has seriously jeopardized Mark Sanchez’s tenure as the No. 1 quarterback also has been wasted by too many high and wide deliveries.

Never mind that after the Rams traded up to No. 8 to take Tavon Austin, a talent the Jets loved, there wasn’t another wide receiver selected for another 19 picks, which should tell you that John Idzik and his inherited braintrust saw what a lot of other teams did: There was more value at other positions at that point of the draft.

The Jets did what the smart teams traditionally have done: Take the best player on the board, never mind if their fans temporarily are bored with what they have been watching. The frustration is understandable, but with all due respect, the paying customers won’t know Sheldon Richardson until Tom Brady falls over him.

Full disclosure here. This column is being written by a Mizzou alum who has watched at least half of Richardson’s games for two seasons and who is here to report there is more to like about him than just his girth and quickness. Such as his ambition and loyalty.

Failing to qualify at Missouri academically after signing, he went to junior college, made his grades and, despite remaining one of the most coveted recruits in the country, didn’t waver on his initial commitment. After Richardson put his foot in his mouth before the Tigers’ hyped first-ever SEC game and said smashmouth Georgia played “old-man football” when he meant to say “old-school football,” he apologized to Mark Richt, the Bulldogs coach, on the field following Missouri’s loss.

Personality-wise, Richardson will be the Jets’ new Bart Scott, without the condescension, and will be more than just the new Sione Pouha along a defensive line that projects as a real strength of a rebuilding team as early as this season.

The Jets have used No. 1 picks on defensive linemen — Mo Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and Richardson — in three straight drafts, which we don’t call redundant but smart. Since when has a team ever had too many good defensive linemen? After quarterback, it is the most important position on the field, as the Giants showed in winning two of the last six Super Bowls on the strength of their pass rush.

Anyone angry that too many of the Jets’ multiple other needs went unaddressed needs to address the history of what wins in the long run, not just during the next season. Why did the woebegone Steelers, who had taken a high-profile Notre Dame quarterback by the name of Terry Hanratty in the second round of 1969, use the very first pick the next year on a no-name thrower from Louisiana Tech named Terry Bradshaw? Because they believed he had a greater upside.

Now, having said we know more about Sheldon Richardson than you do, we’re not going to pretend that we are certain about how good he is going to turn out to be. Nobody knows for sure about any draftee, except for Mel Kiper Jr. apparently.

We would be shocked if Richardson doesn’t prove a whole lot better than Dewayne Robertson, a No. 4 overall who never made plays in college, and be really surprised if Richardson’s personality doesn’t charm New York and irritate New England. But we don’t have to quantify how many Pro Bowl selections he will earn to respect the rationale that went into the Jets’ 2013 selections.

The smartest teams draft the next playmaker available, regardless of position, sometimes regardless of round. A franchise that is going to recover quickly from the loss of a Darrelle Revis is not going to obsess with instantly replacing him with the next best corner on the free agent market or in a draft but is going to select a Dee Milliner in the belief that he may turn out to be one of the best players in the NFL at any position.

The clubs that are going to win don’t fall in love with the next best guy to close their next open wound. Needs can change in a year, while the need for true gamechangers never ends.

Of course, philosophy gets you nowhere without sound judgment. Many NFL personnel evaluators saw the high upside in Vladimir Ducasse that the Jets did, but felt he was just too raw and risky to take in the second round. Mike Tannenbaum had a small window of evaluation of Mark Sanchez — just one season at USC — and traded up for what he thought was the quarterback with the most potential on the board. The GM thought wrong and ultimately lost his job.

Not nearly as much is being gambled on Geno Smith, who was bought low, 39th overall, in the belief that his ceiling is high. He needs work, as does the Jets offense, that more than one draft can bring. But even when Rex Ryan got the Jets to consecutive AFC title games, he didn’t have a defensive line with as much talent as this one.

The Jets, who blessedly ended the Tim Tebow distraction today by waiving him, have new quarterbacks (Smith and David Garrard), experienced young running backs (Chris Ivory and Mike Goodson), plus a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. They also will have a couple of wide receivers they didn’t a year ago, when both Holmes and Hill largely were hurt.

Without an impact offensive signing, what they have done is not enough to galvanize the fan base. But we don’t have to profess to love the Jets’ chances for a dramatic fast turnaround to like the way their new GM is thinking.
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