Value is such a wonderful thing, but it complicates a lot of situations when it comes to the NFL and NFL Draft. What can you get, what can you give, and how high is the risk? One proposal that I’ve been pondering lately has actually made sense to me more and more is the idea of John Idzik trading Kenrick Ellis.
My proposal isn’t a simple one, and you have to consider the idea from all angles to properly wrap your head around it. At first glance, some may be immediately turned off because, well, Ellis is a pretty good football player when he’s healthy. In fact, he can be dominant at times when he’s not hindered by his injuries.
So dominant, that it’s criminal how he spends the majority of his time on the bench.
Ellis, a former 3rd round pick out of Hampton for the Jets in 2011, has just gotten unlucky. He’s flashed at times before this year, but he’s never been able to play consistently or even stay healthy, for that matter. He was struck with the bad luck again this summer when a weightlifting accident knocked him out for nearly the entire pre-season, and left him not 100% for Week One. That’s where his then-backup, Damon Harrison stepped in. Harrison, an undrafted free agent, hasn’t looked back.
Now, the Jets have a dilemma that most teams would currently take with open arms; they have too much young talent on the defensive line, on the interior specifically, to play. This problem sounds like a joke, but it’s not to me. Harrison (24 years old) has emerged as one of the Jets’ best overall players (at least so far this season) from the nose tackle position, and Ellis (25 years old) can’t see enough of the field.
Both Harrison and Ellis are mammoths inside who are so efficient in not just setting leverage for the defensive line, but shedding blocks to disrupt the backfield at an incredible rate. It would be an interesting look for the Jets’ defense to feature both of them at the opposite one-techniques on the line, but that’s just not the current scheme and would waste the talents of Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson.
The argument of depth is always a respectable one, though, and I’m not leaving it out completely. With the Jets constant rotating on the defensive line, you would imagine that both nose tackles get significant playing time. However, Harrison has been dogging it out there for, on average, almost 47% of the Jets’ plays. Ellis, on the other hand, is only getting in on 14% of the Jets’ defensive snaps. If it seems like a useful tactic to use Ellis as a player to give Harrison some rest, well that’s not the situation at hand, either. Ellis usually sees an entire series or half a series to get the snaps he does. If it were Harrison coming out due to fatigue for Ellis, there would be more sense to the depth argument.
The whole fatigue topic can basically be shut down in general on the defensive line due to how often Rex Ryan uses exotic fronts, anyway. The Jets almost always flash their 4-6 front on pass rushing downs, especially on third down, which excludes the need for a nose tackle altogether. If my counting has been accurate over the season, the Jets didn’t use a nose tackle nearly 35% of the time on 2nd down, which is somewhat surprising.
The final issue of depth is the one that is unavoidable no matter what defensive scheme is being run, and that is injuries. As Jet fans, we’ve seen Kris Jenkins and Sione Pouha go down for extended periods of time, resulting in lapses in the heart of the defense. Ellis is valuable in the fact that the Jets don’t lose too much strength and ability at the nose if Harrison were to go down. Yet with such a great defensive line coach in Karl Dunbar, the hope is that stable depth in case of injury can be found and developed from anywhere. Just look what Dunbar made out of former undrafted free agents in Harrison and Leger Douzable, and even the player he made out of Brian Robison when he was a Viking. Dunbar’s greatness in development along the line is just insurance, but the question always begs to be asked in the NFL: where is the line drawn between injury insurance and striving for more value?
Good NFL teams typically maintain their depth and eventually get around to improving at other positions. Great teams, however, look ahead and load up by cutting dead weight wherever they can. Teams that are in the middle of a rebuilding stage, like the Jets (not necessarily a bad thing), are in an even better position to expand the talent of their roster if they have value to throw around that could prove more valuable for somebody else. Ellis provides exactly that.
In the end, the argument is a really simple one. Ellis’ ability hasn’t reached its limit yet in his career, and you can bet on it that scouts and talent evaluators around the league have taken notice. You can’t wait too long for him to improve even further, or else his trade stock could take a hit or you’re risking another injury.
Remember, this idea is not a piece discussing Ellis the player; it’s breaking down the value he possesses and why the Jets would be better off getting something more useful in a trade. I would think a fifth round pick would be a realistic price for Ellis, who is still in the young stage of his career. Now, I’m certainly not saying that a player drafted in the fifth round is immediately an upgrade over Ellis as a player. That’s just not the right way of looking at it. A fifth round pick to be developed over the years, however, could definitely prove to outweigh Ellis’ worth to the Jets when you consider how he’s being used.
Lastly, there would surely be a crowd of suitors for Ellis. Teams love raw talent on the interior of their defensive line, especially when the Jets are quite literally showing the rest of the league that you can win games with it. Off the top of my head, the Cowboys stand out as suitors, as they are presumably curious when it comes to upgrading their inside rush with Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher aging and banged up. Dare I say Bellichick and company would bother calling in, also? With Vince Wilfork’s injury, the Pats have a gaping hole and little talent anywhere in between their ends on their defensive line.
This is strictly just a suggestion that I think the Jets would be smart in taking a risk on, and I know that a lot of fans, and even the majority of my TOJ co-bloggers, would prefer to keep Ellis just based on how good he has looked. All I can vouch for is my love for building a team with wide talent.
It doesn’t have to be done at any time to ensure success, and if they were to make it happen, it wouldn’t have to be done anytime soon. When value comes calling in the NFL, though, teams perk up with attention. The Jets may have a shining opportunity to go peeking for a pick or even a player that would serve a more beneficial purpose to the team down the road with Damon Harrison already so far past Ellis on the depth chart this season.