The Jets waited as expected until shortly after the start of the New York TV stations' local late news broadcasts tonight. Then following a number of unexpected selections spent before them, they used their 30th pick of the 2011 NFL Draft to select only their second defensive pick under head coach Rex Ryan, Temple's Muhammad Wilkerson, for their D-line.
"We definitely were excited," Ryan said about Wilkerson inching ever closer to the Jets' position throughout the late evening. "Obviously a lot of good football players are going to teams in front of you and behind you, but we think this young man's really going to do some great things for us."
"I thought it was going to happen," Wilkerson admitted late Thursday night after Round 1 concluded, talking with Jets reporters. "I had a great visit when I did the workout for them [earlier this month]. Once that 30th pick came around, I just had the feeling they were going to pick me up."
He got the word at a restaurant in his hometown of Linden, less than a 20-mile drive from his new home office of New Meadowlands Stadium, where he was observing draft night with a group of 80 to 90 friends and family members.
"I didn't grow up a Jets fan," he said, "but right now I'm a Jet and I'm proud, I'm happy."
Wilkerson, the 6'5", 300-pounder, from Linden, N.J., was known to overwhelm opposing MAC offensive tackles as a 5-technique DT with his size and strength. He was the Owls' defensive MVP and a conference first-team selection after a junior season in which he recorded team highs with 13.0 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.
He ran a 4.96 in the 40, bench-pressed 225 pounds 27 times, had a 26-inch vertical jump and an 8'10" long jump at the February combine workouts.
"I had a real good talk with Al Golden, who coached Muhammad at Temple and was at Virginia with D'Brickashaw [Ferguson]," said general manager Mike Tannenbaum shortly after the end of Round 1. "And Al thought they had a lot of similar attributes in terms of work ethic. I think he's one of those players in Rex's defense who is going to do whatever it takes to be successful."
Where will he play on the Jets' defensive line?
"I don't see him as a nose tackle," Ryan said, "but I see where this young man can play defensive end in our system and tackle as well. I see him as a possible three-down contributor for us. We'll see. His work ethic, he's going to have to come in here and earn his reps, but we think he's going to be an outstanding player."
Asked what he thought his role will be in the top-ranked Ryan/Mike Pettine defense, Wilkerson described his style of play to a T, and we're not talking about the large letter on the Owls' helmets.
"It's just playing physical, playing strong and just pretty much being very destructive," he said. "At the end of the day I'm just going to work hard every play."
One of the Jets' area prospect visits several weeks ago, he was pushed down to the Jets when teams in the 20s above them made selections of players thought by many draft experts to be lower-first-round or second-round selections. The Buccaneers, for instance, took DL Adrian Clayborn out of Iowa at 20; the Eagles went with Baylor O-lineman Danny Watkins at 23; the Seahawks went with lesser heralded tackle James Carpenter out of Alabama at 25, and the Chiefs, with a pick that went from Atlanta to Cleveland before they traded for it, turned to Pitt WR Jonathan Baldwin at 26.
It's the second consecutive draft that Tannenbaum and the Jets held onto their own pick low in Round 1, the position courtesy of reaching the AFC Championship Game the January before. Last April the Green & White took Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson with the 29th pick. And Wilkerson and Wilson, from Piscataway, make it two New Jersey defensive players in the first round in back-to-back years.
And those are the only two defensive picks, compared to six offensive selections so far in the two-plus Tannenbaum drafts since Ryan took over as head coach in 2009. Further, this year's draft is young, with Rounds 2-3 set for Friday night and Rounds 4-7 for Saturday afternoon. The Jets currently have five picks left, one each in Rounds 3-7.
Round 1 Draft Pick: Muhammad Wilkerson
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