How far away are the Jets?
Options for New York in the draft and why the team will improve in 2013
Originally Published: March 28, 2013
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Insider
Over the past five seasons, the New York Jets haven't had a single player go over 1,000 yards receiving in a season. That's not some exclamation point meant to define the era, it's part of a bigger point. Four of those years consist of the unofficial Mark Sanchez era -- a period that has been defined by very good defense and consistently inconsistent play on offense. (The high point for passing yards per game during this period was 21st in the NFL, in 2011.)
We tend to call the Jets a team built on defense, one that needs to "control the ball." Except the running game also has fallen apart over the past two seasons, as the Jets have averaged 3.8 yards per carry each year. Add it up and you have an official period of decline over the past two seasons consisting of 8-8 and 6-10 records.
It's an outmoded way of thinking to say offenses need to establish the run or establish the pass. Teams play to their strengths, and you don't consistently do something likely to be less successful just to set up something better. The fact with the Jets over the past two seasons is it really hasn't mattered what they have tried to do. The running game has been completely devoid of explosiveness, and the passing game under Sanchez has been simply bad. One side hasn't been able to set up the other, because neither side can consistently offer a threat.
Bottom line: The offense has been the problem. And despite where the offense is in terms of personnel, I still don't believe the Jets are in some total rebuild mode.
Here are some reasons why and why the draft can be a part of the solution.
The defense is still strong
The 2012 Jets were sixth in total defense. Think about that based on what this defense was dealing with. It lacked any consistent pass rush off the edge; it lost the best corner (Darrelle Revis) in the NFL early in the season; safety play wasn't great; and it saw decline years from Bart Scott, David Harris, Calvin Pace and LaRon Landry. Oh, and the offense was a three-and-out machine. Add up all the problems and that still-good No. 6 ranking represented the worst defense statistically in the Rex Ryan era. The Jets can be better at every position they were lacking in 2012, and the defensive line is going to be a major strength with the continued development of recent first-rounders Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples. I don't care what you give Ryan to work with, he's going to scheme his way to a top-10 defense. I don't think this unit is going to take a step back.
The passing game should be better
Yes, that's a relative statement given how bad it was in 2012, but even if Sanchez is under center in 2013, the passing game should improve. The loss of Dustin Keller doesn't help, but the return of Santonio Holmes gives the passing game at least one reliable target it lacked last season. Wideout Stephen Hill was bound to see major growing pains as a rookie given the college system he came from, but he should take a step forward in 2013. I still believe they need to find more help in the draft, but whether it's Sanchez, David Garrard or someone else entirely throwing passes, the passing game has no place to go but up.
Same with the running game
Sorry, but regardless of what you think of Shonn Greene, his absence in 2013 isn't a setback. He lacked the ability to make defenders miss and isn't even the power back some consider him -- just 2.1 yards per carry after contact, which was good for 44th among qualifying runners last season. The current combination of Bilal Powell and Mike Goodson isn't impressive, but it offers more than Greene and the draft could provide further help.
So what can the Jets do in the draft?
For one, the Jets can improve the defense by adding a pass-rusher offenses truly need to account for on every play. An athletic freak such as Barkevious Mingo or a productive pass-rusher such as Jarvis Jones are among the options for an upgrade at No. 9.
Even if the offense is bound to be a little better in 2013, I still think the Jets need to add at least one "fear factor" element via the draft. By that I mean a player who can create explosive plays or clear matchup problems. Because the value range for that player isn't really at No. 9 -- unless they go for a guy like Tavon Austin or Cordarrelle Patterson that early -- the Jets could consider trading down to pick up an extra first-, second- or even an early third-round pick.
This is a draft with a decent amount of depth at tight end, so finding a replacement for Keller in Round 2 or 3 could be an option, and adding another wideout who can cause safeties to play a little deeper -- Justin Hunter, Da'Rick Rogers and Terrance Williams come to mind -- could be had after the first round.
The Jets also need help on the offensive line (right tackle was a pass protection issue last season), but they could certainly find help at that position beyond the first round.
One other reality of this draft that could help the Jets is the fact that the safety class is really deep. Even if it's a third- or fourth-round pick, the Jets could find some immediate help at that currently depleted position.
Finally, there's the big question at quarterback, but this isn't a draft class that offers any assurances of an immediate upgrade, even over Sanchez or Garrard. With Jacksonville, Oakland, Cleveland, Arizona and Buffalo all drafting ahead of them, there is no chance Geno Smith slips to No. 9, and taking any other quarterback that high would be a massive reach. Could they grab another QB later in the draft? Absolutely. But no one in this class will offer help for Week 1 of 2013.
Drafting well offers no certainty that the Jets will make major strides in 2013. But by health, subtraction and development alone they could have a chance to be a little better at the skill positions. Remember that Ryan also has an uncanny ability to piece together an above-average defense and there should be reasons for hope.
It all starts at quarterback, but at least the new front office is taking a healthier approach to the idea of competition at the position headed into a new season. Every year we see teams we reflexively wrote off before the season make major strides and land back in the playoffs. The Jets were a total disaster in 2012 yet were still 6-10. This isn't a total rebuild; it's a team that could get better both through the draft and because, in some areas, it'll be hard-pressed to play any worse.
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Mel Kiper Jr. - How Far Away Are The Jets Options for New York in the draft and why the team will improve in 201
Posted 28 March 2013 - 02:51 PM
"My first thought was I looked and I saw who was second and [thought], 'Hey, I finally beat Belichick at something. I got him. I knew it would take time, but I finally got him.'"
--Rex Ryan on being voted the most overrated NFL head coach
--Rex Ryan on being voted the most overrated NFL head coach
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