Free Agents, Draft Picks That Could Fill New York Jets' Biggest Needs
While the Jets may not be completely eliminated form playoff contention, the future is much more promising than the present for this rebuilding team.
After they release a handful of overpaid veterans, the Jets will have a ton of cap room to work with this spring. Combined with a full slate of draft picks (including an extra pick from the Darrelle Revis trade), and the Jets are primed to make a big splash this offseason.
Much of what they do depends on how they feel about quarterback Geno Smith after the season. If Smith is deemed to be their quarterback of the future, the Jets can use all of their resources to build around him. Otherwise, they need to get themselves into the dirty, muddy quarterback market until they find a franchise player.
Here are some players the Jets could add to their roster to fill their biggest needs in 2014.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Explosive playmakers at the skill positions claim the top spot on the Jets' list of needs. Clemson product Sammy Watkins would be the ideal player to add to an offense that has not fielded a quality group of wide receivers since 2010.
While he has just average size at 6"1, no receiver in the country is as explosive as Watkins. He has tremendous acceleration and the top-end speed to stretch the field.
What makes Watkins even more valuable is his versatility. Capable of lining up in the slot or on the outside, Watkins could morph into a Percy Harvin-type receiver who will give defenses nightmares trying to find the right personnel to match up with him.
Watkins' saw his stock falling after an injury-riddled 2012 season, but he has since come back strong to claim his spot as the top draft-eligible wide receiver on most boards.
For the Jets, the biggest worry about Watkins is whether or not he will be available when the Jets pick somewhere in the middle stages of the first round.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Mike Evans is one of the few receivers who have a chance to top Sammy Watkins on some draft boards, but he is a much different receiver than his Clemson counterpart.
Evans is not quite as sudden or explosive as Watkins, but he makes up for it with his ability to make contested catches—a trait of growing importance in the NFL. With the increased use of man coverage around the league, making catches in jump-ball situations are becoming a necessity.
Having a receiver like Mike Evans would only capitalize on the strengths of Geno Smith's game, which is throwing accurate deep and intermediate passes between the numbers.
Evans does not have quite the versatility of Watkins, but he is built for the big-play offense the Jets have thrived on (when executed properly) under Geno Smith.
The Jets were counting on Stephen Hill to be their go-to man in such situations, but with one catch in over a month (on a bubble screen, no less), the Jets need to start looking elsewhere for big-play production.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants
Nicks has dealt with nagging injuries in just about every one his seasons at the professional level, but there is no question that he has the ability to be one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL. Nicks has everything a team is looking for in a No. 1 wide receiver with stellar size, speed, hands and route-running ability.
Whoever signs Nicks, however, takes on a lot of risk. Not only is he an injury-prone player, but questions about his character have come to light in the Giants' disappointing 2013 campaign, as he appeared to be more interested in getting through the season to sign his big deal than helping the Giants win.
Nicks was a surprise scratch for a crucial game against the Dallas Cowboys, indicating that he has found himself in the cold, dark doghouse that belongs to Tom Coughlin.
Now, whoever decides to give Nicks a big contract extension needs to consider how hard he will play when he finally does get his big second contract.
Adding a player like Hakeem Nicks could provide immediate dividends to a receiver-needy team like the Jets, but it does come with a considerable amount of risk.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
The only offensive position on the Jets that needs as much help as the receiver position is the tight end group. Not only has Jeff Cumberland not been able to fill the role as the No. 1 tight end, but Kellen Winslow is nearing the end of his career at age 30.
There is no guarantee that he will be in this year's draft (he is still a junior), but Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins is built exactly how NFL teams want their tight ends to be: strong, athletic and with the ability to make tough catches in traffic.
At 6'6" 276 pounds, Seferian-Jenkins can overpower most safeties and linebackers in the NFL and will be very potent as a red-zone target. He has tremendous athleticism and ball skills, allowing him to make an impact on the Jets' (or any team's) offense from day one.
