In continuation with our positional breakdowns of potential NFL Draft prospects for the New York Jets, we turn our attention to a position that, although very promising, will almost surely need some added depth this offseason. Today, our draft team provides a breakdown of the top five potential interior defensive linemen that could be selected by the Jets in April’s draft. These initial rankings are certainly subject to change as we progress through the entire pre-draft process, but as it stands now, these players are who we feel would be the best options for New York’s defense to add up front. Be sure to give our draft team a follow on Twitter, and to check out our previous breakdowns of potential quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and offensive linemen.
The interior defensive line situation for the Jets is quite interesting heading into the offseason. New York surely has young staples up front in Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples, as well as Kenrick Ellis, who flashed brilliance at times last season but struggled to stay healthy. Conversely, the Jets face questions regarding key players on the defensive front. Mike DeVito is an impending unrestricted free agent, and his price tag could end up driving him out of New York. While he is certainly not as flashy as the defensive ends aforementioned, DeVito is the blue collared, lunch pale type player that is a necessity to any defensive line. While it will be difficult to replace a player like DeVito, there are certainly a good amount of players of his mold at defensive tackle in this year’s draft class.
On a similar note, the Jets have uncertainty with nose tackle Sione Po’uha. Po’uha had arguably his least productive season as a Jet last year, largely due to a lingering back issue that hampered his ability to get off the ball and maintain leverage throughout the season. A release of Po’uha is seemingly imminent as it would clear some much needed cap space for Gang Green, while paving the way for Ellis to take over as the full time starter.
The situations of DeVito and Po’uha leave the Jets with some subtle needs along the defensive line. While it would be ill advised for New York to select a defensive tackle in the first round, considering the immense amount of need throughout the entire roster, do not be surprised to see one or two picks used on a defensive lineman this year, depending on how free agency plays out. With that being said, let’s take a look at who could be on the Jets radar come April.
Kawann Short, Purdue – 6’3″ 325 lbs - Short is a very tough defender against both the run and pass. He gets off blocks very well with use of his violent hands and excellent technique, while consistently demonstrating great extension allowing himself to separate from blockers and maintain the ability to dictate where he will go. Short screams down the line of scrimmage and reads blocks with elite recognition. While he has a knack for getting in the backfield, Short doesn’t have the elite agility and quickness needed to run outside stunts. However, if playing NT in a 3-4, he will rarely, if ever, be asked to loop to the outside. Short had a very good Senior Bowl and should see his stock rise in the coming weeks. Likely a 2nd rounder.
Johnathan Jenkins, Georgia – 6’4″ 359 lbs - Jenkins is a very big bodied player, something of necessity at the NT position in a 3-4 scheme. When he comes off the ball with explosion and maintains leverage, he is virtually unblockable. However, he plays high at times, doesn’t always show a great motor, and can become undisciplined. The following images are an example of how Jenkins can struggle when playing undisciplined and not reading his keys.
The image above is of an Eddie Lacy 40+ yard touchdown run in Alabama’s victory over Georgia in this season’s SEC Title Game. Jenkins (denoted by the red circle) initially lines up as a 5 technique on the right tackle. At the snap of the ball, both the tackle and guard take their reach steps to the right. The design of this play is to double team the outside linebacker, Jarvis Jones, with the Tight End and H-Back motioned to play side, while doubling Jenkins to the linebacker stacked behind him. Ideally, Georgia would like Jenkins to occupy the double team from the guard and tackle, which would allow the linebacker to scrape off of his rear and make the tackle on Lacy for a short gain. However, as you can see by the way he is leaning, Jenkins does not accurately read both the helmets (green circles) or initial steps (green arrows) of the tackle and guard.
With Jenkins taking a bad step to the inside (red circle), he allows the guard to reach him with ease, while never getting a punch on the tackle to slow him down. This not only takes Jenkins out of the play, but it makes the tackle’s job of getting up on the linebacker quick and painless (red arrow). With Jones (blue circle) being kicked out by a double team, the result of the play is demonstrated by the image below. The linebacker (blue circle), who ideally would have made this play for Georgia, is sealed to the inside by the tackle, while Jenkins (red circle) is completely neutralized and taken out of the play, allowing Lacy to hit the narrow seam (green arrow), and use his tremendous burst to take it to the endzone for a 40+ yard touchdown run. What could have been a 2-3 yard gain for Alabama, turns into a back breaking long touchdown run due largely in part to poor discipline by Jenkins.
