Now that the dust has settled from the 2011 NFL draft it is time to take a closer look at the players that were drafted by the New York Jets. Recently Matt Bitonti from DraftDaddy.com took the time to answer a few questions regarding the Jets draft. Matt does an excellent job breaking down the player’s skill sets in addition to explaining how the rookies will fit on the Jets roster.
TR: What are your thoughts on the Jets first round pick Muhammad Wilkerson? How do you think he will fit in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense?
MB: Temple DT Muhammad Wilkerson was an outstanding pick at thirty overall. Mel Kiper (who deserves a lot of respect for his evaluations) had him as the tenth best player in the draft, and called this pick a steal. I’d tend to agree. Most mock drafts had Wilkerson going higher in the round, because of his versatility. This is a player that appeals to every defense in the league, whether it’s an odd or even front. He can play nose tackle. He can line up as a 3-tech in a Cover-2 look. He can shade the outside of the tackle as a 5-tech. To project in all these roles is rare, and Rex Ryan will certainly find creative ways to use Wilkerson. He is not just a run-stuffer, he has pass rush ability and is a likely three down contributor. He is young (only twenty-one) but all of the skills are there to improve the defense.
TR: As the first round of the draft progressed several players like Bowers and Heyward were unexpectedly available to the Jets with the #30th pick. Do you think the Jets made the right move picking Wilkerson?
MB: Clemson DE Da’Quan Bowers reportedly failed two medical exams by the Jets and his career could be shortened because of knee troubles. It’s a sad situation to see any player fall in the draft, but he will get his chance to prove everyone wrong. Given the risk, they probably made the correct call in passing on this player.
As for Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward, this is an interesting question and undoubtedly their careers’ will be linked. Both players fit as a 5-tech in the 3-4 and both ended up on teams that played in last year’s AFC Championship Game. I was a huge Heyward fan pre-draft and overall he is a safer selection than Wilkerson. He is older, comes from a bigger school and his dad was in the league. Heyward started as a true freshman at Ohio State, very tough to do, and he also played (and produced) with a blown out elbow in the bowl game, also tough to do.
Wilkerson however has two more career sacks (in one less year) and has more physical upside to be great. Wilkerson is probably a better pass rusher and has more untapped potential. The draft is often about potential and Wilkerson has more than Heyward. Going on past production, Wilkerson helps the pass rush more than Heyward.
It should also be noted that every Jets first round draft pick since 2005 has been in for a private visit (or worked out on location) and they never did this with Cameron Heyward. It’s possible he was never really a serious target like most believed.
The Gholston connection has to be at least discussed. Could the Jets really take another Ohio State DE so soon after Vernon Gholston’s departure? Meanwhile the Jets retired #73 Joe Klecko was a Temple Owl so there’s a better lineage there.
TR: What is your evaluation of Gang Green’s third round pick Kenrick Ellis? Do you have any concerns about the level of competition that he faced while at Hampton?
MB: Kenrick Ellis is probably the best small schooler in this year’s draft; best being defined as most dynamic and physical upside. He also has the largest range of grades of any player projected. There are some teams that had an un-drafted grade on Ellis. There were others that had a late first/early second grade on Ellis. To have this high of a ceiling and this low of a floor is rare, and it speaks to the type of career he’s had to date.
The short version: Ellis was a four star high school recruit out of the state of Florida. He went to South Carolina. He got kicked off the team for violations (reportedly failed drug tests, although this is not confirmed). He played at Hampton. Ellis ran into further trouble with a felony assault charge (pending, unlikely to go to trial). He declared as a junior and did not get his degree. He went to the NFLPA game and dominated the competition, recorded a sack in that game. He had an excellent combine (for a man his size) and a even better pro-day.
From a purely football perspective we are talking about a rare size/speed prospect who projects as a nose tackle, possibly a 5-tech in Rex’s scheme. His primary responsibility will be to stuff the run but he has some pass rush potential and fluke into a couple sacks. He might be too raw to help right away and might need a “red shirt” year, like fellow small school Jets draft pick Vladimir Ducasse.
To answer the level of competition question, he did have a cup of coffee in the SEC so he has some experience at that level. This is not a guy who didn’t get offers and had to go small school because he lacked physical ability. Despite playing in the MEAC most recently, Ellis can clearly hang with the big boys. Of things to be concerned about level of competition ranks fairly low on the list.
This player needs to mature and make better decisions, not just as a football player but as a member of civilized society. His off the field choices really will dictate his success or failure. He has Albert Haynesworth level potential, both as a possible pro bowl defensive tackle and also a name that might make an appearance in the arrests database. It’s really up to Ellis, how this all turns out.
TR: Do you agree with the Jets selection of Ellis or were there better options available?