As of now, the biggest concern with Seferian-Jenkins is the DUI charge he received last March. Because of his otherwise clean record, the incident appears to be an isolated one, but it is certainly worth looking into for a team thinking of using their top draft pick on him.
As long as he can stay out of trouble, Seferian-Jenkins would instantly make the Jets' tight end corps one of the better units in the league.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Before this season, Jeremy Maclin was considered as one of the top playmakers at his position. However, an ill-timed ACL injury in training camp has made him a huge question mark when he enters free agency this March.
ACL injuries are difficult to gauge; some players have never been able to come back, while some, such as Wes Welker or Adrian Peterson, returned to the field as strong as ever. The fact that Maclin suffered the injury early in camp gives him extra time to recover.
Under general manager John Idzik, the Jets have rolled the dice on several injured players including Willie Colon, David Nelson and Josh Cribbs with some success. If the Jets can get Maclin on an incentive-laced deal, it would make too much sense for them not to pull the trigger.
However, there will be many teams at least interested in Maclin's services. If another team is willing to give him a lot of guaranteed money, the Jets should back out and invest their money in a "safer" player.
HaHa Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The Jets have at least one young player to work with at the safety position in Antonio Allen, but the tandem of Ed Reed and Dawan Landry are not going to be able to get the job done in the long term.
Clinton-Dix has a lot of experience as a centerfielder, using his great instincts to track down passes. The Jets have been forcing Dawan Landry into this role for most of the season; moving Clinton-Dix into the classic free safety role will allow Antonio Allen to shift into his more natural position at strong safety.
Clinton-Dix is also a ferocious hitter, a common trait among Alabama defensive backs.
Safety may not be the biggest need on the team, but if he is the best player available when the Jets are on the clock in the first round, they must consider pulling the trigger.
Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
While Quinton Coples has slowly grown into his new role at outside linebacker, the position opposite him desperately needs an injection of youth after being occupied by the dinosaurish Calvin Pace for the past six seasons.
Khalil Mack is a do-it-all linebacker, able to rush the passer as well as drop into coverage. Capable of making explosive plays in defending both the running and passing games, Mack racked up 75 career tackles for loss, tying an NCAA record.
While the Jets have spent plenty of resources on their defensive front in recent drafts, the addition of Mack will give the unit some much-needed speed on the edge. While Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson make for a fantastic pair of defensive ends, they need to be complemented by a reliable speed-rusher off the corner.
Adding Khalil Mack may not be the most popular move, but he may be too good of a player to pass up if the Jets have a chance to take him early in the first round.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Depending on how Geno Smith finishes out this season, there is a chance that the Jets will find themselves back in the quarterback market next season.
The Jets will have a plethora of options in the first couple of rounds, but of all of the prospects in this year's draft, Johnny Manziel makes the most sense.
While he lacks ideal size and strength, Manziel has shown an uncanny ability to make a ton of plays with both his arm and his feet. His accuracy is as good as there is in this draft class, and his arm strength has noticeably improved since his freshman season.
Adding one of the most polarizing players in the history of college football will make the Jets an easy target for the back of the tabloids, but if the Jets feel that Johnny Football is capable of becoming a franchise quarterback, the team should not hesitate to jump at the chance in the first round.
Brian Orakpo, OLB, Washington Redskins
Brian Orakpo may not be playing for a stellar defense this year, but there is no doubt that he can make a huge impact on a team like the Jets that is in desperate need for an edge pass-rusher.
With a solid 8.5 sacks on the season, Orakpo falls just below the elite level of NFL pass-rushers, but he is a fine all-around player who would be an upgrade over Calvin Pace in every way.
While the Jets may have to overspend a bit for Orakpo, they won't have to wait for him to develop, as they would if they brought in a rookie. At age 27, the Texas product still has a lot of good football in front of him.
A defensive front that includes Quinton Coples, Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson and Brian Orakpo will give the Jets the best group of pass-rushers in the league.