The Jets entered the draft in need of a big-time playmaker on both sides of the ball. And while they may have gotten that, they also added some versatile players who can fill varied roles on the field.
It's hard for us to believe in any scenario that Ohio State's Vernon Gholston wasn't the player the Jets wanted all along. Despite a lot of calls for the explosive Darren McFadden, Gholston has the potential to be the same type of player for the Jets defense. His ability to line up as an OLB in the 3-4 or a DE in 4-3 alignments makes him a perfect fit for Eric Mangini's hybrid schemes.
In addition to his obvious pass-rush ability — he has more sacks than any other player in Division I-A over the past two seasons — he has played over the TE and is a very good run defender. He also has rare athleticism for a man his size and does a good job of dropping into coverage.
But above all, what you are getting here, Jets fans, is a winner. This is one of the best players on a team that has played in two straight BCS championship games. Despite the outcome of those contests, this is a guy who is used to winning and knows about being part of a winning program.
There are questions about his consistency and effort, so defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and D-line coach Dan Quinn will have to stay on top of him. We envision Gholston walking around the Jets complex with a shadow named Bryan Cox (assistant D-line coach). The former Pro Bowler was a fiery player and a clubhouse leader and our guess is that Gholston will be Cox's special assignment. But the combination of Gholston and Calvin Pace off the edge, along with Shaun Ellis and Kris Jenkins, will give the Jets the pass rush they so desperately need.
Some will question the wisdom of trading back up into the first round for TE Dustin Keller, but this is a player who has been rising quickly up team boards in recent weeks, and we had good sources telling us that Green Bay was interested in Keller and in the TE business (they took Jermichael Finley of Texas in Round 3), and the Giants may have been quicker to pull the trigger on a Shockey trade if Keller had fallen to them at No. 31.
Keller is not a true TE, as his critics will tell you, but the Jets already have one of those, and they spent a lot of money upgrading the offensive line. With Damien Woody manning the RT spot, D'Brickashaw Ferguson playing on the left and with inside help from Alan Faneca, the Jets are hoping they will have more flexibility with the TE position and won't need to work out of as many max-protect schemes.
Keller is essentially a 240-pound WR who will work primarily out of the slot and as a move TE and will test coverage (think Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots here). He has the speed to flat-out beat coverage on the seam. He may even be too fast for some safeties, and he is a complete mismatch for linebackers.
He has excellent hands and was extremely productive at Purdue with 142 catches and 16 TDs, averaging at least 13 yards per catch in three of his four seasons. He is a legitimate downfield threat, something the Jets simply don't have in Laveranues Coles or Jerricho Cotchery, who are both valuable possession receivers. Keller instantly opens up the field.
This year's draft was deep in CB talent, and fourth-round pick Dwight Lowery is a good example of that. His draft stock dropped because of a poor senior campaign that was spent recovering from a broken jaw and a poor showing in postseason workouts.
But the former San Jose State Spartan led the country in interceptions as a junior in 2006 and showed excellent cover skills at the East-West Shrine Game. He's better in zone than as a man cover corner, but he can contribute right away in sub packages and as a returner. His 14.4-yard PR average in 2007, including an 84-yard return, is sure to boost a Jets return game that ranked in the middle of the pack last season.
In the fifth round, New York got good value for Tennessee QB Erik Ainge. He's Vinny Testaverde-big at 6-6, 225, but he doesn't have the big arm to match. He does have a lot of playing experience, earning the starting job in his freshman year, but has been sidelined by injuries. However, he's smart, is used to being in the spotlight and can develop into a long-time backup with some coaching and a good strength and conditioning program.
Sixth-round pick Marcus Henry was also worth the shot at his point in the draft. He falls into that category of one-hit wonders who come into the draft off a sterling regular season. He more than doubled his 2006 output last year with 54 catches for more than 1,000 yards and an 18.8-yard average per catch.
The Jets must believe that 2007 was the light coming on for Henry and not some sort of aberration. He is not a physical receiver and won't be a threat over the middle of the field, but his adequate speed, big, reliable hands and tall frame will make him a threat along the sideline and in the red zone. At 6'4", he has a 38" vertical leap and has shown an ability to go up and get the ball.
Arkansas OT Nate Garner is a big mountain of a man at 6'6", 335, and though he doesn't have long arms or ideal athleticism, he spent five years with the Razorbacks and was a big part of the success of that running game, paving the way for the likes of McFadden and Felix Jones. He has experience, but his lack of athleticism at this level will reduce him to a depth player, particularly early in his career.
In the end, the Jets added one of the top two pass rushers in the draft, the top-rated TE on many boards, a versatile corner and return man, a tall potential red zone threat, and depth at the QB and O-line spots. They addressed needs, created flexibility in what they can do on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, and got players who can contribute right away and into the future.