This is the first 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. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Jets officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
Mark Sanchez will be better under Marty Mornhinweg.
There, we said it. And it's likely to turn out true, as long as Mornhinweg, the Jets' new offensive coordinator, is left to run his system and the Jets are willing and able to give him the personnel to make it work.
That's where the recently concluded NFL Combine comes in. The Jets' cap situation isn't really favorable when it comes to attracting and paying a host of free agents this offseason, so they must turn to the draft as they begin to rebuild, and the fact is there were several strong candidates at the combine who showed the ability to fill the Jets' many needs on offense.
Mornhinweg is an old-school West Coast offense guy through and through. He refined his philosophies for many years under Andy Reid, who, along with Jon Gruden, learned it from Mike Holmgren, who learned it from Bill Walsh. Still not convinced? Mornhinweg was a high school quarterback and his offensive coordinator was ... Holmgren. So yes, Jets fans can expect a full dose of the West Coast offense this fall.
But unlike his mentor Reid, who took his pass-oriented West Coast attack to Kansas City, Mornhinweg wants to run the ball — unequivocally. That's the good news for Sanchez, who thrived early in his career in a run-first system. But the plan doesn't begin to take shape until the Jets have a back to carry the load. The Jets aren't likely to pay free agent Shonn Greene, so if they were to consider using a high pick in the coming draft, who are the candidates?
When looking for the right guy for this system, we should be thinking about LeSean McCoy, a player with size and speed who can gain the corner on outside runs, is a viable receiver out of the backfield, and also has the ability to attack between the tackles. Eddie Lacy is well-built at 5'11" and 231 pounds, runs with power, but also shows great lateral movement and balance. He also caught 33 balls at Alabama, averaging over 10 yards per catch. He's not expected to be selected before the end of the first round, but it isn't a certainty that he would last until the Jets' second-round pick. His current hamstring issues, which will keep him from running at Alabama's pro day, could be a blessing in disguise for the Jets.
If Lacy's not there, other considerations could be UCLA's Johnathan Franklin in Round 2 or 3 and Stanford's Stepfan Taylor, who could be available as late as Round 4.
Franklin runs tough and attacks the line of scrimmage, making defenders miss in tight quarters. He also has the requisite NFL speed to bounce runs outside and beat defenders in the open field. The best news is that he showed greatly improved receiving skills at the Senior Bowl, where he played well all week.
Taylor, while not possessing the speed or burst of Franklin, is thick-bodied at 214 pounds and is a one-cut runner with power. He's also outstanding in pass protection and had over 100 receptions for the Cardinal. He's a tough guy who doesn't flash any one outstanding skill but runs hard, can catch, and is a willing blocker who's not afraid of contact.
If the Jets are going to have an effective running game, they need to make some upgrades on the line. Once again, their lack of cap space will limit their ability to acquire even older and middle-of-the-road free agents like Jermon Bushrod or Max Starks. Even with the recent releases of Calvin Pace, Bart Scott, Eric Smith and Jason Smith, the Jets reportedly were able to clear only $4M in cap space. As a result, the draft will have to provide two starters, one at right tackle and one at guard.
The early rounds could be dominated by defense as the Green & White look to add impact pass rushers to the front seven and possibly even a future replacement for Darrelle Revis, but there is plenty of depth to this offensive line class.
In the fourth or fifth round, they could look at a player like San Jose State's David Quessenberry. Though he's only 300 pounds, he's a physical and athletic player. His scores from the combine won't impress you, but he was graded by many scouts as one of the most dominant linemen at the Senior Bowl. Arkansas' Alvin Bailey could also be available in the same rounds, and though he is a guard, he has played both the left and right side, and the Razorbacks' run-heavy scheme requires a lot of pulling and playing in space from the guards. He has the potential to make a move to right tackle.
If the Jets wait until the later rounds, look up the name Omoregie Uzzi (pronounced O-more-gay ooze-E) out of Georgia Tech. He's a powerful, explosive blocker who grew up in the Yellow Jackets' heavy-run offense. The three-time All-ACC selection reminds some scouts of Jahri Evans.
This is a good year for the position. But while some are worried that Dustin Keller could leave via free agency, we're not sure he will command a very big market and could end up coming back to the Jets at a lower pricetag. So if they're going to make a commitment to a TE, it shouldn't come early in the draft, and there are plenty of good value picks in the later rounds.
Rice's Vance McDonald had a solid combine, has great size, and can stretch the seam as a receiver, but he lacks strong blocking skills. He can probably be had in the fourth round. Mychal Rivera of Tennessee could be a late-round steal. He ran only 4.8 at the combine, but some scouts rated him as the best TE at the Senior Bowl. He has great hands and very strong blocking skills, and he has experience lining up tight to the tackles, split out and in the backfield, and so could be an ideal H-back type.
And while everyone is talking about Stanford's Zach Ertz, his teammate, Levine Toilolo, is 6'7" and 255 with great size and strength. Though he lacks burst and won't wow anyone with his test results, he's a physical player who is tough to bring down once the ball is in his hands, and he flashes a real mean streak as a blocker. He and Rivera could both be available in Round 6 or 7.
This class is not strong early in the draft but offers some real value picks in the later rounds. West Virginia's Stedman Bailey doesn't have ideal size or speed for the NFL and he didn't necessarily impress at the combine, but he was highly productive in Morgantown, averaging over 120 receiving yards per game over his last two seasons. He's a polished route runner with excellent hands who leaves school as the Mountaineers' career leader with 39 TD receptions. His lack of measurables and some minor off-the-field issues could keep him on the board into the fourth round.
Another name to pay attention to is Duke's Conner Vernon. At 6'0" and 196, he possesses only adequate size, and seems to lack the burst and physical tools necessary to excel at the next level. But all the kid does is catch the ball. A savvy route runner, he had over 70 catches in a season three times, was a four-time All-ACC selection, and became the ACC's all-time receptions leader halfway through his senior year. He's a taller Wayne Chrebet who should be there for the Jets in the sixth or seventh round and could catch 50 balls as a rookie.
"Marty will be good for Sanchez," one scout told me about the relationship between QB and OC. While most Jets fans feel the team should be in the quarterback market this offseason, the person I spoke to, who knows them both, said the fans shouldn't be so quick to move on from Sanchez.
"Marty is going to like working with Mark. He's struggled lately, and he's undersized, but he's a tough kid, a competitor and a really coachable player. And the way Marty likes to run the ball, he protects his quarterbacks and finds weapons for them that will help them succeed."
Then late in the day Monday the Jets announced the signing of nine-year veteran QB David Garrard. We'll survey all the Jets' current and potential quarterbacks separately in an upcoming story on newyorkjets.com. Meanwhile, don't check out on the quarterback just yet, Jets fans.
Thursday: Sorting Out the First Days of Free Agency