TOJ Initial Thoughts On NFL Draft

Even though AJ is going to be taking the lead on TOJ’s NFL Draft coverage with his in-depth look at the prospects the Jets could target, that doesn’t mean I won’t be dropping my opinions in from time to time.

I agree with the sentiment that the team needs to focus on finding a defensive end or outside linebacker with their first round selection. This is already being talked up as an extremely deep draft for defensive ends, which should play to the Jets favor since they have to wait all the way to the 30th overall selection. Mike Mayock has stated nine defensive ends could go in the first round, which is an astronomically high number. Let’s see how that number looks after the combine.

There are still a handful of mock drafts which have the Jets taking a wide receiver in the first round based on the assumption of either Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards leaving the team. Even when one of them inevitably leaves, there is no reason for the Jets to target a wide receiver that high. They will be fine with Dustin Keller taking on a bigger role in the passing game and Jerricho Cotchery bumping up into the number two receiver role. The defensive front seven is a much more pressing need.

The Jets have only drafted seven players over the past two years, which is a dangerously low number. They have six selections in this year’s draft (every round but the second) and need to get a minimum of six players, if not a few more. This isn’t a year for the Jets trade up and give up even more picks, this is a year for them to trade down and add more selections. There is always the chance somebody high on their board could slide way down the first round leading to a trade up but I’d still be surprised to see them go in that direction.

In the later rounds, I would like to see the Jets keep adding youth and speed to their defensive front seven. At least two picks should be dedicated to that area of the team. I am sure they will take a defensive back at some point because of Rex Ryan’s influence and because a few will probably leave via free agency. I wouldn’t be surprised if they added a receiver in the later rounds, likely one with some size to help replace Braylon Edwards who will likely leave via free agency. They could also add another offensive lineman, especially if Damien Woody, Robert Turner, or Wayne Hunter don’t return next year.

DT Phil Taylor from Baylor has frequently been linked to the Jets

Turn On The Jets 2010/2011 Report Cards – Dustin Keller

Today we continue our series of evaluating how each player on the Jets performed this past season, along with looking forward to what their role on the team will be next year…up today, tight end Dustin Keller

Stat Line – 55 receptions, 687 yards, 5 touchdowns

Playoff Stat Line – 14 receptions, 121 yards

Best Moment – I am going with Keller’s game clinching touchdown against the Patriots in week 2, which gave them a 28-14 lead late in the fourth quarter. Keller had completely dominated the New England secondary all afternoon and his touchdown was an exclamation point on a terrific game.

Best Game – It is too hard to pick between these two but he looked like a legitimate All-Pro in back to back weeks against New England and Miami early in the season. Between week two and three, Keller pulled in 7 receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots and then followed with 6 receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns against the Dolphins.

Overall Evaluation – Keller was a beast for the first month of the season, with five touchdowns in the Jets first four games. However, when Santonio Holmes returned from suspension his role in the offense was marginalized and he never scored the rest of the season. He still had an occasional productive game but only went over 50 yards in three other regular season games. Keller has improved each season in his short career which is a good sign and has become a much more capable blocker. (B+)

Future – There is a very good chance that either Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards won’t return in 2011, which should open up more opportunities for Keller in the passing game. If he continues to progress at the rate he has been, he should receive a long term deal from the team following the 2011 season. It has helped Mark Sanchez’s development to have a reliable pass catching tight end that he has good chemistry with. It remains to be seen whether Keller can ever take the next step towards being a Pro-Bowl caliber player for an entire season.

Nice Defense Buffalo

Prospect Watch: Muhammad Wilkerson

Another day, another 3-4 defensive end to dissect here at TOJ: this time around we are going to look at Muhammad Wilkerson, the 6’5 305 pound freak that looks like he could be one of the Mon-Stars in Space Jam.  Muhammad hails from Linden, New Jersey and played his college ball at the newly rejuvenated Temple football program.  He is comparable to Cameron Heyward in position (both would be best suited as a 5 technique) and size (both are big boys). However, Heyward tends to use his brute strength to overpower offensive tackles, while Wilkerson uses his tremendous agility and footwork to plug holes and find the ball carrier.

