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Jets 2009 Draft Preview

It seems like its been forever since we last saw a football game, even more so since we’ve seen the New York Jets suit up, but about halfway between the Super Bowl and Training Camps come the NFL Draft, where teams create a foundation for a hopeful Super Bowl run. It’s odd that the actual event gets so much instant analysis when it will probably take four or five years before anyone can say just how good a player will turn out to be and just how good the draft was overall. Think about how different the NFL landscape would be if the Indianapolis Colts chose Ryan Leaf over Peyton Manning. The Colts could have been set back five years, or maybe Leaf leads them to the title and Manning is out of the league. It came close to playing out.
The Jets franchise has often been the butt of many draft jokes. ESPN has a Jets low-light reel ready for the moments leading up to the Jets pick. I won’t go over any of them in detail, we all know what mistakes were made. But recent history has fared better for the Jets draft. In the three drafts GM Mike Tannenbaum has overseen starting in 2006, the Jets have found several players that form the Jets foundation, including D’brickishaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, Kellen Clemens and Leon Washington (first, first, second and fourth rounds respectively in 2006); Darelle Revis and David Harris (first and second rounds, 2007) and Dustin Keller in the first round in 2008. The big blotch on his resume so far is last year’s other first round pick, Vernon Gholston, but let’s wait and see what he can do under Rex Ryan before we call Gholston a bust. Before that under Terry Bradway the Jets picked found a couple of mid-round gems, with Kerry Rhodes and 2005 and Jerricho Cotchery in 2004. The Jets best draft of the decade came in 2000, when the Jets used their top five picks (four of which were in the top 27) on Sean Ellis, John Abraham, Chad Pennington, Anthony Becht and Laveraneus Coles, all of whom started for the Jets and had moderate (that’s being kind to Becht) to spectacular (Ellis and Abraham-when he was healthy) success.
The Jets have six picks to work with in 2009, one each in the first four rounds (17, 52, 76, and 115) with additional picks late in the sixth and seventh rounds. With holes to fill at wide receiver, quarterback, defensive end and punter and depth concerns at running back and tight end, the Jets don’t have a lot to work with as far as trading up is concerned. The highest they could probably climb is to eight, where the Jacksonville Jaguars currently are slotted. If USC quarterback Mark Sanchez or Texas Tech wide out Michael Crabtree fall to that pick, they will probably have to use picks 17, 52, and maybe one more to swing a deal with the Jags, because they will face stiff competition from a lot of teams to draft either one of those players at that position. Unless Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan are head-over-heels for one of those guys, the Jets will stay at their position and take the best player available.
At 17, the Jets will likely look for a QB or WR, and it’s tough to say which one they will pick. Ryan has not stopped throwing compliments at Clemens and Brett Ratliff, but the thought of adding a strong-armed first round pick like Kansas State QB Josh Freeman might be too enticing for the Jets (we all know if he is available, the Jets fans at the draft will be chanting for Freeman, and could boo vociferously if he isn’t picked). If the Jets are going to use their first round pick on a QB, they better be damn sure he will be better than one of the guys they already have. And with quarterbacks, it’s never a sure thing. Last year’s first round QB’s, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, lead their teams to the playoffs. The 2007 first-rounders are still being debated (JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn) but the early returns have not been promising. As for the much-heralded class of 2006, one (Jay Cutler) forced a trade when things got dicey and the other two (Vince Young and Matt Leinart, who had just dueled in the NCAA title game) can’t beat out a couple of vets in their late-30’s for the starting QB spot. The QB’s of 2005 have been iffy (Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers and Jason Campbell, no playoff starts between them) while the class of 2004 (Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger) have three Super Bowl rings between them. Of the five QB’s taken in the first round of 1999, only one (Donovan McNabb) led his team to a conference title. Bottom line, it all depends on the situation for a QB, and if the Jets brass isn’t sure that Freeman will run their offense better than Clemens or Ratliff, then they should go for a wide out that can break the game open.
Luckily for the Jets, the 2009 first round is littered with quality wide receivers. Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin will likely be gone by 17, unless the Jets trade up to get one of them. Darrius Heyward-Bey is a burner (4.3-40) but there are questions about his hands. Percy Harvin was a dual threat running and receiving for Tim Tebow’s Florida squad, but a failed drug test at the combine (which counts as a failed NFL drug test, putting him on a short leash) is keeping many teams away. Kenny Britt and Hakeem Nicks are projected to go later in the first, so should be available if the Jets want to grab one. The interesting player in all of this is Harvin. If the Jets can look past his positive test for marijuana, he could be a steal in the middle of the first round. While he would lineup as a wide out, at 5’11 he could get some plays out of the backfield, and add to the explosiveness that Washington brings to the Jets offense.
While the Jets may not have the assets to trade high into the first round, Tannenbaum has been a draft-day wheeler and dealer in the past. The Jets could wind up trading a pick for a player that would become expendable by another draft-day trade. If the Washington Redskins trade up to take Sanchez, current Redskins QB Jason Campbell could become available. He may not have the upside of Sanchez or Freeman, but he has shown he can play, and could thrive in a system where he is not asked to do too much. If all it takes to get him is a second or third round pick, it could be a deal worth making. It’s highly unlikely a QB as good as Campbell will be available that late in the draft.
The draft, even though it’s just reading a bunch of names off of index cards, always makes for great sports theater, and a great way to wet your football appetite. We won’t really know if the Jets improved themselves over the weekend, but we’ll all have a lot of fun arguing about it.

Jason Levy

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