We've needed an elite outside linebacker for as long as I can remember, however we have neglected it for far too long. If Calvin Pace can rack up double-digit sacks in this system coming from the outside, imagine what a guy like Mack could do, our defense would be downright scary up front. Saying that we have Quinton Coples coming into his second year at the position, so I'm sure everyone is hoping to see an improvement.
The Jets will be hoping that Antwan Barnes manages to stay healthy, he was placed on injured reserve on October 9th and missed the majority of the Jets season. If you couple that with the re-signing of Calvin Pace the Jets look to have at least some serviceable talent on the outside. However we don't have a game-breaker from the position, unless Coples makes a leap.
So will the Jets be able to address this issue in the draft? will they even want to? Lets take a look at some of the talent that is available.
Khalil Mack - Buffalo (Projected: Top 10)
My Take: It's very unusual for me to place only one player in a tier, but that's because Mack is ahead of the pack in terms of pure quality. He may be my favourite prospect in the entire draft and the frustrating aspect? he would be absolutely perfect for the Jets. He has played his entire college career as a OLB in a 3-4 system in Buffalo. Unlike a lot of players in college who have to switch positions from a 4-3 DE to a 3-4 OLB, he has already been asked to drop into coverage a lot and he has already excelled at that aspect. He was asked to drop into coverage a lot more in 2010 where he had 10 pass break-ups. There is very little to dislike about Mack, he has an excellent first step, he has elite instincts and awareness, he basically lives in the back-field, he has an array of pass rushing moves, he has elite speed in pursuit and he has a motor that doesn't stop. So when you put all that together into one package, you have an elite prospect who is going to cause some serious problems in the NFL. He is the only player I would consider trading up for, basically because he would take our front 7, which is already one of the best, and turn it into an elite unit. It would also take a lot of pressure off the secondary.
Anthony Barr - UCLA (Projection: 1st Round)
Ryan Shazier - Ohio State (Projected: 1st Round)
My Take: I did think about placing a couple more players in this bracket, however these two just get the nod ahead of the chasing pack. Prior to the 2012 season, Anthony Barr was a running back, splitting carries with several other backs, he looked as though he was on the road to mediocrity. However new head coach Jim Mora arrives and switched Barr to OLB for the 2012/2013 seasons. He went on to lead the team in tackles for a loss and sacks in both years. Barr has exceptional speed off the snap and he can deliver a powerful hit, he also has elite speed in pursuit and his lateral movement to move to the ball is excellent. However I am very wary about Barr because he is raw, his instincts, awareness and feel in coverage all scream that he's been playing this position for just two years. He uses his speed in college a lot and hasn't developed his hand placement or pass rushing moves. The team that takes him will be getting a player who's got a very high ceiling, but who will need a lot of work to become the finished prospect.
I was really looking forward to seeing Shazier at the combine, but his hamstring limited his participation. He has spent the majority of his college career at WLB, but he's racked up a ton of tackles and is rightfully being looked at as a first round talent. 39.5 tackles for a loss over the last two years, he is a gap shooter who plays the run as well as any outside linebacker in this draft. He's an explosive player who can get upfield in a hurry, his hands are strong and he is a very hard man to keep engaged. He also looks very fluid in coverage, with good speed and excellent range. He does sometimes over-pursue and he can lose containment on the edge by being too aggressive, however as far as a first round talent goes, there is a lot to like about Shazier's game.
Jeremiah Attaochu - Georgia Tech (Projected: Second Round)
Kyle Van Noy - BYU (Projected: Second Round)
Trent Murphy - Stanford (Projected Second/Third Round)
Adrian Hubbard - Alabama (Projected Second/Third Round)
My Take: Jeremiah is the cream of the crop here. He played most of his college career as a 3-4 outside linebacker before switching to a 4-3 defensive end in 2013. He'll also only be a 21 year old rookie, with a lot of potential, a quick burst, excellent closing speed and a non-stop motor. He's definitely a player who I would consider in the second round if he was still there. Van Noy is another player who has vast experience playing as a 3-4 outside linebacker, although he experienced some personal maturity issues earlier in his career he came on strong towards the end culminating in a fantastic 2013 season. I worry about his lack of strength at the point of attack, however he does get off the snap quickly and he shows excellent closing speed and range when dropping back into coverage. He's also very agile and works well to find the football.