There is no question Wilkerson has some things to work on, but what he lacks in initial bursts and explosion, he gains in his strength and ability to create separation.  These skills allow him to beat blockers even if they manage to engage him initially.  His nimble feet are a main reason why he is so effective using his signature swim move, and is a good sign that he will be able to expand his pass-rushing repertoire once in the NFL.  Just as good, if not better than his pass rushing technique is his ability to shed blockers.  Wilkerson is able to engage his blocker, create separation, identify the play and attack the ball carrier very quickly. Wilkerson is excellent at using his long arms to swallow up RB’s and QB’s alike.  Against the double team, Muhammad is better at slipping the blockers and getting the QB than standing his ground and eating up blockers but is well above average at both.  He understands what gap he is responsible for and more times than not fills it before the back can get through; additionally he has a knack for the forced fumble which would be a nice addition to a Jets defense that could use some more forced turnovers. 

Perhaps Wilkerson’s biggest asset coming into the NFL, and the reason I believe he will be able to overcome the weaker parts of his game, is his unquestioned work ethic and character.  Muhammad makes a ton of hustle plays and you can always see him running after the play if he isn’t in on making the tackle.  He was also elected team captain as a junior, demonstrating his leadership and his teammates respect for him.  Furthermore, he is well spoken during interviews and has already promised to return to Temple to finish out his degree down the road. 

What I am concerned with is his lack of explosion coming off the ball combined with his tendency to stand up out of his stance.  While his stack and shed technique works wonders against offensive linemen in the MAC, it is not going to translate as well into the NFL, where tackles are going to throw him around if he doesn’t learn to fire off the ball harder.  On top of this he needs to get stronger and learn to use his hands with more force at the next level.  Against stronger competition like Penn State, he got overpowered sometimes, especially when double teamed and his lack of strength and hand-work became a little too obvious.  However, like I said earlier, I think these are all things that are fixable and will be corrected based on his work ethic and commitment to football.

In case you can’t tell I like Muhammad Wilkerson, I like him a lot.  I think the Jets would be very lucky for him to drop to them and would be pretty hard pressed to find a better player if he is still available.  There are definite questions with him, just like any prospect that’s expected to be picked at the end of the 1st round, but I think these are all off-season issues that can be worked on and fixed before the season, especially with the all powerful motivator Rex at the helm.  Wilkerson’s athleticism is too much to pass on if given the opportunity, I say take him.

Prospect Watch: Cameron Heyward

As far as needs are concerned, defensive line is at the very top of the Jets list this year.  Depth and youthare both concerns on the inside and outside of the line, and after skipping over the position the last two drafts, it is time Mike Tannenbaum pulls the draft day trigger on a defensive end.

The first Big Ugly we are going to take a look at is Cameron Heyward, a strong defensive end who has had a ton of hype throughout his college career but did not have as strong of a senior season as he might have hoped for.  Not lacking in experience, Heyward has started on the defensive line since his Freshman year.  Additionally, he is the son of Craig “Ironhead” Heyward. Lauded for his off the field leadership, Heyward has become a perennial run stopper, yet has never fully developed into a dominant pass rusher.  While he shows flashes of dominance, Heyward gets beat by seemingly inferior talent at times, especially when he cant get initial contact.

Heywards biggest strength is his size and….strength.  At 6 foot 6, 287 pounds he is pretty much already ideal size for a 3-4 end.  He has very powerful hands and is able to extend his long arms and create space when he makes initial contact.  Heyward has above average instincts, which comes from him playing all four defensive line positions at one point while in college.  He is able to stay low at the line and drive, which helps him on double teams, something he will see a lot of while at the 3-4 end spot.  All of these traits make Heyward a force to be reckoned with stopping the run, however his pass rush has never fully developed and will need some work, especially at the next level.

Perhaps the biggest concern with Heyward is his lack of athleticism.  He is pretty much a one trick pony, he engages and reads the play, a process that is far to slow to translate to the NFL.  Aside from his lack of pass rush moves, he doesn’t seem to move fast enough to get to the QB.  The combine should be huge for Cameron as he has the chance to show he is quick enough to pick in Round 1, or slow enough to wait for the second day.  Aside from that, Walter Football’s evaluation states he takes entire games off, which is never a good sign.

