By Glenn Naughton
For any die-hard fan, mock drafts are always a fun read for a couple of reasons. If you hate the picks, you can state your case as to why you know better. If you love the picks, it gives you a feeling of optimism as the draft approaches.
With the draft now just weeks away and free agency’s most active time frame behind us, JetNation.com takes a shot at getting inside General Manager Mike Maccagnan’s head to take a stab at how Gang Green will proceed in Chicago later this month. With gaping holes at quarterback, outside linebacker, offensive line and tight end, the Jets have their work cut out for them with only six choices unless more picks are added via trade.
The possibility of a deal involving star defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson that would add picks or change first round position can’t be ignored, but also can’t be predicted. Taking a guess as to who takes on Wilkerson and his contract demands as well as what the Jets will get in return would be fruitless, so we’ll tread lightly this time around regarding the multiple scenarios regarding a Wilkerson trade.
In all likelihood, any mock draft before a Wilkerson deal is completed, would carry little weight as there is a chance
Round 1 (20 overall)- Connor Cook- Quarterback- 6′ 4” – 217 – Michigan State
With just Geno Smith and Bryce Petty on their roster, the Jets appear to be determined to add another young signal caller in this draft. If Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch is still on the board at 20, or if Wilkerson is used to move up in round one, he’d absolutely be the pick. However, with Lynch likely gone before no. 20, and Wilkerson’s fate unknown, the Jets go with the next best option, Michigan State’s Connor Cook.
Easily one of the draft’s more polarizing players, Cook has experts projecting him anywhere from a late first rounder to a late second round selection. The defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, picking 31st, and also in need of a quarterback, had Cook in for a visit recently as well.
His experience and production in a pro-style offense has drawn interest from several teams, but his accuracy has been called in to question. Despite an impressive TD/INT ratio of 71/22 during his time in college, Cook completed just 57.5% of his pass attempts.
If the Jets do go with Cook, it says as much about their confidence in offensive coordinator Chan Gailey and quarterbacks coach Kevin Patullo and their ability to work with the youngster as it does in Cook himself. The QB also comes with some concerns regarding his commitment and character concerns, but nothing that has generated any buzz about any real impact on his draft slot.
While teams will sometimes use pre-draft visits as a way to give the false impression of genuine interest, the Jets dispatched four members of their staff to Cook’s pro day. A bit excessive if there wasn’t at least mild interest.
Barring a trade up to grab Lynch or his unlikely fall to 20, the Jets snatch up Cook. A strong-armed, pro-style QB who needs some polish, but may be able to step in and play sooner than most other prospects in this draft.
Alternate first round pick:
Leonard Floyd- Outside Linebacker – 6′ 6” 244 – Georgia
It was tempting to peg Floyd over Cook, but his lack of elite college production (17 sacks in 37 games) coupled with his tall, thin frame suggest he’ll struggle against bigger/stronger NFL talents and may have to spend significant time as a situational pass-rusher while he bulks up.
The Jets may be willing to take him and wait for him to develop, but teams will often prefer the every down player who can step in from day 1.
Round 2 (51 overall) – Noah Spence – OLB – 6′ 2” 251 – Eastern Kentucky
For the second season in a row, the Jets get a steal to plug in to their front seven. Last season it was defensive end Leonard Williams, and this time around, it’s Spence.
Viewed by many as a top-15 talent, Spence has been projected to fall far beyond what would have been his original draft slot due to multiple positive drug tests at Ohio State before being suspended and moving on to Eastern Kentucky.
Several analysts have Spence falling to the bottom of the second round which is where the Jets currently reside. Spence’s issues make him a huge gamble with your team’s first pick, but with a glaring need for an edge rusher, the Jets are unlikely to pass on him a second time.
For head coach Todd Bowles, this wouldn’t be uncharted territory as he witnessed Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu transform himself from a college prospect with a drug problem, to one of the best players at his position in the NFL when Bowles was a defensive coordinator for the Cardinals.
Alternate 2nd round pick:
Su’A Cravens – Safety/Outside Linebacker – 6′ 1” 226 – USC
Cravens is a versatile defender who played both safety and linebacker during his time at USC and he made plays in both roles. As a pass defender, Cravens racked up 9 interceptions in 3 seasons to go along with his 207 tackles, 34 tackles for loss, and 10.5 sacks.
He’s an ultra-competitive defender who plays with reckless abandon leading to some undisciplined mistakes, but that’s something that can be corrected over time with quality coaching.
