Will Courtney Upshaw become the pass rusher that the Jets are looking for? (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
January is an exciting time to be a football fan: the playoffs are in full swing, and nothing beats the thrill of postseason pigskin. New York City is buzzing once again, but this time it is the Giants that are one game away from the Super Bowl. Consecutive AFC Championship games have spoiled Jets fans, and discussing mock drafts and free agency in January has to be bittersweet for many of Gang Green's faithful. With that being said, here is the second edition of the "Keys to the Offseason" series. This post will focus on how to continue the Jets' return to prominence through the 2012 draft. Take the jump for my take on which players should be targeted.
Last week, the first issue of Keys to the Offseason discussed the importance of discipline in the locker room and in the organization. If the Jets succeed in adding veteran leadership, it will become essential to infuse the team with young talent through the draft. When the many flaws of the 2011 Jets became apparent, I took to reading the many mock drafts available on the internet. I have found many interesting ones (**I urge you to read David Wyatt's mock drafts, along with GangGreenMag's superb "Talent Watch" posts), but my mock draft will be a little different. Mike Tannenbaum has had six drafts with the team, and has made significant trades in three of them. Tannenbaum has never been shy to wheel and deal draft picks, and has proven to be very adept at identifying his targets, and then swooping in to acquire them. For this reason, my mock drafts will not be based on the rounds and slots that the Jets will start in. Rather, I will try to highlight all the players that should be on Mr. T's radar, and will pinpoint the rounds that Gang Green is most likely to have a chance at each player.
High Draft Picks
Courtney Upshaw projects to be an elite pass rusher, as his motor and burst off the snap will be very useful in getting to the quarterback. He is a good tackler, is very solid against the run, and looked to be decent in coverage, although he wasn't asked to drop back very often. There are questions about his size, and there are concerns about his ability to play standing up. I'd say that the positives far outweigh the negatives, and would love to see Upshaw in green next season. If I had to pick, Upshaw would be my #1 choice in this draft.
Mark Barron, S, Alabama. Ht-6'2'', Wt- 218 (S.I.- 1st Round, #16 [Jets], CBS- 1st Round, #16 [Jets], Drafttek- 1st Round, #21)
The Jets have a clear need at safety, and Mark Barron can help to fill that void. He is a ballhawk and a playmaker, qualities that Gang Green's safeties haven't possessed since Kerry Rhodes was given the boot. Barron is decent in man coverage, but is very good in zone coverage. He is physical enough to help out in run support, which is crucial for a safety in Rex Ryan's defense. He takes great angles to the ball carrier and is a very heady defender, but sometimes overplays the run and has been known to go for big hits, only to whiff entirely. Barron would be a great selection for the Jets, but there will be veteran safety options in free agency (including Michael Griffin, Tyvon Branch, LaRon Landry, and Dashon Goldson). He might fall down draft boards for two reasons: the fact that safeties aren't generally drafted so high, and an arrest in March of 2011. I wouldn't mind Barron in the first round, but I'd be ecstatic if he fell into the second round. If he is available in the mid 30's, Mike Tannenbaum would be wise to trade up and select this high-upside player.
Melvin Ingram, OLB/DE, South Carolina. Ht- 6'2'', Wt- 276 (S.I.- 1st Round, #28, CBS- 1st Round, #13 OR #20, Drafttek- 2nd Round, #38 overall)
Much like Upshaw, Melvin Ingram has the tools to be a very good pass rusher in the league. He possesses a wide array of moves, and a good mix of strength and quickness. He has been solid in coverage and is a high motor player. He has struggled slightly against the run, and his size might knock him down some draft boards. Ingram is a very versatile player, and I wouldn't mind if the Jets pick him up.
Nick Perry, DE, USC. Ht- 6'3'', Wt- 250 (S.I.- 1st Round, #20, CBS- 1st Round, #12 OR #18, Drafttek- 1st Round, #29)
Perry enjoyed a successful junior season at USC, and has shot up draft boards. He projects as a DE, but scouts believe that he could eventually transition to a role as an OLB in a 3-4 scheme. Pass rushing is his forte, and he gets to the quarterback using his above-average speed. Perry is a smart player with a high motor, but questions about his strength and lack of bulk might drop him down many teams' draft boards. Personally, I'd prefer Upshaw, but Perry would make a nice consolation prize if the Jets miss out on the Alabama star.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina. Ht- 6'4'', Wt- 229 (S.I.- N/A. CBS- #31 OR 2nd Round, Drafttek- 2nd Round, #37 Overall) / Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin. Ht- 6'2'', Wt- 220 (S.I.- N/A, CBS- 2nd Round, Drafttek- 2nd Round, #52 overall)
The Jets' wide receiver corps under-performed last season, but it was not for a lack of talent. Santonio Holmes is certainly versatile and highly-skilled, but the Jets seem intent on using him as a possession- receiver. Jeremy Kerley looked to be a perfect slot receiver in his rookie year, and Plaxico Burress (if he returns) is a great target for Sanchez in the redzone because of his height. What the Jets are lacking is a player to stretch the defense, and one of these talented receivers might fall in their lap. I wouldn't pick a receiver in the first round, but I wouldn't mind if the Jets scoop one of these guys later on. Both are tall, and both have exceptional ball skills. Neither are burners, but both have the wheels to stretch the defense. Jeffery was widely regarded as a high first round pick before the season, but inconsistent quarterback play and questionable conditioning have dropped him down draft boards. He would be a steal in the middle of the 2nd round. Nick Toon should be available even deeper into the second round, and would also be a good addition.
