Plenty Of Work To Be Done On Rex’s Pride And Joy

The number of question marks surrounding the New York Jets defense heading into the Draft is at a somewhat worrisome number. Rex Ryan is a great defensive mind, who has the ability to get more out of less, yet the Jets have holes to fill at all three levels of their defense if they want to remain among the league’s elite units.

Defensive Line – Even if the Jets decide to re-sign Shaun Ellis (which they should) and Trevor Pryce doesn’t retire. They still need both a defensive end and a defensive tackle to improve their depth and youth at the position. Phil Taylor out of Baylor has been a very popular pick for the Jets in mock drafts and his selection would likely allow Sione Pouha to get some work at end. However, spending a first round pick on Taylor or somebody like him shouldn’t stop the Jets from potentially adding another lineman later in the Draft or via free agency (if it ever starts).

Linebacker – The long term replacement for Bryan Thomas needs to be found as the Jets look to improve their pass rush. If the right defensive lineman isn’t available at number 30, Akeem Ayers and Justin Houston have been linked to the Jets. Both players have question marks surrounding them, yet they would have a year or two to function as only pass rush specialists behind Thomas as they learn to become full-time players. The Jets could also use depth at inside linebacker behind David Harris and Bart Scott. Josh Mauga and Jamaal Westerman don’t seem to be any more than special teams players at this point.

Secondary – It is time to accept the fact that the Jets will always need corners and safeties as long as Rex Ryan is their head coach. Everybody is worried about the Jets front seven, while forgetting three of their top four safeties are free agents, along with two of their top three corners. They need to decide what they are doing about bringing Antonio Cromartie, Eric Smith, Brodney Pool, James Ihedigbo, and Drew Coleman back, along with supplementing the position through the Draft and likely a free agency move or two. Personally, I think Pool will be brought back to start opposite Jim Leonhard and they will add a safety later in the draft to groom behind him. At corner, the Jets better pray Kyle Wilson is ready to take his game up about five notches if they let Antonio Cromartie leave.

Prospect Watch: Akeem Ayers

The arrow has been pointing down on Akeem Ayers draft stock after his sub-par performance at the combine, however the Jets are probably still going to have to cross their fingers and toes for the 3-4 OLB to drop to the 30th pick.  Nevertheless let’s take a look at the SoCal native.

Ayers jumped on NFL scout’s radars with his exceptional sophomore campaign that saw him rack up 55 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 4 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, and a partridge in a pear tree.  His numbers dipped a bit his Junior year but he recorded more tackles and still had 10 TFL, and 4 sacks.

Ayers is expected to translate fairly well into the NFL, however it is hard to find his true calling card once he reaches the next level.  He is a good pass rusher, good run stuffer, good in coverage, and has good versatility.  The “great” aspect of his game has yet to be conceptualized, but that does not mean the right NFL coaches won’t be able to get something special out of him.

Ayers had the athleticism and technique to play standing up and with his hand in the dirt while in college; he gets low and likes to dip and rip through the tackle on his way to the quarterback.  The best aspect of his pass rush is his initial jump off the ball, which allows him to get into the right position when trying to rush the QB.  Where Ayers gets in trouble is finding a counter move if he doesn’t get to the edge before the tackle does.  When dropping back in coverage, Ayers has definitely had some success in his college career, picking off six balls and returning two for touchdowns.

However, according to my research, scouts believe he relies on watching the QB’s eyes too much and that he can be fooled by play action.  The good news is if the Jets draft him, he will probably have at least a year to work on his pass coverage skills, and would primarily be used in pass rushing situations.  One of my favorite things about Akeem Ayers is even though he has the speed to get to the edge, on running situations he is not afraid to use his size, take on blockers, and play physical football; like a Jet. He also shows good pursuit to the ball from what I have seen, and doesn’t seem to take plays off.  As far as intangibles go, he has never had any off the field problems, and is a noted hard worker on the practice field and in the weight room.

Like I said, his combine numbers, hurt him last week, (4.8 40, 18 reps of 225, 31’” vertical jump) but it seems that would be a positive from the Jets point of view, as he will most likely fall a bit come draft day; will he fall all the way to number 30? Who knows, but Ayers is definitely someone to keep an eye out for, and will no doubt tempt gun slinging Mike Tannenbaum to trade up if Ayers starts to drop beyond pick 25.