NFL draft: Jets must add depth for any hope of long-term contention
Last season, the Jets' lack of depth exposed weaknesses in their "ground and pound" strategy that had paved their way to two straight AFC title games in the years prior. With several franchise pillars still in place - but other key pieces lacking - the Jets' performance in this week's NFL draft will help determine whether Gang Green can contend for a Super Bowl in the next few years.
Unlike in previous drafts, the Jets have more picks (10) than rounds in the draft (7). This should give general manager Mike Tannenbaum the flexibility to add quality during the first three rounds, and quantity in rounds five through seven. Here's a look at how the Jets' might address their biggest needs.
Right tackle was a sieve for the Jets last season, with Wayne Hunter allowing 8 1/2 sacks and committing 11 penalties. The Jets would love for Iowa's Reilly Reiff to fall to them at No. 16. Or, the Jets could follow the "best player available" strategy and snag Stanford guard David DeCastro, whom experts consider the best guard prospect in a decade. DeCastro could either be tried at tackle or become a cost-controlled replacement for a current Jets guard - both of whom come off contract after 2012.
Alternatively, the Jets could wait until rounds two or three, where they may find their tackle in Ohio State's Mike Adams, Bobbie Massie of Ole Miss or Cal's Mitchell Schwartz. A later-round possibility is local Columbia product Jeff Adams.
The once-formidable Gang Green defense did not even finish in the top half of the league in sacks last year - and the lack of a true pass rusher makes it easier for opponents like New England to plan their games around Rex Ryan's blitz packages.
Though the Jets would love to add a sack artist, this draft class lacks a can't-miss pass-rush prospect. Still, the Jets would be happy with USC defensive end Melvin Ingram at No. 16; he has speed and a repertoire of moves but lacks size. UNC's Quentin Coples is chiseled in the prototypical defensive end mold, but scouts question his football IQ and every-play effort. Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus led the nation with 16 sacks, but he lacks much of a track record before 2012.
The best player available, however, may be Boston College inside linebacker Luke Kuechly, who is not a pass rush specialist but could anchor the interior defense for years to come.
Second and third round options could include speedy West Virginia linebacker Bruce Irvin, who comes with character issues; and two smaller-school players - Boise State LB Shea McClellin and Marshall DE Vinny Curry - both of whom possess a great motor but lack ideal size and experience against top competition.
The offense desperately needs a possession receiver to line up across from Santonio Holmes. While top prospect Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State will go in the top 10, there is a chance of Notre Dame's Michael Floyd being available at No. 16; his large frame and sure hands would be a welcome target for Mark Sanchez.
More likely, however, is that the Jets select a reciever in round two or three, where they should find a number of wideouts who lack breakaway speed but have the size and hands to become productive possession receivers. These include South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery, Arizona's Juron Criner and Rutgers standout Mohamed Sanu. A mid-round flyer could be taken on Wisconsin's Nick Toon, whose father Al logged eight solid seasons for the Jets.
Eve with the signing of LaRon Landry, the Jets need to add depth at safety. Top prospect Mark Barron of Alabama is likely to be gone by No. 16, but Notre Dame's Harrison Smith, a sure tackler with football smarts, could be a second-round target. In the third round, LSU's Brandon Taylor might warrant consideration. He lacks ideal size but is fast and reads plays well.