New York Jets Draft Forecast

Story posted April 12, 2016 in Sports, CommRadio by Mike Gilbert

There has been quite a lot of buzz over the last week surrounding the New York Jets.   Operating with under $10 million in cap room this offseason after last year’s spending bonanza, no one thought the Jets would be generating any major headlines during the period leading up to the draft.  But ask any Jets fan and they will tell you that it’s always chaotic on One Jets Drive, and that has especially rung true over the past few days.

A surprising retirement announcement made by longtime staple on the offensive line D’Brickashaw Ferguson caught many by surprise, including the front office who, behind closed doors, must have been jumping up and down for joy.  With almost zero cap space, the Jets would have had to rework some contracts (with Ferguson the most likely candidate to take a pay cut) to re-sign quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who led the team to a 10-win season a year ago.    

But with Ferguson’s contract off the books, the Jets now have roughly $3.1 million extra dollars to play with (we’ll touch on that in a second) and it has already been reported that they have upped their offer to the bearded quarterback from Harvard. 

Ferguson’s retirement saved the Jets around $9 million in cap space, and almost immediately, general manager Mike Maccagnan swapped a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft to the Broncos for a seventh-rounder for ‘Brick’s replacement, Ryan Clady.  They reworked Clady’s contract, which ended up saving the Jets that $3.1 million we talked about earlier when everything was said and done.  They also brought back former Jet (and Ferguson’s backup) Ben Ijalana.  Clady has proven he can be one of the more productive tackles in the game, with four Pro-Bowl selections and two first-team All-Pro nods.  He does have an injury history, missing all of last season with a Lisfranc injury, one of the most debilitating injuries that can happen to an NFL player.  Let’s consider him a two-year stopgap replacement at best; continuing to make the offensive line an area in which the Jets must get younger.    

Either way, this is an important draft for New York after losing a lot of talent in free agency, though Maccagnan has done a great job so far this offseason by signing cheap, high ceiling players.  Let’s breakdown some of the Jets draft needs by position, and see which rookies could be wearing green and white next season:

Quarterbacks:

While Fitzpatrick should sign an extension in the ballpark of 2-3 years for $10 million a year after a game of cat and mouse with the organization, the Jets should take the advice of longtime NFL executive Charley Casserly.  Casserly, who advised Woody Johnson during his last general manager search, preaches taking a quarterback every year in the draft, with the hope that one will eventually pan out. 

In this case, the Jets can’t afford to use a first-rounder on a quarterback because the premier guys, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, will be long gone by the time the Jets pick at number 20.  Investing a first-round pick into Paxton Lynch is something that the Jets shouldn’t do, because there are more pressing needs that could be addressed in the first round instead of adding a developmental quarterback. 

Someone who the Jets could look long and hard at is a day two quarterback like a Connor Cook or a Christian Hackenberg, or even a guy like Jeff Driskel.  They may be gone too early for the Jets, who have other needs at the moment, but they could invest a pick in a quarterback.  Cardale Jones likely will be picked by Buffalo, who will probably reach for him according to Rotoworld, so that is out of the equation, and with Dak Prescott’s recent legal troubles, he may not fit the bill either. 

No one knows about the development of mystery man Bryce Petty, but a recent report came out saying he has difficulty making reads when the pocket isn’t clean.  That’s a troubling thought for a guy who the brass thought could be the starter down the line. 

Running Backs:

This is a position of strength for the Jets, as Mike Mac did a nice job of using what little resources he had to bolster the backfield.  The Jets let Chris Ivory walk despite a good year statistically last season, but the physical runner ran out of gas during the second half of the year, and ended up cashing out in Jacksonville.  They replaced him with Matt Forte, and actually saved money in the deal.  Forte has lost a step but is still one of the more effective pass catchers in the backfield, and can be a three-down runner. 

Maccagnan also managed to re-sign Bilal Powell, who can give Forte a breather on third down and showed bursts of playmaking ability towards the end of last season before getting hurt.  He also excels at catching passes out of the backfield, and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has a lot to work with in these two weapons.  The Jets also added former New Orleans Saint Khiry Robinson, so this is not an area of need for New York in the draft, though it could be in a few years with Forte aging.  Zac Stacy is still on the roster, though will probably not make the final 53. 