While these mistakes are not necessarily frequent of Jenkins, they are surely a concern. That being said, these are coaching points that can be ironed out at the next level and with the overall talent and massive body of Jenkins, he can still be a very effective NT in a 3-4. He could end up going in the bottom half of the first round, but if he slips into the second, the Jets could take a long look at him, depending on how the depth at the position looks in April.
Jordan Hill, Penn State – 6’0″ 295 lbs - An extremely tenacious player with a very high motor, Hill brings it on every play. He comes off the ball with authority using excellent and constantly active hand work. Hill has some of the best lateral maneuverability out of any interior defensive lineman in this year’s class. He can make tackles in space and his combination of superior hand and footwork makes him a very dynamic interior pass rusher. While Hill is probably ideal as a 3 technique in a 4-3, he could certainly have success as a 5 technique in a 3-4 (started 3 games at DE in 2010) while being used in nickel sub packages on passing downs. If DeVito is not retained, Hill would provide an excellent replacement. Size will be an issue, as he does not have ideal height, but he makes up for it in leverage and effort.
Jesse Williams, Alabama – 6’3″ 320 lbs - Williams has an extremely strong upper body, reportedly able to bench press 600 lbs. He plays with good leverage at times but can be inconsistent. For the most part, he is average against the run due to a tendency to get pushed back on double teams when playing too high and not striking the opposing offensive lineman quickly enough. His lower body strength doesn’t seem to equate his upper body strength, but against the pass, his upper body strength is so immense that he will almost constantly command double teams due to his ability to drive a one on one block into the quarterbacks face. This could be extremely beneficial for players like Coples and Wilkerson, as well as any incoming outside linebackers, who would thrive on seeing more one on one blocking rather than double teams.
Joe Vellano, Maryland – 6’1″ 278 lbs - While a bit undersized for an interior lineman in a 3-4, Vellano is one of the quickest players at the position in this year’s class. He isn’t ideally fit to defend the double team with pure strength and power, but he is able to slip through seams and beat opposing blockers to the point of attack with excellent lateral quickness and tremendous hand technique.
Vellano is an extremely tough player with a motor that is off the charts. The intangibles are phenomenal as he was a 2 year captain at Maryland and is the son of former Terrapin great Paul Vellano. Likely a late day 3 pick, Vellano, like Hill, would fit the Mike DeVito mold of a lunch pale, blue collared player who you know what you’re getting from on every snap. Vellano never takes plays off and will wear down opposing offensive linemen with his insatiable effort. Could fit as both a 3 and 5 technique, as well as a situational pass rusher.
If there’s one area on this roster that Rex Ryan & Co. can take solace in, it’s the defensive line. A group that boasts two budding stars at defensive end with Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples, the only real need on the line is a consistent NT capable of eating up multiple blockers, freeing up space for the linebackers, and helping against the run.
Kenrick Ellis may prove to be that player, and standing at 6’4”, 336 pounds, it’s easy to see why the organization has high hopes for him. Although Ellis’ production clearly improved last season, concerns remain regarding his durability and consistency. It’s those issues that have impeded Ellis’ ability to take the next step early in his career.
There’s a chance that Sione Po’uha could be released, as his $4.9M base salary in 2013 becomes fully guaranteed on the third league day of the year. And coming off his least productive season since ‘08, his cap number will likely need to be adjusted.
The real question is: Do the Jets even try to bring Po’uha back? Granted, he’s dealt with a back issue that has clearly impacted his ability to get leverage, which, as we all witnessed this season, led to No. 91 getting driven backwards whenever he stepped on the field. He was a non-factor this season, and while it looks like he’ll avoid offseason back surgery, he’s 34 years old and is facing questions regarding his ability to rebound from an injury that has been an issue in each of the past two seasons.
So, while the Jets defensive line is one of the most talented position groups on the team –just as with every other spot on the Jets roster- it’s not immune to questions regarding its depth.
So with that said, it’s time to sneak a peak at a few defensive tackles the Jets may target in April’s NFL Draft:
Montori Hughes, Tennessee-Martin – 6’4” 330 lbs - Hughes is one of those guys who you immediately have to be wary of drafting because of his struggles early in his college career. Dismissed from the University of Tennessee for his role in an on campus incident, Hughes was able to rebound at UT-Martin, boasting impressive size, strength and agility, on his way to a good ‘12 campaign.
A similar prospect to Kenrick Ellis during his years at Hampton University, Hughes raised some eyebrows during Senior Bowl practices with his ability to collapse the pocket and create disruption in the backfield.
At UT-Martin, Hughes was versatile enough to play 3-technique, as well as some 5-technique in three-man fronts. While he may project as a DT in a 4-3 defensive scheme, his versatility and size make him an option for a number of defensive systems.
