This week of practices leading up to the Senior Bowl may be the most important week of the whole year for the talent evaluators preparing for the draft. While most fans may still be rehashing the highs and lows of the playoffs and are becoming preoccupied with the pre-Super Bowl hype, this is the last time scouts and personnel men will see these players actually play football before teams make their selections in April.
What also makes it ideal is that the top seniors are here in one place for the most part (players like QB Ryan Tannehill and DT Devon Still, among others, are not participating), so scouts get to measure performance against top competition.
This is also the first time the coaches really get involved in the process, which will change some of the perspectives on many of these players. Finally, seeing how players react to actual NFL coaching can be an invaluable evaluation tool as well.
So with all of that in mind, we spent some time this week looking at the talent pool from the Jets' perspective, and we think Green & White fans have some reason to be excited. There are players here in Mobile who can help your team! Let's take a look by position …
This is a pretty good class, and the Jets could definitely find some impact players early. While Ryan and his defense have made their living off the blitz, they lack the one impact pass rusher that will force opposing offenses to alter their protections.
South Carolina's Melvin Ingram could be the answer. At 6'2", 276 pounds, he's extremely athletic and cannot be blocked. He has beaten everybody here in Mobile, and believe us, the coaches have been looking hard all week for the guy he can't beat. Some compare him to Dwight Freeney, but he's much better-suited to be a standup, pass-rushing OLB in a 3-4. Think James Harrison with better cover skills.
Alabama OLB Courtney Upshaw is another big outside pass-rushing threat who would immediately upgrade the Jets' defense. This is a guy who might single-handedly be able to allow the Jets NOT to blitz. He's explosive, and along with Ingram he's a sure first-round talent.
Others to watch include Virginia DE Cam Johnson. He's a shade under 6'4" and 267 pounds with great athleticism (he was a WR in high school). His versatility is what will attract most teams. He's a hybrid DE-OLB pass rusher with the ability to play in coverage; the ideal utility guy who can fill a lot of different roles for Rex.
Then there's UNC's Quinton Coples. He's hands down the best pass rusher in the class. He's had a very good week, showing great size, strength, quickness and technique. But his attitude has come into question for some scouts. The interview process will be a key part of his evaluation.
Two players the Jets should be looking at are South Carolina's Antonio Allen and Boise State's George Iloka. Both are big, physical players who are forces in the run game but also show great range when playing the deep middle. Allen can also play press man coverage, which becomes huge when you start playing teams like New England. When they trot out TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, here is a guy who can drop down and match up well, using his combination of size, strength, speed and cover skills to play those guys in single coverage.
The best corner here is North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins. He's very talented and is an ideal man cover corner, but his attitude is a real problem, according to scouts. He's a player who could step in and help immediately, but teams will have to decide if it's worth it to have a guy who could be a real liability off the field. Louisiana-Lafayette's Dwight Bentley is a physical, aggressive player who could be an ideal fit in the slot in the Jets' system.
There are always good linemen here, and this year there is a pretty good crop of defensive linemen, which is good news for the Green & White. One player who seems to be a great fit is Washington DTAlameda Ta'amu. He's 6'3½" and 341 pounds, with the agility and footwork of a much smaller man. He has gotten some press as an overpowering player, and he is all that. In short, he's a beast. More than just a two-gapper, he can move and stunt, and can get through gaps to create havoc in the backfield with his quickness and strength. He can do everything that head coach Rex Ryan wants from a guy on the inside in the Jets' scheme.
Derek Wolfe, the DT from Cincinnati, is a dark-horse player to watch. He's a 300-pounder with the ideal size and skills to play the 5-technique DE in the Jets' 3-4. He's shown his competitiveness here and has really helped himself. If he wasn't here, he might not get a draftable grade. Now, he might be a good fit for the Jets in the fourth round.
Another player to watch is UConn's Kendall Reyes. Like Wolfe, he's a 5-technique player who is stout enough to play some at the nose. He's had a good practice every single day here in Mobile and has really been a highlight player. Finally, one of Tuesday's stars was Florida DE Jaye Howard. At 6'3", 292 pounds, he's explosive and very hard to block.
For those who are looking for a QB replacement for the Jets, he's not here in Mobile. After Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, there is some serious debate about who the third QB is and where he might be taken. Texas A & M's Tannehill is undergoing surgery and pulled out of this week's festivities, so he's hard to evaluate at this point. The player we like as that third signalcaller is Arizona's Nick Foles. He's Ben Roethlisberger-big at 6'5", 244 pounds, with a big arm and the poise and experience to be an ideal NFL pocket passer. He could slip into the bottom of the first round but is more likely a second-round value at best.
After him, the class is weak. Wisconsin'sRussell Wilson is only 5'10". Boise's Kellen Moore was extremely productive but is not a prototypical NFL prospect, and some scouts think he may play baseball. He may not even be drafted. Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden has an injury history and is 29 years old. Kirk Cousins of Michigan State has looked good, relatively speaking, but he's got average tools. For him, a big performance in the actual Senior Bowl game could be very important. Last year Andy Dalton, Jake Locker and Christian Ponder all played well here and turned it into money for themselves. Whether that happens again this year remains to be seen.