Regardless of what the Jets do in free agency, it is crucial they hit on a high percentage of their draft picks, because that is what all of the best teams do. The Steelers, Seahawks, Packers, Ravens, and Patriots are all examples of perennial contenders who make the occasional free agent splash but understand that there four days in April that make or break the long-term health of a franchise.
So, what should they do?
I realize the only two quarterbacks on the roster right now are Bryce Petty –who stinks – and Christian Hackenberg – who I’m starting to think is a figment of my imagination – but the class of players at that position in this year’s draft is weaker than Rex Ryan’s game management.
Mitch Trubisky, Deshone Kizer, Pat Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson are all likely to go in the first round, but all have major question marks and none are good enough to pick at #6.
The rest of the class? Unless you’re in the market for a weak-armed statue like Brad Kaaya, a poor man’s Jared Goff like Davis Webb, or an erratic problem child like Chad Kelly, there isn’t much to choose from.
Clemson’s Mike Williams has the size and speed to be an excellent wide receiver in the NFL, but that is one position where the Jets appear to be set. Regardless of what happens with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, the emergence of Quincy Enuwa and Robby Anderson, combined with the untapped potential of Devin Smith and Cherone Peak should provide the team’s passing game with some excellent weapons for years to come.
That said, having a tight end they can finally use as both a receiver and blocker would not necessarily be a bad thing and if somebody like Evan Engram of Ole Miss were available on day two, he might merit some consideration.
Though the Matt Winters and James Carpenter provide a solid guard tandem and Wesley Johnson looked good at center last season, offensive line is definitely a need, with both incumbent starting tackles – Breno Giacomini and Ryan Clady – now gone. I expect some action to be taken in free agency, as this is unfortunately a very weak draft for tackles, though it may be worth taking a flier on somebody like Florida’s David Sharpe in the mid-late rounds as a potential long-term project to team with last year’s fifth rounder Brandon Shell.
As much help as the Jets need on offense, they need more or less a complete overhaul on defense.
The defensive line should be ok, with the improved Deion Simon, vastly overpaid Muhammad Wilkerson, and rising star Leonard Williams making up the likely starters. We all know Wilkerson called up Cliff Claven (that’s a “Cheers” reference, kids…..if you haven’t seen it, go on Netflix….you’ll thank me later) and mailed it in last season but the team is stuck with him, so there’s nothing they can do. Sheldon Richardson is likely to be cut or traded, though, so some mid-late round depth here would probably be a good idea.
At linebacker, last year’s first round pick Darron Lee showed some flashes, but he still needs a lot of work. David Harris is still grinding away but he’s 33 and getting slower by the day. Lorenzo Mauldin made some contributions and rookie Jordan Jenkins showed ability when healthy.
Whether Todd Bowles wants to admit it or not, though, this team still desperately needs a badass edge rusher, the kind of guy offensive coordinators gameplan around quarterbacks have nightmares about. A name to watch here could be Kansas State’s Jordan Willis, who terrorized QBs for the Wildcats and might be available on day two.
Of course, that leads us to arguably the weakest part of the entire team: the secondary. The Jets paid a fortune to bring Darrelle Revis back two years ago so he could be the shutdown corner to anchor the defensive backfield. Unfortunately, the only thing that got shut down was the mythical Revis Island, as two disappointing seasons and an offseason arrest culminated in the future hall of famer’s release.
Marcus Williams played poorly and while Buster Skrine is a decent nickel corner, he showed he is not somebody to rely on as a top-two corner. On the bright side, Darryl Roberts and rookie Juston Burris had their moments, but the team still needs help here.
At safety, Calvin Pryor regressed badly and Marcus Gilchrist was so bad that I still get headaches whenever his name is mentioned. Rontez Miles played fairly well when given a chance, but his ceiling is limited.
Thankfully for the Jets, the 2017 draft is loaded with secondary talent. I’m not sure about using the #6 pick on Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey or Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore, but other top shelf options like USC’s Adoree Jackson and LSU’s Tre’Davious White could be very intriguing options if they make it to the second round.
Another name to watch is Florida’s Jalen Tabor, who has had a multitude of off the field problems, but may be the best corner in the draft. He could very well be this year’s version of Marcus Peters, a player who fell in the draft due to character concerns but turned out to be an All-Pro level player. If Tabor slides to the Jets’ pick in the second round, they should roll the dice and pick him.
But I think Jets fans should pay particularly close attention to the safety position, because that’s where I think they are going with the #6 pick. Both Ohio State’s Malik Hooker and LSU’s Jamal Adams are incredible talents who can do it all. I personally prefer Hooker, but either one of these two would be a perfect fit next to Tony Jefferson (fingers crossed!) in 2017 and beyond.
Running back isn’t a need, per se, as Matt Forte – like it or not – will be back, and the criminally underused Bilal Powell will likely take on a much larger role this season.
I have to admit, though, even with running back not being a need, I firmly believe that if he is available at #6, the Jets should select LSU’s Leonard Fournette.
I know that isn’t a popular opinion in some circles and I don’t normally advocate picking a running back anywhere near the top of the first round due to the relative lack of importance and short shelf life of running back in the NFL, but with Fournette, I’m willing to make an exception.
He’s been compared a lot to Adrian Peterson, but honestly, when I watch Fournette, I see a young Eric Dickerson. He has an incredible combination of size and speed, excellent field vision, can block, and can catch. There’s literally nothing he cannot do on a football field.
Well, except maybe stay healthy. He’s had injury issues and there is no guarantee that won’t continue in the NFL.
But he’s such an amazing talent and so explosive that I can’t help but fantasize about watching him run for 80-yard touchdowns at Metlife Stadium.
If the Jets are really going to do this right, they are going to have to rebuild completely from the ground up. And that means they may be pretty bad for a few years and cause all of us a lot of grief.
So is it wrong for me to want Fournette to be the shiny object that distracts me from that grief?
Maybe it is. But I still want him, anyway.
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