Defense, not Mark Sanchez and offense, is where Jets should look to fill needs in draft

John Harris
Yahoo! Sports

LAST SEASON Rush Offense - 118.5 ypg (12th)
Pass Offense - 180.7 ypg (30th)
Total Offense - 299.2 ypg (30th)
Scoring Offense - 17.6 ppg (28th)
Rush Defense - 133.6 ypg (26th)
Pass Defense - 189.9 ypg (2nd)
Total Defense - 323.4 ypg (8th)
Scoring Defense - 23.4 ppg (20th) MOST PRESSING NEEDS Offense: Sanchez's significant improvement, tight end (if Dustin Keller leaves) and OL help
Defense: Pass rusher, decision on Revis

Quarterback The Draft Board

2nd round Mike Glennon, NC State (6-7, 220)
Tyler Wilson, Arkansas (6-2, 218) 3rd round Tyler Bray, Tennessee (6-5, 215)
E.J Manuel, Florida State (6-4, 237)

Well, it turned out exactly how we all expected, huh? It was a nightmare to say the least and there's not a ton of hope in sight. Mark Sanchez, the starter for four years, regressed with Tim Tebow standing over his shoulder. Surprisingly, Tebow didn't even get a chance. Greg McElroy got his chance and handled it the way you'd expect a third-stringer to handle it, taking 11 sacks in his only start of the season (and getting a concussion to boot).

So, it's time to clean house, right? Well, after signing Sanchez to an extension prior to the 2012 season, the Jets committed to him for the 2013 season, at a minimum.

Let's start there. Tebow, more than likely, won't be back and that'll be a good thing for all involved. McElroy is inexpensive and has the confidence to be a starter but is better served as a backup.

There are two approaches here. The "let Sanchez ride this all the way out" option the "find the future immediately" alternative, which would be an intelligent strategy if there was an Andrew Luck or a Robert Griffin III or even a Jay Cutler in this draft. That's not what new GM John Idzik has in front of him. However, Glennon and Bray can sling it; unfortunately, they don't always sling it to the right colored jersey. Manuel has similar issues, but he can make plays with his legs out of the pocket in a worst case scenario. These three may have the strongest arms in this draft class to help cut through the New York winds, but is either one of them that much of a more better option than Sanchez? Not at this point.

If quarterback were the only true hole on this team, it'd be logical to think that drafting one would be a sound philosophy, but that's not the case. There is nothing worse for a new GM than to encounter a no-win situation at quarterback, while being hamstrung by financial woes. Welcome to New York, John.

Running Back The Draft Board

2nd round Eddie Lacy, Alabama (5-10, 220)
Giovani Bernard, N.C. (5-10, 205)
Montee Ball, Wisconsin (5-11, 215) 3rd round LeVeon Bell, Michigan State (6-2, 244) 4th round Christine Michael, Texas A&M (5-10, 221)
Mike Gillislee, Florida (5-11, 207) 6th round Rex Burkhead, Nebraska (5-11, 210)

The running back situation isn't any more clear than the quarterback situation. Shonn Greene had a second consecutive 1,000-yard season, but averaged less than four yards per carry. Oh, lest I forget, he's an unrestricted free agent. Bilal Powell is a quality backup who I'd like to see get more action to see if he could ever develop as a starter. Plus, he's still working on his rookie contract ($550k in 2013). Worst case, he's a decent No. 2 to Greene (if he re-signs). Joe McKnight has explosive tendencies, we've all seen that, but he's not consistent enough to be The Man.

If Greene moves on, the Jets should, and will, target a back in the second, third or fourth round. If he re-signs, a running back won't make sense, more than likely, until the fifth.

Lacy is a full-on beast with tremendous balance and feet and he's a significant upgrade over Greene. He had the fortunate pleasure of running behind three potential top-50 draft picks, so life won't be as easy at the next level. But, he runs through arm tackles and gives Rex Ryan and company the ground-and-pound running back that Ryan covets.

