By Glenn Naughton
The NFL draft is just a few days away and with it will come the usual range of emotions felt by fans as each pick is being made. Anger, excitement, confusion, etc. Then of course, there will be the reactions we don’t get to see that are far more personal than those of us with just a rooting interest.
NFL rosters are a numbers game, and for every player a team brings in, there’s a player on the roster whose job is just a bit less secure than it was before the pick was made.
Sure, there are plenty of fringe players carried by teams when the draft arrives as each team can carry up to 90 players, but for those players who previously felt “safe” because of their standing on the depth chart, the draft can change everything.
Which current Jets players could be feeling the heat from April 27th-29th?
FS Marcus Gilchrist- Gilchrist was one of GM Mike Maccagnan’s first big signings in the Jets’ first attempt to upgrade their secondary, and his inaugural season with the Jets was a good one. Gilchrist made the calls in the secondary and was a big part of the team finally having some solid performances against opposing tight ends after being torched on a weekly basis the season before.
Last season was a different story as Gilchrist regressed along with the rest of the secondary and often appeared to be out of position before ending his season on Injured Reserve.
If the Jets choose a safety in the draft along the lines of Malik Hooker or Obi Melifonwu, Gilchrist and his $6 million price tag could be on their way out the door.
SS Calvin Pryor- Pryor is preparing to enter his fourth pro season after being chosen by failed GM John Idzik out of Louisville in his now-famous debacle of a draft in 2014. As the team’s first round choice, Pryor was under the most pressure to perform, and it’s fair to say he’s come up short.
In three pro seasons, Pryor, who was advertised as an enforcer over the middle who would punish opposing receivers on a regular basis, has made far too few game-changing plays to say his job is 100% safe.
Pryor has started 38 career games, picking up 2 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles. His backup, Rontez Miles has started 5 games in that same time span and has 1 interception and 2 forced fumbles himself. The big hits have been few and far between, and the struggles in pass coverage have been all too common. This regime didn’t draft Pryor and another overhaul of the secondary may be on the horizon, with Pryor facing a pink slip, or possibly a draft day deal.
C Wesley Johnson- Johnson filled in admirably for the injured Nick Mangold in 2016, but he was only brought back on a one-year deal with no guaranteed money. Knowing that the team can cut ties with no cap implications won’t sit well with Johnson if the Jets take one of the top centers in the draft. However, taking a center wouldn’t be a sure bet to end Johnson’s time with the Jets as he has value as a back up at multiple spots along the O-line.
CB Dexter McDougle- Another member of the infamous class of ’14, McDougle likely stuck around last season only because the Jets secondary was a complete disaster. Even as Gang Green’s unit performed as one of the worst in the NFL, McDougle spent a good chunk of the season on the practice squad. Even after being elevated to the active roster, he saw the field for only six snaps. In a draft that’s very likely to see the Jets draft at least one cornerback, McDougle is going to have to stay healthy and show dramatic improvement if he hopes to stick around.
WR Devin Smith- Smith is probably the most important name on this list as he was Maccagnan’s second round choice in his first draft and was counted on to be a difference-maker on offense. Severely hampered by injuries up to this point, it’s time for Smith to show he belongs, or the Jets may be willing to move on with the stable of young receivers already in place.
Sheldon Richardson- While the Jets aren’t necessarily going to draft a player who can take Richardson’s place, trade rumors involving the defensive lineman have been swirling since last season. As the trade deadline approached, the Jets reportedly tried to make a deal to send Richardson to the Dallas Cowboys. So Richardson and Jets fans may not be listening up to hear the name of his replacement, but the name of the city he may be playing in when the season kicks off in September.
In just a few days, we’ll welcome a handful of new Jets players, followed by a small group of players looking for work elsewhere.