This is the second in a series of features on the 2016 NFL Draft, position by position. Today's position: Defensive line. The Jets' DL roster synopsis is followed by five players considered top candidates at the position, plus two "sleeper" picks who could be available when the Jets select in Rounds 3-7.
GM Mike Maccagnan has said he prefers to fill needs in free agency and draft the best available athlete in the draft, and that's been the case so far on the Jets' top-of-the-line D-line. Damon "Snacks" Harrison left for the Giants in free agency, but rather than wait to fill that need with a rookie big-body, the team landed stalwart free agent Steve McLendon, late of the Steelers.
Then with some questions at end (Muhammad Wilkerson being franchise-tagged, Leger Douzable and Stephen Bowen still on the FA market), the team brought in Jarvis Jenkins, coming off his best pro season with the Bears.
But as Maccagnan has said, "At the end of the day, yes, we would very much like to have Muhammad back in the organization." Wilkerson is coming off his best pro season (12 sacks, seven PDs, first Pro Bowl selection), Sheldon Richardson is a year removed from his first Pro Bowl, and sixth overall pick Leonard Williams started all season and contributed a team-leading 32 QB hits while learning the pro ropes.
Add Mike Catapano, who gave a taste of his edge-rushing dimension before departing with a season-ending injury, and strongman Deon Simon, who "redshirted" his rookie season as an inactive or on practice squad, and any rookie additions will have to compete hard for roster space and playing time.
Top Five D-Linemen in the Draft
It's not unanimous, but Joey Bosa (6'5", 269) has the edge on DeForest Buckner as the draft's No. 1 defensive lineman and a top-five pick. Not surprising, as Bosa raked in multiple All-Big Ten and All-America honors the past two seasons for Ohio State. In his three Buckeyes seasons, he totaled 26 sacks and 50.5 tackles for loss, the latter number leading FBS. His explosiveness showed up at the NFL combine with strong three-cone and 20-shuttle efforts. Jets fans may recall his dad, John, who played three years at DE for the Dolphins in the late Eighties.
Had Oregon's defense not struggled in '15, Hawaiian-born DeForest Buckner (6'7", 291) might be getting most of the DL leis being tossed in this draft. Buckner still did plenty in returning for his senior season with the Ducks, racking up 10.5 sacks and 17.0 TFL in earning Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. He's active for a 5-technique type end and who has great size, including a 34 3/8" arm length — "vines for arms" in the phrasing of Dane Brugler of nfldraftscout.com. He's definitely top 10 in this draft and it will be interesting to see whether it's he or Joey Bosa if the Chargers go DE with their third overall pick.
Shaq Lawson (6'3", 269) finally started and erupted in 2015 for Clemson, chalking up 12.5 sacks and an FBS-best 24.5 tackles for loss. He played in the National Championship Game vs. Alabama despite suffering a sprained MCL that he said was an 8 on the 1-to-10 pain scale. Then after that tough 45-40 loss, the redshirt junior declared," I enjoyed being at Clemson but it's time. I'm ready for the next level." A big question for the NFL team that drafts him: Where will he play — 3-4 or 4-3 end/tackle or a 3-4 OLB?
A'Shawn Robinson (6'4", 307) is arguably the top strictly interior D-lineman in the draft, although fans of Louisville's Sheldon Rankins and Baylor's Andrew Billings may disagree. In his three Alabama seasons, he was a force along the defensive front, a big tackler with tree-trunk legs. He didn't have huge numbers (3.5 sacks, 7.5 TFL as a true junior last year, 9.0 and 22.0 in his three Tide seasons) and needs pass-rush polish, but there's a spot along some NFL defense's front line to plug holes against the run.
Noah Spence (6'2", 251) is trying to turn some red flags into draft gold. The edge rusher failed two drug tests at Ohio State and the Big Ten declared him permanently ineligible. But he graduated from a drug treatment program, transferred to Eastern Kentucky and lit it up for the Colonels (11.5 sacks, 22.5 TFLs, Ohio Valley Conference Defensive POY) last year. Then he said all the right things and thanked all the right people before heading for the draft. Many (but not all) analysts see him going in the top 20, among them Pat Kirwan, who picked him for the Jets at No. 20 in his and Jim Miller's first SiriusXM mock.
Two D-Line Draft Sleepers
Because this position is so packed, Shilique Calhoun (6'4", 251) isn't a sleeper as much as a Round 2 attraction. After all, the Michigan State DE made All-America squads all three of his Spartans seasons as he increased his sack totals from 7.5 to 8.0 to 10.5. The Jersey shore product was also a two-time MSU captain and returned for his redshirt senior season to try to help the Spartans win a national title (they lost to Alabama in the semis). Scouts want to see more aggressiveness in Calhoun's game at the pro level.
Late on day two or early on day three, some team will tab Bronson Kaufusi (6'6", 285), the intriguing BYU end. He comes from an athletic family (his father, Steve, was his DL coach in college and his wife plays soccer at the school). After a two-year Mormon mission in New Zealand and a year of basketball, he played DT for a year behind future Lions top-five pick Ziggy Ansah. Kaufusi improved his sacks and tackles every year through last year's 11-sacks, 20-tackles-for-loss senior season.
Photos of the Top Prospects from Sunday's Drills from Lucas Oil Stadium