Given Todd Bowles’ penchant for moving his defensive players all over the field in multiple roles, Cravens gives him a player who can not only hold his own at several positions, but who can make game changing plays either in the backfield chasing down quarterbacks and running backs, or dropping into coverage, using his excellent length as a pesky defender with above average hands.
Round 3 (83rd overall)- Connor McGovern – Guard/Tackle – 6′ 4” 306 – Missouri
One of the strongest linemen in this year’s draft, McGovern is another mauler in the run game who struggles in pass protection from time to time but is also versatile enough to warrant some consideration at right tackle at some point. During his time at Missouri McGovern played guard and both tackle spots, playing LT his senior year. That versatility will make him attractive to the Jets who could can use an upgrade at RG or RT, if not some quality young depth..
Alternate 3rd round pick:
Shon Coleman – Offensive Tackle – 6′ 5” 307 – Auburn
Keeping the focus on the offensive line, Coleman’s history could make him an absolute steal at this point in the draft as he has the measurables to some day become a starter, but also has a medical history that kept him off the field for an extended period of time that could lead to his fall in the draft.
Coleman missed two years of college football as he battled leukemia but fought his way back to start 33 games at Auburn, 25 of them at left tackle over his final two seasons.
While the Jets are set at left tackle with Ryan Clady, Coleman is physical enough to take over at RT for Breno Giacomini if the Jets do in fact move on from the struggling lineman, and can also step in should Clady miss any additional time due to injury as has been the case in two of the last three years.
Round 4 (118 overall)- Jack Allen- Center – 6′ 2” 294 – Michigan State
Offensive line has to be a priority in this draft and Allen offers another opportunity to add a versatile youngster who could one day replace veteran Nick Mangold at the center position if things don’t pan out with current back up Dakota Dozier.
A technically sound center with a high motor, Allen has played not only center and guard, but he was also called upon to fill in at left tackle when projected first rounder Jack Conklin was sidelined. That alone tells you how highly Allen was regarded by the Michigan State coaching staff.
Having played at a high level and three different positions in a smashmouth conference gives Allen instant credibility. Combine that with his work ethic and tenacity, and Allen could make a push to steal a starting job in training camp.
Alternate 4th round pick:
Eric Striker- Safety/Outside Linebacker- 5′ 11” 227 – Oklahoma
If the Jets don’t take a player like Cravens in round 2, Striker is another possibility who can be an excellent chess piece on defense. Too small to be an every down ‘backer and far from a natural safety, Striker is a player who will be moved around the filed like Cravens, but has one of the best first steps off the ball in the country.
While in Indy, I had the opportunity to ask NFL network draft analyst Mike Mayock about Striker and he too seemed to be on the same page. “The thing Striker does best is come off the edge and get after the quarterback, but he has safety size”.
I also spoke with Pete Prisco of CBS Sports about Striker during the NFL combine and he agreed, saying that teams are getting too caught up in his size and need to watch the film to see how much time Striker spent in the offensive backfield. “Eric Striker is just a really good football player” said Prisco, “and a lot of teams are going to miss on him”.
Given the chance, the Jets may not be one of them.
Round 7 (235 overall)- Nate Sudfeld – Quarterback – 6′ 6” 234 – Indiana
We wouldn’t be talking about the Jets if we weren’t exploring the possibility of a quarterback at the top and bottom of the draft, and Nate Sudfeld gives us a chance to do just that should the Jets miss out on a QB in the earlier rounds.
The younger brother of Jets tight end Zach Sudfeld, Nate was an extremely productive quarterback in Indiana where he led the Hoosiers to the top rated offense in the Big 10.
Sudfeld has the arm to make all the throws, but his mechanics can be erratic, leading to inconsistency, but with a coordinator like Chan Gailey, he could be a worthwhile choice.
“I like him a lot after leading the Big-10 in offense in a pro-style system” said Pete Prisco when we talked about Sudfeld in Indy. Mike Mayock also commented on Sudfeld during the East-West shrine game in saying he felt Sudfeld was in interesting prospect who had the tools to be a good quarterback in the right system.
Alternate 7th round pick:
Juston Burris- Cornerback – 6′ 212 – North Carolina State
Even being seemingly fine at the position, it’s difficult to envision the Jets coming away from the draft without at least one cornerback. With more pressing needs, the Jets can afford to wait until the later rounds and Burris presents the opportunity to grab a corner with good size, who is strong in press coverage and has special teams experience.
The best player on a bad defense, Burris held opposing QB’s to just a 34.1% completion percentage when targeted, and that’s due largely to his physical style of play.
I asked Burris about his ability to limit opponents to such a low completion percentage and he told me that he used his size and strength to his advantage, never shying away from an opponent and being aggressive at the line.
