Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Heat-Mavs, who wins?

(Photo credit: http://www.latimes.com/media/photo/2011-05/61998195.jpg)

Both the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks have rolled through the playoffs, losing just three games and never once facing a deciding Game 7. In fact, only one of their six series, Dallas' first-round matchup with Portland, went longer than five games.

The Heat have two of the best, if not the best, perimeter players in the league in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade while the Mavericks have a player that nobody can guard in Dirk Nowitzki. While Miami also boasts Chris Bosh down low, Dallas can counter with future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd and other solid veterans like Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion.

The 2011 rematch of the 2006 NBA Finals will come down to starpower versus depth. The Heat have the Big Three and not much else, although the return of Udonis Haslem has been huge for Miami. The Mavericks have six players that could start for numerous NBA teams and that's not including the injured Caron Butler.

Despite rumors to the contrary over the past few weeks, Butler is unlikely to return for the Finals despite his best efforts. While having Butler back would have been a boon to the Mavs, they're playing so well right now that keeping him on the sidelines may be better for their chemistry.

Dallas is the one Western Conference team that can beat the Heat; the Thunder and Grizzlies were too young and the Spurs and Lakers too old. Dallas' stars may be older, but Nowitzki is still in his prime, Kidd is still a top-tier point guard and Terry is a player you cannot leave open. Add in J.J. Barea's energy off the bench and it's tough to discount Dallas in this series, as many are trying to do.

With that being said and as much as I want to pick Dallas to win, I just can't. Nowitzki will have to play the series of his life and, while he's been extremely efficient and there's no player on the Heat that can guard him, I don't see him scoring 40 points every game.

Dallas does have the advantage at three positions on the court, however, winning the point guard and center battle with Kidd and Chandler against Mike Bibby and Joel Anthony and the power forward matchup of Nowitzki and Bosh. That fact alone means this series will go at least six games, if not the distance.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the success each team has had closing games in these playoffs, especially after the struggles Miami had finishing during the regular season. Both teams stormed back from late deficits in the clinching games of the Conference Finals, albeit against young basketball teams unfamiliar with the art of fourth-quarter finishing. And both teams destroyed the past two NBA champions in the second round, representing a changing of the guard of sorts.

Both the Heat and Mavericks are peaking at the right time, play solid defense and have players that can carry the offensive load. Dallas has the experience and depth advantage, while Miami has the edge in athleticism and top-tier talent.

It should be a barn-burning series but the Heat will represent home-court and win the first of what seems likely to be many titles. Unless, of course, the Knicks get Chris Paul.

Prediction: Heat in 6

Monday, May 30, 2011

Is Jose Reyes worth Carl Crawford money?

(photo credit: http://7traintoshea.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/alg_mets_reyes.jpg)

Well, that depends who you ask.

If you ask Mets owner Fred Wilpon, he'd say no. "He thinks he's going to get Carl Crawford money," Wilpon said. "He's had everything wrong with him. He won't get it."

In a way, Wilpon is right. Reyes won't get "Crawford money" (8-years, $142 million) because not even Crawford is worth "Crawford money."

Crawford has proven his contract to be ridiculous after just 51 games by batting .236 with little power (.369 slugging percentage) and only seven steals. Those numbers were much worse a few weeks ago and he's been hot of late, but he's only batting sixth in the Red Sox lineup and deservedly so.

Wilpon also said David Wright was not a superstar and that Carlos Beltran was overpaid based on his performance in the 2004 playoffs. The Beltran comment is difficult to argue and while Wright does strike out a lot, he produces runs with his power and speed and plays good defense. If he's not a "superstar" he's close and regardless, Wilpon shouldn't be bashing his players in the midst of his serious financial woes.

Or should he be? Reyes, for one, has been obviously motivated by Wilpon's comments, recording multiple hits in seven of the eight games since the report came out. He is 17-for-37 during that stretch with 10 runs, four doubles, two triples and three stolen bases.

