Who Should Be on New York Jets' Short List in Round 1 of 2014 NFL Draft?

Philip Schawillie@@digitaltechguidContributor IIIMay 2, 2014

Who Should Be on New York Jets' Short List in Round 1 of 2014 NFL Draft?

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    Put yourself in the New York Jets' war room during Round 1 of the 2014 NFL draft. The Jets' clock has started. You look at your short list, the most desirable players on your board. If only one of these players is available, you'll pick him without a moment's hesitation. If more than one is available, you'll have a happy debate to resolve.

    You'll have to decide which member of your short list best fits the 2014 Jets.

    It's important to prioritize your short list. Talent alone won't qualify players. They must be capable of being instant solutions to the Jets' most pressing needs. We've talked about the three biggest needs being wide receiver, cornerback and tight end. Add safety, edge-rusher and guard if you wish. How you prioritize the team's needs goes a long way towards determining who makes your short list and the order of preference they occupy.

    Order of preference is the focus of this slideshow. You know whom the Jets are considering. (For a quick refresher, check out ESPN's Rich Cimini's April 25 list of Jets' pre-draft visitors.)

    Here are the factors that determine positioning:

    • Relevance: Some Round 1 picks would look great in green and white as they fill acknowledged needs. It's important to determine the priorities among needs and design a short list to match.
    • Ability: Players on the Round 1 short list must be ready to step into the Jets' starting lineup and make an immediate impact in 2014. Projects are not acceptable. Save them for later picks, preferably on Day 3.

    Availability is not a factor. This short list addresses the question of players the Jets would select without hesitation if they were still on the board by the 18th pick. The higher a player's rank, the less hesitation there will be.

    The likelihood of availability tends to decrease with more highly ranked players. The top three choices will almost certainly be gone.

    Now is your chance to see if we agree on the Jets' priorities. Did I leave out a player who could make the difference between mediocrity and the playoffs? Is someone on my list more of a no-brainer than I suggest? Remember, the later on the list is better. The last slide you see should be someone the Jets select with minimal debate.

Honorable Mentions—Plan B

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    Suppose all 10 members of this short list are gone by the 18th pick. The Jets have no reason to panic.

    These players are the fallbacks. They're the first-round picks who would look great in green and white if they fit a major need. It's not that the Jets can't use a safety, edge-rusher or offensive lineman. They could. They'll probably pick players in all of these positions some time in this draft. Round 1 is just too early because of their other priorities.

    Under normal circumstances, most of these players would be top five or top 10 picks. Making the 10 members of this short list, the four projected Round 1 quarterbacks (Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr and Johnny Manziel), defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley 16 of the first 17 picks suddenly puts five of these "Plan B" players within reach of the Jets at pick 18.

    FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

    His NFL.com profile concedes that "hype exceeded performance," but still concludes that Clinton-Dix Clinton-Dix "offers starter-caliber instincts, range, coverage skills and tackling ability as a free safety. Should be a Day 1 starter."

    Selecting Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor instead of a cornerback would start the conversation rolling about the Jets' defensive direction in 2014. Unless Dimitri Patterson is more of a shutdown cornerback than media and fans realize, drafting a safety in Round 1 would imply a major shift in how Rex Ryan runs his secondary. There would be more sharing of coverage responsibilities between safeties and cornerbacks, unusual in a Ryan defense.

    FS Calvin Pryor, Louisville

    Pryor's NFL.com profile claims that he "has the ability to start as a rookie." That profile lauds his aggressive, "explosive" hitting and great range, particularly against the run. Despite 15 pass breakups and seven interceptions over three years, his pass defense doesn't get the same type of praise. That may be, according to the profile, because Pryor "Is not asked to play a lot of man coverage."

    OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA

    Barr's NFL.com profile paints the picture of a player so athletically gifted that he could eventually be a two-way player. He needs to work on ball location, play recognition and diversifying his sack moves to put his natural athleticism to work as a premier NFL defender.

    OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo

    According to his NFL.com profile, Mack will probably be gone by the time the Jets pick. The profile touts the possibility of playing defensive end in a "40" or 4-3 scheme in addition to linebacker. If that is Mack's career goal, the Jets might not be the best fit for him.

    OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State

    Shazier's NFL.com profile indicates a 4-3 defensive scheme might be his best fit, but having Damon Harrison as the Jets' nose tackle should make a 3-4 scheme work as well. In three years, Shazier recorded 44.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks. Outside of this contrived Plan B scenario, he's the most likely edge-rusher to be available by the time the Jets pick.

    OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

    According to his NFL.com profile, Matthews is probably "One of the safest picks in the draft…." That's because he's "capable of playing all five positions on the line" and "Can plug into a starting lineup immediately and will play a long time at a consistently high level." The strength of this draft's offensive linemen are its tackles, not guards. If the Jets want to draft a premium offensive line prospect, better to take someone like Matthews who they can plug and play into the first open opportunity than to take someone of equal talent whose positional options are more limited.

    OT Greg Robinson, Auburn

    If the Jets could shop for D'Brickashaw Ferguson's successor in the 2014 draft, Robinson would be a great heir apparent. Robinson, according to his NFL.com profile, "still must improve his hand use, footwork and technique." At the same time, he's a ” Big, strong, athletic, overpowering left tackle with the raw potential to become a premiere, franchise left tackle." 

    Granted, this is an oddball scenario. It's still comforting to know that the Jets can make a quality Round 1 pick if their primary options are gone.

10. TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina

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    Ebron is the class of this year's tight end prospects. It will be a surprise if he's available by pick No. 18. There's really one reason why he's the lowest-ranked player on this short list. It's the implications that picking his brand of tight end would have for the direction of the Jets offense.

    Ebron's NFL.com profile touts his strengths as a receiver. Then it discusses his weaknesses as a blocker. It asserts that Ebron "Can improve as a blocker, both in-line and on the move—could stand to improve technique, physicality and finish. Not equipped to lock horns with NFL defensive ends."

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller echoes this concern. In Ebron's Pro Player Comparison video, Miller spends most of it extolling Ebron's receiving virtues, then warns that his current blocking skills don't fit the profile of an in-line tight end, one who lines up next to the tackle and has important run-blocking and pass-blocking roles.

    Drafting Ebron would speak volumes about the direction Rex Ryan and Marty Mornhinweg want the offense to take in 2014. It will indicate the end of Ground and Pound, the beginning of a wide-open approach where passing plays dominate game plans. We would wonder why the Jets signed a Chris Johnson when they didn't strengthen the blocking in front of him.

    Drafting a cornerback such as Kyle Fuller, Justin Gilbert or Darqueze Dennard in Round 1, a wide receiver such as Donte Moncrief or Jordan Matthews in Round 2 and C.J. Fiedorowicz, a tight end prospect with "balanced skills to be a legitimate Y [inline] tight end in the pros," in Round 3 would provide better support for the running game.

9. WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State

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    Four of the top six players in this short list are wide receivers. Two of them—it would ruin the suspense to give names—are consensus top-10 selections. The other two may also come off the board before the Jets' turn comes.

    That would make getting another second-day pick by trading down in Round 1 a viable option for the Jets. One scenario would have the Jets trading their Round 1 (No. 18), Round 5 (No. 154) and (if necessary) Round 7 (No. 233) picks to Cleveland for the Browns' second first-round pick (No. 26) and first third-round pick (No. 71). The Jets would effectively move one of their picks from Day 3 to Day 2. The Browns would lose their earliest third-round pick while improving their position in Round 1 and gaining (if they insist on the seventh-round pick) two Day 3 picks.

    Checking the trade value points for those picks shows the Jets with a slight edge in the transaction. They give up 931.8 trade value points to Cleveland's 935. It's effectively even.

    Giving up their current first-round slotting means the Jets assume at least one player on their short list will be available by their new position in Round 1. Kelvin Benjamin is one wide receiver they would target. He has size similar to Texas A&M's Mike Evans but is a bit slower and lacks Evans' leaping ability.

    Still, as Bleacher Report's Matt Miller says in his Pro Player Comparison video, Benjamin would be the wide receiver in a tight end's body who would intimidate most defensive backs and be a challenge to tackle in space. His build makes him a useful blocker, even against defensive ends.

    Benjamin will find himself contesting many catches that a faster receiver might not. Still, his size, wingspan and the leaping ability he has will let him prevail in most of these situations. He'll need to refine his route-running and concentration at the NFL level to succeed.

    Still, as the 26th pick, he'd become an intimidating presence for the Jets' offense and a weapon who would complicate the lives of opposing defenses for years.

8. WR Marqise Lee, USC

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    Before the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, Marqise Lee was the leading candidate to be the Jets' Round 1 selection. A 4.52-second 40-yard dash at the combine and others' strong performances sent draft analysts searching for alternatives.

