Now without their best player and a new general manager calling the shots, this is a new era for the New York Jets. While there are a few pieces already in place, the Jets need to round out their nucleus and rebuild their roster from the ground up, starting with Thursday night's draft.
All 32 general managers are under immense pressure during draft season, but John Idzik will be under an even more intense spotlight as he tries to fill the void left by Darrelle Revis with an additional first-round pick.
Fixing the Jets, even just three years removed from an AFC Championship appearance, is a multi-year project. Once hampered by a lack of organizational direction, John Idzik has plenty of work to do as he cuts the fat to build the team he envisions to be a winner.
No matter what Idzik's plan is moving forward, failing to land high-impact players after trading one of the greatest players in franchise history will only set this franchise further back into irrelevancy.
Day 1: Getting Explosive
With or without Revis, in the Rex Ryan era, the Jets have lacked one key element on both sides of the ball: explosion. Between their mediocre crop of skill position players and their nonexistent pass rush, the Jets simply do not have enough raw speed and explosion at game-changing positions—which can all be changed on Thursday night with careful use of their two first-round selections.
Immediately, two primary targets stand out as logical picks that would make a dent in the Jets' speed problem, starting with West Virginia's Tavon Austin.
Pound-for-pound, Austin is the best receiver in the draft. Clocking a 4.35 40-yard dash, Austin is deadly in the open field. He has uncanny change-of-direction ability and terrific balance to shake defenders and rack up yards after the catch.
At 5'8", Tavon Austin will be pegged by many as nothing more than a slot receiver with limited impact on the game. But Austin is so much more than a third receiver. He takes snaps out of the backfield (often in the increasingly popular "pistol" formation) and is an electric return man.
The biggest issue with using a first-round pick (the Jets would likely have to use their ninth overall pick) on a player like Austin is that he would seemingly replace Jeremy Kerley as the team's slot receiver. Given the sheer amount of holes on the Jets' roster, why use their most valuable draft pick replacing one of the few bright spots from the otherwise-dismal 2012 season?
As good as Kerley is as a slot receiver, Austin brings so much more to the table in terms of his versatility and physical talents. Kerley, who ran a pedestrian 4.59 at the 2010 scouting combine, does not have nearly the same kind of top-end speed that opens up the field for everyone else.
Austin, on the other hand, can be used as a runner and a receiver.
Meanwhile, the Jets' linebacking corps has only gotten older and slower since the Jets initially signed Calvin Pace back in 2008. With Darrelle Revis no longer around to mask the Jets' slow, plodding outside linebackers, John Idzik cannot ignore this need as long as his predecessor did.
Enter Barkevious Mingo.
"Keke" has the best first step out of any defender in this draft, able to explode past defenders to get to the quarterback. On this sack against Mississippi State, notice how far Mingo is up the field relative to his fellow defensive linemen, already across the line of scrimmage just moments after the snap:
Mingo will have to make a transition to outside linebacker, and his production in 2012 (4.5 sacks) does not quite match his physical attributes, but he provides an element of speed and explosion that the Jets have been starving for on the defensive side.
Day 2: Plugging Holes
By now, it is well-documented that the 2013 draft class makes up for its shortcomings in elite talent with tremendous depth, particularly in the second and third rounds. More importantly, this draft is particularly deep at positions of great need for the Jets:
In other words, the player you can get in the top of the second round is not much worse than the prospect whose name is called later on Thursday night.
There are so many quality players at positions such as safety that the Jets can almost make their picks according to what they think their biggest needs are.
Want a new safety? Idzik will likely get to choose between the hard-hitting Matt Elam, the versatile Tony Jefferson, ball hawk Baccari Rambo or workout warrior Eric Reid, among others.
If building receiver depth is a higher priority, players such as Stedman Bailey, Justin Hunter or even Keenan Allen may be available, in addition to a handful of of intriguing tight end prospects in Gavin Escobar and Jordan Reed.
No matter who the Jets take, they must make it a priority to get them on the field and get starting experience as soon as possible. A Revis-less Jets led by the likes of Mark Sanchez or David Garrard would be lucky to break the .500 mark, never mind a playoff run.
The time is now to build the roster from the bottom up and work out growing pains while the team is not yet ready to win.
Day 3: Boom or Bust
In theory, by Saturday morning, the 2013 Jets are younger, more explosive and filled with an infusion of young talent that the team can build around.
While no sane executive goes into the latter stages of the draft expecting to find future All-Pros, John Idzik comes from an organization that has built what is now the best roster in football by maximizing value on the day of the draft when the camera flashes are dimmed.
The best players on the Seattle Seahawks were not highly touted prospects coming out of college. Richard Sherman, a fifth-round selection, has emerged as one of the top corners in the league. Kam Chancellor, who just signed an extension on Tuesday, was taken in the same round one year earlier.
Obviously, players taken beyond the first three rounds are taken later for a reason; they all have significant flaws in their game. What players like Chancellor and Sherman have in common is that they break the mold of what is seen as a "typical" prospect for their positions. Sherman and Chancellor are massively oversized for their position, but the Seahawks were willing to think outside the box.
Now, oversized defensive backs is becoming less of an anomaly and more of a trend as teams try to catch up with Seattle's progressive thinking.
What does this mean for the Jets' approach? Idzik will need to take chances on players who, while they may have severe flaws, have elite corresponding traits that give them a chance to flourish in the NFL.
Whether it is Virginia Tech's Marcus Davis, a size-speed receiver specimen with concentration issues, the supersized tight end Dion Sims or a tremendously talented runner in Christine Michael, who was held back because of a marred relationship with his coach, the Jets should try taking a risk.
Statistically, most of these types of players will not find rousing success in the NFL and be the next Richard Sherman. Still, the Jets are in no position to find instant starters with limited upside—the time to gamble on high-risk-high-reward players is now, while Idzik's plan is still in infancy and the price for failure is minimized.
What about Quarterbacks?
Generally speaking, drafting quarterbacks is different from any other position, particularly in the earlier rounds.
Whether it is Geno Smith in the first, Ryan Nassib in the second or E.J. Manuel in the third, John Idzik should only pull the trigger on a passer if he is truly convinced that the player has high-end starting potential. Taking a quarterback for the sake of taking a quarterback will only cost the Jets a valuable draft pick they could have used on another position.
With Mark Sanchez and David Garrard battling for the starting quarterback title this summer, a rookie passer is not going to get a chance to gain valuable experience. With such a weak class at the position, the Jets are likely better off rounding out their roster before reaching for a quarterback.
Plus, with such a young roster that is due for growing pains in 2013, it is likely the Jets will be picking high in the 2014 draft as well—when the team will be more prepared to properly groom a young quarterback for the future.
By trading the pride of the franchise in Darrelle Revis just days before the draft, John Idzik has put himself in a position in which his draft will be much more highly scurtinized. Usually, first-year general managers are given multiple seasons to build rosters and field a winning team, but because of the Revis trade and how the Jets are treated in the media, Idzik will not enjoy the same benefit of the doubt that his peers will get.
Fixing the Jets is not a one-year project. It will take patience from fans and ownership before the green and white are back in playoff contention. The key for Idzik's success is to, unlike his predecessor, set a clear direction for the organization and stick to his preferred philosophy of team-building for sustained success.