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Jets Draft Review

The New York Jets acted so quickly and singularly at Saturday’s NFL Draft, ESPN didn’t even have a chance to play their low-light reel of Jets draft busts, including but not limited to Freeman McNeil, Ken O’Brien, Roger Vick, Blair Thomas and Kyle Brady. As the clock ticked down on the Cleveland Browns’ fifth overall pick, Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum swung a deal with the coach he fired a few months ago, Eric Mangini, giving up three players that the Mangenius must have liked (Kenyon Coleman, Abram Elam and Brett Ratliff) more than Tannenbaum did, as well as the Jets top two picks, the 17th and 52nd picks, for the right to move up to the fifth pick to select the new face of the franchise, USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. The move was greeted with mostly cheers by the Jets fans at Radio City Music Hall, but that deal and a later trade would put all the Jets eggs of the 2009 draft squarely in Sanchez’s basket. The Jets went into the draft with six picks and left with three players, two of whom are expected to have an impact in 2009.
It’s always risky to take a quarterback that high in the draft. Really, no one can predict weather any player will excel or bust at the NFL level, and the microscope is always more focused on quarterbacks. Everyone commends Sanchez’s leadership ability, locker-room presence and his accurate arm, but his NCAA sampling is very small, just 16 games, and some scouts questioned his arm strength (and as Jets fans, we are all familiar with that question). But Woody Johnson loves having a big-name QB, and as long as he signs the checks he’ll get a big-name to line up behind center, and Sanchez appears to come right out of Hollywood central casting if you want a quarterback that can handle the bright lights and suffocating press and fan base of New York. He goes from a USC program that fed all of LA’s football hunger (along with rival UCLA) to New York, where with no big time college program all the attention is on the Jets and Giants.
The big question concerning Sanchez now is when he gets his first start. The Jets open the season at Houston, come back home for the Patriots and Titans, then head to New Orleans for their first four games. The Texans are believed by many experts to be a team that can make the leap in 2009, while the Pats and Titans are two of the AFC’s best teams, led by two of the best coaches in the business, Bill Belichick and Jeff Fisher, respectively. Rex Ryan might not want Sanchez to have to go up against those two stalwart defense’s right off the bat. Kellen Clemens is still at the top of the depth chart, and he could see the early action of 2009 until Sanchez gets his feet wet.
As for the rest of the draft, well there wasn’t much else for the Jets. The Jets traded three of their remaining four picks at the start of Sunday to move to the top pick of the third round, where they picked Iowa RB Shonn Greene, a bulky runner that should be able to burst through the line for those tough short yardage situations. The pick was clearly a message to current Jets RB Thomas Jones, who has been seeking a new deal of his stellar season, in which he lead the AFC in rushing yards. Even at 31, Jones still has some production left in him, and should still be the Jets top rusher in 2009. But depth is important at running back, and this gives the Jets another choice along with Jones and Leon Washington. The Jets third and final pick, in the sixth round, was Nebraska guard Matthew Slauson, who probably won’t see a lot of time behind Brandon Moore and Alan Faneca.
The Sanchez era has begun in New York. Do the Jets finally have a quarterback they can compare to Joe Namath? Sanchez has the swagger, but does he have the game? We have months to get our hopes up, and I know many Jets fans out there will.

Jason Levy

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