COMMENTARY | To say the Jets have struggled on offense, especially in the passing game, may qualify for "understatement of the year." While much of the blame is falling on the shoulders of rookie quarterback Geno Smith, he's far from the only player at fault. New York's offensive line has struggled to give him time to throw, which he needs without receivers who can create separation consistently.
The return of Jeremy Kerley this weekend should help Smith get back to playing as he did in the first eight games of the season, as the rookie hasn't completed more than nine passes in a game since Kerley went down with injury. For comparison, he completed no fewer than 15 any game that Kerley started and finished.
After drafting two defensive players in the first round of the 2013 draft, it's imperative that the Jets look to improve their passing game early in this year's draft. It's the one aspect holding this team back from being truly competitive and with a projected top 12 pick at the moment, there will be difference makers on the board.
Mike Evans has been linked to the Jets in early mock drafts and the pairing makes sense. At 6-5, Evans would be a monstrous target for Smith, who has a tendency to overthrow receivers. That wouldn't be much of an issue with Evans on the outside, as the Texas A&M star has drawn Vincent Jackson comparisons due to his height and ability to make big plays down the field. Just a junior, Evans is expected to enter the draft with quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Jackson's presence has certainly helped Mike Glennon look like he belongs as a rookie this season and having a similar target would make Smith a more competent NFL quarterback. With Santonio Holmes less likely to remain a Jet next season with every passing week, the Jets could draft Evans with their first-round pick. Even if their pass protection continues to struggle, Evans thrives on broken plays and shows the ability to work back to the scrambling Manziel as a huge target.
The issue with drafting Evans is the fact that his strength is making plays at the catch point. He may struggle to separate at the NFL level which could cause problems with a quarterback like Smith, who lacks the confidence to force balls into tight coverage and trust his receivers to make plays. Evans would certainly be an upgrade and the Jets have been looking for a tall receiver for years, but the fit isn't as perfect as many seem to think.
Eric Ebron/Jace Amaro
Many fans wanted to see the Jets draft Tyler Eifert 13th overall last season over Sheldon Richardson and while that looks like a silly thought now, it was reasonable at the time considering the Jets' lack of playmakers at tight end. Drafting a tight end in the top 15 is still a very reasonable possibility for New York and there are two players who look like they could be worthy of such a selection.
Both North Carolina's Eric Ebron and Texas Tech's Jace Amaro are just juniors, but Ebron has already declared for the draft and Amaro is expected to by many despite stating he would return to school in October. Ebron likely has the slight edge when it comes to athleticism and is more of a downfield threat, while Amaro is a bit more polished as a route runner and uses his 6-5, 260-pound frame to his advantage against defensive backs.
It's hard to go wrong with either prospect but Ebron has the advantage when it comes to pure athletic upside and potential impact in the vertical passing game. Both can be matchup nightmares and should have no trouble creating separation in the NFL, making them better fits than Evans for Smith and the Jets. The Jets need another vertical playmaker which leads me to lean towards Ebron, but it's close.
It's difficult to say whether Manziel will be available when the Jets pick with so many teams in the top 10 needing a quarterback, but he's certainly no lock to be drafted that high considering he may be one of the most polarizing draft prospects ever. While most people expected Tim Tebow to fail, there are many that think Manziel can be a productive starting quarterback in the NFL.
Texas A&M's redshirt sophomore quarterback is all but gone from school considering his tumultuous offseason last year and his playmaking ability at the college level is second to none. Geno Smith has worked from a crumbling pocket all season and while he's mobile, he doesn't look comfortable yet using his legs to make something happen. Anybody who's watched Manziel knows that's where he thrives.
Manziel has improved this season in the pocket as well, showing better footwork and mechanics that have led to increased arm strength. He still has improvements to make but his improvisational ability would help him stay afloat early in his NFL career while he learns how to play quarterback at the professional level. While Tebow was a running quarterback with average speed, Manziel has great speed as well as the agility and acceleration to make defenders look silly trying to corral him.
As the Tebow signing showed along with past trades for Holmes and Antonio Cromartie, the Jets are not shy about bringing in controversial players, especially ones who can excite an increasingly disappointed fan base. With Teddy Bridgewater likely off the board and question marks behind him as to who the second best quarterback in the draft is, don't be surprised if the Jets give up on Smith and take a chance on Johnny Football if he's on the board.
Personally, I would take Ebron, Amaro or Evans in that order over Manziel. Geno Smith has been set up to fail and predictably has but shows the potential to be a productive player when his receivers and offensive line help him out. That being said, it wouldn't be surprising to see Idzik and the Jets try to make a big splash, especially on a player like Manziel who could prove to be a nice fit on a team desperate for offensive playmakers at any position. He might sell an extra ticket or 10 as well.
Chris Tripodi lives in New York and has followed the Jets just long enough to remember their 1-15 season in 1996. He contributes to multiple online outlets along with Yahoo, namely Draft Insider, Optimum Scouting and Jets 101.
Follow him on Twitter @christripodi.
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