In continuation with our positional breakdowns of potential NFL Draft prospects for the New York Jets, we turn our attention to a position in need of a substantial upgrade in terms of both starters and overall depth. Today, our draft team provides a breakdown of the top five potential safeties 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 secondary. 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, offensive linemen, defensive tackles, and defensive end/outside linebacker.
If you read Wednesday’s Off-Season Roundtable, you’re familiar with the daunting task the Jets face in the secondary. John Idzik and the Jets’ front office have a number of significant decisions to make, specifically at the safety position, and highlighted by Laron Landry’s pursuit of a multi-year deal with guaranteed money.
It’s possible the Jets will bring back one of the starting safeties from last season, but after parting ways with Eric Smith; Antonio Allen and Josh Bush are left as the lone safeties on the roster. The Jets’ approach to free agency and the draft this year will depend heavily on their comfort level with the two young players moving forward.
While the Jets aren’t likely to address the position early in the draft, they will have an opportunity to land a prospective starter and immediate special teams contributor sometime on Day 3.
Here are a few safeties that could be on the Jets radar heading into April:
Josh Evans, Florida, 6’1”, 205 lbs: While Matt Elam receives the most notoriety in the Florida secondary, Evans has quietly developed into a pretty impressive player in his own right. While not at the same level as Elam, Evans’ hard-nosed approach and ability to contribute on special teams are impressive enough to get him on this list.
The hard-hitting safety helped his stock with his performance at the East-West Shrine Game, and could be an option to aid the Jets 26th ranked run defense. His lack of speed worries some scouts, but he makes up for it with good instincts and football intelligence.
A strong showing at the combine could improve his draft stock a bit, but as it currently stands Evans should be available for the Jets in rounds five or six.
Duke Williams, Nevada – 5’11” 201 lbs: Continuing with the theme of late-round picks, Williams finds his way on this list after earning Second Team All-Mountain West Conference honors at Nevada.
He’s likely the fastest safety in this group, and while he may not look the part, Williams is a vicious hitter who can fill the gap just as well as he tackles in the open field. The rangy safety benefited by playing against the less than stellar MWC competition, allowing him to rely on his speed and natural ability more than his technique. And while he’ll need to improve in a number of areas moving forward, the current sixth round projection for the ultra-athletic safety could be a steal for the Jets.
Tyrann Mathieu, LSU – 5’9” 175 lbs: Every year the draft has its share of athletes with character flaws. Unfortunately for Mathieu, his season-long suspension in 2012 for “multiple violations of team rules” lands him atop that group in this year’s draft. And while he’s become best known for his questionable off field decision-making, Mathieu does have a number of redeeming qualities that may cause teams to overlook some more noticeable concerns.
The first thing that shows up on his 2011 tape is his big play ability on defense and special teams. It’s pretty simple: When Mathieu gets the ball in his hands, he’s very dangerous. Despite being undersized, the “Honey Badger” isn’t afraid to play a physical brand of football. He plays with a high motor and is regularly seen flying around the ball—helping overshadow some of his technical deficiencies. And it’s because of that tenacity that Mathieu was used in a number of different schemes at LSU, showing the versatility to play safety and cornerback, as well as to rush the passer.
He’s projected to go in Round 4, but a solid performance at the combine could propel him into the third round or higher—If teams are willing to gamble.
Zeke Motta, Notre Dame – 6’2”, 215 lbs: While Motta may not project as a starting free safety in the NFL right away, his multitalented skillset certainly makes him an interesting Day 3 target for the Jets as they look to replace Eric Smith.
The Notre Dame starting safety’s impressive build and aggressive approach helps him regularly make his presence felt on the field. While he certainly has concerns in coverage (he lacks ideal speed, leading some to believe he’s susceptible to getting beat deep by NFL wide receivers), his physicality, football intelligence and ability to contribute on special teams will likely make him worthy of a late-round pick.
Matt Elam, Florida, 5’10” 205 lbs: Matt Elam was the Strong Safety for a pretty solid defense at Florida. He played well all year, excelling in run support and pass defense. Some would think “well that is his job” but to be as well rounded as Elam is, is a good thing. Matt Elam also has room to grow. Out of all the Safeties in this class, he might have the best instincts. Elam has good sideline-to-sideline speed and can lay a big hit, as well. Likely a second rounder.
Bacarri Rambo, Georgia, 6’0” 218 lbs: Rambo flies around the field, lays hits, and makes plays. He has good instincts and speed. He is always at the ball, making plays. He just has a knack for getting there. Rambo is likely a 3rd rounder and a few good things have to happen for the Jets to select him, but I would love to see him in the Green and White next year.
Jon Cyprien, FIU, 6’0” 209 lbs: Cyprien is coming from a non-BCS school, which is always hard to get notoriety, but he’s got it. After having almost 100 tackles, he shined the entire week at the senior bowl. He showed a complete range of skills. Jon laid some wood in the run game, and also showed the speed to run with some receivers and almost all tight ends. In the evolving league, you need that from your Safety. I would guess Cyprien would be a 3rd or 4th round get. If the Jets take care of business in the first 3 rounds, if he is available, I wouldn’t be shocked if they took him in the 3rd or 4th round.
Ray Ray Armstrong, Faulkner University, 6’4” 220 lbs: Armstrong is quite the interesting case here. After starting at Miami and being an All ACC 2nd team he had some off the field issues that got him suspended for 4 games, then he got suspended for another game for posting a picture on Twitter for having dinner with a marketing rep. After that, he left Miami, and then went to Faulkner but the NAIA ruled him ineligible and he hasn’t played in the 2012 season. He is big, strong, fast and athletic. He was considered one of the nation’s top Safeties until all of his off-field issues happened. Armstrong reminds me of Kam Chancellor in size and he also has tons of talent. He just needs to be with the proper coaching staff and surrounding players to make sure he keeps his nose clean. He is the kind of player you take a chance on in the 7th round or as a free agent. But if he can get his act together, I think he can produce on an NFL level.