The more film that I watch on Bernard, the more I like him. He's patient, has quick feet, runs behind his pads and finishes his runs. Think poor man's Ray Rice. He won't break a ton of big runs, but other than Adrian Peterson, who does? Ball doesn't have "Lacy power", but he's a complete runner who would also fit well in green and white. He'll start and stop, turn on a dime before bursting through an open hole. Bell is the type of back that defenses hate to see in the fourth quarter, but he also can catch the ball well out of the backfield.

Greene has shown he can be a dependable back at this level, but these four RBs are more gifted. Not to mention, a few years younger, too. If Greene stays and the Jets bypass RBs in the first four rounds, Burkhead is the perfect complementary back who can also play on special teams.

Wide Receiver

The Jets' receiving corps was doomed from the outset of the season. Santonio Holmes was lost for the season after only four games. 2012 second-round pick Stephen Hill suffered a similar fate, playing only eleven games dealing with a knee injury. Outside of Jeremy Kerley's 56 receptions, a pleasant surprise, Chaz Schilens led the remaining WRs with 28 catches. Let's say both Holmes and Hill come back healthy and Kerley produces like he did in 2012, the receiving corps is adequate.

The hope is that Holmes is healthy, Kerley plays well in the slot and Hill returns ready to make a significant difference. A free-agent acquisition makes more sense than another rookie from this draft.

Given the current WR situation (not the best, not the worst) and the holes at other positions, the Jets may not target a wide receiver in this draft. Free agency? Perhaps. But, not in the draft. Not this year anyway.

Tight End The Draft Board

2nd round Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame (6-5, 252)
Zach Ertz, Stanford (6-6, 252) 3rd round Jordan Reed, Florida (6-3, 243)
Travis Kelce, Cincinnati (6-5, 260) 4th round Gavin Escobar, San Diego State (6-5, 255)
Dion Sims, Michigan State (6-5, 285) 5th round Vance McDonald, Rice (6-4, 262)
Ryan Otten, San Jose State (6-5, 235) 6th round Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State (6-5, 245)
Michael Williams, Alabama (6-6, 269)

NFL teams are accumulating tight ends at a fairly rapid rate and the Jets have one, when utilized and healthy, that could be a 70 catch/year option. However, Dustin Keller is an unrestricted free agent and his backup Jeff Cumberland is a restricted free agent as well. Keller is of more value to teams that could utilize him to the fullest, given the higher value placed on tight ends across the league. His departure would leave the Jets with a massive hole to fill.

Sanchez needs options, but he also needs to be protected. Signing Keller would make sense, especially if he gives a bit of a hometown discount, so to speak. But, if he's gone, the Jets must find an athletic, pass catcher to give Sanchez intermediate receiving options.

The tight end class has a multitude of options. Eifert and Ertz can line up anywhere on the field. Escobar is a great athlete who can get open all over the field. Sims is a 285-pound pass catcher, whose blocking must improve. Otten is a smaller version of Escobar. Williams is the best blocking tight end in this draft.

Either way, the Jets have a ton of options up and down the board to fit a number of needs. If the goal is to replace Keller, then Eifert, Ertz, Reed, Escobar and Otten fit that bill. If the Jets want a more versatile tight end, part in-line run blocker, part pass catcher, Kelce is a good fit in the third or fourth round.