    If Lee's combine time accurately measures his speed, his potential as a No. 1 receiver is limited. He would need more height and bulk to handle the pounding he would take contesting defensive backs for passes. At 6'0" and 192 pounds, Lee needs to be elusive if he wants to stay healthy. He has already lost time in his 2013 season because of knee and ankle injuries.

    What puts Lee ahead of Kelvin Benjamin is an extra year of collegiate experience and the national recognition he received after his 2012 season. That year Lee won the Biletnikoff Award, Paul Warfield Award and was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year.

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller adds in Lee's Pro Player Comparison video that Lee does the subtle things that quarterbacks appreciate such as angling his body properly to maximize target size. He still has issues with drops that he must resolve.

    If he applies the quickness, route-running technique and elusiveness borne of his football intelligence to the NFL game, the lack of timed speed will be of less importance and he will justify a first-round pick.

    It will just be later than the original forecast.

7. CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech

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    If you look at an April 25 post by Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com, you might say that Stats LLC provides solid support for putting Kyle Fuller in green and white. To quote Cimini, "Opponents completed only six of 22 passes (27.3 percent) when targeting Fuller, the lowest completion percentage allowed by any defensive back from a BCS automatic-qualifying school."

    On the other hand, Fuller battled groin and shoulder injuries in 2012 and had hernia surgery in November of 2013. Perhaps that explains why he managed only 12 bench press repetitions at the NFL Scouting Combine.

    NFL.com's Mike Huguenin assessed Fuller as follows: "While he lacks elite speed, Fuller is physical in run support and improved his coverage ability in his final two seasons." That sounds more like what Bleacher Report's Matt Miller says in Fuller's Pro Player Comparison video. Miller believes Fuller has "Pro Bowl potential," particularly in a zone scheme. He cautions that Fuller's injuries have hampered his development enough to postpone becoming a starter until his second year.

    If the Jets need an immediate starter at cornerback, Fuller may not be the best choice. He may be the best choice available by the 18th overall pick. He is the last member of this short list for whom the Jets could trade down and gain an additional Day 2 pick.

6. WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State

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    Speedster Brandin Cooks is the first wide receiver in this short list that the Jets might select with their first-round pick (No. 18 overall). The ability to make plays after the catch is the main source of his appeal. Asking a 5'10", 189-pound receiver to survive the rigors of press coverage on a perhaps weekly basis might be expecting too much.

    Cooks established his speed and agility at the NFL Scouting Combine as one of the leaders in the 40-yard dash and 20-yard shuttle. He won the 2013 Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver, setting single-season Pac-12 records with 128 catches for 1,730 yards. He has also returned punts and run plays out of the backfield.

    In Cooks' Pro Player Comparison video, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller calls the blazing wideout a "Day 1 starter in the NFL" because of his speed and after-catch abilities. Miller admits concern about Cooks' ability to handle press coverage, mainly because there is no film of him working against it.

    If the Jets were seeking a slot receiver or even a No. 2 receiver, the choice of Cooks might provoke less debate. They'll have to decide if Cooks can handle the tight coverage that a No. 1 receiver gets. You'll know their answer on May 8.

5. CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

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    NFL.com's draft profile calls Gilbert a "Natural interceptor with very good hand-eye coordination, leaping ability and overall ball skills." If the Jets want more takeaways from their secondary, he may well be the man to provide them.

    The issue with Gilbert is aggressiveness, especially on run defense. He lets teammates beat him to plays that he could make himself and relies more on physical ability. He doesn't have the reputation of a Darqueze Dennard when it comes to press coverage.

    In Gilbert's Pro Player Comparison video, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller praises the cornerback's ability to play the ball by jumping routes and being a threat to take it to the house after an interception. Gilbert also displayed this big-play ability on kickoff returns, taking one 96 yards for a score.

    Gilbert has the physical tools to be a playmaker on defense and a key to improving the Jets' takeaway rate on defense. If he's the highest-ranked member of this short list on the board when the 18th overall pick comes, the Jets should make New York his NFL home.

4. WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU

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    Beckham is not No. 1 in this short list, but he may well wear a Jets' No. 1 jersey on May 8.

    Unless the Jets trade up, the top three players will most likely be gone.

    Trading up will cost dearly. According to the NFL trade value chart, the Jets could move up to No. 5 by trading all of this year's non-compulsory picks. That would leave them with five.

    Giving up picks from 2015's draft, such as their first-round pick and another contingent pick based on the first pick's placement would save picks from 2014. Neither strategy sounds reasonable for a team with many needs that espouses rebuilding through the draft.

