The New York Jets will be selecting 18th overall in May’s NFL Draft. While many are questioning if the team should make a play for one of the top tier quarterbacks, I will not touch on that approach here. Geno Smith has a long way to go, but no matter who is under center, the offense needs to upgrade the skill positions such as wide receiver and tight end. Let’s set up a scenario: The Jets hang tight with the 18th pick and are on the clock. Here are the details:
Before diving into the wide receiver versus tight end conversation, I’d like to lay down a few thoughts. It is early in NFL Draft season and for the fans just diving in, let me break down a few common details:
1) Sammy Watkins fans – do not hold your breath
Watkins is a fabulous college player and possibly an even better prospect. While he does not have the monstrous frame such as Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, he is a complete wide receiver. Barring an unseen disaster, he is a top fifteen pick (most likely top 10) and will not be available when the Jets are on the clock.
2) Know the number: Five
That is the amount of quarterbacks I expect off the board before the Jets pick at 18. Those five guys at the moment are Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Derek Carr, and Brett Hundley in no particular order. I came up with that number assuming the Texans, Jaguars, Raiders, Browns and Vikings will all use their first round picks on a quarterback.
3) The Obvious “non quarterbacks”
Jadeveon Clowney could leave people in awe that he was not the first overall pick in this draft a few years from now. Fellow outside linebacker prospects Anthony Barr and Khalil Mack are also worthy of top 15 selections at the moment. Outside of them, there could be a run on offensive tackles for teams in the top fifteen such as the Falcons, Giants, and Rams (pick #13, not #2). Another position highly sought after early is corner back and this class is loaded with talent. Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard is as impressive as they come and it would not shock me if another corner is taken shortly after him.
4) Wrapping it up
With those assumptions (some bold), I have five quarterbacks, three outside linebackers, two corners, three offensive linemen and one wide receiver off the board before the Jets selection. That is only fourteen players and nothing is guaranteed in the NFL draft, but let’s just assume no other wide receiver or tight end has come off the board as the Jets come on the clock (although it would be quite surprising if Baltimore does not add some form of a playmaker for Joe Flacco).
On to the great debate: Do the Jets select a tight end or a wide receiver, with Watkins already off the board? Obviously they can do what they usually do and select a defensive player, but that is not the point of this debate. An important note here is that I am ranking the prospects in this article based on their fit with the Jets. How they might rank up or fit with another team is an entirely different story. Here are my top three tight ends:
1) Eric Ebron, UNC:
Ebron stands at 6 feet, four inches and a muscular 250 pound frame. He runs like a wide receiver and lines up all over the field. While his pass blocking is a work in progress, Ebron has the frame and top flight athleticism to become a complete tight end. He is excellent at extending his arms and catches the ball with his hands, rather than sticking it to his body. Most importantly, he has a knack for coming back to the quarterback as a security blanket when the play breaks down.
2) Jace Amaro, Texas Tech:
Amaro does a lot of his work from the slot in Texas Tech’s offense and was extremely productive this year as a Junior at Texas Tech. He’s slightly bigger than Ebron, standing at 6’5 and weighing 260 pounds. His blocking is inconsistent at times and he has also struggled to hold on to the football when running after the catch. Although his blocking needs consistency, he is so much larger than defensive backs that he often makes a block just by being in the way. The bottom line is that he is a game changing aerial threat. He has great hands and the speed to take the top off a defense to pair with his size.
3) Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
The John Mackey Award winner is third on my list, but could very well be the first tight end to come off the board in May. He is the biggest player out of the group standing 6’6 and weighing 260 pounds, but is also an explosive athlete for his size. Seferian-Jenkins is an average blocker but with his frame, much like Ebron, he can mold into a complete tight end in the NFL. He seems to do his best work in the red zone.
