Thursday, May 29, 2014

2014 NFL Draft Review: AFC East

While the Patriots won their fifth straight AFC East title last season and continue to be one of the most consistent franchises in the NFL, the Jets, Dolphins and Bills continued their recent struggles. New England remains the only team in the division to finish above .500 since the Jets went 11-5 in 2010 and, while Miami and New York were knocking on the door at 8-8 last season, Buffalo made the loudest noise on draft day in an attempt to break through.

Buffalo Bills: Sitting with the ninth overall pick and a need for another wide receiver, the Bills sent their selection along with a 2015 first and fourth-rounder to Cleveland for the fourth overall pick, where they selected Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins. We graded Watkins as the top receiver in the class, slightly ahead of Mike Evans, and there is no doubt the Bills got a playmaker with elite skills to help E.J. Manuel develop. They were able to move Stevie Johnson for a conditional fourth-round pick in 2015 that could turn into a third-rounder as well, but trading up to select a player at the draft’s deepest position is questionable. Without a first-round pick next year, this move adds pressure to the front office and coaching staff to make the playoffs in 2014.

Read the rest at Draft Insider

Friday, May 16, 2014

Will Jalen Saunders Be Jeremy Kerley's Eventual Replacement?

When the Jets drafted Oklahoma wide receiver Jalen Saunders with the 104th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, many questioned the pick since New York already has a reliable slot receiver on the roster, Jeremy Kerley. But with Kerley in the final year of his contract before hitting unrestricted free agency, general manager John Idzik is looking towards the future with one of his 12 picks.

Kerley has been a key piece to the Jets’ offense over the past few seasons as a reliable playmaker in the slot. His body of work should net him a contract in the range of the 4-year, $12.2 million deal Andrew Hawkins received from the Cleveland Browns as a restricted free agent. The Cincinnati Bengals decided not to match that offer and it seems the value-oriented Idzik would be inclined to follow a similar path and let Kerley walk, rather than double his 2014 salary for the next four seasons.

While Kerley may be worth the money, he’s well-liked by Jets fans because he’s been the only reliable receiver on the team over the past two seasons. With the additions of Eric Decker and Jace Amaro through free agency and the draft, Kerley’s days as Geno Smith’s (or Michael Vick’s) first read are over. Without game-breaking skills or great deep speed, Kerley may not be the best choice for the roster as the offense’s third or fourth option.

Enter Saunders. With 4.44 speed and game-breaking skills as a slot receiver and return man, Saunders is looking likely to take on Kerley’s role full-time in 2015. Idzik claims he wants to establish the Jets’ own personal blueprint rather than follow the Seahawks’ plan, but it’s hard to ignore the similarities between the two organizations.

Read the rest at Pro Football Spot

Friday, May 9, 2014

New York Jets Draft: Looking at Day 2 options

Like many teams do each year at the NFL Draft, the Jets went against most media projections that had them picking a wide receiver or a cornerback in the first round. New York did look to upgrade their secondary, however, taking safety Calvin Pryor from Louisville with their 18th overall pick.

A hard-hitting safety with good range and ball skills, Pryor has a knack for creating turnovers and turning momentum with bone-jarring hits. He's a great fit in Rex Ryan's attacking defense and while the Jets had bigger needs at receiver and corner, Pryor instantly becomes the best safety on the roster.

For my full analysis of the Pryor pick, take a look at my recap from last night. In short, he's a talented player who fits the system, yet might have been slightly overdrafted and didn't feel one of the team's top needs. A pick I definitely like, but don't love with players like Darqueze Dennard and Brandin Cooks on the board.

Moving on to Friday, where the Jets should be looking at three or four positions on the draft's second day: the aforementioned wide receiver and cornerback, as well as tight end and even outside linebacker. Here are some Day 2 possibilities for John Idzik to consider:

Read the rest at Pro Football Spot

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Grading the Jets Draft: Calvin Pryor, 18th Overall

Photo credit: AP Images
When Michigan State corner Darqueze Dennard was not taken before the Jets' pick at 18, he was the player I wanted. Cornerback is one of the Jets' top two needs, along with wide receiver. With Odell Beckham Jr. off the board, Oregon State's Brandin Cooks was the top-rated receiver on the board.

While I stated at the end of my earlier mock that I preferred the direction mocks were taking with a receiver in the first round, that was assuming two things. One, that Dennard was off the board. Two, that the Jets were taking a wide receiver. With the Jets going with a safety instead, arguably their third-biggest need when compared with the tight end position, that changes my thoughts.

