Yesterday, I discussed some of my general reactions to the NFL Draft. Today, my thoughts on the Jets draft in particular.Round 1, Pick 9: CB Dee Milliner (Alabama)
Some mocks had Milliner, the consensus best cornerback in the draft, going as high as third overall. The Jets had a need at cornerback following the Darrelle Revis trade, and perhaps the same scouts who fell in love with Revis (and not the ones scouting Kyle Wilson) saw similar traits in Milliner. So from that standpoint, the pick makes sense.
But I’m not sure if the selection fits in with the team’s overall philosophy. By trading Revis, the implication was that the Jets don’t think any individual cornerback is all that valuable in both Rex Ryan’s scheme and in a division that features a two (tight end)-headed bohemoth. That’s a reasonable position to take, and trading Revis — instead of paying him $16M/year — is consistent with an organizational philosophy that values depth rather than a singular talent at cornerback.
But then why spend a top-ten pick on a corner? Perhaps the Jets just think Revis wasn’t ever going to be Revis again, and the two moves had nothing to do with each other. Maybe New York just likes young corners. New general manager John Idzik restructured Antonio Cromartie‘s contract to provide immediate cap savings, but he’ll count for $15M against the salary cap in 2014. And while Cromartie was excellent in 2012, he’ll be 30 years old this time next year; the Jets may want to move on from him at that point. Add in the fact that 2014 is Wilson’s final year, and Milliner may be the only cornerback on the roster in both 2013 and 2015.
Takeaway: The pick fills both a short- and long-term need, and the Jets got good value with the 9th pick, even if the selection is a little peculiar in light of recent events.
Richardson is an athletic marvel who projects as a penetrating, one-gap force in the NFL. When Missouri played Texas A&M, Richardson dropped into coverage and was used as to spy on Johnny Manziel. Against the Crimson Tide, Richardson recorded 14 tackles. But Richardson was the first defensive tackle off the board because of his ability to penetrate the interior of an offensive line.
He lined up in the three-technique in Missouri’s 4-3 defense and would play as an end when the Tigers had a three-man line. Jene Bramel did a great job describing the role of a three-technique here, but for a shorthand, just think of Warren Sapp or John Randle. The issue is that the Jets play a 3-4 defense and Richardson happens to play the same position as the Jets best defensive player, Muhammad Wilkerson. New York also invested a first round pick in 3-4 defensive end Quinton Coples last year. So what’s the plan?
Some think the Jets will now move to a 4-3 defense. There are several problems with that. First, allow me to provide a (very) basic explanation basic explanation of how and why a 4-3 defense can set up a three-technique or under tackle for success. If you’re an X’s and O’s guy, you can skip to the next section.
The diagram below shows a 4-3 “under” front; in this scheme, Richardson would play as the under tackle (UT). This is the scheme that players like Sapp and Randle starred in:
Amid the praise Sapp and Randle received, there were critics who argued that both players were glorified defensive ends whose high sack totals were given extra credit because they played along the interior. That’s because in this system, the under tackle often operates like a defensive end, but he is only as good as the two players lined up next to him.
The defensive end to his right — think Chris Doleman or Simeon Rice — is ideally a premier edge rusher. That is the player for whom the term “Blindside” was created: it’s the explosive right defensive end whom not even the best left tackles can shut down. In this front, you can see that the end is lined up on the left tackle’s outside shoulder; this means that on the snap, the left tackle will need to take a step to his left to ensure that the speedy defensive end doesn’t race around him to the quarterback.
Taking that step to the left places the left guard on an island. That’s because the center and right guard are asked to double-team the nose tackle, who is the type of player an offensive coordinator can’t ask the right guard to handle alone. For Randle, that big-bodied player was Hollis Thomas or Jason Fisk; for Sapp, it was Anthony McFarland. The 2008 Vikings are another good example, with Pat Williams as nose tackle, Kevin Williams as under tackle, and Jared Allen as the right defensive end; all three made the Pro Bowl that year, with the latter two being first-team All-Pro selections, too. Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins was the best three-technique in the NFL last year, but he’s helped out by playing alongside nose tackle Domata Peko and right defensive end Michael Johnson.