The problem is after this group, there is a significant drop off in talent with the tight end class. Iowa’s C.J. Fiedorowicz is a mauler as a blocker, but seemed very average in the receiving game. He could have been limited due to suspect quarterback play, but he does not have the athleticism that the players in this trio possess. Georgia’s Arthur Lynch has also been a nice target and respectable blocker, but his overall potential is very limited. I see both of these guys as TE2’s in the NFL, where Ebron, Amaro, and ASJ have game changing potential as TE1’s.
Let’s jump into my top five wide receivers, an extremely deep position group in this year’s draft class (assuming Sammy Watkins has come off the board):
1) Mike Evans, Texas A&M
I’m not as high on the polarizing 6’5 wide receiver as others are. While I do have him as the highest rated wide receiver after Watkins, he should come with a buyer beware label. Evans will have an adjustment period in the NFL, as he won’t physically abuse every corner he matches up against much like he did in college. Another tidbit with Evans is that he comes back to the ball really well when Johnny Manziel extends plays for an extraordinary amount of time. Not all quarterbacks possess that ability, especially in the NFL when facing high speed pass rushers.
Now on to the good aspects. As I previously mentioned, Evans is somewhat of a matchup nightmare. The kid will be twenty years old in training camp and stands at 6’5, with a 225 muscular frame. Not only does he possess such an impressive build, but he also uses it to his advantage. Evans attacks the ball in the air really well and dominates in the red zone, an area the Jets have been absolutely putrid in when attempting to throw the ball. He is clearly a nice fit and would certainly improve the Jets problems putting the ball in the end zone through the air.
2) Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
The Jets had very little explosiveness in both the receiving game and return game this season, both areas Beckham Jr. absolutely tore up at LSU. He is about 6 feet tall, possesses good hands, speed, and plus ability after the catch. The only gripe I have with Beckham is that the Jets need to add size to the wide receiver position, but his talent is undeniably impressive.
He would also add an element to the punt return game the Jets have not ever seen before. It was hard for me to have him ranked higher than USC’s Marqise Lee, but the tape does not lie: this kid is as explosive as they come.
3) Marqise Lee, USC
I really struggled ranking my two through five wide receivers on this list, as they are all very interchangeable. I recently dropped Lee from number two to three because of his durability and Beckham’s superb versatility. He’s had injury concerns and the Jets really can not afford to take a non-impact player with their first round pick.
On the bright side, Lee is as smooth as they come when on the field. He makes a killing on slant routes and is lethal after the catch. He runs in the 4.45 range but displays more elusiveness and quickness rather than speed. While his junior year was unimpressive statistically, he dominated as a sophomore when Matt Barkley was his quarterback. I also see him as an extremely good fit for a Marty Mornhinweg west coast offense.
4) Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Matthews has received little hype and is the classic case of evaluators getting caught up with flashy plays. The 6’3 wideout has been the epitome of consistency for Vanderbilt. Fearless to go across the middle and sky high along the sideline for the big catch, Matthews has the make up of an excellent number two wide receiver in the NFL.
In his final two years at Vanderbilt, Matthews totaled over 2,600 receiving yards, 201 catches and 13 touchdowns. He also averaged over 12 yards per catch, a notable number as Geno Smith is a downfield thrower.
5) Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
The 2013 Biletnikoff award winner posted an incredible season with 128 catches, 1730 yards. The only reason I have Cooks ahead of Odell Beckham Jr. is due to his small frame. Much like Jeremy Kerley, Cooks plays bigger than his size. He adjusts to the ball on deep throws and can climb over defenders at times using pure athleticism.
Although the Jets are in dire need of a large red zone target, Cooks is too much of a game changer to pass up. He is just as versatile as any player in the draft and has home run hitting ability much like last year’s top playmaking prospect Tavon Austin. If the Jets can find a big target in free agency and use Kerley out wide on the opposite side, Cooks could make a killing from the slot. He would also be the starting return man from day one, where he was lethal throughout his college career.