I am a big fan of Calvin Pryor as a player, as I got the chance to see him play multiple times this season as part of my AAC evaluation for Optimum Scouting. In fact, I recently wrote his scouting report for the Optimum Scouting Draft Guide (cheap plug). An excerpt below:

"A hard hitter who plays a physical brand of football, Pryor combines those skills with the tackling ability necessary to make an immediate impact against the run in the NFL. He needs to clean up the angles he takes to the ball as he's sometimes too focused on coming upfield quickly and making a big hit rather than breaking down and reading the ballcarrier. When he does break down, Pryor can explode into a runner's thighs and stop him dead in his tracks. When he misses with his pursuit angles, he misses inside-out which allows too many runners to get around him to the boundary. If he cleans up his pursuit in the NFL, he has all the talent necessary to be a star. Pryor would be an ideal fit for Cover 1 teams as he is extremely effective in the box and shows the requisite range to makes plays to the sideline in the passing game. He has excellent hands for a safety and shows great coordination and balance along the sideline to create turnovers in any area of the field...Pryor also bites on play-action passes and allows receivers to get behind him when playing in the box. Despite his deficiences, Pryor is one of the most talented safeties in this year's draft and should come off the board anywhere from the middle of the first round into the early second round."

So yes, I do like Pryor as a player. Very much. He's a Rex Ryan type of player and John Idzik is a fan as well, saying, "He fits us, he fits our profile. He's a physical player on the field, he has range, he makes plays. Creates turnovers. Plays like a Jet."

I can't give the pick an A because the Jets had bigger needs elsewhere and the opportunity to take two players I liked. But with the depth of this year's wide receiver class and multiple third-round cornerbacks available that fit Ryan's scheme, New York can fill those holes on Day 2. If Pryor was truly the top player on the board as they said, it's difficult to blame the Jets here. Athleticism at the safety position has been lacking on this team in the past few seasons, and Pryor immediately becomes their best safety and at least their second best defensive back.

Grade: B (Like) - B+ for the player, B- for the value/need

Seven Rounds, 12 Picks: Full Jets' 2014 Mock Draft

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I recently worked with John Shea over at Pro Football Spot to put together two versions of a Jets' mock draft for Thursday's NFL Draft. Both mocks had the Jets picking a wide receiver in the first round, one trading up for Odell Beckham Jr. and the other staying put and taking Brandin Cooks 18th overall.

Based on their visits and workouts, listed cleanly here at Rotoworld, the Jets look to be serious players for a cornerback in the first round. Visits with Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard, Bradley Roby, Kyle Fuller and Jason Verrett show legitimate interest in picking a cornerback at 18, since these players are all likely to be gone by their second-round pick.

There is also the possibility the Jets trade down 5-10 spots, pick up an extra fourth- or fifth-round pick and draft a corner at that spot, but I haven't heard any rumors that this was a possibility.

What would the Jets' draft look like if they went with a corner in the first round instead of a receiver? Let's take a look.

First Round, 18th overall - Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State. There's a good chance that Gilbert and Dennard will be gone by the time the Jets are up in Round 1 and it's tough to figure out who they might want out of Roby, Fuller and Verrett. Verrett's height (5-9) is an issue but his 39-inch vertical isn't and he may be the best pure talent. Roby is slightly taller at 5-11 with a similar 38.5-inch vertical but comes with some character and consistency question marks, while Fuller is the tallest at 6-0 but is coming off of hernia surgery that kept him out of offseason workouts. Roby seems like the likeliest pick based on the Jets interest, especially if Dennard doesn't drop, and he might have the position's second-highest upside behind Gilbert. But Fuller might be the better fit.

Second Round, 49th overall - Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington. It's tough to say whether ASJ will be available at this spot and if he isn't, the Jets could always take Notre Dame's Troy Niklas if Jace Amaro from Texas Tech is off the board as well. Seferian-Jenkins has had his work ethic questioned as well as his off-the-field character stemming from a past DUI, but Rex Ryan has a way of getting the most out of his players. He can help as a run blocker as well as a red-zone threat alongside free-agent acquisition Eric Decker.

Third Round, 80th overall - Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson. Rex Ryan's infamous trip to Clemson on cut day last year was maligned in the New York media, but it seems he was going to watch more than just his son. The Jets have shown interest in Bryant and while he may invoke bad memories of fellow size/speed freak Stephen Hill, a third-round pick comes with fewer immediate expectations than the second-rounder the Jets spent on Hill in 2012. At the least, Bryant can be a viable jump-ball deep threat early before working into a bigger role as the season's goes on.

Fourth Round, 104th overall - Brandon Thomas, OG, Clemson. Another Clemson alum, Thomas was building momentum to be considered as a potential late-first rounder before tearing his ACL in a pre-draft workout for the Saints. Now it seems likely he'll fall out of the first two days unless a team takes him late in the third round. If he falls here, the Jets should be more than happy to stash him for 2015. Their offensive line seems set for this season but 2015 isn't a guarantee for anybody not named Ferguson, Mangold or Giacomini. Thomas can fit on the inside or the outside and with 12 picks, the Jets can afford to take a shot here considering it will be tough for 12 rookies to make the roster.

Fourth Round, 115th overall - Billy Turner, OG, North Dakota State. If Thomas was set to play this year, the Jets probably wouldn't double up on linemen. Maybe they don't anyway, but I think Turner is a nice high-upside flier at this point. A mauling tackle in college who many are considering a guard, he would fit best on the inside for the Jets. But if Breno Giacomini disappoints over the next two seasons, he can be cut for minimal dead money in 2016, opening up the right tackle spot for either Thomas or Turner, both of whom have the positional versatility the Jets should covet along their offensive line.