Wide Receivers:

Nope.  All good here.  Moving on. 

Tight Ends:

Gailey doesn’t use the tight end a lot in his offense, but maybe that was because the Jets did not have much at the tight end position last season.  They recently invested a second-round pick into former Texas Tech standout Jace Amaro and, so far, that has not worked out.  Jeff Cumberland is now with the Chargers, and Kellen Davis will be back as a blocking tight end.  With Amaro, Davis, Zach Sudfeld, and H-back/receiver Quincy Enunwa, the Jets may be ok at this position.

Still, they could take a prospect later on.  Some names that are possibilities are Nick Vannett out of Ohio State or Jerell Adams out of South Carolina.  If they really want to find a deep sleeper, keep an eye on Jake McGee out of Florida who can block and catch the ball.  Or, how about former Penn State tight end Kyle Carter?

Offensive Line:

This is where the Jets need to get younger.  The only guy they can bank on being there for years to come is James Carpenter, who graded out highly last season according to Pro Football Focus, and is relatively young.  Nick Mangold has a few more solid seasons left, but there are question marks on the right side of the line.  Brian Winters played a lot better last season than he has in the past, but how consistent he can be at guard is a question that lingers.  Breno Giacomini could still be cut, as his signing is looking like another Idzik-era bust.  The Jets believe they have an in-house replacement for Giacomini in former UDFA Brent Qvale, but he is unproven.  Look for New York to look strongly at a lineman in the first or second round, as that is one of the team’s major needs. 

In the first round, Taylor Decker (Ohio State) and Germain Ifedi (Texas A&M) could be options at 20.  If the Jets were to trade up significantly, they would look to grab Laremy Tunsil, but that is a huge stretch.  They may have to trade all the way up to one or three, and Muhammad Wilkerson and a dearth of picks would have to be included in that draft, with the other team willing to shell out big money to sign Wilkerson to an extension. 

The likely scenario is that the Jets will wait until the second round to select an offensive lineman barring one falling further than expected, because there is a more pressing need with more talent in available at that position in the first round, but there is a certainly a need at this position. 

Defensive Line/ Linebackers:

The Jets need a 3-4 linebacker who can rush the edge, plain and simple.  Drafting Lorenzo Mauldin last season was step one in increasing speed off the edge, but an elite, quick edge rusher is what the Jets need desperately.  Their first-round selection should address this need.  There are a lot of prospects that should still be on the board that the Jets would love to have.  Jaylon Smith from Notre Dame is out because of injury history, but guys like Reggie Ragland, Leonard Floyd, and Shaq Lawson are all great fits here, and one of them should still be available at 20, most likely Ragland out of Alabama.  Ragland reacts to plays and does so quickly.  Although slightly undersized, Ragland was a first team All-American last season. 

Former Buckeye Noah Spence transferred to Eastern Kentucky after failing two drug tests and entering rehab.  The Jets could take a chance on his ability as he apparently has turned a corner regarding his off the field issues.  Later on, Scooby Wright III out of Arizona could be an option with his incredible instincts and his nose for the football.  Joey Bosa will be long gone by the time the Jets pick. 

On the line the Jets are more than fine even after letting Damon Harrison bolt for the team that shares the same stadium.  The Jets signed Steve McLendon to replace him at nose tackle for a lot less money, and Sheldon Richardson, Wilkerson and Leonard Williams form one of the nastiest lines in the league. 

Secondary:

The Jets could use a cornerback to pair with Darrelle Revis after cutting an ineffective Antonio Cromartie.  Marcus Williams seems like the replacement, with Buster Skrine sticking to slot duties.  Dee Milliner is also a question mark, as the former first-rounder has yet to show the ability to stay healthy.  The Jets may be wise to invest a pick on a depth cornerback selection.  Safety is in good shape for now, with hard-hitting Calvin Pryor playing his natural strong safety position allowing him to come up and make bone-shattering hits (see: Matthews, Rishard) while Marcus Gilchrist does a decent job at the free safety spot.

Mike Gilbert is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism.  To contact him, email myg5257@psu.edu