The 2014 NFL Draft is tomorrow, and most assume that the New York Jets will use the 18th overall pick to target a wide receiver or a cornerback. The Jets badly need starting caliber talent at those two positions, and their are quite a few prospects that could make an immediate impact in New York. However, what if the Jets go in a different direction? They have big needs at free safety, tight end, guard and outside linebacker, and they could surprise everyone by choosing to target one of those positions.
If the Jets did go in that direction, UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr would likely be one of the key players they consider. The Jets haven’t had an elite pass rushing outside linebacker during Rex Ryan’s tenure with the team, and it is something that has held the defense back. The Jets ranked 13th in the NFL in sacks last season, their first time in the top half of the league since 2010. Barr had 23.5 sacks over the last two seasons, and he could be the explosive edge rusher the Jets have been missing.
Right now, the Jets are starting former first round pick Quinton Coples and veteran Calvin Pace at outside linebacker. Coples is still very promising, but he has yet to really produce and he appears much better suited as a 4-3 defensive end. Pace is coming off a career high 10 sacks, but the Jets cannot reasonably expect a repeat of that performance at 34 years old. After them, Antwan Barnes headlines a group of reserves that present more questions than answers.
Barr would be an immediate upgrade at outside linebacker and give the Jets a legitimate every down pass rusher. Having such a player would allow the Jets to blitz less and drop more players into coverage, protecting what figures to be a very young secondary. Barr’s stock has taken a hit lately, but there is no reason he couldn’t produce with the Jets’ outstanding defensive line occupying blockers for him.
Given how big the Jets’ needs at corner and receiver are, drafting Barr in the first round is unlikely. However, if the board breaks the wrong way or the Jets decide to trade back, there is an argument to be made for Barr. Taking him is certainly not the ideal outcome, but Barr would fill a major need, and drafting him wouldn’t be the worst idea.