Re-Grading the New York Jets' 2011 NFL Draft Class

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IFebruary 27, 2014

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 23: Head coach Rex Ryan, left and owner Woody Johnson of the New York Jets talks before the start of their game against the San Diego Chargers at MetLife Stadium on December 23, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

It doesn't usually take more than two hours after the conclusion of the NFL draft. That's when we'll start getting the grades on how every team did, where they got good value, which team could be building toward a bright future and which team should get back to the drawing board for next year's draft as soon as possible.

All this is determined before any of the players participate in a single NFL practice, by people who are clearly much smarter than me (or who possess powers of clairvoyance), but after three years, we can usually get an idea of how good a player is, or can be.

In looking back at the New York Jets' 2011 draft class, we find yet another thin group of six picks—the Jets never had more than six selections in any draft from 2007 through 2011. One of those picks, however, has the look of a long-term building block for the defense; another has the potential to be an important weapon in the passing game. 

With grades ranging from a B from Steve Serby of the New York Post to a C from Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, football analysts were hot-and-cold on the Jets' draft—or perhaps it's fairer to say lukewarm-and-cold.

Let's take a look at how the Jets actually did, and see whether the perception stacks up to the reality.

DE Muhammad Wilkerson—First Round, 30th Overall

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 22: Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson #96 of the New York Jets celebrates after he sacks quarterback EJ Manuel #3 of the Buffalo Bills in the 2nd half of the Jets 27-20 win over the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium on Septem
Ron Antonelli/Getty Images

It can sometimes be hard to land a great player with a late pick. The Jets were able to capitalize despite holding the 30th overall pick by landing Wilkerson, who turned out to be one of the 10 best players taken in the first round. 

Wilkerson has been one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL over the past three years, although he's been overshadowed by another first-rounder from the 2011 draft class in Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. Wilkerson's game isn't far off from Watt's, though, with his versatility to be either a one-gap defensive lineman shooting through the line of scrimmage or a two-gap defensive lineman holding the fort and making sure no one gets through. 

Those qualities are underestimated, but not in the eyes of some.

Bleacher Report's NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller said Wilkerson was an NFL-ready lineman, but others knocked him for a lack of experience against elite competition while playing at Temple. A look at the picks before and after Wilkerson contains a lot of teams that unwisely passed on him. He started off as a two-down player but has played well over 90 percent of the Jets' defensive snaps over the past two years.

The Jets have a huge decision coming up with Wilkerson next offseason, when he is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career. 

Grade: A

DT Kenrick Ellis—Third Round, 94th Overall

Gail Burton/Associated Press

The Jets took a chance on Ellis, who was surrounded by multiple off-field issues coming out of college. He was dismissed from South Carolina for repeated violations of team and university policies, and he finished his college career at Hampton. When the Jets drafted him, he still had not yet faced trial for an assault case that had the potential to put him behind bars for 20 years. 

Ellis has not seen the field much in his career, but for completely different reasons than those listed above. He has dealt with some nagging injuries that have limited his playing time to just 518 snaps in his first three seasons. 

He was seen as a pure 3-4 nose tackle coming out, which benefited him with Sione Pouha getting older, but with the emergence of 2013 undrafted free agent Damon Harrison as a legit starting nose tackle, Ellis' value has been hindered. He has carved out a niche for himself as a rotational run-plugging force but continues to be buried on the depth chart.

Grade: B-/C+

RB Bilal Powell—Fourth Round, 126th Overall

Dec 29, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New York Jets running back Bilal Powell (29) runs with the ball against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

There were enough concerns about Powell to drive his stock down to a fourth-round selection. He only had one year of stand-out production at Louisville, as he only earned a bulk of the carries in his senior year. Once he got his opportunity, though, he capitalized with 1,563 yards from scrimmage and 14 total touchdowns as a senior. 

He also possessed just average speed and explosiveness, but his decisiveness as a runner and his powerful style of running allowed him to gain yards and prevented him from having too many negative plays. That's almost exactly the kind of player he's been in the NFL. 

