It's understandable if you're a little behind on the draft research. The 2012 season ended just over two weeks ago, and we're already just days away from the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.
My, how quickly the offseason moves along.
How about a quick way to get up to speed on the most important prospects to watch?
Glad you asked.
Positions of Need
ESPN's Mel Kiper recently made the bold statement that the Jets have a lot of needs.
We'll focus on the top five needs here.
Mark Sanchez's guaranteed money virtually guarantees he'll be with the Jets in 2013.
Beyond that, if he wants to stick around, he'd better hope that he fits perfectly in the West Coast offense and that the Jets don't go with a quarterback in the first round. Greg McElroy is probably not the answer.
The Jets released outside linebacker Calvin Pace on Tuesday, and at 34 years old, no one should be surprised if Bryan Thomas hangs up his cleats soon. Even if they still had both on the roster, the Jets would need some youth and athleticism on the edge after accumulating just 5.5 sacks between their two starters last season.
Shonn Greene is set to become a free agent, and the Jets don't have much behind him for depth.
Bilal Powell ran hard when given an opportunity at the end of the season, but can he be a bell-cow back? Do the Jets even want a bell cow? Can Joe McKnight find a role to contribute on offense? These are all questions the Jets will have to find answers to this offseason with regards to their need for a running back.
Guard may not be a sexy pick, but there is certainly a need for one. Brandon Moore is entering his 11th season and is turning 33 in June, while Matt Slauson is set to become a free agent this offseason. The Jets will most likely be searching for a new starter at the position sometime in the next 12 months. At the very least, the Jets could use some depth there.
The Jets found a solid one-year solution to their problems at safety with the signings of LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell. Both of those players started 16 games, and both are slated to become free agents. The Jets drafted two safeties last year in Antonio Allen and Josh Bush, but their depth at the position is thin after releasing Eric Smith.
Recent Mock Draft Selections
Thanks to Kiper's aforementioned insight, there are a number of ways the Jets could go with the No. 9 overall pick.
Here's a roundup of some of the prospects the experts have been projecting to the Jets in the first round:
- Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: Ezekiel Ansah, DE/OLB, BYU
- Mel Kiper, ESPN (Insider access): Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
- Todd McShay, ESPN: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
- Bucky Brooks, NFL.com: Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
- Russ Lande, NationalFootballPost.com: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
All of the above experts have the Jets drafting a player at a position of need; they just don't all agree on which position, or which player.
At least a few of them agree that there will be good value at defensive end/outside linebacker near No. 9. Dion Jordan has already been a wildly popular mock selection for the Jets and would be an outstanding fit for their defense because of his ability to be a jack-of-all-trades as a pass-rusher, edge-setter against the run and even dropping into coverage, an area where the Jets outside linebackers have struggled of late.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller said there's "not really anyone in the NFL who has similar traits in terms of just being a [physical] freak" but compared Jordan's game to a player the Jets passed on drafting in 2012, Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones. Miller said:
Tell me if you've seen this before: a college defensive end who can also play outside linebacker, but he can also cover wide receivers in the slot...Jordan will have to learn to use his hands, something that Jones picked up in training camp and really advanced in his first season.
Miller went on to say that Jordan needs to get stronger, but that he could have an immediate impact as either a 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 defensive end.
Chance Warmack has been regarded by NFL Network's Mike Mayock as the best player in this year's class from what he's seen on tape.
Watching Warmack on film, you see a guy who's a bit undersized but he's incredibly strong, very fast off the ball and has great lateral agility to get out and pull and move the ball in the running game.
Guards are rarely taken in the top 10; in fact, it's happened just nine times from 1980 to 2012. That being said, Warmack is a rare player, and with Moore turning 33 years old and Slauson set to become a free agent, guard could be one of the bigger needs for the future.
Quarterback, however, takes the cake right now.
Tyler Wilson is widely considered one of the three or four best quarterback prospects in this year's class, and depending on how other teams feel about him, he may or may not be available.
Tyler Wilson is one of the toughest players in college football, and when you look at his arm strength and that ability to get up even after the hardest of hits, it's easy to see Jay Cutler...In Wilson, we see a guy at 6'2" and 220 pounds who's a bit undersized but makes up for it because he's not afraid in the pocket, and he has the arm strength to compensate when things do break down.
The private interview is the one part of the combine that we don't get to see, and it's also the part that could have the biggest impact on the stock of several players.
After his recent arrest on DUI, the Jets should schedule one of their interviews with Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree. They haven't shied away from players with a checkered off-field history in the past, and I wouldn't expect this to be any different. Ogletree was a highly recruited safety out of high school and played strong safety for Georgia as a freshman.
As a result, he could easily help the Jets address their need for a linebacker who can run and cover tight ends over the middle and receivers out of the backfield. First, though, they're going to have to see where his head is at.
Ryan Nassib is considered one of the top quarterbacks in this year's class, and Mayock thinks teams will begin to fall in love with Nassib once they put him on the board and test his football acumen.
Who Are Fans Watching?
In response to a tweet asking who fans will be watching, Henry (@HogBoss0197) lists a couple of the most popular mock picks in Warmack and Jordan, but goes a little deeper at their positions of need.
Jarvis Jones will not work out at the combine (via ESPN's Adam Schefter) but is certainly a prospect of interest for the Jets. Jones is presently Mel Kiper's top-rated prospect and is a good fit for the Jets as another defensive end-outside linebacker hybrid. Jones could be better against the run, but his potential as a pass-rusher will have most teams looking at him as a top-10 pick.
He has drawn comparison to Von Miller for both his ability to get after the passer and his need to improve against the run.
E.J. Manuel, on the other hand, is a big-armed quarterback who is able enough to move around the pocket to avoid pressure and make throws. Those elements to his game earned him a comparison from Miller to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
Manuel, like Nassib, has a lot to gain (and lose) in the interviews, as the mental part of his game is one that will be under a microscope.
Craig Hoffman has quite the laundry list of prospects he's looking at.
Of course, quarterbacks would be at the top of the list. The Jets will have plenty of options, and we've already touched on Tyler Wilson and E.J. Manuel. Geno Smith, however, may already be off the board.
Nassib is a polarizing prospect and has drawn a lot of early connections to the Buffalo Bills because of the Syracuse connection to Bills head coach Doug Marrone. Nassib has flashed a strong arm and the ability to move around in the pocket and throw while on the move. That being said, his tangibles are a question mark.
For that reason, the combine will be huge for him to prove he can throw with the best quarterbacks in this year's class and also to prove he has the mental acumen to be an NFL quarterback.
As for Matt Barkley, the fact that he went to USC isn't good enough for you to stay away? Maybe Matt Miller's comparison of Barkley to Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder will do the trick. Miller said:
Barkley has holes in his game, mostly due to injuries and a lack of arm strength to push the ball down the field...his football IQ is very high, he has good pocket presence and you love his ability to read a defense and make decisions.
In that sense, Barkley is the anti-Nassib; his football acumen is the known commodity, but his physical capabilities are the problem.
One player that stands out from Craig's list (see what I did there?) is safety Kenny Vaccaro. This year's safety class has been regarded as one of the best groups of safeties in recent years, and Vaccaro is the top dog in that group. He's not quite the ballhawk that you'd like to see at safety with a top-10 pick, but his stock could rise once teams get a look at his measurables up close and personal.
Who are you watching at the combine? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained first-hand or via team press releases.