New York Jets – First Round Candidates

Connor Rogers breaks down a few players the New York Jets might take in the first round.

Now that free agency is dying down, the NFL Draft will re-enter the discussion in full force. John Idzik took a conservative approach in free agency and will look to the draft to round out his New York Jets roster. With an abundance of picks in May, the Jets are in a good position to fill some glaring holes.

In the meantime, the most heated topic seems to be in regards to what the team will do at 18 overall in the first round. Let’s take a look at some of the candidates who could be holding up the green and white jersey in Radio City Music Hall.

Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

The 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner (best wide out in the country) is a dynamic player from the slot. Oregon State ran there offense through Cooks after lead wide out Markus Wheaton went to the NFL (Steelers 2013 3rd round pick).

The 5’10, 185 pound Cooks thrived in the lead role. He reeled in 128 catches for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013. He finds space in zone defenses better than anyone in the country. In man coverage he nearly impossible to cover underneath.

While not a big target that will take the top off of a defense, Cooks is the elusive possession receiver every team covets. His ceiling appears to be a faster, more dangerous Wes Welker type. Along with top notch short game receiving ability, Cooks is a dynamic returner.

Teaming him up with Jeremy Kerley and Eric Decker would certainly make the Jets a chore to stop on passing downs.

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

While Gilbert may not be appealing to every defensive scheme, he fits Rex Ryan’s quite perfectly. He has the length (6 feet tall) and speed (official 4.35 forty) to excel in a man coverage scheme.

When given the chance, he showed off impressive press coverage ability in 2013. He plays the ball in the air as well as any corner in this draft and has natural pass catching hands along with long arms.

The knock on Gilbert is his tendency to rely on natural ability. While watching his tape, he seems to get beat when playing off man. He is a poor tackler in space and will need to brush up on his technique. Make no mistake though, Justin Gilbert has the highest ceiling of any defensive back in the 2014 draft class.

Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

As the NFL continues its trend of shifting to a “passing league”, every team covets a game changing tight end. Amaro does most of his damage out in the slot, off the line of scrimmage.

The 6’5, 260 pound Amaro runs a 4.75 forty and is a pest over the middle of the field. He is fearless underneath and often too athletic for linebackers to cover. Slot cornerbacks are too small to defend him. He is the classic mismatch in the middle of the field.

Although Amaro has the ability to torment a defense, he does come with flaws. He is not a tight end that can take the top off of a defense such as the NFL’s Vernon Davis or Jimmy Graham. While he can throw defensive backs around when blocking down field, he is not suited as an in-line tight end.

Zach Martin, OG/OT, Notre Dame

While many are claiming Martin will move to guard in the NFL, I am in the minority that he can play tackle. Either way, many of you are probably scratching your head at this candidate.

Martin is as rock solid as they come. He is athletic and can pull, paving a path for the run game. While he does not have a long wingspan, he does have the lateral ability to pass protect. If the Jets want a versatile, young, talented lineman to add to their offensive front – Martin is the right guy.

Eric Ebron, TE, UNC

I originally left Ebron off of this list as I do not see him sliding to 18, but the draft works in mysterious ways. The talented tight end from UNC is a unique game changer. He lines up out wide and as an in-line tight end.

His speed enables him to draw safeties deep, while his length enables him to make spectacular highlight reel catches. I often avoid pro comparisons but truly believe Ebron is the next Vernon Davis.

While he should be a sure-fire top 15 pick, Ebron does need to work on his concentration on catches. He will often look ahead of the play (such as a screen) and forget to naturally bring in the ball first. It seems like more of a mental lapse than an actually raw ability issue.

My only other knock on Ebron is that he has trouble diagnosing when to pancake a defender and when to get his hands on them. When he goes for the kill shot, he is prone to missing at times.

At the end of the day, you have to love his tenacity in all aspects of his game. He is the type of player you purely draft on such an impressive ceiling.

Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

My other guy who might “slide” down draft boards. The former college running back converted to outside linebacker is one of the biggest boom or bust prospects in the 2014 draft class.

Barr possesses superb acceleration and straight line speed. His athleticism is off the charts and he often lays out big hits. The Jets have lacked a dynamic edge rusher for quite some time and may be willing to gamble on developing Barr.

His biggest concern is his hand use when disengaging blockers, even from tight ends and running backs. If an NFL staff can teach him how to get off his blocks, Barr will be a household name by year two.

Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State

Shazier has flown under the radar but is a rare prospect in today’s world as he is an every down player. He single handedly shuts down run games and seems very capable in pass coverage. He has the speed to develop into a six to eight sacks a year type of player.

The knock on Shazier is that he gets taken out of plays due to his size. If he can add 15 pounds while maintaining his speed, he can start in the NFL from day one and be highly productive.

Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

The most physical cornerback in the entire draft, Dennard is the rare case of using his hands too much. When watching the tape, it seems as if he gets away with a lot of pulling and tugging down field.

NFL referees tend to get flag happy when they see tussling between a wide receiver and a defensive back. If Dennard can learn to jam at the line and use his body more than his hands down the field, he will be a capable starting cornerback.

I have seen analysts knocking his athletic ability, but I am not quite sure how that adds up. He runs under a 4.5 forty and displays excellent hip movement in coverage. He loves coming up and making plays against the run and was a vital leader of the Spartans defense.

Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

Evans is an imposing figure at 6’5, 225 pounds. He takes advantage of his frame against college defensive backs and often catches the ball over them.

Johnny Manziel often extended plays with his feet and Evans showed excellent ability in coming back to the ball. He is the type of player that will be a red zone threat from day one. If he makes it past Detroit, he is a very likely candidate for the Jets at 18.

CJ Mosley, ILB, Alabama

Fans will groan at the thought of taking an inside linebacker but hear me out first. Mosley is a top five talent in this draft that will slide due to the position he plays. Current starter David Harris will most likely not play out his ridiculous contract Mike Tannenbaum gave him.

Allowing Mosley to learn the defense for a year may be a worthwhile investment. He flies around the field while helping in both run and pass coverage. On tape, it seems he often bailed out fellow Alabama defenders by constantly making potential big play stopping tackles.

Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn

Ford has an excellent first step and has been a productive edge rusher throughout his five year career at Auburn. He has significantly improved each season, but still lacks run stopping ability.

Ford is a realistic candidate because he has shown the potential to become an every down player. He possesses the ability to drop into coverage and takes excellent angles to the ball carrier. If he can stay healthy, he should be a productive NFL pass rusher.

If the Jets do take Ford, he can platoon with Antwan Barnes as a passing down edge rusher while Calvin Pace handles the running downs in 2014.

Marqise Lee, WR, USC

Lee seems to pop up in every NFL media member’s mock draft for the Jets. Before the 2013 season, he was a consensus top 10 pick and regarded as the best wide out in the country.

Unfortunately for Marqise, he struggled from poor quarterback play in 2013 and did not post gaudy stats like he did in 2012 (118 catches/1,721 yards/14 td’s vs. 57 catches/791 yards/4 td’s).

Lee is a smooth route runner and very good after the catch. He is also a body catcher prone to drops and injury prone. What Marqise Lee will an NFL team get? He is certainly a gamble and I am not sure if the Jets can afford another one of those at wide receiver, especially in the first round.

Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU

The fan bases crush, “ODB” has gained a ton of momentum since the end of the college season. While not the biggest target (5’11), Beckham Jr. goes up for the ball very well. He often bailed quarterback Zach Mettenberger out of errant throws.

Beckham Jr. caught 59 passes for 1,152 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013. His biggest question mark is if teammate Jarvis Landry drew most of the secondary’s attention, opening up winnable match ups for him.

The Jets may also look for a bigger wide out to play across from Eric Decker, enabling Jeremy Kerley to work from the slot full time.

Follow Connor Rogers on Twitter: @Real_CR3