Reyes will be 28 in June and is right in the middle of his prime as a baseball player. It's a tough sell to give a player of his or Crawford's ilk $18 million a year but if Crawford is worth it, Reyes is too. And even if Crawford isn't, Reyes probably is.

Reyes has just one home run this season but is on pace for 53 doubles, 25 triples and 59 stolen bases while batting .335. The impact he has on a game from the leadoff spot is arguably more valuable than the league's premier power hitters. The main caveat with Reyes has always been injuries.

Crawford plays left field in Boston; most corner outfielders hit for more power than he does. But shortstop is the thinnest position in baseball and one of the most important; it also happens to be where the cannon-armed Reyes makes his home. Forget Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki; Reyes has been the NL's best shortstop this season.

That's not a fluke, either. Reyes has the talent to be the league's best shortstop and when healthy, is one of its 10 best players. If Reyes continues to produce like he has through the first third of the season he will be a legitimate MVP candidate by year's end, assuming he gets traded to a contender. Reyes is more valuable to a team than Crawford is; I think that's a difficult-to-argue statement.

Wilpon's comments have seemingly sealed Reyes' fate in New York. If he wants Crawford money, which I think he can and should get, he will have to go elsewhere. This makes a trade a near-certainty.

With no intention of re-signing Reyes for the money he will likely demand, the Mets need to pounce on trade offers sooner rather than later. The MLB trade deadline is two months away, but the way Reyes is playing right now it's hard to see his stock rising any further. If the Mets want a big-time pitching prospect, like the Giants' Madison Bumgarner, they need to strike while the iron is hot (and while San Francisco is still reeling from Buster Posey's season-ending injury).

After Wilpon's comment, the iron is burning hotter than it will be the rest of the season. The time is now for the Mets to move Reyes to a team willing to pay him the contract he should continue to earn over the rest of the season. The return at this moment for an $18 million player will be extraordinary.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Quarter-season state of the New York Yankees

(photo courtesy of http://blog.nj.com/yankees_main/2009/08/large_jorge.jpg)

The Yankees have had an eventful weekend, and not for good reasons. In addition to being swept by the hated Boston Red Sox to fall two games behind Tampa Bay and stay just a game-and-a-half out of last in the AL East, Jorge Posada's refusal to bat ninth on Saturday has caused much backlash throughout the organization.

Posada is hitting just .165 this season and, while his average has been low since Opening Day, hasn't shown the same power he flashed early in the season, which made his low average bearable in a small sample size. Manager Joe Girardi tried to bump him to the ninth spot in the order and Posada balked at his former teammate's idea.

Rumors have since flown about the Yankees' next move. The team nearly released Posada immediately but thought better of it, yet he sat again on Sunday against left-hander Jon Lester. A switch-hitter, Posada has yet to record a hit batting right-handed and yielded his lineup spot to Andruw Jones, who homered.

Many fans and people who follow the team, including myself, have been clamoring for top catching prospect Jesus Montero to be called up. I scouted Montero in person about a month ago when he played in Rochester; his defense could still use work, but the Yankees wouldn't be calling him up to catch. They have Russell Martin and Francisco Cervelli for that.

Despite just two home runs in Triple-A and plate discipline questions (he's drawn only five walks), Montero's bat is ready. I think he's just bored and what better way to rejuvenate a talented player than with a big-league audition. He'll respond.

The Yankees haven't made a move towards calling up Montero just yet, however, and many within the organization don't see it happening before the June 15 Super 2 deadline, if at all. So where would that leave the Yankees?

Derek Jeter came to the defense of his long-time teammate on Sunday, saying he didn't see what the big deal was that Posada said he didn't want to play. None of us know how the conversation truly went, but it has certainly become a distraction.

A team captain like Jeter isn't going to throw a teammate under the bus within earshot when reporters move from Posada's locker right near Jeter's. Regardless, the organization wasn't happy with Jeter's comments. If we thought the bitterness between both sides stemming from this winter's contract squabble was through, apparently it's not.

The Posada situation isn't the only issue dogging the Yankees right now. Derek Jeter used his breakout performance last weekend to take the attention off of his slow start but now it's Alex Rodriguez creating worries for the Yankees.

