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Two Moves Ahead

Thoughts on needs based drafting.

Courtesy Wiki Commons Free Images

During draft season we often hear that certain positions aren't a need because the Jets already have somebody competent at the position.  So, for example, we might hear that drafting a slot receiver would be a waste, because the Jets already have Jeremy Kerley there, and with so many needs, picking up a slot receiver would be a luxury the Jets can't afford.  Or inside linebacker isn't a need, because our starters, Davis and Harris, are set at the position, so picking one with an early pick would be a waste, letting a high pick languish on the bench.  This, I think, is a somewhat myopic view of the draft.

Certainly for devotees of a pure BPA philosophy, we need not delve further, because then the Jets would simply choose the top available player on their Big Board with every selection, and if that means drafting a quarterback or a tight end or a whatever in the first round four years in a row, so be it.  However, for those who believe in team needs having at least some influence on selections, this gets a bit interesting.

Let's first take a look at how long it takes for most draft picks to really come into their own and make a significant impact.  Running backs are often capable of stepping in and giving you their best level of play nearly instantly.  As soon as they learn how to do an adequate job in pass protection and learn the playbook, running backs are generally good to go, so they can be looked at as filling a need right away.  With virtually every other position other than special teams, rookies struggle mightily.  A select few make an impact immediately.  The large majority hurt the team more than they help it when asked to start immediately.  As such, it is more often than not a mistake to view any draft pick other than a running back as filling a need for the current year's team.  At best draft picks should realistically be viewed as filling a need in years two or three.  Therefore, if we really are at all interested in filling holes with draft picks, we should be looking at the holes most likely to be there a year or two down the road, not necessarily the holes that currently exist.

This is where the whole "well, we already have player X at that position, so using a top pick there is a waste" argument begins to break down.  Let's take Jeremy Kerley as an example.  Many Jets fans have a soft spot in their hearts for Kerley, and therefore see no justification for using a high pick on a slot receiver, like, for example, Brandin Cooks.  But consider this.  Kerley is in the final year of his contract.  In 2015 he will be a free agent.  Now it is true that a majority of free agents prefer to re-sign with their current teams.  However, that is far from always the case.  One has to at least consider the possibility that Kerley would prefer to move on.  In addition, one has to consider his price, and whether John Idzik is likely to meet his demands if other teams get involved in the bidding.  These are all unknowns, and should not be completely ignored.  Which of course means that in fact we do not necessarily already have Kerley at the position by the time any slot receiver the Jets draft in 2014 is likely to be ready to make an impact.  In addition, it is always possible that a slot receiver the Jets draft in 2014 proves to simply be better than Kerley.  This would in fact free the Jets to let Kerley go in free agency, slot in the draft pick, a better player, at the position for significantly less money by 2015, and use the money saved to fill a completely different hole.  The point is, needs are all interconnected.  If the Jets can fill position A for much less money than it is currently taking, then filling position A with a draft pick may make sense regardless of whether the team already has somebody pretty good there, because the Jets can then let the more expensive player go and use the savings to fill position B.  Whether the team fills position B with a draft pick and position A with an established veteran, or fills position A with a draft pick and position B with an established veteran, in the end makes little or no difference.  The bottom line: both positions are filled, with one veteran costing more money and one draft pick costing less.  It thus can be seen that in fact team needs are rather fluid things, and can shift depending on the talent available in house, in the draft, and in free agency.

Given all this, a look at the 2015 roster as it currently stands reveals that virtually every position can be considered a position of need.  At quarterback the only player currently under contract for 2015 is Geno Smith.  If he should crash and burn in 2014, certainly a possibility, then the Jets in fact have no competent quarterback under contract by next year.  Under the circumstances, the idea that using a high draft pick on a quarterback in 2014 would be a waste seems to have little to support it, unless you are inexplicably convinced Geno is 100% certain not to fail.

On the offensive line, only Ferguson is uncuttable.  Mangold would present a cap savings of $7.4 million, with only $3 million in dead money in 2015.  If he declines in 2014, there is no reason to be sure Mangold will be here in 2015, so contrary to many sources which only consider the current squad, center is in fact a position of need.  At right tackle Breno is probably safe, as he presents almost no cap savings until 2016, so offensive tackle is likely not a position of need until 2015, when both Ferguson and Breno present significant cap savings by 2016.  At guard, Winters is still an unknown, and Colon is not under contract in 2015, so guard is most definitely a position of need.  At tight end, only Cumberland is under contract in 2015, so tight end is definitely a position of need.  At running back, Chris Johnson will be 30 in 2015, and will present $3.75 million in cap savings if cut, so he is no lock to be with the Jets in 2015. Chris Ivory is a major injury risk, will present $2 million in cap savings, and will be in the last year of his contract in 2015, so he is no lock to be with the Jets.  Bilal Powell is not under contract in 2015.  Given that state of affairs, it is reasonable to assume the Jets will need at least one, and quite likely two new running backs by 2015, so running back is a position of need, though their short development curve makes this hole fillable in 2015.  At wide receiver, Eric Decker will be here in 2015, but no other receiver on the roster is a sure thing.  Kerley is not under contract in 2015.  Stephen Hill is in danger of being cut by then.  Nelson is not under contract in 2015.  Every other receiver on the roster is currently no better than practice squad material, though a few could emerge by then.  Given that Decker is the only sure thing, wide receiver is a definite position of need.

On the defensive line and at outside linebacker, Muhammad Wilkerson is under contract in 2015, as is Sheldon Richardson, Quinton Coples, Calvin Pace and Antwan Barnes.  However, Pace is old, Barnes is coming off injury and might be cut by 2015, and Coples is still a question mark as to whether he can play outside linebacker, and he will be in the last year of his contract in 2015.  Outside linebacker is a definite position of need.  At nose tackle, neither Damon Harrison nor Kenrick Ellis is under contract in 2015, so nose tackle is a definite position of need.  At inside linebacker, David Harris is not under contract in 2015, DeMario Davis is still a question mark and the team may well decide it wants to move in a different direction by then, and there isn't a single other inside linebacker under contract in 2015.  So even though the team looks set at inside linebacker in 2014, it is still a definite position of need.  At safety, only Antonio Allen, Josh Bush and Rontez Miles are under contract in 2015.  Safety is a position of need.  Finally, at cornerback, the Jets have a plethora of players under contract in 2015, but assuming Wilson, Patterson and Milliner are the current starters, only one of those guys, Milliner, is tied up in 2015.  All other cornerbacks on the 2015 roster are not currently looked at as starters in the NFL, meaning cornerback is a position of need.

The point of this exercise is simply to point out that if we merely look a single year ahead, as any competent GM is bound to do, we see that other than offensive tackle and defensive end, every single position on the Jets roster is a position of need.  Using a top pick at any position other than those two can in no way be considered a wasted pick, when such pick is in all likelihood not going to be ready to have a positive impact until 2015.  Thus, in a sense, we have come full circle.  That is, even if you are not a BPA purist, when you adjust your sights to just a year out and think two moves ahead, it becomes clear that virtually every position on the team is a position of need.  So even if your picks are heavily needs influenced, it still comes down largely to BPA, outside of the defensive end and offensive tackle positions.  Bottom line, building a team is never about just filling this year's holes.  The savvy GM is always thinking two moves ahead, and considering that even if we have a pretty good player in place today, we might not next year.  And the best way to address such concerns is simply to choose the most dominant talent available, and let that talent dictate the best way to address what will always be a very fluid and ever evolving and changing set of team needs.