The problem is the Jets have neither an elite edge rusher nor an elite nose tackle. In fact, they don’t even have an average 4-3 defensive end or an average tackle who could line up over the nose (or shaded to one side). If John Idzik’s plan was to move to a 4-3 defense this off-season, a better plan would have been to:
1) At 13, draft Star Lotulelei; and
The Jets didn’t make a push for a Cliff Avril or Michael Bennett or Shaun Phillips, players who could provide a bridge at 4-3 end (and in the case of Phillips, serve as a 3-4 outside linebacker, too). They didn’t make a move for C.J. Mosley or Roy Miller (who helped pave the way for Gerald McCoy‘s breakout season). Instead, the Jets signed two former Chargers, DT Antonio Garay and OLB/DE Antwan Barnes.
If the Jets want to play a 4-3, there are three options.
1) Place Garay at nose and Barnes at right defensive end, leaving Coples as the LDE and Richardson as the three-technique. The problem is this takes Wilkerson off the field. If they put Wilkerson as the three-technique next to Garay, that leaves Richardson off the field.
2) Line Wilkerson as the LDE, Garay as the NT, Richardson as the DT, and Coples as the RDE. Wilkerson has shed about 15 pounds of weight this off-season and is under 300 pounds. That might indicate that he’ll be playing as a 4-3 defensive end, but he lacks the explosiveness to excel at that position. And for that matter, Coples seems overmatched as a right defensive end. He’s ideally a 3-4 end. So you’d be moving two of your best players out of their natural position to accommodate Richardson, and you still need an uprade in the short-term and replacement in the long-term at nose tackle (unless, by chance, Kenrick Ellis develops).
3) Have Barnes at RDE, Richardson as RDT, Wilkerson at LDT, and Coples at LDE. This works well for Coples and Richardson, but is this a good use of Wilkerson’s talents? In third down and obvious passing situations, I expect the Jets to occasionally trot this lineup out, but this group wouldn’t hold up very well against the run. With the weight loss, Wilkerson transitioning to a 1-technique seems unlikely. And let’s not forget, without Sione Pouha last year (who has not been replaced), the Jets rush defense dropped to 26th in the league. The Jets have done next to nothing to address this fact since the season ended.
According to Football Outsiders, on average, the Jets fielded 2.53 defensive linemen, 3.69 linebackers, and 4.79 defensive backs on each play last season. According to Mike Clay, the Jets played in a 3-4 on 36% of defensive snaps last year, with a 2-4-5 being the second most common lineup. Clay confirmed that the Jets lined up with four defensive lineman on just five percent of all snaps in 2012. While the Jets occasionally use a 4-3 (and may do so more in the future), I think it’s more likely that the Jets stay in a 3-4. Moving to a 4-3 would expose David Harris even more than the current system, and the Jets don’t have any attractive options with experience as 4-3 outside linebackers.
Assuming the Jets stay in a 3-4, Richardson could work as a 3-4 defensive end, but again, those spots appear filled with Wilkerson and Coples. And the Jets still need to find a nose tackle. I don’t think either Wilkerson or Richardson is capable of excelling at that position, and surely that’s not the master plan. Another option is the Jets could move Coples to outside linebacker when the Jets play a 3-4, but I personally don’t think he’s explosive enough to excel there (and lining Richardson at end could wind up being a waste of his explosive talents).
Which leaves me just wondering what the Jets have in mind for Richardson. It’s one thing to be multiple and capable of playing a 3-4, 4-3, 3-3-5, or any of the dozens of iterations Rex Ryan has cooked up. And it should go without saying that Ryan knows more about defense than just about anyone on the planet. But no matter how the Jets line up on the field, they’re always going to need an edge rusher who can get to the quarterback/open up the pocket and a player capable of occupying the center and a guard. Right now, they have neither. Those are the two most critical positions to fill in a 3-4 defense, and the Jets didn’t address either spot despite having two top-fifteen picks. Had they exited round 1 with Lotulelei and Jarvis Jones, the Jets would have significantly upgraded the front seven. Now? It’s hard to know exactly what’s going on.
Conclusion: Jets fans don’t want to hear it, but the likely answer is Richardson is just a rotational player this year who will see only a few hundred snaps. Richardson, Coples, and Wilkerson may only see the field together in obvious passing situations. Long-term? Your guess is as good as mine.
Round 2, Pick 7: QB Geno Smith (West Virginia)
Can you believe I’ve written so many words without even getting to Smith? I wasn’t in favor of the pick because the issue is as much the quarterback as it is the supporting cast. Smith isn’t Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, so selecting him isn’t going to automatically fix the problems on offense.