LSU’s other wideout Jarvis Landry had an excellent season and was tough to leave out of the top five. His style of play is very comparable to Jerricho Cotchery’s as he is fearless across the middle to make the tough catch. Penn State’s Allen Robinson was arguably the most consistent wide receiver in the country and could sneak into the first round. I think both of these players are destined for solid NFL careers but the Jets need to find a home run hitter in this draft.
One name many fans are intrigued with is FSU’s Kelvin Benjamin. His 6’5 frame is impressive but he has serious work ethic concerns. He is drawing a lot of comparison’s to Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery (bold claim) with his long wingspan enabling him to make the tough catch. Unless Benjamin impresses throughout interviews and the combine, I’m hoping the Jets go elsewhere for wide receiver (preferably one of the seven names I mentioned above).
The NFL Draft is a numbers game and there is no comparison between the tight end and wide receiver group in the 2014 class. After those top three tight ends come off the board (most likely in the first round) there will be slim pickings in terms of finding a guy with well rounded potential. Jeff Cumberland has been decent in the aerial game but is one of the worst blocking tight ends in all of football. Zach Sudfeld is a project and Kellen Winslow had an impressive return but always carries health concerns.
The Jets need to solve their gaping hole at the TE1 spot and should address it with the 18th overall pick. It would be an absolute stunner if all of the seven wide receivers I mentioned were not on the board when the Jets pick in the second round. If Tampa Bay does not release Darrelle Revis, the Jets will also have an extra third rounder (a very early one, too).
With a fair amount of cap space to work with, John Idzik will also look to add playmakers through free agency well before the draft. Lets take a look at the top ten wide receivers and top ten tight ends available in the upcoming free agency period:
Wide Receivers (in no particular order):
1) Golden Tate
2) Jeremy Maclin
3) Eric Decker
4) Emmanuel Sanders
5) Anquan Boldin
6) Hakeem Nicks
7) James Jones
8) Riley Cooper
9) Julian Edelman
10) Kenny Britt
I would be shocked if any of these players receive the franchise tag. My gut feeling is Eric Decker is a lock to return because of Peyton Manning. If Percy Harvin has a big postseason, Seattle might feel comfortable letting Golden Tate walk. Kenny Britt and Hakeem Nicks will most likely move on due to torn relationships with their respective franchises. The rest of this cast will at least test free agency and see what offers come there way. Either way you look at it, this is a pretty solid group for teams looking to improve their aerial attack.
Tight Ends (in no particular order):
1) Jimmy Graham
2) Dennis Pitta
3) Jeff Cumberland
4) Brandon Pettigrew
5) Fred Davis
6) Garrett Graham
7) Dustin Keller
8) Scott Chandler
9) Andrew Quarless
10) Jermichael Finley
Lets start with Jermichael Finley and Dustin Keller. Both suffered serious injuries this season and may never return back to form. Quarless (Green Bay) and Garrett Graham (Houston) have filled in nicely thanks to injuries to Finley and Texan’s tight end Owen Daniels. Jimmy Graham is the superstar of this group and isn’t leaving New Orleans, he will be franchise tagged if both sides can not reach an agreement. The rest of this group may test free agency but are a relatively unimpressive cast. Remember, the Jets need a TE1, not a TE2.
The Jets are clearly in dire need of playmakers on offense and are loaded with draft picks to solve this need. While they can’t really make the “wrong” decision when picking between a tight end or a wide receiver, the wide receiver class is much more deeper. Pair that with the respectable free agency class of wide outs and the Jets have multiple ways to add two or three wideouts this offseason.
As for tight end, the draft seems to be the beginning and end in terms of finding a tight end one. The available tight ends in free agency are not tight end one candidates (assuming Jimmy Graham is franchise tagged). The draft has talent, but it seems to be a short list. Players always surprise in the combine, but the Jets need a complete game changer at the position and should be in a nice spot to add one.
Follow Connor Rogers: @Real_CR3