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 first in the series over the next three weeks: Defense Line:
It wouldn't appear that the Jets will be itching to pull the trigger on the selection of a defensive lineman at either the 16th, 47th or 77th pick of the draft. After all, they opened their 2011 draft with two choices along the line, DE Muhammad Wilkerson in Round 1 and DT Kenrick Ellis in Round 3.
Wilkerson was a starter since he arrived up the Turnpike and the Parkway from Temple and shows signs of being a Green & White fixture for years to come. Ellis didn't play as much but did get his feet wet and has the size and power to clear a role for himself in the middle.
The unit does have two senior members and career-long Jets. NT Sione "Bo" Pouha just signed an extension to remain as the elder statesman of a group that could be known as "Bo's Bros." And Mike DeVito is entering his sixth season as the team's strong-and-silent-type tackle on the other side of the nose from Wilkerson.
But the remaining returnees are a bunch of young guns with two or three years experience: Marcus Dixon, Ropati Pitoitua and Martin "MTV" Tevaseu. As Karl Dunbar, the heralded former Vikings DL coach who has come in to coach the Jets' line: "I'm excited about being here. This is an awesome opportunity."
That doesn't mean general manager Mike Tannenbaum and his personnel team won't pluck a D-lineman somewhere high or low in this draft, especially if he's a proven pass rusher. Here are the top linemen available in next month's selection-fest. (We moved South Carolina DE Melvin Ingram to our LB preview, which will appear on newyorkjets.com on Thursday.)
End Games: Coples, Mercilus
North Carolina's Quinton Coples has been residing in the top 10's of various big mockers all offseason as this year's top 4-3 DE prospect. He's got the size (6'6", 284), regular-season production (17.5 sacks the past two seasons), postseason performance (outstanding week of practice and game at January's Senior bowl) and a Tar Heels pedigree — he's been compared favorably to UNC and NFL heat-bringer Julius Peppers.
The one negative some find in Q's game is his motor. "You know, I'm a big guy. I'm a long-strider, things of that nature, so where it may come fast to me in a game, on film it's slowing down a little bit,"Coples explained on NFLDraftScout.com. "People have their own opinions. Some people don't even think it was a problem. So it's different opinions and you just go for what it is."
Whitney Mercilus of Illinois could go by the nickname "Ming" for the merciless manner he treated Big Ten blockers en route to nation-leading totals of 16 sacks, nine forced fumbles and a conference-record 22.5 tackles for loss. Then the junior redshirt methodically improved his stock with a strong combine and an Illini pro day at which he chose to run only the short shuttle and three-cone drill with an eye toward bettering his combine times — which he did. The 6'4", 258-pounder could be considered by a team looking for a 3-4 rush OLB.
Southern Cal's Nick Perry and Clemson's Andre Branch look like they're ticketed for late in Round 1. Perry was a one-year wonder for the Trojans with a Pac-12-leading 9.5 sacks as a redshirt junior. Then he posted a D-line-best 38.5-inch vertical jump at the combine and also hoisted 35 reps in the bench, best among DE candidates and was described on NFL.com as having "extremely uncommon balance," a good thing for an edge rusher.
Branch is a tall (6'4", 259) pass rusher with a large wingspan (34" arms) who wasn't as formidable against the run for Clemson. But he didn't have to be with some of his pass-rush heroics — 10.5 sacks to lead the ACC, including a four-sack game vs. Virginia Tech. Branch worked out in front of Jets head coach Rex Ryan at Clemson's recent pro day after turning in top performances of 4.70 in the 40 and a 10'0" long jump at the combine.
Active, hustling Jared Crick (6'4", 279) is considered by some to be on paper one of the top defensive linemen in the draft. But his standing may be hurt by some injuries — a knee last spring and a torn pectoral that cost him most of his senior season at Nebraska
On the Nose: Brockers, Poe
The "award" for first DT to be taken next month is a neck-and-neck affair between LSU's Michael Brockers and Dontari Poe of Memphis.
Brockers is a massive man at 6'5", 322 with 35-inch arms. His reputation is also massive as he is "as talented as any defensive lineman in the draft and is capable of maturing into a real game changer up front," said Wes Bunting of National Football Post in sending yet another Bayou Bengal to the Chiefs with the 11th pick of the first round of his NFP mock.
Perhaps most impressive is that Brockers is not counting his draft chickens before they hatch. "I've been told anywhere from fifth to 20th. Or I might slip to the second," he said last week. "I'm not going to watch the draft. I might watch Spongebob or something, I don't know." We get the feeling that Brockers' pro career will be Squidward and upward.
Poe is a big man (6'4", 346) from Memphis who made a big splash at Lucas Oil Stadium with his combine-best 44 reps in the 225-pound bench press. He also turned in an impressive-for-his-size 4.98 40. The feeling had been that Poe is not versatile or quick, but he's massive and forceful in the middle and his combine has had some draft watchers ravin'. "He's a physical presence inside vs. the run and pass," writes Charley Casserly, who has him No. 8, highest among all D-linemen, in his latest mock.
Fletcher Cox is an impressive Mississippi State DT. The 6'4", 298-pounder was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week four times last year as a true junior. ESPN's Bill Williamson continues to see Cox as a first-round fit for the Broncos at No. 25.
Jerel Worthy (6'2", 308) is a thick and powerful tackle from displayed an effective initial burst as a Michigan State redshirt junior but also, NFL.com analyzed "can get neutralized at times by double teams not out of strength or talent but because of effort and breakdown of technique." Kendall Reyes(6'4", 296) didn't have many sacks from his end and tackle spots on the Huskies' DL, but he has opened eyes seeking to see interior pass rushers with a strong predraft period that has included a strong Senior Bowl showing and a 4.79 40 and a 36-rep benchpress at the combine.
DE Vinny Curry, Marshall; DE Bruce Irvin, West Virginia; DE Chandler Jones, Syracuse; DT Devon Still, Penn State; DT Brandon Thompson, Clemson.