It’s no surprise that New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum has been on the hot seat lately.
Ever since 2010, when the Jets reached their second consecutive AFC Championship Game, the overall depth and talent level of Rex Ryan‘s squad has depleted, causing many to point the finger at Tannenbaum.
Whether or not you blame the GM for the Jets’ inconsistencies, it’s fair to say that he’s certainly not blameless.
Like any GM, Tannenbaum’s made his share of risky moves over the years.
Some have worked out fabulously, such as the trade for and eventual re-signing of cornerback Antonio Cromartie. Others haven’t worked out, like Mark Sanchez‘s unnecessary contract extension this past offseason.
However, while Tannenbaum deserves some criticism, he and his staff deserve credit for the young players they’ve brought in. Everybody knows about the Jets’ outstanding draft classes from 2006 and 2007, but that’s not all.
The Jets have gotten tremendous production lately from their first round picks from each of the last two NFL drafts, Muhammad Wilkerson (above ) and Quinton Coples.
Wilkerson, the 30th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, is blossoming into a superstar at the 3-4 defensive end position, one of the most unheralded and overlooked positions in all of football.
Aside from legitimate MVP candidate J.J. Watt, no 3-4 defensive end has been graded higher by Pro Football Focus this season than Muhammad Wilkerson. Not Haloti Ngata, Calias Campbell, or even All-Pro Justin Smith.
Wilkerson is second to Watt in PFF’s cumulative season ratings for 3-4 defensive ends, and second in run defense. The 23-year-old leads all 3-4 ends in total tackles, and he’s been playing his best ball as the season goes on.
Meanwhile, rookie Quinton Coples, the 16th overall pick of this past April’s draft, has been no slouch himself.
Also a 3-4 end, Coples has been worked into the Jets defense slowly but surely, but has come on strong lately. He had his highest-graded game by PFF’s standards this past week against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Wilkerson has played 82.8% of defensive snaps, compared to Coples’ 49.1%, yet Coples is impressively 12th among 3-4 ends overall and 10th in pass rushing productivity per PFF, which does not grade on a per-snap basis.
Despite playing less than half of the Jets’ total defensive snaps, Coples is already fourth among all 3-4 ends with eight total quarterback hits. The three players with more have done it in 150-300 more snaps, for what it’s worth.
The 3-4 defensive end position is not the most glamorous position in football, but when you can get elite production from that spot, it can make life miserable for opposing offensive lines, running backs and quarterbacks.
Wilkerson deserves to be headed to the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro team here in his second season, and maybe as he continues to develop, the 22-year-old Coples will be there someday too.
Defensive line coach Karl Dunbar has done a phenomenal job developing Wilkerson and Coples, and Rex Ryan, a defensive line guru himself, has got to be thrilled about what he’s seen from the defensive line this year.
For a team devoid of an outside pass rushing threat, the Jets are lucky to have these two beasts on the interior of their defensive line for many years to come. Tannenbaum and his staff deserve a major kudos for this dynamic duo.