Trent Murphy looks to be a Rex Ryan kind of player, very tough and physical at the line, a non-stop motor with good leadership traits. He had a very productive year in 2013, leading the nation in sacks and he has a wide variety of pass rushing moves, and he has really worked to develop his hand placement and power. However he does struggle against bigger blockers and could do with adding some weight to his upper body. He also doesn't look as smooth as the others in coverage with his speed only being average at best. Hubbard on the other hand doesn't have the explosive burst as some, but he does have a lot of strength and can anchor the edge against powerful lineman. He has enough speed to stretch out to the sideline and he does have some bend and pass rushing ability.
Ronald Powell - Florida (Projection: Round 4)
Lamin Barrow - LSU (Projection: Round 4)
Carl Bradford - Arizona State (Projection: Round 4)
Prince Shembo - Notre Dame (Projected: Round 4)
Jordan Tripp - Montana (Projection: Round 4)
Trevor Reilly - Utah (Projection: Round 4)
My Take: There are a lot of players around the 4th/5th round, so I've selected a fair few here to just highlight. Powell is a guy who was highly recruited out of high school, but he's never managed to stay healthy long enough to fulfill his potential, he missed the entire 2012 season with an ACL tear and he pulled a hamstring running the 40 at the combine. He has good closing speed but he's never put it together, some team will take a chance on him, but I wouldn't want that to be us. Barrow really impressed me in 2013, he's very athletic, with a great motor, very tough, good tackler and he uses his hands well. Bradford is a stunt and loop player who plays with good speed, acceleration and can pop you if you get in his way, he's played a hybrid of the DE/OLB positions for much of his college career so he offers scheme versatility. With the Jets running out of the 3-4 and 4-3, that could be very useful.
I've seen a lot of Prince Shembo and he really does have a lot of talent and experience from the OLB position. He's very strong at the point and he does have the quickness to play sideline-to-sideline, however it's his tackling ability that will get him drafted, he does lack the instincts to be elite though. Reilly is a player with good functional strength but whenever he dropped back in coverage I always thought he was going to be beat, not very agile or fluid. When I saw Jordan Tripp, I came away impressed with two main aspects of his game, his tackling, and his instincts. Both very important if you hope to be a success at the next level.
Christian Kirksey - Iowa (Projected: Round 5/6)
Yawin Smallwood - Connecticut (Projected: Round 5/6)
Derrell Johnson - East Carolina (Projected: Round 5/6)
Shaquil Barrett - Colorado State (Projected: Round 5/6)
Brandon Watts - Georgia Tech (Projected: Round 5/6)
My Take: This group possesses two of my favourite guys at the position in Kirksey and Johnson. Showed a lot of explosion and range playing at Iowa, covering a lot of space, and although he maybe doesn't have the ideal strength you would want, I really like him as a pure tackler who has room to develop (Only 21). Johnson is just a physical guy who will knock your cleats off without even trying, he's played more as a DE but I think he could work in space with some development. Although Smallwood is more a ILB, I think he has the pace, tackling and coverage ability to play on the outside in a 3-4. Barrett will get drafted because he always seems to be around the football making tackles and disrupting the play. Brandon Watts is just pure pace and energy, not a bad player to try and develop into a more rounded backer.
Kevin Pierre-Louis - Boston College (Projection: Round 6-7)
Jeremiah George - Iowa State (Projection: Round 6-7)
Morgan Breslin - USC (Projection: Round 6-7)
Jonathan Brown - Illinois (Projection: Round 6-7)
Randall Johnson - Florida Atlantic (Projection: Round 6-7)
My Take: Again, this is a case of picking a few from a bunch. You can go linebacker crazy in the late rounds of the NFL draft. So I've just picked out a few names that stick out to me. Pierre-Louis put on a clinic at the combine, He was a top performer in everything apart from the 3-cone drill. His instincts and play recognition needs work, but he is strong, fast and athletic. A defensive minded coach will love the prospect of moulding this guy. Breslin is very under-sized, however he shows excellent knee bend and he has been very productive, one of the hardest workers on the field and his motor will just keep ticking over. Finally I just want to mention Randall Johnson from Florida Atlantic, now he is as raw as you get, but he shows excellent length, tackling, pursuit and recognition, he needs a lot of work, but if you have a 7th round selection, I would love to pick him up and give him to Rex.
Best Outside Linebacker: Khalil Mack
Mid-Round Gem: Lamin Barrow
Late Round Sleeper: Kevin Pierre-Lewis