Johnathan Jenkins, Georgia - 6’4″ 359 lbs - The Georgia Bulldog has a wide frame and is very capable of clogging up running lanes and taking on multiple blockers. Jenkins has good lateral quickness, as well as the overall power to run over blockers, but isn’t expected to provide much from a pass rushing perspective in the NFL.
An extremely powerful prospect, Jenkins appears capable of taking on double teams at the next level–which would certainly help the Jets as far as their needs on the defensive line. His first-round projection makes him unlikely to land in New York, assuming a “trade down” scenario doesn’t play out.
Asked to play both the 3-technique and as a nose tackle in 3-4 fronts at Utah, Lotulei’s lateral movement and strength provide the defensive lineman with plenty of options to elude blockers. Often the target of double teams, Lotuleli’s skillset looks like it will transition very well in the NFL.
He’ll likely be the first defensive tackle taken in the draft, and could go as high as a top 3 selection. If he does slide to the Jets at No.9, General Manager John Idzik will have a decision to make. It’s doubtful that New York is interested in using its first-rounder on a defensive tackle, but Lotueli could certainly change their plans.
Sheldon Richardson, Missouri - 6’4″ 295 lbs - Despite a lack of experience (he only started 13 games at Missouri), Richardson is one of the most highly-touted defensive tackles in the draft. Athletic enough to rush the passer and chase down ball carriers from behind, Richardson was, at times, even used in coverage situations.
Richardson also boasts an enormous frame that helps him take on multiple blockers and gives him an added advantage as a run-stuffer. His motor is hard to ignore as well, as he was regularly seen chasing ball carriers downfield.
He’ll challenge Lotuleli for the No. 1 DT ranking during the pre-draft process, but will likely find his name called shortly after on Draft Day.
William Campbell, Michigan- 6’5″ 318 lbs - Campbell is a wildcard, and realistically, a player who could end up undrafted—although he’s projected to go sometime on Day 3. The Michigan tackle dropped 15 pounds heading into ‘12 season, which noticeably improved speed and endurance in his senior year.
Campbell’s impressive motor and ability to consistently play low really stand out on tape, and while he likely needs to get stronger in order to compete with offensive linemen at the NFL level, he is certainly an interesting option if still available on the last day of the draft or beyond.
The starting defensive line for the Jets currently is and will be a great unit in the NFL for years. In the 3-4 defense, Wilkerson and Coples are absolute studs. On the inside, Kenrick Ellis has shown great flashes of talent when healthy. If he can stay healthy, Ellis can be a cog in the middle of the Jets defensive line for years. The Jets remain hopeful in their ability to re-sign Mike DeVito on a cap friendly deal. He has been the blue-collar player that every defense needs. He is a great leader and also has performed really well when healthy. So in the draft, the Jets should be looking to add depth.
Kwame Geathers, Georgia – 6’5” 350 lbs - Geathers is a younger player, but showed promise in limited action. He was part of the rotation for Georgia last year and would have been the starting tackle next year if he stayed in school, but he opted to enter the draft instead. He has the prototypical size for a 3-4 Nose Tackle and had 40 tackles, including 5 for loss this past year. If not for playing behind Jonathan Jenkins (a likely top 20 pick), he would have started and been an every down player. A thing to look at is that, during the SEC championship game, he started to get moved around easily against Barrett Jones. While that really isn’t a terrible thing because Jones is one of the better all around offensive linemen in the draft, it is something that should be noticed. Geathers can play behind Ellis and Devito and learn a lot while contributing as part of the rotation. He currently grades out as a 4th or 5th round draft pick, but his stock will likely be affected by the combine.
Larry Black, Indiana – 6’2” 310 lbs - Black is an interesting prospect. First and foremost he played really well and made countless plays behind the line of scrimmage against a Big 10 schedule. Black can fit as a Nose Tackle in the NFL for a 3-4 team due to his size and strength. Although, being at Nose Tackle, he can probably stand to gain about 20 pounds of muscle to his frame to truly be a menace in the middle. Black could be a solid rotation player for any team’s defensive line.
Terance Barnes, Georgia Tech – 6’0” 345 lbs - Barnes stands out because of his ability to occupy blockers. In a 3-4 scheme, the nose tackle is usually required to occupy multiple gaps. While Barnes does this well, he tends to have trouble disengaging from blockers which can cause issues. Barnes is likely to go undrafted, 7th round at the earliest.
Jose Jose, Central Florida – 6’2” 327 lbs - While not really being effective during his time at UCF, Jose is an intriguing project. He will likely go undrafted, but he has good size. His stock can rise in the coming weeks.