The tight end situation may be the worst in the league. The receivers have promise, but on a bad day, Santonio Holmes is hurt, Stephen Hill can’t catch a pass, and Jeremy Kerley is overmatched as the team’s number one wideout. Running backs Mike Goodson, Chris Ivory, and Bilal Powell are average at best, while the offensive line consists of two star lineman and a frantic search for the other sixty percent.
After a couple of days to reflect on the selection, though, I like the pick. The era of Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, and Greg McElroy is over, and that’s a good thing. The Jets added David Garrard but he’s not the type of player you can count on. Ideally, I thought the Jets should bolster the rest of the offense and fix the quarterback position next year, but I can’t argue with the position that Smith fell to them at 39 and became a value pick. He’s not being paid much and the team is not heavily invested in him. The New York media may prevent it from becoming one, but ideally, this is a relatively low-risk, high reward pick on a player that at least has some upside. Had the Eagles drafted him at 4th overall, the reaction would be “well maybe he can be a franchise quarterback.” When the Jets draft him at 39 the reaction is predictably “LOL #CIRCUS.” He’s worth the risk because he at least has the potential to be the quarterback of the future.
Round 3, Pick 10: G Brian Winters (Kent St.)
Am I going to pretend to know anything about a guard from Kent State? Absolutely not. He’s known as a physical guard with a wrestling background, and scouts generally seem to like him. Here’s what I can add:
- From 1970 to 2008, there were 90 guards selected in the third round of the draft.
- 11% of them never played in the NFL.
- An additional 21% (total 32%) started fewer than 10 games in their first five years (although one of those players was Guy McIntyre, who made five straight Pro Bowls beginning at age 28).
- An additional 23% (total 56%) started fewer than 24 games in their first five years
- 21% (total 77%) started between 25 and 48 games in their first five years
- 17% (total 93%) started between 49 and 64 games in their first five years
- 7% started more than 64 games in their first five years
- Only three players — McIntyre, Russ Grimm, and Will Shields ever made a Pro Bowl.
Round 4 Pick traded for Chris Ivory (Saints)
I liked the trade for Ivory, but was disappointed with the compensation. Idzik had been in a staring contest with Mickey Loomis for weeks and eventually blinked. With the 106th pick, the Jets could have selected Johnathan Franklin, Marcus Lattimore, Stepfan Taylor, or Zac Stacy, and would have had both a younger and a cheaper running back. Sure, Ivory doesn’t have much tread on his tires (and he’s not old, either), so I understand the desire to trade for him instead of rolling the dice on a rookie. The Jets signed him to a three-year deal worth $10M — that’s not expensive, but the 106th pick will count for fewer than two million dollars against the cap over that period. All things considered, I would have held out for a fifth round pick or simply drafted Franklin or Lattimore, instead of spending a fourth to acquire him. But he’s a violent runner that should inject life into what has been a moribund running game for the last two years.
Round 5, Pick 8: T Oday Aboushi (Virginia)
Round 6, Pick 10: G William Campbell (Michigan)
There were 430 offensive lineman drafted between 1970 and 2008. 217 of them started 2 or fewer games in their NFL careers. Aboushi struggled at the Senior Bowl and at the combine, while Campbell is a project pick: he was a defensive lineman in college.
Round 7, Pick 9: FB Tommy Bohanon (Wake Forest)
The Jets have another T-Bo.
Undrafted Free Agents: Central Florida linebacker Troy Davis; Hawaii defensive back Mike Edwards; Clemson offensive lineman Dalton Freeman; Northern Arizona offensive lineman Trey Gilleo; Eastern Illinois defensive lineman Roosevelt Holliday; Iowa State defensive lineman Jake McDonough; California (PA) safety Rontez Miles; Texas A&M defensive end Spencer Nealy; Boston College tight end Chris Pantale; South Florida offensive lineman Mark Popek; Tennessee wide receiver Zach Rogers; Pittsburgh tight end Mike Shanahan; Lehigh wide receiver Ryan Spadola; Bethune-Cookman wide receiver K.J. Stroud and Marshall wide receiver Antavious Wilson.
I’m not sure what to say here, although some of the receivers (Rogers, Spadola, Stroud, and Wilson) will be worth monitoring.