A-Rod's swing mechanics have been all over the place of late and his numbers have dropped across the board. I think he'll be just fine, but it's nothing like the New York media to stir the pot over a few poor weeks.

Like Jeter, Brett Gardner was an issue in the early season but he has picked it up of late, bringing his average back over the .250 mark. Nick Swisher's struggles are probably the second-biggest issue with the Yankees lineup right now; after hitting .225 with one home run and 11 RBI in April, Swisher is at just .200 with one homer and 2 RBI halfway through May. At least he's still smiling.

The back end of the bullpen, which was viewed as a strength before the season and in the first few weeks, has turned sour. Rafael Soriano has struggled without the pressure of ninth-inning work on his shoulders, while Joba Chamberlain struggled with gopheritis against Boston and has an ERA in the mid-4s. Maybe it's time New York gave David Robertson and his 1.76 ERA a seventh-inning look.

Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia were rotation savers in their first few starts, but both have fallen back to earth of late. With Phil Hughes still on the disabled list, the Yankees' starting rotation remains laden with question marks, including C.C. Sabathia. I actually heard a New York sportswriter say, speaking on ESPN, that A.J. Burnett is looking like the Yankees ace. Burnett has pitched well, but why overreact to C.C. Sabathia's "struggles" early?

The panic over Sabathia's issues is unwarranted; he has a respectable 3.47 ERA and is a notorious slow starter in April and May. Over the last three seasons combined, would you like to know what his high ERA for any of the final four months is? It's 2.98 in July; the rest are under 2.60 and for August and September, he's under 2.40. He'll be just fine.

Overall, I still think the Yankees are in good shape. They have a few contracts attached to veteran players (Jeter, Rodriguez, Sabathia) that may come back to haunt them, but that won't be an issue for at least a few seasons. This season, the Yankees need a healthy Hughes back and to sort out the back end of their bullpen.

The Yankees also need a new DH unless Posada gets going in the next week or two and Montero is the answer, even just as the right-handed side of a platoon with the lefty-killing Jones. Montero also has the ability to spell the fatiguing Martin behind the plate, although I've always liked the spark Cervelli gives the lineup once or twice a week.

Despite a .249 team batting average and no .300 hitters (Curtis Granderson leads the team at just .281), New York is still third in the league in runs scored thanks to a league-leading .445 slugging percentage and the third-best team on-base percentage in baseball (.336). Even with a few players struggling they have so much talent that this lineup should never be worrisome.

This team's recent issues have been overblown, partially because no one involved with the Yankees likes being swept by the Red Sox. Both the starting pitching and the bullpen remain an issue, but that surprises nobody.

If the Yankees can fix their staff with one or two low-profile moves (please don't trade any big-name prospects) they will be fine, especially if Montero gets the call and fixes the Posada problem. Other than that, I'm not sure the panic is warranted.

If the Yankees miss the playoffs, it will be because Tampa and Boston are just better. There's no quick fix for that.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Who will represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals?

(Photo Credit: http://nbcprobasketballtalk.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/heat_bulls-thumb-250x468-7824-thumb-250x468-7825.jpg?w=250&h=468)

With Chicago's decisive Game 6 victory over Atlanta last night, the Eastern Conference Finals are now set. When the playoffs began, I predicted the Heat would beat the Celtics and the Bulls would beat the Magic to set up a matchup between the top two seeds. I missed on the Magic, but at least I got the right winners.

The Heat has ridden the coattails of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh so far in the playoffs with little contributions from other sources. James Jones has provided solid three-point shooting off the bench for Miami, making 16 of his 36 attempts from long range in 10 playoff games.

Jones' shooting has been huge for Miami, as Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers have struggled from distance and Mike Miller and Eddie House have been non-factors. The Heat need somebody to stretch the floor and allow James and Wade to penetrate, particularly against Chicago's stout interior defense. It doesn't matter which of the aforementioned guys step up, as long as one does.

Many will point to the Bulls' defensive prowess as a reason they will win this series, as well as their 3-0 record against Miami in the regular season. Let's not forget that the Celtics were 3-1 against the Heat in the regular season and the last time I checked, that didn't matter in the Eastern semifinals.

Throw out the regular-season numbers; they're meaningless. But the Bulls defense is legitimate. They have allowed less than 88 points per game so far in the playoffs, while the Heat has allowed slightly less than 89. It's not just Chicago that can play defense.

Offensively is where the Heat have a serious advantage, with James and Wade patrolling the perimeter. League MVP Derrick Rose is the offensive focal point for the Bulls, but he will need to improve his abysmal 41.8 percent playoff shooting for Chicago to have a chance. Rose has been held below 40 percent from the field in five of the Bulls' 11 games so far this postseason.

Many questioned Rose's true MVP merits despite him garnering a large percentage of the voting, but I didn't. Then again, Rose shot 44.5 percent during the regular season and considering his scoring volume and questionable offensive supporting cast, I thought that was a respectable enough number to warrant MVP candidacy.

But 41.8 is not. It's tough for me to see Rose improving on that number against a Miami defense that is far tougher than Orlando's or Atlanta's. They may lack a point guard that can contain Rose, but I think Dwyane Wade will end up spending a lot of time guarding the MVP. Wade is a much better defender than anybody Rose has seen in the playoffs so far and it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see him shoot under 40 percent in this series.

If that happens, the Bulls have no chance. I understand they have a big size advantage down low with Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah and that they out-rebounded Miami by over 10 boards per game in their three meetings this season. I said throw out the regular-season statistics, but that is one that may stick. And it will be Chicago's only chance to win this series.

I expect a lot of missed shots from Rose and considering the Bulls lack of shooters around him, with the exception of Kyle Korver and Luol Deng (who is shooting under 30 percent on three-pointers in the playoffs), Chicago may struggle to crack 90 points consistently, which they have done in seven of their 11 playoff games.

Unless Boozer and Noah crash the offensive boards hard and clean up their teammates' missed opportunities, long cold spells will be the norm for the Bulls' offense. If that's the case, this one could be over quickly.

The series will likely be played in the 80s, with any team who reaches 90 points looking good to win. Unless Rose can get back to his regular-season efficiency levels I don't think the Bulls can muster that many points in more than one or two games this series, while the Heat have two great scoring options in James and Wade and a third player in Bosh that has the potential to put up points as well.

The Heat was my favorite to come out of the East before the playoffs started and nothing I've seen in the two rounds since has changed my opinion. The Bulls have struggled through the first two rounds against inferior opponents, while the Heat just dispatched a veteran Celtics team in five games.

Miami was down late in Game 5 and it looked like Boston would steal the game and go back home looking to tie the series. But the Heat did something they've struggled to all season; close out a game late, led by James. If Miami has truly conquered that issue, they won't lose this series. I think they have.

Prediction: Miami wins, 4-2

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Does enjoying the NFL lockout prove some players hate their jobs?

(photo courtesy of bleacherreport.com)

It seems blasphemous to consider that people who get paid millions of dollars to play a kid's game (and $500K for showing up to work out) could hate their jobs. Maybe the word "hate" is too strong, but most Americans tend to dislike their jobs. These guys just enjoy getting paid lots of money for doing nothing. I mean, who wouldn't?

That's where the NFL players sit right now during the work stoppage that has lasted almost two months. DeAngelo Hall has already made $500,000 for working out when the lockout was temporarily lifted, a sum that amounts to more than most Americans make in a year. Or five.

While his Saints teammates are conducting private workouts led by quarterback Drew Brees, running back and likely ex-Saint Reggie Bush is busy tweeting how relaxed he is and how he's happy not to be "slaving" in 100 degree heat for nothing. That was probably the wrong choice of words by the former Heisman winner regardless of whether he was kidding or not, but surprisingly nobody has jumped on him for that.

ESPN First Take analyst Skip Bayless has publicly called Bush out for his tweets, however, saying his performance on the field (or lack thereof) doesn't give him the right to speak his mind (Bush's responses here, via Twitter of course). Sorry Skip, but the United States is a free country, although I understand why he would be unhappy with how Bush is publicly handling the situation.

Not everybody is enjoying the lockout layoff as much as Hall and Bush. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez is leading his "Jets West" camp again while Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has his team working out as well. Is it a coincidence that both of these quarterbacks, along with Brees, led their teams to the playoffs last season?

It seems players like Brees, Ryan, and Sanchez are enjoying the lockout, just in a different manner. Some players don't rest on their million-dollar laurels once they reach the NFL. Some enjoy playing the game, improving their skills and genuinely covet the time they get to spend around their teammates.

Those are the qualities you find in Super Bowl champions. On the flip side, Bush already has a ring, thanks mostly to his teammates, and Hall will probably never see one. Now we see why.

It's one thing to enjoy the opportunity for respite the lockout has provided. After all, playing in the NFL these days is a year-long commitment despite games lasting just six months. So to say players like Hall and Bush are wrong for what they're saying is, well, wrong. The only people they're hurting are themselves, and that's the way it should be.

If you're not working hard in the offseason to stay in shape and improve as a player, you will be passed by the next guy who is and soon enough, you'll be out of a job. And it will be your own fault. Hall and Bush are likely too talented to see some hard-working scrub take their job and frankly, they know it.

So why not take advantage of an opportunity for time off that they won't see again until they're retired? I have no problem with what Hall and Bush are doing and saying, but it helps prove the opposite point about players like Brees, Sanchez and Ryan.

As for the perception that they may hate or even "strongly dislike" their jobs as professional football players, that seems like a serious stretch. At the very least, they love the attention their celebrity status draws to their Twitter accounts.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Jeter's Big Day: Tease or Turnaround?

(photo courtesy of sportsnet.ca)

Through 29 games this season, many Yankees fans were worried about Derek Jeter at the plate. His batting average was hovering in the .250 range, which isn't really a big deal considering he had just 117 at-bats on the season. One three or four-hit game could quickly turn that number into something respectable.

The real issue was his lack of power. After stroking 43 extra-base hits last season and at least 35 in every season since 1996, the Yankee captain had just three this season, all doubles. Jeter hadn't hit a home run in 62 games dating back to last season and many thought this was a sign of a rapid and surprising decline.

Even at Jeter's advanced age of 36, his track record pointed to a bounceback from last season's struggles (.270 average, 10 home runs, 67 RBI). But the early-season returns, especially in the power department (0 home runs, 6 RBI) left a lot to be desired.

That all changed in Sunday's 12-5 win over the Texas Rangers, where Jeter not only hit his first home run in almost half a season but knocked two balls out of the park in his typical fashion; over the right-center field fence. He finished the day with four hits, two runs, two home runs, three RBI and his first stolen base of the season.

Is it too rash to say Jeter is back? Jeter has been hitting an inordinate amount of ground balls this season and, despite a lower strikeout rate, has struggled to be the line-drive machine he has been throughout his career. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was just .278, well below his career number of .355.

It was difficult for me to believe he would stay at .256 all season, but I was starting to come to the realization that Jeter's ceiling may have been an average in the .280-.290 range with 85-95 runs, five home runs and 50 RBI. Those HR and RBI numbers would represent career lows in a full season for Jeter and considering Jeter has hit below .290 just once and scored under 100 runs only twice, the average and run production left something to be desired as well.

Will Sunday's performance, in which Jeter homered against the likes of Dave Bush and Arthur Rhodes, be the spark he needs to turn around his season after a disappointing first month?

I warn Yankees fans not to expect too much from Jeter after his big day in Texas. I was a believer in a bounceback for Jeter after a disappointing 2010, but I still didn't think he would hit .300 or reach double-digits in home runs. Scoring 100 runs is still a possibility in the always-potent Yankee lineup, but expecting a .300 average and 15 home runs is setting the bar too high.

Jeter is an all-time Yankee great and while his career may be on the downswing, he's not done just yet. Just make sure to accept his skills for what they are and, at a position that can be considered the shallowest in the major leagues, those skills still place him well inside the top-10 at shortstop.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Lakers shot at three-peat losing steam

(photo courtesy of nbareporter.com)

It's been a while since I wrote about the NBA playoffs, pretty much ever since the Knicks were knocked out. I've been watching, but it's been as an impartial observer and someone who doesn't really care. Until now.

For the record, I thought the Grizzlies would beat the Spurs in the West and face the Thunder in the second round (you probably don't believe me). I also thought the Trail Blazers would knock off Dallas before losing to the Lakers, setting up an Oklahoma City-Los Angeles Western Conference Finals.

Now, the possibility still exists for a Memphis-Dallas series in the next round, as the Grizzlies stole Game 1 in Oklahoma City and have home-court advantage against the Thunder. Dallas, meanwhile, took the first two games in Los Angeles and put the Lakers in the precarious position of having to win two games on the road to come back in the series; and that's if they hold home court when they head back to Staples Center.

Much has been made of the Lakers' inability to hit jump shots in the first two games of the series, but their chemistry has been lacking on both ends of the floor. Kobe Bryant has taken 49 shots in the series and dished out just three assists while the frontcourt of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom has been inconsistent.

Bynum had just eight points in Game 1, Odom had just six points last night and Gasol is averaging just 14 points per game in the series after scoring just 13.5 per game against the Hornets. Everybody thought when the Lakers showed vulnerability in their opening-round series that they would be able to flip the switch for this series. It hasn't happened.

While their frontcourt has struggled, their backcourt has shown its age. Bryant isn't as young and spry as he once was and Derek Fisher is a fossil. Jason Kidd is no spring chicken himself but he still competes defensively and does a great job of finding teammates in positions where they can be successful. Sprinkle in the youthful energy of J.J. Barea (who has a hot girlfriend) and the Lakers have had issues containing the Dallas backcourt.

Magic Johnson tweeted that the Lakers' chances of coming back are slim and he's right. I do remember the 2006 NBA Finals when Dallas won the first two games, albeit at home, against the Heat only to four straight. But this is a fundamentally different Mavericks team thanks to one player: Tyson Chandler.

Before coming to Dallas in the off-season, Chandler thought the Mavericks were "soft." He has certainly changed that and, as one of the NBA's few true centers, his impact has been felt on both ends of the floor. While the vaunted Lakers' big men have struggled, Chandler and Brendan Haywood have provided the interior presence Dallas has been missing over the past few seasons.

As a Knicks fan, I've stated my desires for Chandler in the Big Apple numerous times. The impact he could have on the Knicks would be very similar to the one he's had for Mark Cuban's squad. But if Dallas continues past the Lakers and gets back to the NBA Finals, possibly for a 2006 rematch with Miami, I'm not sure they'll be so willing to let Chandler go.

Speaking of the Heat, they have the Celtics in an 0-2 hole as well. Boston, however, gets to go back home while the Lakers have to hit the road. I thought Miami would be the team to come out of the East before the playoffs started and nothing I've seen through their first seven games has changed my thoughts.

The Heat are clicking at the right time; it only took the entire season. But everybody knows how meaningless won-loss records and the NBA regular season as a whole is; it amounts to one long, grueling practice for the playoffs, when real basketball begins. And I'm going to continue to enjoy the ride even with the Knicks watching from home.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Dissecting the Jets' draft

(photo courtesy of nj.com)

The Jets didn't have many picks in the 2011 NFL Draft, just six to be exact. However, they did well taking players at good value for the low pick they had.

Taking Muhammad Wilkerson at pick 30 was a mini-steal for the Jets. Wilkerson was projected to go as high as the middle of round one in many mocks and his versatility along the defensive line had him high on many teams draft boards. In the Jets' 3-4 defense, he should fit in as a two-gap end with great size (6'4'', 315 pounds) and the ability to generate a pass rush as well as defend the run.

Wilkerson also has room to further grow into his frame and could be a potential long-term replacement for Kris Jenkins at nose tackle. For now, he will see a lot of action at end along with the aging but still productive Shaun Ellis and Mike DeVito, who will likely see the fewest snaps of the three players if Ellis indeed returns.

If Wilkerson doesn't develop into the answer inside and sticks at end with the Jets, the team's third-round pick was 6'5'', 346-pound tackle Kenrick Ellis out of Hampton. He has the size of a prototypical 3-4 nose tackle but is littered with risk and question marks.

Ellis was suspended and kicked off the South Carolina team in 2008 for multiple rules violations, including reported drug use. He also faces trial in July for felony assault charges that stem from a campus incident last April where he broke a man's jaw. He faces 20 years in prison if convicted.

If Ellis can stay out of jail, on the field and keep his weight under control, he has the potential to significantly outplay his draft position and be the mammoth interior presence the Jets need. Sione Pouha was excellent in Jenkins' stead last season but, like Wilkerson, has the versatility to play multiple positions along a 3-4 defensive front.

A future defensive line including Wilkerson, Pouha and Kenrick Ellis is not unrealistic for the Jets and would give them three players with excellent size and underrated footwork.

Ellis can control the action inside with his strength and athleticism but will need work on his fundamentals coming out of a small school and adjust to the speed of the NFL. He plays too high at times and is the quintessential boom-or-bust pick.

One need the Jets didn't address on defense was their lack of a pass rush from the outside linebacker position. Wilkerson should help their three and four-man rush, however, and the Jets still have starting-caliber outside linebackers in Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas.

Many also thought the Jets needed help at safety but with Jim Leonhard returning to the defensive backfield, the team felt they needed help in other areas, especially considering this year's weak safety class where the first one picked (Rahim Moore) dropped to the mid-40s.

Louisville running back Bilal Powell was a luxury pick for the Jets in round four with Shonn Green, LaDainian Tomlinson and last year's fourth-rounder Joe McKnight already on the roster.

Powell has good vision and running instincts but his lack of lateral quickness in the hole and marginal burst will limit him to second or third running back duty in the NFL, which is what the Jets will ask of him next season. This season, he and McKnight will learn behind Greene and Tomlinson.

Jeremy Kerley is a player that the Jets will ask to contribute right away on special teams and in four-receiver sets, potentially replacing free agent Brad Smith. With Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Antonio Cromartie set to become free agents, the Jets likely won't have the money to bring back Smith, who was one of the league's best special teamers last season.

Kerley lacks elite size (5'9'', 189 pounds) and speed (4.56) but should be able to give the Jets a solid return on a fifth-round pick. Seventh-round pick Scotty McKnight will also add depth to the receiving corps while fellow final-rounder Greg McElroy has the potential to be a quality backup for the Jets.

McElroy will have the luxury of learning under Mark Brunell as the Jet's third quarterback this season and, while he lacks the arm strength to ever be a starter in the league, possesses the vision, accuracy and intangibles to be a very good backup. In McElroy and Mark Sanchez, the Jets will move into the future with two tough quarterbacks who know how to lead a team.

Overall Grade: B

I think the Jets had an excellent draft, considering their lack of picks and low draft position. Wilkerson is a player that had top-10 potential for 2012 if he stayed for his senior season at Temple and fills a big need along the Jets' defense. Ellis is a high-risk, high-reward player but his late third-round position mitigates some of that risk.

The Jets also needed depth on offense heading into the draft, particularly at receiver. They addressed all of their skill positions besides tight end in the final three rounds with players who can fill roles and have a positive impact in their system down the line.

Outside of Wilkerson, the Jets didn't add any players who can have a serious offensive or defensive impact in 2011 with only one pick out of the first 90. They did, however, add pieces that can help down the line and if they can re-sign their three key free agents, should be looking at an improving roster heading into this season.

Another deep playoff run cannot be discounted and maybe, just maybe, this team will finally break through to the Super Bowl. If they don't, it won't be because they botched their draft.