Offensive line The Draft Board

1st round G Chance Warmack, Alabama (6-2, 322)
G Jonathan Cooper, N.C. (6-3, 310) 2nd round T D.J Fluker, Alabama (6-5, 355)
G Larry Warford, Kentucky (6-3, 333)
G/T Kyle Long, Oregon (6-6, 310) 3rd round G/T Justin Pugh, Syracuse (6-5, 301)
T Dallas Thomas, Tennessee (6-5, 308) 4th round G/T Brian Winters, Kent State (6-4, 310)
T David Quessenberry, SJSU (6-5, 294) 7th round G Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State (6-2, 328)

The right tackle odyssey was a disaster from the day that former GM Mike Tannenbaum decided to forego finding a free agent or a draft pick to challenge Wayne Hunter last offseason. The downfall was predictable, even after Hunter was sent to the Rams, opening the spot for Austin Howard, who wasn't much better. His pass protection was suspect and that's being nice. Howard is also a restricted free agent, but in a perfect world he'd be the team's swing tackle, not it's starting right tackle. The two projected starters at guard are unrestricted free agents, so it's clear that the Jets must target offensive line help in this draft at guard and/or tackle, perhaps looking for versatility to play either position.

If the Jets want an instant upgrade at guard, Warmack is the perfect fit. Powerful, quick, explosive and sudden, he steps right in and becomes a Pro Bowl guard within the next three years. The Jets don't have the luxury of going guard-guard in the first two rounds, but a combination of Warmack and Warford would jump start the running game in a heartbeat. But, it's the passing game that needs the help; luckily, either or both of those two provide sound A/B gap protection in the passing game.

Winters is a find in the fourth round. He was a stellar left tackle at Kent State but he's more of a fit at right tackle or at guard. Given the needs at those positions, he gives the Jets the versatility they need at either position. Most of the OL listed above will get grimy and nasty, a must for the Jets.

Defensive line The Draft Board

6th round DE Craig Roh, Michigan (6-4, 280)
DE Joe Kruger, Utah (6-6, 280)
DE Damion Square, Alabama (6-3, 286) 7th round DE Mike Catapano, Princeton (6-3, 270)

Since Kris Jenkins retired a few years ago, the Jets have been void of quality defensive line depth. Fortunately, the team recognized this and spent consecutive first-round draft picks on DEs Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples. NT Sione Pouha was slowed by a back injury for much of the year. If those three are healthy for the majority of the year and Coples makes significant progress, the front three is in good shape.

If Mike Devito is brought back, the defensive line is more than likely set. However, if the Jets find value in the sixth or seventh rounds, it'll make sense to add depth and cheap labor.

Roh and Kruger are extremely athletic 280-pounders and are great value in the sixth or seventh round. One of these two would fit well in New York backing up Muhammad, Devito and/or Coples. The Jets have more distinct needs to think about drafting defensive line before the last two rounds of this draft.

Linebackers The Draft Board

1st round OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia (6-2, 242)
OLB Barkevious Mingo, LSU (6-4, 240)
OLB Ziggy Ansah, BYU (6-5, 274) 2nd round OLB Alec Ogletree, Georgia (6-3, 234) 3rd round OLB Sean Porter, Texas A&M (6-1, 231) 4th round OLB Gerald Hodges, Penn St. (6-1, 239) 5th round OLB Keith Pough, Howard (6-2, 241)
OLB Meshak Williams, Kansas St. (6-2, 245)
ILB A.J Klein, Iowa State (6-1, 246) 6th round ILB Vince Williams, Florida St. (6-0, 247) 7th round ILB Greg Blair, Cincinnati (6-1, 252)

At outside linebacker, Bryan Thomas is an unrestricted free agent and his off-the-field problems could force the Jets to walk away. Calvin Pace, on the other side, finished with only three sacks and has little impact on the edge. The Jets will more than likely cut Pace because of salary-cap issues.

Suffice it to say, the Jets must find some edge presence to get more heat on the quarterback early in this draft. The Jets registered only 30 sacks on the season and there is no question that the Jets MUST draft a pass rusher before the end of the first two rounds.

Inside, the Jets' starters, David Harris and Bart Scott, have been mainstays, but Scott has slowed considerably, will be 33 by the time the season starts and could use a youthful push. It's just a matter of whether it'll be a push into retirement or just to the bench. Either way, given the Jets' cap situation, they should take a long look at 2012 third-rounder Demario Davis to play alongside Harris.