Fourth Round, 137th overall - Dez Southward, S, Wisconsin. Southward turned some heads at his Pro Day, running a 4.35 40-yard dash with a 42-inch vertical leap. Like the offensive line, the Jets seem happy with their projected starting safeties, which would allow Southward time to develop. He's only been playing football since his senior year of high school and is another versatile player who shows the skills to play press coverage in the slot as well. Southward would be a nice addition to the special teams units while rotating in the secondary.

Fifth Round, 154th overall - Yawin Smallwood, LB, Connecticut. With David Harris hitting unrestricted free agency this year and already overpaid, the Jets could decide to let him walk if he doesn't settle for a lower salary next season. General manager John Idzik has shown a willingness to stand on his valuation of a player and if the Jets do that and let Harris walk, Smallwood would be nice insurance to step in next to Demario Davis. Sitting in a 3-4 will mask his lack of sideline speed and he drops into coverage well enough to be a complete linebacker at the NFL level. The potential fit next to Davis would be questionable, but at this point in the draft his talent warrants a pick at a position at need.

Sixth Round, 195th overall - Tahj Boyd, QB, Clemson. The Jets are likely to add a late-round quarterback this season. Tahj Boyd was exposed this season, as many evaluators had him ranked as one of the top quarterbacks heading into the year. He still would represent nice value right before the 200th pick and Tony Pauline first reported New York's interest in Boyd, which is apparently mutual. 

Sixth Round, 209th overall - John Brown, WR, Pittsburg State. The Jets pass on Brandin Cooks in this particular mock, but get a player with similar size and combine numbers five rounds later. Certainly Brown is a small-school player who doesn't have the same production in the Pac-12 as Cooks, but arbitrage is fun. And considering the Jets would be looking at Hill or Bryant as their second receiver on the outside, a little depth wouldn't hurt. Neither would speed.

Sixth Round, 210th overall - Larry Webster, DE, Bloomsburg. The Jets scouting department reaches into the small-school pool for a second straight pick to grab Webster. A raw former basketball player, Webster played two seasons at defensive end at Bloomsburg and piled up 26 sacks in 24 games against a low level of competition. While those stats don't transfer, head coach Rex Ryan would love to mold this ball of clay into a useful edge rusher. Some evaluators think Webster is better suited at tight end thanks to his basketball background, but Ryan will view him in an Aaron Maybin circa 2011 role.

Sixth Round, 213th overall - Isaiah Crowell, RB, Alabama State. Crowell is seen by many as the best pure talent at the running back position in this year's draft, but severe character issues stemming from his dismissal from the Georgia program in 2012 will cause him to fall well into Day 3. Crowell transferred to Alabama State after legal troubles, which included three weapons charges that were ultimately dropped. His work ethic and practice attitude were questioned even after his transfer so he represents a lot of risk, but with 12 picks the Jets can afford to take a risk at this point in the draft. Crowell reminds me of Da'Rick Rogers, a Day 1 or Day 2 talent that went undrafted last season and contributed more than many late picks. I bet the Jets wish they took a late flier in that situation.

Seventh Round, 233rd overall - Dexter McDougle, CB, Maryland. McDougle missed the last nine games of the season with a shoulder injury, but recovered in time to participate in Maryland's Pro Day, where he ran sub-4.5 40-yard dashes with a 37-inch vertical. On film, McDougle shows good ball skills and hands in press coverage, which explains why the Jets had him in for a visit. He lacks ideal height and strength that you'd look for in a press corner, but that's why he's available in the seventh round.

Conclusion: Unless Gilbert or Dennard falls to the Jets with the 18th pick, I would prefer them taking Cooks at that spot. There are a few cornerbacks New York could take in the third round that they've shown interest in, namely Utah's Keith McGill and Lindenwood's Pierre Desir. Bashaud Breeland fits the Clemson connection that has developed here and Rice's Phillip Gaines is also a possibility in the third or early fourth.

This all assumes that both Eric Ebron and Odell Beckham Jr. are off the board by the time the Jets pick. If one of those players is somehow available, the Jets should sprint to the podium to pick up a playmaker. If not, their draft seems to play out better by taking a receiver early and waiting until Day 2 to pick up a corner who fits the system and can compete with Dmitri Patterson in training camp. At this point, the Jets likely have more faith in a healthy Patterson as their second corner than they do in Hill as their second receiver.

New York Jets' Full Seven-Round Mock Draft

The New York Jets own 12 draft picks in this year's draft, allowing general manager John Idzik supreme flexibility in the decision-making process. The Jets have expressed strong interest in certain prospects whom they would need to trade up for in order to attain.

This mock draft incorporates two variations: one in which the Jets bundle the 18th overall pick with a fourth-round selection to move up in the first round, and another where they stand pat. The following mock drafts include consensus picks from Chris Tripodi and John Shea.

Read the rest at Pro Football Spot