I don’t think taking Heyward with the 30th pick would be a good move for the Jets.  His name has been linked to the Jets because of their need for DE, but as we have seen, Rex does not put a premium on 3-4 ends, especially ones who can’t get to the QB.  If the Jets had a 2ndround pick I would use it on this guy, but the front office has pressure on them to get 2 rounds worth of value with their first pick, and getting a run stopper akin to ­­­Mike Devito would not be great value.  The Jets first pick must be able to make an immediate impact, Heyward needs to be coached up, and his immediate impact would be just as much as a Rent-A-Veteran while costing the team a lot more.

12 Pack of Jets Off-Season Thoughts – Edition #4

Yes, the 12 pack is back to kick off your long weekend. Read it, learn it, love it…and then buy some tickets off our TiqIQ widget on the side.

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1. Cro A No Go? – Look at that rhyming…I have been surprised by how many Jets fans want to keep Braylon Edwards over Antonio Cromartie (based on the assumption Santonio Holmes will be brought back before both of them). I wouldn’t argue that Edwards had a better year than Cromartie or that he is even a better player. However, Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller are capable of taking on bigger roles in the Jets passing game, which isn’t what drives their offense in the first place. Kyle Wilson and Drew Coleman aren’t capable (at least yet) of taking on bigger roles in man to man coverage, which is the driving force of the Jets defense.

2. Won’t Bury Him Yet – I don’t buy any line of thinking that believes last season demonstrated Shonn Greene can’t be a lead back. Perhaps I am being stubborn but I think he was victimized by a slow start and a surprisingly good year from LaDainian Tomlinson. He only received more than 20 carries, one time all season. Can we see what this guy can do with 20 carries in the three or four straight weeks?

3. Sanchez in 2011 – What are realistic expectations for Mark Sanchez as he enters his third year in the NFL and third year in this offensive system? I think he needs to get over 20 touchdowns, while keeping his interceptions in the 9-11 range. However, the key is to get his completion percentage up to or right below 60 percent…also it will be important for him avoid 17 year olds.

4. Hard Knocks Follow Up – There is no way the Jets aren’t repeating on Hard Knocks right?

5. Can’t See It – Even with the uncertainty surrounding the CBA, I can’t see a scenario where the Jets get Nnamdi Asomugha to join their team. You can’t expect him to take that type of a pay cut to come to New York. Beyond that, I am not sure how much sense it makes to have the two highest paid corners in the league on your team because it will cause neglect at other positions…then again, the Jets might be able to survive with me rushing the passer with those two guys in coverage. Keep in mind Vernon Gholston still doesn’t have more NFL sacks than TOJ.

6. On the Other Hand – I am starting to warm to the idea of Plaxico Burress getting a one year deal from the Jets if Braylon Edwards leaves via free agency. I would much rather take a shot on Plax (no pun intended) than Terrell Owens or Chad Ochocinco. Burress will come on the cheap and should be on best behavior for at least one year. The guy is also a proven winner and clutch player, something TO and Ocho aren’t. Another thought…what about Randy Moss? Only if you could get him on the cheap and on a one year deal (doubtful) but you have to think that guy has a ton of regret for forcing his way out of New England and would love a shot to play them twice in one year.

7. Breather For Basketball – You may have noticed a few basketball links here in the past week and that is going to continue in the coming months. I cover the NBA (primarily the Knicks) for SB Nation at times and have free reign to write about whatever I want at Gunaxin, so keep an eye out for a few non-NFL related links. If you don’t approve, just don’t click on them. I can promise there will never be a shortage of Jets material here.

8. Good Luck to the Big Man – There was some press this week about Kris Jenkins rehab and all you can do is wish him the best. The Jets are obviously going to require a major pay cut from him, which hopefully he will agree to considering the past two years. It would be a tremendous story and boost to the Jets defensive line if Jenkins could return to anywhere near his 2008 form.

