Can you draft a muzzle for the coach? Rex Ryan’s kid-like enthusiasm, his outsize appetites (gastronomic and otherwise) and his world-historic reputation as a blusterer account for why he is beloved by his players and his soundbites are coveted by beat reporters. But in addition to his penchant for funky, eight-in-the-box zone blitzes, Rex seems to have inherited from his father Buddy the ability to rub people the wrong way, from last year’s postseason boasts to claims like this from his new book:
“Some people like to say the Giants are the big brother team and the Jets are the little brother team. … I have news for you: We are the better team. We are the big brother.” …
“When people ask me what it’s like to share New York with the Giants, my response is always I am not sharing it with them – they are sharing it with me. … It seems clear that right now we are the better team and we are going to remain the better team for the next 10 years. Whether you like it or not, those are the facts and that’s what is going to happen.”
Yeeesh. The Jets have, of course, a proud history of bluffing their way toward greatness. But when Joe Namath called Super Bowl III for Gang Green over the heavily favored Colts, his boast was good for one game, not “the next ten 10 years.” Not to mention that Broadway Joe went out and beat Johnny Unitas. Rex hasn’t even won an AFC title.
Is this year’s draft going to change that? Maybe. It’s a defense-heavy class, and that’s where the Jets most pressing needs are, foremost among them an elite edge rusher at defensive end. In the Jets’ 3-4 scheme, D-ends are supposed to both clog the outer lanes and occupy the tackles so that the outside linebackers can swoop in and get the sacks, and generate pass pressure on their own. Most mock drafts have as many as seven DEs going in the first round, so the talent is there. If a guy like Ryan Kerrigan out of Purdue is still around at pick 30 (a big if) he’s an obvious choice: a high-floor end who could be ready to contribute week one, and whose college career included 33 sacks and 14 forced fumbles. Bonus: he could probably play outside linebacker. More realistic is Adrian Clayborn out of Iowa, a guy with big upside who has the talent of a first round pick but who’s rap as a long-term health risk might see him fall into the second round. Could be a steal at 30.
Many analysts are saying the best player who’ll be left when the Jets’ number is called won’t be a defensive end, but a defensive tackle: namely Baylor DT Phil Taylor. If that’s how it shakes out, the Jets could do worse than drafting a twinkle-toed 330-plus-pounder to play the nose. Pouha and Dixon obviously did reasonably well when Kris Jenkins went down several minutes into the regular season last year, but it would be great to get some injury-free young Jenkins clone to clog the middle effectively in 2011.
Without a big nose tackle, the Jets linebacker corps was exposed as mediocre at best, which makes it the obvious group to target when the Jets next pick at 94. There won’t be any superstars there, so it’s a good spot to take a risk. There is of course a case to be made for drafting an LB first, and it has become trendy in the last week or so for analysts to predict the Jets will take the 6′ 4″, 255-pound Akeem Ayers from UCLA. Ayers came up in a 4-3 and is a better fit for the Giants, but he’s probably the second best linebacker in the class, and we tend to look at linebackers as the football equivalent of shortstops: you can’t have a really good team without a really good one. For the last two years, the Jets defense has been deceptive: good, but not as good as its numbers, and often unable to get stops when the game is on the line. And not just scoring stops either: think of how a tier-one OLB with good instincts could have changed the outcome of the clinching third-and-eight play against the Steelers in the AFC championship game.
The Jets’ picks at 126, 161, 194, and 208 should all be fliers on offensive players. They have a good receiving corps, but something is missing: a Chrebet type who has hands of glue and who always knows where the third down marker is (our kingdom for Danny Woodhead!)
At the end of the day, this is a long-winded defense of the Jets front office’s avowed draft strategy: flexibility. When its your turn, you take the best player.