Real Football Services is an independent group that provides analysis of the NFL Draft, NFL free agency and other player personnel topics for newyorkjets.com.
The 2011 draft is beginning to take shape now, and there are some trends that are becoming clear, even at this early stage of the game. First, expect the underclassmen to have a big impact on the top of the draft. Nearly half the picks in Round 1 could be occupied by draft-eligible underclassmen, including more than half of the top 10.
The other trend coming to light is the lack of many elite-level skill-position players on offense. There are a couple of QBs in the early mix, but the WR and RB talent at the top of the board will be thin.
Compounding matters, the offensive line group at this time is not as strong as in recent years. That means you should be thinking defense throughout much of the top of the draft. That's good news in a way, because of the Jets' most pressing needs, two positions are on the defensive side of the ball. The bad news is that many of these players will come flying off the board early.
As things stand now, there's a good chance the Jets could once again be looking at an initial selection in the bottom half of the first round when the NFL Draft comes around in 2011. As we mentioned in our Dec. 1 piece on newyorkjets.com, the evaluation process is well under way, so we thought it might be fun to take a peek at some senior prospects who could be on the Jets' radar in the spring.
In our early evaluation, the Green & White could be looking to fill priority needs like a pass rusher (either a standup OLB or a 5-technique DE), a safety and a right tackle. The blitzes are not getting to the opposing QB because offenses have adjusted to Rex Ryan's and Mike Pettine's pressure schemes.
The Jets need to acquire a dominant pass rusher who will have to be accounted for and open up rush lanes for pressure from other points of the field. The injury to Jim Leonhard shows how thin the Jets are at safety, and the team needs to continue to upgrade an O-line that leans heavily on aging and injured RT Damien Woody.
Here are some players to keep an eye on who could be around near the bottom of the opening round:
Marcus Cannon, T, TCU--* *Massive (6'5", 350) and athletic with good feet, Cannon's big and strong enough to move the pile, and moves well enough to seal the edge and wall off defenders to create inside running lanes. Though he is a very good run blocker, he will struggle against speed rushers off the edge, which will keep him from playing the left side on the next level. But he has an excellent work ethic and is considered one of the top 10 tackles in this senior class.
Allen Bailey, DE, Miami--* *Bailey moved inside this year to DT in the 'Canes 4-3 defense and faced constant double teams after a strong junior campaign. He struggled with the transition early but recorded 5.5 sacks in a three-game span to get back on track.
Quinton Carter, S, Oklahoma-- The top safety in the draft at this point, Carter has the physicality and speed to play either safety spot, is a big hitter and run-support player, and can also play centerfield in deep zones and line up in man coverage. His versatility will serve him well come draft day and he is the ideal safety prospect for today's NFL.
Others to Watch For Later in the Draft
Chris Hairston, T, Clemson--* *Big, tough and smart, Hairston has a high football IQ and is a high-effort player who approaches his craft with a lot of pride. He has the measurables at 6'7" and 325, but physically and athletically he may have some shortcomings at the NFL level. He could be a great mid-round pickup, though.
Jarvis Jenkins, DE, Clemson-- Hairston's teammate, Jenkins recorded 16 QB pressures and nine tackles for loss as a senior after putting up 69 tackles and 11 TFLs in 2009. He also has four career blocked punts and can contribute right away on special teams. He's likely a third-round pick at this point.
KJ Wright, OLB, Mississippi State-- A bit of an unsung hero, Wright has been a three-year starter and a steady contributor throughout his career. He's an athletic multisport athlete and a natural leader, and he will contribute on special teams. A solid mid-round selection.