Source: Pro Football Reference

He also wasn't seen as highly versatile coming out, lacking experience as a receiver. The Jets tried to get him involved more in the passing game this year, with his 36 receptions more than double his career high for a season. But he's just not all that dynamic and he's not the kind of runner that can make big plays out of nothing; he has to have plenty of open room in front of him to get things going.

He has developed into a solid contributor in the backfield, earning an increased role in the offense over the years and with the departure of running back Shonn Greene last offseason.

Powell may never be a game-breaking back, but he has proven his value as a solid backup throughout his career, making him worth the selection in the fourth round.

Grade: B

WR Jeremy Kerley—Fifth Round, 153rd Overall

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

At 5'9" and 188 pounds, Kerley doesn't have the timed speed teams usually look for in their undersized receivers. He didn't have the route-running savvy, either, playing in an option offense at TCU

What he did have, and still has today, are quick feet and a surprising second gear when the pads go on. He is dangerous with the ball in his hands, whether it's running after the catch or returning punts. He may never become the kind of receiver that can take a game over, but he can definitely be a valuable asset to an NFL offense as a slot receiver. 

He has already begun making strides toward that end. In 2012, he ranked fourth among all receivers in yards per route run from the slot, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He took a step back in 2013 but missed four games to a dislocated elbow.

He has yet to enjoy that true breakout season, but if healthy, and with another year of rapport with Geno Smith, Kerley could take off again. 

Grade: A-

QB Greg McElroy—Seventh Round, 208th Overall

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Well, this one's easy. 

McElroy had three notable moments in his two-plus years as the Jets backup.

  1. He missed the 2011 season with a broken thumb. After the season went down in flames with a three-game losing streak, he went on a radio interview in Alabama and gave the world a peek behind the green curtain, revealing a "corrupt mindset" and "extremely selfish individuals" were prevalent in the Jets locker room. 
  2. With the Jets down to the Arizona Cardinals by a score of 3-0, he came in for the second half and led the Jets to victory, casting some doubt over who would be the starter the next week. He was put back on the bench.
  3. McElroy got one more chance to prove himself, as Rex Ryan named him the starter for Week 15 against the San Diego Chargers. McElroy was sacked seven times, went without a touchdown and was ultimately sent back to the bench again.

He was brought back the next year but was ultimately cut in training camp.

Now, the Jets have concerns over their backup situation behind Geno Smith. They will almost certainly not keep Mark Sanchez around, given his high cap hit and concerns about his shoulder (oh, and four years of struggles as the starter have something to do with it, too). The pick of McElroy, however, did not provide any real value for the Jets, who did not feel comfortable turning to him even as Sanchez regressed more and more with each passing week in 2012. 

Grade: D+ 

WR Scotty McKnight—Seventh Round, 227th Overall

Some people wonder what the Jets' true motives were for taking a seventh-round flier on Scotty McKnight. Was it a favor to Sanchez, who was childhood friends with McKnight? Was it his collegiate production as the No. 1 receiver in Colorado's offense? Was it an impressive showing at his pro day, in which the 5'11", 182-pound returner/receiver ran a 4.5 second 40-yard dash and a 6.68 second three-cone drill?

Whatever it was, it never worked out.

McKnight was on and off the roster in two years with the Jets, waived at the end of training camp in 2011 and again during training camp in 2012. He never played a single snap on offense and was not in the league in 2012 or 2013. 

A lot of seventh-round picks never pan out, but the Jets' motives have been questioned heavily on this one, which has made this pick the butt of many jokes among Jets fans. 

Grade: F

Overall Draft Grade: B

The Jets would have had a good draft if Wilkerson was the only pick. Add a solid building block on offense in Kerley, and the Jets did pretty well for themselves in 2011. Powell and Ellis will likely remain role players for the duration of their careers, but each has proven his value to the team at one point or another.

Not every pick is going to be a slam dunk, but with just six picks in this draft, the Jets' ceiling for success was a bit lower than other teams. That being said, they did a good job getting as close to that ceiling as possible. 

Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.


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