Heading into the 2012 NFL Draft the New York Jets have several holes to fill. After last season’s collapse it is imperative the Jets use this draft to inject youth and skill into some key positions. Most of the Jets offseason has been centered on Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez and the quarterback controversy that has inevitably followed. However, there are plenty of holes the Jets need to fill and they will look to the draft to fill those needs.
Perhaps the most glaring need comes in the pass rush department. Last season the Jets managed only 35 sacks, good for 17th in the NFL. Defensive end/linebacker Aaron Maybin, who led the team with 6 sacks, is a free agent and it is unlikely he will return. That leaves linebacker David Harris as the Jets top returning pass rusher with 5 sacks. In todays pass heavy game it is imperative that the Jets get to the opposing quarterback more than 35 times in a season.
Head Coach Rex Ryan’s defense is built around schemes to get to the opposing quarterback. He uses an assortment of blitzes in the hopes of putting the pressure on. The only problem is that the personnel don’t really fit into the scheme, often leaving the Jets defense vulnerable to being picked apart in short and mid-range passes. Darrelle Revis is arguably the best cornerback in the NFL but that means nothing if the quarterback has all day to throw. Eventually someone will get open. Last season Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum selected two defensive linemen in the first two rounds, Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis. Wilkerson showed flashes of being a capable run-stuffer and an ability to get into the backfield and rush the quarterback last season. He still has a little ways to go but he is on the right path. Ellis only played in 5 games last season and managed to only accumulate 5 tackles. The jury is still out on both of these guys but they each have potential. What they don’t have is an ability to consistently rush the quarterback. In 2008, the Jets used the sixth overall pick to select Vernon Gholston, perhaps one of the biggest busts in draft history. The Jets have only drafted one other defensive lineman during Tannenbaum’s tenure as GM, Titus Adams, who was taken in the 7th round of the 2006 NFL Draft and he never suited up for the Jets in a regular season game.
It is imperative the Jets find a speed rusher who can come in off the edge and create havoc in the backfield. Ideally, that individual would lineup at defensive end, allowing the linebackers to either drop into coverage or come on in a blitz. The fact that that type of individual has been lacking on the Jets defensive front since Shaun Ellis and especially John Abraham left has had an impact on the rest of the Jets defense. Utilizing a 3-4 defense means you will need to depend on a linebacker to come on in a pass rush at times. However, unless you have a Terrell Suggs or DeMarcus Ware, it is rarely going to work. The Jets have been a perfect example of that over the last two seasons. It is imperative the Jets find someone who can actually get to the quarterback. If Alabama’s Courtney Upsaw is still available the Jets should grab him up and not think twice. He fits Ryan’s scheme perfectly and could get double digit sacks while playing great against the run.
Over the past two years the wide receiver position has been in constant flux. This has been to the detriment of Mark Sanchez’s development. Santonio Holmes leads the receiving corps but his attitude towards the end of last season is a red flag until he disproves it as anything but an anomaly. However, to have a receiver basically throw his quarterback under the bus is not a sign of two individuals clicking as a quarterback should with his receivers. Last season veteran wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason were brought in to revamp a Jets passing attack that was mediocre at best. The problem was Burress hadn’t played football since 2008 and Mason was a 37 year-old who seemed to fall victim to Father Time. Sanchez, who the Jets say is still the quarterback of the present and the future has not been given the tools to succeed. He deserves a young, dynamic receiver and he hasn’t had that. Right now Jeremy Kerley is slated to be the number two receiver and although he showed some promise last season he is unproven and might be better suited for the slot. I believe Kerley will be a very good receiver in the NFL but the Jets have to allow him to grow in the area where he is best suited and that might be running shorter routes over the middle of the field and then trying to make something happen with his speed.
This year the wide receiver position has only one standout, Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon but the talent level is deep. There is a chance that Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd falls to the Jets at pick 16 and depending on what pass rushers are still available should consider taking him if he is there. If Floyd is gone there is no other receiver worth taking at that spot in the draft. Instead, they should be able to select from a group of receivers like A.J. Jenkins from Illinois, Brian Quick from Appalachian St., Rueben Randle from LSU, or Wake Forest’s Chris Givens should all be available in rounds 2 or 3. It is imperative the Jets give Sanchez the weapons he needs to be the quarterback they were hoping him to be.
If Sanchez is going to reach that potential he will also need protection from his offensive line. Right tackle was a nightmare last season for the Jets as Wayne Hunter was, to put it nicely, terrible. Vladimir Ducasse, will be entering his third year in the NFL and has not shown he is ready to handle the position yet. If he has a strong camp, great. If he doesn’t Sanchez could be running for his life. The Jets will need to draft an offensive lineman at some point. If they can get someone who can step in right away, like a Bobby Massie from Ole Miss, and provide better protection than what the Jets currently have then they should jump on it. Massie should be available when the Jets draft in the second round.
Whatever the Jets do they need to plug the holes they have failed to address in free agency. They need impact skill players at defensive end/linebacker and wide receiver as well as help on the offensive line. It won’t be easy getting exactly what they want since these positions are at a premium on draft day but the Jets should be able to upgrade from what they currently have and Jets fans can’t complain about that.