Markelle Martin, FS, Oklahoma State. Ht- 6'1, Wt- 198 (S.I.- N/A. CBS- 2-3 Round. Drafttek- 2nd Round, #56 overall)
Markelle Martin would be a great target for Tannenbaum. Martin was the "quarterback" of his team's defense, and is a very physical player. He is also very athletic and has become above-average in coverage, both man and zone. From all the games that I have watched, Martin usually put himself in great position in coverage. However, he only has 3 career interceptions, which might be a slightly misleading statistic. If he continues to play well in coverage, the interceptions will come. He's projected as 2-3 round pick, and might present a good alternative to Mark Barron.
Low-Round Draft Picks
Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas. Ht- 5'10'', Wt- 180 (CBS- 4th Round. Drafttek- 4th Round, #101 overall)
Jarius Wright has enjoyed a productive career at Arkansas, due in large part to his incredible speed. He is projected to run a 4.34 40-yard dash, but he has even been recorded as high as 4.28. He is obviously a small wide receiver, and is prone to being jammed at the line. If he manages to bulk up to counter physical defenders, he might become something special. If he doesn't, his speed would still allow the Jets to stretch the field. In the 4th or 5th round, a guy like Wright is a gamble that is worth taking.
Levy Adcock, OT, Oklahoma State. Ht- 6'5'', Wt- 322 (S.I.- N/A, CBS- 4th Round, Drafttek- 1st Round, #16 overall [Jets])
Most mock drafts have labelled Adcock as a 3-4 round pick, but Drafttek has the Jets heavily reaching and selecting the tackle in the first round. Assuming that Adcock does fall into the middle rounds, he'd be a great pickup. He is athletic and his technique is sound, especially when pass blocking. He hasn't looked incredible when run blocking, but he is decent enough. He needs to work on his strength in order to match up with the stronger defensive ends in the NFL, but Levy may develop into a very good RT over time. I wouldn't want to throw a rookie into the fray right away anyway, so I'm banking on a free-agent signing at the RT position. Having Adcock (as well as Vladimir Ducasse) waiting in the wings could turn a position of need into a future strength.
Adrian Robinson, OLB/DE, Temple. Ht- 6'1, Wt- 250 (CBS- 6th Round, Drafttek- 6th Round, #169 overall)
Adrian Robinson will undoubtedly have a very difficult time breaking into the NFL, due to his lack of size. Those concerns are obviously fair, but I think that Robinson's high motor and love for the game may help him to overcome his shortcomings. He has proven to be good in coverage and against the run, and has been lauded as being a heady player. His lack of speed sometimes hurts him when going against the quickest of runners, but he is usually a sure tackler. Robinson is an accomplished pass-rusher in college, with a quick first step and a useful spin move. If Robinson is available in the late rounds, he would be a very good pick for the Jets. He might not be exceptionally gifted physically, but Robinson possesses undeniable skills, and Rex Ryan would certainly know how to utilize him properly.
- Ideally, the Jets will be able to land a pass rusher like Upshaw in the first round. No matter who the pick is, I believe that he needs to be ready to start right away. They can then trade up to land Barron early in the second round (if he stays on the board), and wait for Toon to fall to them in the third round. Alternatively, they can trade up for Jeffery early in the second round, and pick up Markelle Martin in the third round. If Adcock is available later on, I'd love to see them take a flier on him as a project. Same goes for Jarius Wright and/or Adrian Robinson. This draft will be crucial for the Jets, and Mike Tannenbaum has a great chance to drastically improve the team.
- I didn't include Bruce Irvin or Whitney Mercilus for one reason: I don't believe that they'll be able to contribute right away. They are already great athletes and have tons of potential, but neither are fully developed as football players (their recognition skills and instincts are still a work in progress). Either one of them would be great value later on in the draft, but I wouldn't want them in the early rounds (where they are likely to be picked).
- Tune in next week for the second edition of "Keys to the Offseason"!