With only 30 sacks in 2012, the Jets will have a hard time turning away from Jones, but he's streaky. He'll have games of three or four sacks with a bushel full of big plays and then the next you'll wonder whether he's been on the field or not. Plus, Jones' medicals must check out as his neck injury forced him to leave USC for Georgia back in 2010. Regardless, he's a significant upgrade on the edge, something the Jets desperately need.

Mingo hasn't played a ton of football and was just learning how to play 4-3 defensive end with his hand on the ground at LSU. But, if there's an athlete in this draft that could make that transition, it's Mingo. Worst case, he can fly off the edge and get after the quarterback.

And, no, Jets fans, he's not Vernon Gholston. Ansah is a work in progress, as well, and might not be the right fit in New York, but if the Jets are faced with having to select a guy his size who can run a 4.5 forty, well, heck, they'll just have to get over themselves, huh?

Ogletree plays the game with a hefty helping of nasty, but that stays with him off the field too. With Davis likely taking over Scott's inside spot next to Harris, the Jets' depth can be bolstered with a productive tackling machine like Klein, who was the 2011 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

Secondary The Draft Board

2nd round CB Desmond Trufant, Wash. (5-11, 190)
CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida St. (6-1, 217)
CB Logan Ryan, Rutgers (6-0, 182)
S Matt Elam, Florida (5-10, 202) 3rd round CB Robert Alford, SELA (5-10, 186)
S Jonathan Cyprien, FIU (6-0, 209)
S Phillip Thomas, Fresno State (6-1, 210)
S Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma (5-11, 212) 4th round S Shawn Wiliams, Georgia (6-1, 213) 5th round S Robert Lester, Alabama (6-1, 212)
S Duke Williams, Nevada (5-11, 201)

The Jets' secondary was like a Dickens novel…it was the best of times (LaRon Landry's performance at safety) and the worst of times (Revis Island shutdown). But, nothing lasts forever, especially when Landry is staring at a potential huge payday as an unrestricted free agent. He was second on the team with 99 tackles, but he's not married to the Jets, which leaves a gaping hole at free safety if he leaves.

Then, there is strong safety Yeremiah Bell, who registered 89 tackles, third on the team, and is also an unrestricted free agent. Both will command significant interest on the market, which could alter free agent/draft strategy if the Jets lose both players.

At cornerback, if Revis is healthy and Cromartie plays like he did in 2012, the Jets are set at that position. But, the most polarizing discussion of the offseason will be whether Revis returns to the Jets or gets traded elsewhere. Plenty of teams will be interested, but the question about his knee will resonate throughout.

Idzik has his work cut out trying to figure out what to do with this unit alone. Could it be that the only Jet that returns is Cromartie? Then what?

This is as difficult to figure out from a draft perspective as any unit in the AFC East. If Bell and Landry walk and Revis gets moved, it becomes priority No. 1. If Revis gets moved, the Jets would have additional picks somewhere in this draft to allow for the opportunity to draft youngsters at both CB and safety.

Trufant is a lockdown corner who does it with his speed, quickness and ability to match cuts better than any other CB in this draft. Rhodes, on the other hand, is physical and can beat receivers up at the line of scrimmage in press man coverage.

Ryan flew under the radar much of the year, but having played at Rutgers, the Jets personnel department should be familiar with how smooth he backpedals, breaks on the ball and makes plays on the ball. At safety, Elam is a ball player, pure and simple. He plays every single play with a chip on his shoulder and will run through ball carriers in run support. He's underrated in pass coverage but no safety has the football instincts that he has.

Cyprien is getting a ton of attention late in the process. This guy doesn't back off and doesn't know any other way to play the game. He'll thrive at the combine and that could push him up into the late second round after that Meat Market showing.

John Harris hosts The John Harris Show for Yahoo! Sports Radio.

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