The 2014 NFL Draft is absolutely stacked with talented outside linebackers and Rex Ryan, if he is still head coach, will be itching to get his hands on one of them. While the position is not one of the Jets' more pressing needs, this year's draft presents a wonderful opportunity to solidify the position for the next few years or add quality depth.
The Jets have relied on a committee of outside linebackers to set the edge (not so well recently) and put pressure on the opposing quarterback. The key contributors include Calvin Pace (10 sacks), Quinton Coples (4.5 sacks), Garrett McIntyre (2 sacks) and Antwan Barnes (2 sacks). At first glance, everything looks fine and the group as a whole is adequately productive, for now. However, when we look at the individual players in the group, then there are some potential future concerns so the organization ought to plan ahead. Calvin Pace has been average this season; however there is no guarantee that he will re-sign after this season nor is there any guarantee he will perform at same level if re-signed because he will be 34 years old by the end of next year. As a result, the Jets might want to invest in a younger player who would be an integral part of the team's future. Quinton Coples has had his ups and downs this season, but Jets fans are expecting him to develop and eventually break out. However, there still remains the possibility, despite my best wishes, that he does not fully acclimate to his new position and fails to reach his full potential. Antwan Barnes suffered a season-ending torn ACL and we can only hope he returns to a shell of a shell of his former self. McIntyre when called upon has been productive but can he step up and be a consistent playmaker for the Jets? I expect the Jets to choose offensive playmakers in the earlier rounds, and address this potential issue in the middle rounds. Nevertheless, let's take a look at prospects the Jets might/should consider.
Kyle Van Noy BYU (Senior)
At 6ft 3 and 245 lbs, Kyle Van Noy is a bit smaller than the average NFL outside linebacker. What separates him from the other prospects in this year's class is his unique versatility. Van Noy can line up at any of the linebacker spots and perform up to par. His many talents include persistent pass rushing, good coverage skills, and exceptional instincts. Perhaps his most intriguing aspect, however, is his ability to spy on the quarterback and recognize plays. In 2012 he lit up the college scene with 53 tackles, including 22 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, 5 forced fumbles and 5 passes defended. This season his sack totals took a hit as he only recorded 4 but he still maintained his presence on the defensive side of the ball with 15 tackles for loss, 14 quarterback hurries and 7 passes defended. This dip in production can be attributed to Van Noy spending more time in coverage than previous seasons. Overall, Van Noy is a second round pick. By picking Sheldon Richardson in last year's draft, the organization demonstrated that they valued talent as opposed to need and if they feel he has a lot potential they won't refrain from choosing him. Here's Van Noy against Utah St.
Draft Grade: 85
Projected 40 time: 4.65
Carl Bradford Arizona State (Junior)
Bradford has formed a formidable partnership with fellow Sun Devil, Will Sutton. The tandem has brought offensive lines to their knees in recent years. This year Bradford notched 55 tackles with 18 of them stopping the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage. He racked up an impressive 8.5 sacks along with 3 forced fumbles and 4 passes defended. At 6ft and 241 lbs, Bradford is only slightly smaller than the average NFL outside linebacker. However, what he lacks in size he makes up for with incredible athletic ability as he probably one of the faster linebackers in this year's draft. He possesses great lateral agility that allows him to close very quickly on the ball carrier. Bradford's major strengths include penetrating the backfield quickly and applying pressure to the quarterback. Furthermore, he has a knack for stopping the run and showing up at the right place on time. He is not a pure pass rusher, but rather a hybrid as he has the instincts to diagnose plays and drop into coverage. His weakness lies in his inability to sometimes shed blocks after his initial first step. I have Bradford projected as an early-mid third round pick. Here's Bradford against USC.
Draft Grade: 83
Projected 40 time: 4.60
Michael Sam Missouri (Senior)
Sam hails from a ferocious Tigers' defensive front that includes Kony Ealy and Shane Ray. Sam is listed at 6ft 2 and 255 lbs and has great speed and size for his position. His stats for 2013 are 45 tackles and 10.5 sacks. Sam is a great pass rusher but would have to develop his coverage skills in order to transition to outside linebacker in the NFL. Sam constantly finds himself in the backfield and possesses great closing speed. Sam is a great run stopper, with above average athleticism for his position. He has a wide variety of pass rushing moves to get to the qb. Sam is a late first rounder/early second rounder in the draft. Check him out wreaking havoc against Florida.
Draft Grade: 87
Projected 40 time: 4.72
Trent Murphy Stanford (Senior)
Murphy was a key part of a stingy Cardinals' defense over his collegiate career. Listed at 6ft 6 and 261 lbs Murphy can either be played as defensive end or outside linebacker. In terms of getting to the quarterback, Murphy is one of the best prospects in this year's draft. His first step is one of the main reasons why he is currently college football's sack leader with 14 this year. He has also amassed 58 tackles, 6 passes defended and 2 forced fumbles. He beats offensive linemen using proper technique and despite not being the quickest at his position, he usually ends up disrupting the passer in some manner. In terms of stopping the run, Murphy is effective at diagnosing plays. He is untested in coverage but could possibly be used as an outside linebacker in the NFL. Murphy is a first round prospect who will be a difference maker in the NFL. Here's Murphy with a impressive performance against USC.
Draft Grade: 89
Projected 40 time: 4.80
Shaquil Barrett Colorado St (Senior)
Barrett is a small-school prospect who has thrived at his level. Before you knock him for that, he also had a good showing against Alabama where he had 1.5 sacks. His tape shows an all rounded linebacker who is excellent at recognizing plays. He has the ability to rush the passer and is solid in coverage. For the 2013 football season he has had 80 tackles, 12 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 3 blocked punts/kicks. The small school tag will surely affect his draft stock and he could potentially fall into the later rounds or free agency. I think Barrett has the potential to be a solid contributor on a team, maybe even a starter from day one, and choosing him in round five or six would represent phenomenal value.
Draft Grade: 82
Projected 40 time: 4.68
If I had to choose, I would go with either Bradford or Barrett because the Jets have bigger needs than outside linebacker and can't really afford to use a high pick on another pass rusher. Nevertheless, I think either of them could fill the role adequately. Another option for the Jets could be Brian Orakpo in free agency.