While the Jets have glaring needs at OLB, Safety, Wide Receiver, and Right Tackle heading into Thursday’s draft, one position few people are talking about is Defensive Line. Although the Jets are somewhat stable on the defensive front, having drafted promising DE Mohammed Wilkerson with their first pick last year, and extending NT Sione Pouha this offseason, there is a tremendous amount of depth at defensive line in this year’s draft that could provide great value to the Jets. As the Giants showed during each of their past two Super Bowl wins, quality depth along the defensive line can be a deadly weapon.
1 – Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State – Cox is head and shoulders above every other defensive lineman in the draft this year. At 6’4” 298 lbs, not only does Cox possess the ideal size to play any position in any defensive line scheme, but he has the intangibles to do so as well. Cox is extremely fast for his size, having run a 4.79 40-yard dash, while also showing great strength posting 30 reps in the bench press. It is always difficult to judge a defensive lineman by statistics because many schemes are not designed for their defensive tackles to be playmakers, but Cox was not hampered by that notion at Mississippi State.
Last season, he posted 56 tackles and 5 sacks, while registering back-to-back multi-sack games against South Carolina and Kentucky. However, while all of these numbers are great, it is Cox’s film that makes him truly impressive. He plays with an extremely high motor, arguably the highest out of the entire class this year. He shows great explosion off the ball, while proving to be both aggressive and disciplined, which is a lethal combination when it comes to defensive linemen. His hands and feet are constantly active, and he shows his tremendous athleticism with his ability to scream down the line of scrimmage on toss sweep and bootlegs. Cox also seems to have an elite conditioning level, as he comes off the ball with the same tenacity and ferociousness on every play. He would be a tremendous fit as a 5-technique in the Jets’ system, and would create one of the scariest three man fronts in football alongside Pouha and Wilkerson.
His value is likely too high to be had at 16, and it is doubtful that the Jets will trade up for him. However, make no mistake if he is available when the Jets are on the clock, there is a good chance he will be taken. Mike Tannenbaum has already said the Jets will look to take the best available player this year, and if Cox is there at 16, he will be just that.
2 – Michael Brockers, LSU – Recently, ESPN’s Mel Kiper wrote that he sees Brockers as the best value pick for the Jets at 16. While that remains to be seen, Brockers is certainly a very appealing prospect. At 6’5” 316 lbs, Brockers has ideal size as a 3-4 defensive end, and certainly has the college football experience you’d want in a defensive lineman, having played in the SEC. He has shown he has a very high work ethic as he improved his combine numbers (5.36 40, 19 reps) to his pro day numbers (5.15 40, 21 reps). Brockers has a high ceiling and could prove to be an excellent NFL player if drafted in to the right system. With 54 tackles, 2 sacks and an interception last season, he has shown he can be a playmaker.
He posted 7 tackles in the National Championship game against one of the strongest power running attacks in college football last season in Trent Richardson and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Brockers is another high motor player, with excellent hand and foot speed, but tends to come off the ball high at times, something he will have to improve to be successful at the professional level. He shows great aggression, and is very explosive when he stays low. He could be a great fit with the Jets, but his best value would be in the lower 20s, so New York would be smart to trade down if they decide to target Brockers.
3 – Kendall Reyes, UConn – Reyes is one of the most under the radar prospects that could be a late first/early second rounder this year. Seemingly overshadowed by his two SEC counterparts, Reyes has quietly had a very good career at Connecticut. A two year captain, Reyes not only posses great leadership ability, but he is also one of the smartest football players in the draft this year. At 6’4” 299 lbs, he proved to be extremely versatile both physically and mentally at UConn, having seen time at both Defensive Tackle and End. He has shown an ability to learn various schemes and positions, something that is vital as an NFL prospect. Coaches like Ryan love versatile players that can be moved all over the field, and Reyes is just that. He is extremely strong (36 reps), while also demonstrating tremendous athleticism having run a 4.95 40 at the combine. Reyes also proved to have exceptional ball skills for a D-Lineman, recording 8 passes defended and 2 interceptions in his past two seasons at UConn. Reyes will be an excellent fit as a 3-4 defensive end, and if he is available in the early to mid second round, it would not be surprising to see New York jump up a few spots to grab him.
4 - Dontari Poe, Memphis – Poe was the hero at the combine this year, having run a 4.98 40 yard dash at 6’3” nearly 350 lbs, while getting the most reps on the bench (44) among all participants, displaying tremendous strength. However, unlike many prospects high on draft boards, Poe does not have the production to go with it. Last year at Memphis, Poe had only 22 tackles and 1 sack. Again, it is hard to judge a defensive tackle by statistics, but one would think that a player who has shown as much strength and athleticism as Poe would have been more of a playmaker on the field. Poe also seems to disappear in some games. Last year, there were 5 games in which he recorded only one tackle. His combine numbers scream difference maker, but his statistics show role player.
On film, Poe’s value is even lower. He does not show the motor that Rex Ryan values in his defensive lineman, and he seems to be very undisciplined. Against Arkansas State, Poe was caught up field countless times, creating open running lanes that led to big gains. Unfortunately, he has bust written all over him. If anything, he is more of a 4-3 style defensive tackle, and would not fit well in a 3-4. The Jets should not consider Poe at any point in the first round.
5 – Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati – Wolfe is a very big (6’5” 295 lbs), athletic (5.01 40, 33 reps), and productive (70 tackles, 9.5 sacks in 2011) player. His numbers are astronomical for a defensive lineman, and he would provide a great interior pass rush as a 5-technique lined up opposite Wilkerson. Wolfe had 3 multi-sack games last year, and posted linebacker like numbers against Louisville with 11 tackles and a sack. He shows great block recognition on film, plays well against the double team, and absolutely demolishes the lead blocker on traps and pulls. Wolfe also seems to have very good football sense, showing great ability to make pre-snap reads. He tends to slow down during long drives, which could be a conditioning issue, but let’s not forget he is carrying nearly 300 lbs. Under Ryan, he could be a very productive player, and would be a fantastic late day two value if he were to fall that far.