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.

TOJ's Initial Thoughts On Jets 2011 Defensive Depth Chart

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First guess on the what the defense will look like 2011…

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Defensive Line – Draft Pick, Free Agent, Sione Pouha, Mike DeVito, Kris Jenkins, Shaun Ellis, Ropati Pitoitua – I think Kris Jenkins will agree to take a major pay cut and give it another shot for the Jets. What other option does he have? Nobody is paying him with how much time he missed the past two years. I can see negotiations with Shaun Ellis getting ugly, the Jets letting him waver in free agency for awhile but then ultimately finding a way to bring him back on a cheap, short-term deal. Does he really want to go somewhere else after spending his whole career here? He is another guy who won’t get big money elsewhere. The Jets do need to spend an early draft pick at defensive end and should sign a veteran to replace Trevor Pryce. Hopefully, Pitoitua can contribute this year.

Linebackers – David Harris, Calvin Pace, Bart Scott, Bryan Thomas, Draft Pick/Free Agent, Jamaal Westerman, Josh Mauga – This is another area the Jets need to spend a draft pick in. I am not sure what free agency will look like in this area but it would be good to see them add some youth here. Jason Taylor won’t be back. Westerman and Mauga have shown potential in the past couple years and are developmental players. David Harris isn’t going anywhere, you can bank on that.

Secondary – Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Jim Leonhard, Brodney Pool, Kyle Wilson, James Ihedigbo, Marquice Cole, Dwight Lowery, Draft Pick – I think the Jets will find a way to get Cromartie back after dealing with Harris and Santonio Holmes. They can’t keep everybody so don’t be surprised to see Drew Coleman and Eric Smith leave, as they will want Kyle Wilson to have a bigger role and Pool’s play improved down the stretch. I am sure Rex Ryan will insist they spend another draft pick in the secondary, either at safety or corner.

Overall – I think the Jets will be able to get Jenkins and Ellis back on the cheap as they work younger players into the defensive line positions. The bottom line is that long term replacements are needed for Ellis and Bryan Thomas and the Jets aren’t loaded with draft picks, so Mike Tannenbaum needs to hit in the first and third round or get creative with free agency or a trade. Rex Ryan loves his corners, which is why I think after taking care of Harris and Holmes, the Jets next priority won’t be Braylon Edwards or Brad Smith, but will rather be Cromartie. Eric Smith, Drew Coleman, Jason Taylor, and Trevor Pryce are the major contributors who won’t be back.