Newyorkjets.com's coverage of the 2012 draft includes breakdowns of each position group, the Jets' needs at the spot, and the top players expected to be selected at the position from April 26-28. Today's third in the series: Defensive Backs.
Safety could come in numbers this spring for the Jets. After signing LaRon Landry in free agency, it's quite possible the Green & White will add another one draft weekend and it could happen Thursday night.
"If you're going to carve out a safety and what you're looking for, he'd be the guy," Jets head coach Rex Ryan said of Landry. "He's an intimidating force back there. Obviously he's a big-time hitter. He's excellent as a blitzer, excellent man cover skills. This guy's a sub 4.4-speed guy as a safety, so he's got it all."
The Jets finished fifth in the NFL against the pass last season, limiting teams to 201 yards per contest through the air, and their 19 interceptions tied for 10th in the league. No. 24 is the star in the backfield and cornerback Darrelle Revis earned another Pro Bowl trip with four interceptions and 24 passes defended to match the number on his back.
Antonio Cromartie lined up opposite Revis again and pitched in with four picks himself along with 12 pass breakups, while nickel corner Kyle Wilson registered the first two interceptions of his career. S Eric Smith is coming off a career-high 115-tackle season, and the Jets haven't ruled out a Jim Leonhard return, although the veteran safety remains unsigned.
Who could the Jets add in the draft? Alabama's Mark Barron is considered the top safety prospect in the 2012 class. A 6'1", 213-pounder, Barron was a coach on the field for the Crimson Tide. He's an instinctive player with good ball skills who is more than willing to come up and play the run. His 12 career interceptions rank eighth in Alabama history and he was also credited with 34 PBUs.
Barron wasn't able to work out at the NFL Combine and at 'Bama's first pro day following double-hernia surgery. If his health checks out before Draft Weekend and he is still available when the Jets are scheduled to select in the first round, the Green & White will have an interesting decision on their hands.
Corners in Line for First-Round Love
While safety will be given consideration, it's not likely that cornerback will be an early round target of the Jets. Here are three that are attracting most of the attention from NFL teams most interested in adding a corner.
LSU's Morris Claiborne, a 5'11", 188-pounder, appears to be a top-five selection. A year after playing opposite 2010 first-round pick Patrick Peterson, Claiborne collected six interceptions and his 173 interception-return yards led the nation. "Mo," who led the Tigers with five picks and 11 pass breakups his sophomore campaign, has all the physical tools and appears ready to man up with some of the NFL's top receivers.
Dre Kirkpatrick, yet another star from the SEC who lined up in the 'Bama secondary with Barron, could be the second cornerback selected. The 6'2", 186-pound Kirkpatrick has great length and many pundits love his instincts and awareness. Considered the best tackler at his position in this year's draft class, he's not a burner and might thrive in a defensive system that favors more zone.
Stephon Gilmore, a former "Mr. Football" in the state of South Carolina, attended the state university and tallied eight interceptions, four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries in three years as a Gamecock. The 6'0", 190-pounder is another corner well suited for zone coverage. He enjoys the physical play and isn't afraid to get his uniform dirty. An early entry, Gilmore will probably be a first- or second-round selection on Draft Weekend.
"Trust me, 6-foot corners with long arms are rare, especially when they run 4.4 with his movement skills," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said of Gilmore. "I've got him as the No. 2 corner for a reason. I think he's a top-10 to top-15 pick."
Janoris Jenkinsis a first-round physical talent, but the North Alabama product might have to endure a waiting game. Dismissed from Florida after two drug-related charges within three months, Jenkins finished up in Division II and had two interceptions, four passes defended and two fumble recoveries plus three punt-return touchdowns. He became just the fourth UNA player ever to play in the Senior Bowl. In three years as a Gator, Jenkins had eight interceptions and 25 PBUs.
Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard did not have an interception in 2011 and missed early-season action due to injury, but he was named Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year in 2010 after hauling in four interceptions and breaking up six passes. Dennard (5'10", 204) is a physical prospect who likes to get in the faces of receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Next Safety Option Could Be Smith
Who will be the second safety selected and when will he go? Notre Dame's Harrison Smith, who was clocked at 4.57 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, had a career-high 10 pass defenses along with 90 tackles last season. But he went interception-less after picking off seven passes his junior campaign. The 6'2", 212-pound Smith has ideal size and plays with bite, but he can be over-aggressive at times. It's possible the only player in Notre Dame history to record 300 tackles, 15 PBUs and 15 tackles for losses in a career could sneak into the second round.
Last year South Carolina got consistent safety play out of Antonio Allen. He was the only player in the Southeastern Conference to rank in the top 10 in interceptions (3), forced fumbles (4), fumble recoveries (3) and tackles (88). The active Allen will immediately contribute on special teams and is comfortable in the box, but the 6'1", 210-pounder has to improve in coverage.
The 6'4", 225-poundGeorge Ilokawas an All-Mountain West Conference performer for Boise State last season and the rangy safety finished his career with seven interceptions and 231 tackles.
CB Dwight Bentley, Louisiana-Lafayette; CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech; S Janzen Jackson, McNeese State; S Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State; CB Josh Robinson, Central Florida; S Trenton Robinson, Michigan State