While that style has served him well at times, it also led to six pass interference calls. A habit that can hopefully be broken over time with good coaching.
Round 7 (2nd choice/241st overall)- Tyler Higbee – Tight End – 6′ 6” 249 – Western Kentucky
I initially had Higbee down as a fourth round alternate, but his recent arrest will likely damage his stock. Details of the incident have emerged and Higbee is claiming that the assault he was accused of was retaliation for the victim shoving or striking Higbee’s girlfriend and contrary to initial reports, it appears Higbee did not flee the scene.
Legal issues aside, Higbee’s physical traits are among the best in this draft.
A converted wide receiver, Higbee was one of the most productive tight ends in the country, hauling in 38 catches for 563 yards and 8 touchdowns in just 9 games. He would miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury but the tape he left behind consisted of several eye-popping catches that showed soft hands, great run after catch ability, excellent separation and a size/speed combination that made him tough to bring down.
Higbee will need some time to work on his blocking skills, but he could be said for many of the top tight ends coming out of college these days.
He also has experience on special teams which will be essential as a late-round draft choice.
Alternate round 7th (241st overall) round pick:
Drew Kaser – Punter – 6′ 2” 212 – Texas A&M
There’s really not a whole lot to say here other than the Jets need to bring an end to their revolving door of mediocre punters who have put them at a disadvantage on special teams for years.
Kaser is viewed as a draftable punter with strong leg out of Texas A&M and with no punter on the roster, using the 241st choice in the draft on a player that offers an immediate upgrade is well worth it.
Should the Jets add an early or mid round pick or two if they move Wilkerson, here are a couple of names to keep in mind.
Jaylon Smith – Linebacker – Notre Dame
You can’t discuss the possibility of adding picks without mentioning Jaylon Smith of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Considered one of the top five talents in this year’s class, Smith is now projected to fall to round 2 or 3 as a result of a serious knee injury. Some experts projected Smith to the Jets in round one just a few weeks ago, but that seems less and less likely as medical reports have indicated nerve damage that will keep Smith out for all of next season.
If the Jets add a second or third round pick for Wilkerson, they’ll be playing with house money and would be foolish to pass on Smith.
Nick Kwiatkowski- Linebacker – West Virginia
The type of player any team would be happy to have on their roster, Kwiatkowski is a former safety who added 40 pounds to his frame to make the move to linebacker and his athleticism didn’t appear to suffer at all.
In four college seasons (three as a starter), Kwiatkowski piled up 295 tackles and six sacks while splitting time between inside and outside linebacker. Kwiatkowski has the tools to be a special teams ace right off the bat.
Victor Ochi – Outside Linebacker/Defensive End – 6′ 1” 246 – Stony Brook
A local product, Ochi played his college ball at Stony Brook university and amassed 16.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks in just 10 games. A late-round project, Ochi is expected to make the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker in the pro’s.
Alex Lewis- Offensive Tackle – 6′ 6” 312 – Nebraska
A potential steal in the later rounds, Lewis has the talent to play offensive tackle at the pro level after earning the starting nod at Nebraska, but his maturity is an issue and he will often allow himself to get off-balance more than you like to seen.
However, as a later pick, you could do a lot worse.
Xavien Howard- Cornerback – 6′ 201 – Baylor
Howard lacks elite speed but has shown the ability to provide quality press coverage which could make him a good fit for Todd Bowles’ scheme.
Not lacking in confidence, I asked Howard about his time at Baylor with Jets quarterback Bryce Petty to which he answered, “He liked to test me early on, then I intercepted him a few times and then he stopped”.
A move to safety may not be out of the question for Howard at the next level.
Devon Cajuste- Wide Receiver – 6′ 4” 234 – Stanford
A projected fourth or fifth rounder, Cajuste offers great size for a Jets offense that has seemingly placed an emphasis on bigger targets which contributed to their 11th ranked scoring offense in the NFL. Cajuste could sit behind veterans Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker while he eventually works his way on to the field.
Cyrus Jones- Cornerback – 5′ 10” 197 – Alabama
One of the nation’s top return men, Jones is also a speedy cover corner who needs some work and will struggle against bigger targets but may work out as a slot corner and return specialist.
The NFL draft is less than two weeks away and for the die hards it can’t get here soon enough.
Jets fans will now prepare to join NFL fans across the county in predicting and scrutinizing every pick their team makes, knowing that whether or not it was the right choice will only be determined on Sundays over the next several seasons.
Even still, that won’t stop the armchair GM’s from praising or blasting their respective GM’s before the player even has a chance to hold up his brand new jersey and smile for the cameras.