This is the third of this season's articles on newyorkjets.com about the draft and free agency from independent personnel analyst Real Football Services.
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.
"Let the fur fly."
These words and phrases, along with others like them, have been used by head coach Rex Ryan when describing the style of football he wants his Jets to play in all three phases of the game in 2013. But we all know that Rex is about defense first, and if the Jets are going to represent the coach's philosophy, it's going to start with an ability to get to the quarterback.
Jets fans know that the team's defense in recent seasons has been driven by the multiple and unique blitz schemes incorporated by Ryan and his staff. But the truth is it's becoming increasingly harder to scheme your way to victories in today's NFL, and on the defensive side of the ball, the game plan must be driven by pressure. Teams need at least one player who must be accounted for, who can dictate protections on passing downs, and the Jets just don't have that player on the roster.
They signed OLB Antwan Barnes as an unrestricted free agent this week, and with the free agent market coming back to earth, it looks as if they could be in a position to sign a situational pass rusher like veteran James Harrison in the coming weeks at a reasonable cost. But they will also need to look to the draft to find a young player who can anchor this defense for the foreseeable future.
The good news is that this draft is loaded with those players. The concern is whether the Jets will get one of the high-impact players at the position with the No. 9 pick. All indications are that OTs Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel should be selected in the first three picks. CB Dee Milliner and DT Sharrif Floyd are also expected to be top-five picks. After that, things are up in the air to say the least.
The Jets will need to look to the draft to find a young player who can anchor their defense for the foreseeable future.
OLBs like Oregon's Dion Jordan, BYU's Ezekiel Ansah, Georgia's Jarvis Jones, and LSU's Barkevious Mingo could go anywhere from 5 to 15. The Jets' best hope is that teams like Arizona and Buffalo are seriously considering a QB in Round 1 (pray for a strong pro-day showing from Matt Barkley Jets fans!), and that Detroit uses its top pick on a much-needed OT (Jeff Backus retired and Gosder Cherilus is now with Indianapolis).
The top 3-4 pass rusher on our board is Jordan. A stellar athlete, he's a 6'6", 250-pounder who ran a 4.6 40 and turned in a 10-foot broad jump at the combine. He's got an unbelievable burst and is explosive, with 23.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Plus he's versatile. He can rush from a three-point stance or from a stand-up position and can drop in coverage. He even played in the slot last year against Arizona State!
Georgia's Jones is another stand-up rusher with an explosive burst off the edge, but he is also stronger than expected and can be an effective bull rusher. There may be some character concerns to consider, but he is an incredible playmaker who had 28 sacks and 45.5 career TFLs, and has been compared to Von Miller. Mingo is a flat-out speed guy (4.58 in the 40) with an explosive first step and great closing speed. He has never played OLB and needs to add some bulk and improve against the run, but he will have an immediate impact as a situational pass rusher, much like Bruce Irvin in Seattle this past year.
A consideration in the second round could be Texas A&M's Damontre Moore. He had an awful combine, but he's all football player and a classic dip-and-rip guy who can line up at DE or OLB. He was also extremely productive with 45 TFLs and 26.5 sacks to go along with 8 forced fumbles. Texas DE Alex Okeafor is more of a 5-technique DE in a 3-4 who could be had in Round 2, and UGa's Alec Ogletree is talented but a character risk.
One player to keep an eye on in the mid to late rounds is Georgia's Cornelius Washington. He's an athletic pass rusher who stunned scouts at the Senior Bowl and the combine (36 reps on the bench, 39-inch vertical, 4.55 40 time) with his athleticism and energy. He wasn't very productive in college because he was miscast as a DE in Georgia's 3-4, but scouts say he is built for the NFL. The Jets could put him at ROLB and just turn him loose on the QB.
Whether you believe the Jets will be able to trade Darrelle Revis or not, all signs point to him not being in green and white a year from now, so they need to find an impact player who can play press man coverage. As we mentioned, Dee Milliner of Alabama will likely be gone in the first five picks, but there are some other very attractive prospects who could fit the bill.
If the team decides to address this need in the opening round, Florida State's Xavier Rhodes is a big, strong, physical corner at 6'2" and 210 pounds. He's a very physical defender who likes to press but is also instinctive in coverage and will make plays on the ball in the air. Most scouts have him rated just outside the top ten because of a perceived lack of long speed, but he answered those questions with a 4.43 40 at the combine. He's been compared to Aqib Talib, without the character issues.
It's still our feeling that the Jets will need to focus on pass rushers and starters for the offensive line in the early rounds of the draft, but one player to keep an eye on in Round 3 is Southeastern Louisiana CB Robert Alford. Considered by some to be one of the best lockdown corners in what used to be called I-AA, he's 5'10" and 185 with 4.38 speed. He had nine interceptions and 14 passes defensed over the last two seasons and displayed phenomenal ball skills at the Senior Bowl. He's also a punt returner who had seven returns for 99 yards and a touchdown in 2012.
The Jets have many needs to address in this draft, but if they can come away with an impact pass rusher and a physical press cover corner in the first three rounds, they will be well on their way towards getting better for 2013.
If the Jets are able to address their pass rush issues in Round 1 and can pick up a player like Alford in Round 3, the second round could provide an opportunity to address a safety position that is minus three players from the 2012 roster.
A player like Florida's Matt Elam could slide to them at the 39th pick. Athletic and instinctive, he's not afraid of contact and is at his best when walking up into the box to defend the run. However, his star appears to be on the rise, so the Jets may want to look at Florida International's Jonathan Cyprien. He's bigger than Elam, but lacks his speed. Still, he's aggressive and a very physical player with very good ball skills who stood out Senior Bowl week.
Finally, LSU's Eric Reid, though listed as a FS, has a big frame and is a physical tackler. He's extremely aggressive and sometimes even out of control, and he lacks ideal speed in deep coverage, but he will remind many Jets fans of another former LSU Tiger, LaRon Landry.