    Exchanging their first- and second-round picks for the 10th overall pick would also work at significantly less cost. They'd still have to find a diamond in the rough to fill the positions unaddressed in Round 1.

    All of these scenarios are mathematical exercises. Whether the Jets would find amenable trading partners is an entirely different discussion.

    Let's get back to reality. Unless someone obtains Baltimore's No. 17 pick and takes Beckham, he'll probably be the best all-around talent at wide receiver when the Jets pick at No. 18 overall.

    Beckham isn't as fast as Brandin Cooks. He offers similar characteristics in a slightly heftier package. Beckham stands 5'11" and weighs 198 pounds (versus Cooks' 5'10", 189-pound frame). Like other receivers on this short list, Beckham offers value on special teams as well as offense and can run plays from the slot, split end ("X" receiver) or flanker ("Z" receiver) positions.

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller compares Beckham to DeSean Jackson in Beckham's Pro Player Comparison video. Maybe that's why the Jets spurned Jackson. They had a similar and less expensive talent in their sights. Maybe that's why you'll hear his name from the podium when it's the Jets turn to announce their first-round pick.

3. WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M

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    If Evans drops to the 18th overall pick, he could be the Jets' answer to their wide receiving need. He lacks the refinement of a Sammy Watkins, but he has the size (6'5", 231 pounds) and leaping ability (37.0" vertical jump) that you can't teach. He also showed surprising speed and smoothness for a man his size during the NFL Scouting Combine.

    His NFL.com profile projects Evans as a No. 2 receiver who would use his basketball mentality to grab balls from beyond the reach of smaller defenders, particularly in the red zone. It sees him as constantly playing in traffic because he lacks elite speed. At the NFL Scouting Combine, however, both his speed and his drills helped his draft stock rise.

    He has become a likely top-10 pick.

    In Evans' Pro Player Comparison video, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller describes Evans as having "wide receiver moves in a tight end's body." He may lack the speed to run away from fast defensive backs, but in a league where cornerbacks are getting bigger, Evans' ability to win jump balls will make him a great target for some lucky quarterback.

    If only he were wearing green and white.

2. CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

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    Darqueze Dennard has made his reputation playing press coverage. He's the type of cornerback Rex Ryan wants. He has the aggressiveness to play receivers tightly and the attitude that makes him a locker room delight.

    In Dennard's Pro Player Comparison video, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller asserts that Dennard is the complete package, capable of playing off the line of scrimmage as well. Miller especially likes Dennard's vision, his ability to dissect plays quickly enough to do damage behind the line of scrimmage as well as in coverage.

    The biggest impediment to NFL success for Dennard may be durability. He missed five games in 2010 with a knee injury, three games in 2011 with an ankle injury, endured double hernia surgery in 2012 and a left hamstring injury hampered his combine participation.

    Dennard is Round 1 material but may fall to the Jets if the teams ahead of them are concerned about his injury history or prefer corners with more zone-coverage experience. If his propensity towards injury has ended, his projected role as a No. 2 corner would be just what the Jets need in 2014.

1. WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson

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    According to most draft analysts, Watkins will probably be one of the top five picks. If he somehow slips to the 18th overall pick, the Jets should grab him without hesitation. He's simply the class of the wide receiver pool.

    Watkins made his collegiate impact early. He joined Herschel Walker, Marshall Faulk and Adrian Peterson as the only NCAA players to earn first-team AP All-America honors as a true freshman.

    Injuries and legal issues made his sophomore season less productive. He rebounded in 2013 to make 101 catches for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns. By the end of his collegiate career, Watkins owned 23 school records, such as 240 career receptions, 3,391 receiving yards and 27 touchdowns (tied with DeAndre Hopkins). He also returned kickoffs, punts and ran plays out of the backfield as well as the line.

    Watkins is the epitome of a game-breaker. His NFL.com profile says that his natural hands-catching ability "can make an average quarterback look good." His world-class speed makes him a threat to turn any short-yardage play into a big gain.

    In Watkins' Pro Player Comparison video, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller identifies Watkins as his favorite receiver in the 2014 draft because he not only attains separation to make catches, he displays an additional burst of speed with the ball in his hands. His biggest challenge will be to adjust to press coverage from NFL cornerbacks.

    He will probably be someone else's No. 1 receiver. In the odd event that he falls to No. 18 overall, there should be no doubt about whom the Jets pick. Sammy Watkins is the man.

    Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid.