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.

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