Newyorkjets.com's coverage of the 2013 NFL 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 25-27. Today's eighth and final story in the series: Linebackers.
Last but certainly not least among the positions of interest for fans of the Green & White is linebacker. It's a position in transition to younger and faster so as to be better able to rush the passer, stop the run and drop in coverage to help blanket those dastardly tight ends around the division and the conference.
David Harris remains the pillar in the middle — he led the Jets by appearing in almost 1,200 plays, with a defense-leading 1,062 at MLB. Bart Scott and Calvin Pace were released and Bryan Thomas wasn't re-signed before the start of free agency, with Pace being re-signed last week. Garrett McIntyre, Nick Bellore and Ricky Sapp return.
ILB Demario Davis was selected in last year's third round and got his feet — and a lot more of his anatomy — wet with more than 300 plays on defense and almost 700 including special teams. In free agency, Antwan Barnes, who showed strong pass-rush burst the last three seasons in San Diego, was signed to add to the battle on the outside.
On top of that, it's a position that is moving into the post-Bob Sutton era, as the Jets' former gray eminence who coached the Jets' LBs and more since his arrival in 2000 has relocated to Kansas City. The new man with the whistle is Brian Van Gorder.
More need to be added, and the next stop for new competitors is Thursday's draft. Who among this list will GM John Idzik, head coach Rex Ryan, DC Dennis Thurman and Van Gorder be adding to the mix? Here is an overview of the top linebackers from which the Jets could be selecting in less than a week. Keep in mind that some of the LB prospects were already profiled in last week's Defensive Line piece.
Jordan Grows into Top-5 LB
Dion Jordan** (6'6", 248) has suffered a few physical issues in his career, none of which appear to have set him back. As a Phoenix high school senior, he suffered second- and third-degree burns over almost half his body from an accidental home fire. Yet he grew into his role at Oregon — literally — moving from WR when he first arrived to TE and then to the defensive side of the ball.
Jordan roared to life in 2011 as the Ducks' drop end/outside LB role with an All-Pac 12 first-team season in which he compiled 7.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. His senior year wasn't quite as dominant (five sacks 10.5 TFL) that ended with a torn labrum in his right shoulder and offseason surgery.
Yet he excelled at the combine with a 4.60 40 a 10'2" broad jump and a 4.35 time in the 20 shuttle, all of which has solidified his standing as a top-five pick, possibly going as high as No. 2 to the Jaguars. But if he slips to No. 4 and Philadelphia, Pat Kirwan of CBS Sports reminds that new Eagles coach Chip Kelly "coached him at Oregon and needs a guy like Jordan for his new 3-4 defense."
There are issues with Georgia's Jarvis Jones (6'2", 242) as a top-10 pick, the primary one being long-term health — his spinal stenosis, which may have been in play when he missed the last five games of his freshman year at Southern Cal and could impact his pro career. Then there was his 40 in the 4.9-second area at his pro day, a slow time that NFL Network's Mike Mayock called "a red flag," and a perceived lack of quickness and explosion in drills.
But there is the video that doesn't lie from his last two seasons with the Bulldogs, during which he had a four-sack game against Florida and notched 28 sacks and 43.5 TFLs combined. There may be doubt among draftniks whether Jones is a top-five or merely a top-32 player, but there's none in Jones' mind. As he told Sports Network last month, "I feel like I'm an impact player. I make plays. ... At the end of the day I think I'm the No. 1 player." In the draft, naturally.
Barkevious Mingo (6'4", 241) is a 'tweener type who lined up as a DE at LSU and turned on the pass-rush heat with 23.5 tackles behind the line, 12.5 sacks and two All-SEC second-team berths over his sophomore and junior seasons combined. But Mingo wasn't a full-time starter (27 games, 14 starts) those last two seasons and does have a very lean build and excellent speed — his 4.58-second 40 was virtually tied for the fastest among DEs at the combine. All of which have the man known as "KeKe" being projected by NFL scouts as a pass-rushing terror at OLB.
Alec Ogletree (6'2", 242) was Jones' junior teammate at Georgia, lining up alongside him and causing havoc for SEC offenses with his top-end speed and sideline-to-sideline tackling, which resulted in 111 tackles, 11.5 behind the line and three sacks last season alone. He had two brushes with the law while at UGa, in 2010 over a stolen scooter helmet and days before this year's combine on DUI charges. Many still see Ogletree going later in Round 1 to a team coveting a 3-4 inside 'backer or a 4-3 OLB.
On the Inside: Te'o, Minter
At the beginning of the year and at the end of the regular season, when he was a Heisman finalist, Manti Te'o (6'1", 241) was everyone's choice for the draft's top LB prospect. Then Te'o got blindsided by the fictitious-girlfriend catfishing episode, and by his and his Notre Dame defensive mates' mauling from Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game, and by his NFL Combine performance.
But he atoned for his 4.82 time in the combine 40 with an unofficial 4.71 at the Irish pro day (and an even better unofficial 4.69 on a Notre Dame official's watch), then proclaimed to ESPN: "It's a big, big burden off your shoulders. It feels like it's your birthday. I'm very glad it's over."
Te'o even checked in with a session on the couch at Jon Gruden's expanded Quarterback Camp, after which Gruden said his perception hadn't changed about the four-year starter.
"I've seen him intercept passes, I've seen him make all kinds of different tackles, pursuit, second-effort tackles," Gruden said. "I've seen him get out of the trash, get off blocks, stuff people in the hole. He can play in a 3-4 scheme, he can play in a 4-3 scheme. He never comes off the field. I really like that about him. I've also seen him be the quarterback of a pretty doggone good defense."
The upshot appears to be that Te'o won't be taken high in Round 1 but he also shouldn't slip far into Round 2 if at all. He'll be in the Thursday night mix, running neck and neck to be the top pure inside 'backer along with LSU's Kevin Minter (6'0", 246).
On a Bayou Bengals defense swarming with first-rounders past and present, Minter didn't emerge until last season as a redshirt junior, when he started all 13 games and flowed to 130 tackles, 15 for loss, four sacks, five pass breakups and a forced fumble. As a result he was named All-SEC first team, gained All-America recognition, was a Butkus Award finalist, and was named the Tigers' MVP. Some questions on his lateral movement, reaction time and coverage skills, but not much. He's in the Round 1 hunt.
And Then There's ...
Two more OLB candidates to mention here are Arthur Brown of Kansas State and Alex Okafor of Texas.
Brown (6'1", 241) may not be the God of Hellfire (that's a different Arthur Brown), but as NFL.com has detailed, he had hot time in Manhattan, Kans., in the two seasons after transferring from "the U" in search of more playing time. He had a pair of 100-tackle seasons and a number of big plays for the Wildcats, especially in pass defense. For instance, against Baylor in '11 he picked off Robert Griffin III for RG3's only second-half INT of the season, and in '12 vs. West Virginia, he snapped up the first pick of the year thrown by Geno Smith.
Okafor, at 6'4" and 264, may be a bigger Mingo in this draft. He also was a DE and put up fine numbers for the Longhorns — 29 tackles for loss, including 19.5 sacks, his junior and senior seasons. And the sack total includes a 4.5-sack game in UT's Alamo Bowl comeback win over Oregon State, during which, he said, "I kind of got in a zone." Some scouts think Okafor projects to OLB, others think his lack of short-area quickness will keep his hand in the dirt as a pro.
OLB Khaseem Greene, Rutgers; OLB Jamie Collins, Southern Mississippi; OLB Corey Lemonier, Auburn; OLB Sam Montgomery, LSU; OLB Sio Moore, Connecticut; OLB Trevardo Williams, Connecticut.