MB: When the pick was announced, I clapped and cheered; I loved this pick. We talked about upside in the Wilkerson pick, and taking risks, the Ellis pick is also a gutsy move. It has way more risk than Wilkerson (or any other pick they could have made) but also a huge reward. It’s the Rex Ryan sellout blitz of draft picks. Some teams played “prevent” with their picks and took safe players. I don’t like drafting safe. The Jets didn’t play prevent. They sold out in true Rex Ryan fashion and it will be interesting to see if it pans out. Win or lose I salute them for going balls out.
There were probably safer picks on the board at 94 but none with the upside of Kenrick Ellis. Looking at the names between 94 and the Jets pick at 126 there were none that I can point to and say I’d rather they took instead of Ellis. Time will tell.
Let me make one final comment about the defensive tackle selections: Jets going DT in round 1 and DT in round 3 could be a clue that they will not bring back any of the vets. Shaun Ellis, Kris Jenkins and Trevor Pryce are not under contract and with other priorities to re-sign, most likely are gone. Sione Pouha and Mike Devito played great last year and are the vets now. These rookies will hope to replace the departures over time. I’ve seen optimistic threads wondering how Rex will use the two Ellis’s together or Jenkins and Wilkerson together, or how Pouha will be replaced… these are dreams.
TR: The Jets selection of running back Bilal Powell was somewhat of a surprise considering the amount of backs already on the roster. What is your evaluation of Powell? Was this a value pick by the Jets?
MB: I was lucky enough to see this Louisville athlete at the Senior Bowl and he has rare vision. He isn’t the biggest or fastest player but he runs tough and seems to find a way through traffic to make long gains. He has an aggressive style that fits well with the Jets system. Bilal Powell had many supporters this spring and he’s one of those players that could end up being a great player despite being a later round pick. He plays with a rough edge, like a defender, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him punt gunning or fill other special teams roles that require a tough, fast player to bash heads. I’ve heard Jets fans say that the running back position was not a need. This is optimistic. Shonn Greene gets injured. Joe McKnight is unproven. Ladainian Tomlinson is on his swan song. With ground-and-pound you can’t have enough good running backs.
TR: The Jets drafted two wide receivers, Scotty McKnight and Jeremy Kerley. Can you see either of these players having an impact in their rookie year?
MB: Yes, especially in Jeremy Kerley’s case. This was another Senior Bowl player that impressed me with his receiving skills. He has great hands, sells out for catches, and is fearless over the middle. He has great potential as a slot contributor. The real story is his return ability and that’s where he will contribute right away. The Jets had Jericho Cotchery and Jim Leonard returning punts last year, that’s not ideal. This pick most likely closes the book on Brad Smith’s Jets career. Rick Gosselin (the mock draft master who writes for the Dallas Morning News) called Kerley the best pick of the fifth round.
As for Scotty McKnight, Jets fans have been up and down on this pick. Considering he’s a late seventh rounder there’s not much risk there. I’m not a big fan of favor picks but in the case of QB to WR there is a reasonable explanation. At the end of the day this thing is all about Mark Sanchez. If they have to draft Mark’s grandma to get him from 55% accuracy to 60% accuracy, I say do it. It can’t hurt to have the franchise quarterback’s best friend around the franchise. He’s the type of player they could keep on the taxi squad without much chance of him leaving.
And as a side note McKnight can play a little as well. It’s not completely impossible that he develops into a decent player. He is Colorado’s all time leading receiver and one of only ten players in NCAA history to record a catch in every game he’s played. His workouts were similar to Wes Welker’s and if he does pan out that would be his absolute upside.
TR: In the last round Gang Green selected quarterback Greg McElroy. What was your evaluation on McElroy.
MB: McElroy is a gamer. There is nothing physically that makes you think he’s going to be a great player, but put him on the field under the lights and he turns it up a notch. He’s experienced a lot of pressure at his program and usually delivered. He is a tough and smart developmental backup to Sanchez. McElroy’s going to support Mark and not try to steal his job. Believe it or not, most NFL backups want to replace their starters. McElroy will probably have a sound understanding of his place in the pecking order. If the worst case scenario does pass, McElroy could win a couple games. Not an amazing pick but pretty good under the circumstances, better than resigning Kellen Clemens. And the Jets do have good mojo with Alabama quarterbacks.
TR: With the players continuing to be locked out, how much do you think it will hinder the development of this rookie class?
MB: In the confusion of last week’s legal activity, first round picks were actually allowed to get playbooks, which is good for Wilkerson. In general the lockout doesn’t help the rookies but then again, when did a mini camp ever prepare a player for real game action? There are some teams that have quarterbacks that need to develop chemistry and a million calls to learn, the lockout will hurt those teams. The Jets drafted a couple defensive tackles, Rex likes to “keep it simple, stupid” for these guys and that’s how his defense operates. And let’s not forget Sanchez’s “Jets West” adventure. In general, the lockout shouldn’t affect the Jets as badly as other teams.
TR: Matt, once again thank you for your time. Matt Bitonti is the publisher of DraftDaddy.com, a site that continues to provide excellent NFL Draft information.