A couple years ago Rex Ryan grabbed a couple guys and left Baltimore enroute to NY. It goes without saying that defense is Rex's specialty, and in his very first season with the Jets he instilled his system and quickly turned what was a mediocre defense into the best defense in the league. The prevailing and common assumption is that Rex runs a 34 base defense. While this is true to a certain extent, it isn't true entirely. Rex isn't married to any particular formation and he routinely operates out of a myriad of fronts, including the 3-4. Rather than being beholden to any particular formation, Rex seems to be more concerned with remaining slavishly bound to an ideal. That ideal being distortion and devastation. Whatever formation and/or personnel grouping allows Rex to confuse and hit the quarterback, will be the one that he employs. And we've seen that he often likes to use defensive backs, namely safeties, to execute his machinations. He has routinely used safeties to create the illusion of pressure to one area, while bringing the actual pressure to another. So why not always employ this strategy? Why not use a personnel grouping that utilizes an extra safety as a base defense?
In order to have a 3-3-5 base defense you need to have a unique and versatile collection of players.
First, you need three defensive linemen that all require double teams. The ideal players being large enough to hold their ground at the point of attack, but also athletic enough to disengage and pursue ball carriers that run outside of their immediate vicinity (eg Haloti Ngata x3). These DLs would have to be able to not only tie up blockers so that LBs can flow to the ball freely, but they also have to be able to collapse the pocket on passing downs.
Top DL Prospects: Kenrick Ellis, Hampton; Phil Taylor, Baylor; Jerrel Powe, Ole Miss
It would be optimal to get two of these three prospects; but it is imperative that we get at least one of them. Ellis fits the ideal and chances are good that he'll be available. Taylor also fits the ideal, but he may be drafted before we have an opportunity to snatch him up. However, there are reports that he has issues with his feet which might cause him to slide and could make him more attainable. Powe will likely be attainable, but he doesn't have the athleticism of Ellis and Taylor. Powe would likely have to be relegated to strictly the NT position, where his size and good first step could create havoc on the interior, while the other two have the versatility and athleticism to play both inside and outside on our defensive line.
Second, you need two interior LBs that can stop the run and a hybrid backer that can both rush the passer and perform linebacking duties. We have the interior backers in place in Harris and Scott. We would have to find that hybrid backer that can blitz from anywhere on the line while also being able to hold up at the point of attack against the run. The positional ideal is to have a player who is in constant motion prior to the snap, with the opposing OL never certain where he will be and who has him when the ball is snapped. He could come off the edge, come up the middle, start in the middle and loop outside and visa versa. Modern day player ideal would be Clay Matthews Jr. Adalius Thomas from the Ravens a few years ago is another good example.
Top Hybrid LB Prospects: Martez Wilson, Illinois; Brooks Reed, Arizona; Dontay Moch Nevada.
Each of these prospects have subtle differences between them and would each play the position with their own unique flavor. But a common trait in each of them is explosive speed. They all can fly to the ball carrier and track down plays that flow away from them. And they all have the ability to put o-lines under tremendous stress with their ability to burst past would-be blockers unimpeded to the QB. I like Wilson because he not only is genetically predisposed to pass rushing (he's just built like a pass rusher and seems to be at his best when he's coming downhill after the QB). I like Reed because of his sick burst and tenacity. I like Moch because of his outstanding burst and speed, and also because he already has experience moving all over the line and rushing the passer from all the different angles the position requires.
Thirdly, you need a pair of lockdown corners (check; be it Cro or Wilson opposite Revis) and a trio of Safeties that are versatile enough to play the run and the pass aggressively. Don't think we would need to draft a corner to implement the scheme. Even if Cro doesn't resign, Wilson is good enough to hold it down, in my opinion. The safeties, assuming we resign Pool and Smith, are also intact in order to implement the system. You need at least two safeties that have FS range, and two also have to be able to support the run like SS. I think the triumvirate of Brodney Pool, Eric Smith and Dwight Lowery are good enough to handle the task. And they all but proved as much with their performances in the post-season against the two greatest QBs of all time at the top of their game and on their home field (Manning and Brady), and their performance shutting down another possible Hall of Fame QB in Big Ben. Pool and Lowery both have FS range, Lowery also is able to cover like a corner. While Pool and Smith can each play the SS role, Smith being able to operate like a small LB. As a unit, Rex can use them in a myriad of ways to create pressure and cause confusion. The Player ideal for the position would be Troy Polamalu.
Top Safety Prospect: Robert Sands, WVU
As mentioned above, I really don't think we need to draft the position if we resign the guys that were here last year. But if we were to draft a Safety for the scheme it should be Sands. He's got the speed and athleticism to play with FS range, and he's got the size and aggression to impose his will against the run. He already plays like a Jet and he would fit in seamlessly.
Suggested Draft Strategy
If we were really going to try to implement the 3-3-5 as a base defense, then the most important position to target and fill is the defensive line. Large and athletic NT types are extremely difficult to find. This particular draft contains two prospects (Taylor and Ellis) that fit the bill nicely and they should be aggressively targeted. The best move may just be to trade this years and next years first round picks (if possible) to obtain multiple high second rounders, as well as other picks. The hope would be that the rumors about Taylor's foot problems would cause him to slide to the second round where we could scoop him up with one of our high second round picks, spending the other on Ellis. If Taylor cannot be had, then we should definitely grab Ellis first and then see who's available on the board, while keenly targeting Powe. Powe and Moch are projected in the 3rd round range. So it might be best to lock up Powe first and then aggressively pursue Moch (trading up if we feel the need to). Moch very well may be the best prospect for the hybrid LB position in the 3-3-5 but he's also not highly ranked because of his lack of size and lack of LB skills. While his value to others may be low, his value to us would be high if we're targeting him for this position. Trading back into the 2nd round for him may be worth it if the opportunity presents itself.
The recent sentiment of a lot of Jets is that we NEED to draft an OLB. But I don't really think Rex values the position. He's had two drafts so far and he has yet to draft the position in any round. He didn't even take a flyer on a 7th rounder with raw talent to see if he can make something of them. Even the current stable of OLBs that we have aren't bad. And Rex seems to either use them mostly as decoys to open up blitzing lanes or takes them off the field altogether on passing downs. He doesn't seem to have much use for OLBs, other than maybe extra run support. So why spend a high draft pick on a pass rushing OLB when Rex is going to sub in a Safety to blitz anyway? Why not just go ahead and draft players that are specifically situated to be effective in the de facto scheme that Rex tends to employ?