9. Playmakers – The only way the Jets are going to become an elite defense in the NFL is if they start creating more sacks and turnovers. A playmaking safety wouldn’t hurt but I don’t know where the Jets are going to find one. It is too bad Kerry Rhodes decided to stop being a good football player after the 2006 and 2007 season.

10. Tip of the Hat – Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson for starting every single game since the Jets drafted them both in the first round before the 2006 season.

11. Not News – It is no longer a news story when Rex Ryan guarantees the Jets are going win the Super Bowl.

12. Weekend Video Clips – Cromartie Edition

Antonio Cromartie Not Coming Back in 2011?

Mike Lombardi of the NFL Network reported last night the New York Jets are planning to not resign cornerback Antonio Cromartie and will instead focus on bringing back both Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards. This report hasn’t been contradicted strongly by any of the beat writers, with ESPN’s Rich Cimini saying by reading the “tea leaves” of Mike Tannenbaum’s end of the year press conference, it makes sense. Manish Mehta of the Daily News said a decision hasn’t been reached yet/ Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post wrote today Cromartie returning is still an option but the Jets will focus on getting their three wide receivers back first.

Personally, I would think Santonio Holmes would be the top priority now after taking care of David Harris with the franchise tag. After him, Cromartie should be the next priority and I still have a hard time believing the Jets are going to focus on Braylon Edwards or Brad Smith before him.

Why?

Nobody is saying Braylon Edwards wasn’t very good for the Jets last year and that Smith isn’t a valuable weapon. However, it isn’t a question of those players. It is a question of who is going to have an increased role if they leave via free agency.

The Jets can survive on offense without Edwards and Smith. Jerricho Cotchery is capable of being a starting receiver and Dustin Keller can be very productive with an enhanced role, as we saw last year before Santonio Holmes returned from suspension. Smith is a nice gadget player, who the Jets should still be able to bring back with Cromartie if Edwards leaves but either way their offense can survive without him and yes, so could their special teams.

If Cromartie leaves, are the Jets really prepared to hand the starting cornerback job to Kyle Wilson? Did he do anything last year to make you believe he can handle that role? Rex Ryan has consistently and profusely expressed his love for cornerbacks and considering the Jets aggressive man to man scheme, I can’t see them putting Wilson and Drew Coleman opposite Darrelle Revis and hoping for the best.

The decision to bring Edwards and Smith back before worrying about Cromartie or potentially letting him walk would signal a shift in the Jets philosophy. It would indicate they are embracing a more offensive approach and that they are going to rely more on their passing attack in 2011. If you are going to spend that type of money at receiver, it means you are expecting Mark Sanchez to be able to lead a more wide open, aggressive offense. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing because look at the last two Super Bowl champions and how they won. However, the Jets defense is going to suffer. They still lack a pass rush to compensate for weaknesses at the number two and three corner spot.

I will believe a Rex Ryan led team bringing back three receivers before one cornerback, when I see it.

Turn On The Jets 2010/2011 Report Cards – Bart Scott

Today we continue our series of evaluating how each player on the Jets performed this past season, along with looking forward to what their role on the team will be next year…up today, linebacker Bart Scott –

Stat Line – 81 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble

Playoff Stat Line – 9 tackles, 1 pass defended, 1 all-time interview

Best Moment – Is there even a question? I prefer the auto-tune version…

Best Game –Scott didn’t have any that really jumped off the page. He is more of a steady, consistent player who doesn’t really fill up the stat sheet but is a key component of the Jets run defense. He did have a particularly strong stretch in week 8 and 9 against the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions. Over the course of those two games, he had 13 tackles and one sack.

Overall Evaluation – Scott doesn’t make big plays in this defense and probably talks more than his productivity merits. However, he is an emotional leader on the defense and is very good in run support. Don’t underestimate his overall importance just because of his low sack totals or because he doesn’t lead the team in tackles. (B)

Future: Scott got a monster contract before the 2009 season and isn’t going anywhere any time soon, which is good for the Jets run defense and for reporters covering the team.

Random Update — I tweeted Peter King of Sports Illustrated today to prioritize Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, and Antonio Cromartie if he was Mike Tannenbaum…he responded “Cro-Holmes-Bray, remember Rex LOVES cbs“…take it for what you will but he makes a good point.