This New York Jets Specific NFL Draft Rankings will enumerate and narrow down prospects who fit the Jets needs and scheme. The series will cover: receiver, tight end, guard, safeties, and cornerback. Some highly regarded prospects may be dropped down the list or left off altogether because of their poor fit with the team.
Wide receiver is a good position to start with. Pass catchers are, hands down, the Jets most pressing need. Marty Mornhinweg will likely have serious input in the war room because of the type of receiver his offense still needs to function at a high level.
Sammy Watkins, Clemson, Junior-
It almost seems pointless to write this guy’s name in relation to the Jets. Watkins is such a flawless talent that he really shouldn’t escape the first five picks come May. I would go as far as to say there is no chance he slides to 18. I think it would have been worth the Jets dropping those last two games of the season just to have a shot at Watkins. He is that good.
Watkins is the type of player that is hard to critique. He demonstrates explosion off the line, reliable hands, and game-breaking speed with or without the ball. Even in Clemson’s watered-down pro style offense (complete with dinky bubble screens and drags), Watkins showed more than enough to prove that he is a complete receiver. When you look at Sammy Watkins you see a smart, smooth athlete who is well on his way to becoming a dynamic and consistent pro.
Watkins is a perfect fit for Mornhinweg’s offense. Mornhinweg’s West Coast system requires receivers to make hay after the catch, where Watkins excels. With Geno Smith taking a lot of snaps from the pistol and 3 to 5 step drop-backs, Watkins’ mix of speed and power could be deadly in the intermediate passing game. Having not just a dependable receiver with incredible play-making ability could be a major difference maker in Geno’s development.
Watkins isn’t falling to 18. Yet, it’s not out of the question for the Jets to trade up for such a talent if it becomes realistic. People will say that trading up isn’t John Idzik’s MO, but frankly, we have no idea of his mentality given the assets the team has going into the offseason. The bottom of the league is such a bottomless pit right now. I count seven teams in the top ten in that couldn’t go wrong taking a quarterback (Houston, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland, Tampa Bay, Minnesota). If Watkins does, somehow, escape the first ten or twelve picks, it would be a serious option for the Jets to jump up for the game breaker.
Marqise Lee, Southern California, Junior-
Despite a disappointing Junior season Lee is still a dynamic receiver. He, without a doubt, has more to work on than Watkins. However, his skill-set could translate to immediate success in the NFL if used correctly.
Lee’s acceleration is his most tantalizing ability. It makes him dangerous on the deep ball. It makes his transition from catch to yards-after-catch lethal. His quickness and acceleration make him nearly impossible to tackle, despite his slightly lacking frame. Lee has the strength to win contested passes and approaches the ball well. He has made some outstanding catches and has a massive catch radius.
I’m typically critical of receivers who are explosive play-makers as they are often lacking in the catching ability department. A lot of Lee’s critics tag him with this flaw. I believe the flack he receives for his sporadically sloppy catching is overblown. Lee isn’t disciplined at the point of the catch and doesn’t focus on every step of the catching action. He sometimes miss-times jumps or even drops technique altogether and claps his hands together in a lousy attempt at the ball. NFL level coaching and practice should help Lee overcome these mental lapses.
Lee is a nice fit for Mornhinweg’s offense. While not as strong a a blocker or runner as Watkins, he is still adept in the “small ball” offense. He also gains separation downfield with speed, wastes very little movement in route, and displays precise physicality. Mock drafts might say otherwise, but I believe Lee is a solid value at 18.
Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin, Senior-
As much as we would like to believe otherwise, there is still significant racial prejudice in the NFL community. No, every white pass catcher isn’t Wes Welker and maybe they are just really athletic instead of “sneaky” athletic. Abbrederis is a guy who defies these misguided stereotypes. He does display the white receiver stereotypes of “smart” and “scrappy,” but so do a lot of the draft’s top receivers. Watkins, for example, is the definition of scrappy.
Abbrederis doesn’t win underneath like those who classify him as “another Welker” presume. His route running is so precise that he is often open on intermediate and deep routes. He boxes out incredibly well for such an average frame and he sets up defenders effortlessly. When it comes to his hands, his catch radius won’t pop but he attacks the ball as an experienced hands-catcher and displays smooth body control. His mastery of the route tree and fine-tuned catching mechanics make Abbrederis a fantastic fit in this offense.
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt, Senior-
Matthew’s doesn’t jump off the screen like the rest of the draft class, causing many scouts to unfairly criticize his athleticism. However, he uses his raw speed well, just as a burner. Matthews sets up the defender well and uses this to gain extra separation. His feet are also quicker than most give him credit for. These factors make him dangerous on the deep ball.
Matthews plays smart. He easily finds soft spots based in the zone and is very disciplined at the point of attack (retreads back the the football, doesn’t open his body up to the defender). In essence, Matthews is a quarterback’s best friend.
Matthews is not a spectacular athlete. His speed may deceive some but he doesn’t accelerate very quickly and his vertical ability is lacking. Matthews catch radius isn’t wide and defenders find it easy to break up passes away from his body. He fights for the ball but his subpar leaping ability sees him struggle to highpoint deeper passes.
Matthews is a hard worker (he watched film on corners he’d face at the Senior Bowl this week) and is exceptionally consistent at what he does well. Matthews fits the Jets scheme because of his dependability catching the ball in space and gaining consistent separation downfield. He may not provide the same explosion as his draft mates but he makes up for it by consistently getting open. He may be close to his ceiling already, but in turn, he is ready to contribute early in his career.
Mike Evans, Texas A&M, Junior-
Evans bottoms out this list for a reason. Yes, he is widely regarded as a layup first round. He is just not well suited for the Jets. I include Evans because he is so talented that he can contribute to any offense. Yet, I think the Jets could find better value than Evans in the first as much of his skill-set could go to waste in Mornhinweg’s system.
Evans is knocked all of the time for his speed. He won’t unleash a blazing forty time but his game speed really isn’t horrible. However, his work at the catch point, even when highly contested, is what wins games. Evans uses his size to its full advantage, which is refreshing to see because so many guys don’t do it.
I think the reason scouts are concerned about Evans’ speed is because they assume he isn’t going to find separation in the NFL. However, Evans displays consistent physicality throughout the route and disengages smoothly to catch the football at the perfect time. However, his skill-set really limits his ability to master the route tree. I won’t berate him for his speed because he still gets open, but the kind of offense Marty Morhinweg wants to run doesn’t welcome receivers like Evans with open arms.
Speed leading to early separation and opportunity is the single most important quality for a Jets’ receiver to possess in Mornhinweg’s system. Some will point to the fact that David Nelson doesn’t posses this speed and he still produced a bit at the end of the 2013 season. Well, the Jets offense underwent some serious tinkering at the same time. The Jets ran much less spread, much further drop backs for Geno, and much more deceptive routes from receivers (like Nelson) who won off extended plays and their ability to find open zones.
Again, I do like Evans and I would not hate to see him in green and white. What I would hate, however, would be to see him drafted by the Jets in the first round. Drafting talent despite poor fit is flawed, even more so when it is a first round pick whose production is needed because the position is so bare.
***Again, these aren’t my overall rankings. I certainly do not see Mike Evans dropping below Abbrederis or Matthews. In regards to the Jets however, that’s ideally how it would play out.