By MICHAEL FAIRLIE //
In my pre-combine, pre-free agency draft needs scenario, I will operate under the assumption that the Jets re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick, Erin Henderson, Muhammad Wilkerson and either Chris Ivory or Bilal Powell.
That is not to say that I do not want them to bring back Damon Harrison, but there is only so much cap room to operate with. Demario Davis, who was phased out of the rotation as the season went on, has likely played his last game as a Jet.
It is possible that the Jets will free up more room under the cap by cutting players such as Jeremy Kerley, Jeff Cumberland and Breno Giacomini. They could also look into restructuring the deals of other players like D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. This could possibly free up the room needed to re-sign Harrison.
Additionally, there is the outside possibility that Muhammad Wilkerson is franchise-tagged and traded, but everything is pure speculation at this point, so as much as I would like the Jets to keep almost everyone that is set to become a free agent, I am trying to remain realistic.
So what do the Jets need to address in the upcoming draft? Pass rusher would have to go towards the top of the list as they have not had a true threat in that role since John Abraham was traded to Atlanta in 2006. Calvin Pace has been a solid veteran for the team for the past eight seasons, but he is free agent, and even if he does come back it will most likely be as insurance.
Lorenzo Mauldin looks like he could eventually develop into a quarterback’s worst nightmare, but he still has work to do to reach that level and they still currently have a hole at the other outside linebacker spot. Josh Martin and Deion Barnes are rather raw and Trevor Reilly is more of a role player. They also brought in CFL star, Freddie Bishop III, who definitely has an upside, but it remains to be seen what he can do on the NFL level.
Given the chance that Ivory and/or Powell could be on a different team by the start of the season, the Jets will have to look towards the present and future at the halfback position. Even if one of them does come back, the team will need someone else to share the load. The present combination of the plodding Zac Stacy and the unproven Dominique Williams do not inspire much confidence as the only running backs under contract for 2016.
After coming to the Jets as an undrafted free agent out of William Penn University, Damon “Snacks” Harrison has grown into one of the top NT’s in the league. If the Jets cannot find a way to keep him, it will leave a gaping hole in the middle of their star-studded defensive line.
Deon Simon, a 7th round pick out of Northwestern State-Louisiana in 2015, is currently the only NT signed for 2016, and although he has the size and strength for the position, we really have no idea what he can be. And even in the case that he can do the job, they are going to need more than one NT on the roster.
Judging by Breno Giacomini’s up and down play for the past two seasons and the possibility they could cut him with a manageable amount of dead money, there is no doubt that they could use an upgrade at the RT position. Brent Qvale has progressed a lot since he was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2014, and has a chance to compete for the role, but he is still a relatively unknown commodity.
With David Harris at the age of 32 and Henderson about to turn 30, even if they do bring back Henderson the team will have to start looking at the future of the ILB position. Taiwan Jones currently sits behind them on the depth chart, and although he is both young and has a ton of potential, it is not known what he can bring to the table at this point in his development.
Although the Jets are planning on keeping Ryan Fitzpatrick as the team’s starting quarterback and both sides seem to be anxious to make that happen, they are going to have to keep a keen eye at the future of the position as he is already 33 years old. Despite his outstanding performance in 2015, he is likely not the long-term solution at quarterback for the Jets, although he could be the answer for the next couple of years while they develop his successor.
Bryce Petty is still very much a work in progress with no guarantee that he can be a top-flight starter. Geno Smith has clearly fallen out of favor with the current coaching staff and there is a chance he could be let go. Even if he sticks around for 2016, it will probably be his last year with the team. The Jets will likely look to bring someone in to at least compete with Petty for the backup role or take over third-string duties for now.
The TE position for the Jets in 2016 was a glaring weakness, as the team’s two starters came away with a combined 8 catches for 95 yards and a TD. True, they used Quincy Enunwa in a hybrid H-Back role and he accumulated 22 catches for 315 yards, but the team is without a true starting TE.
Jace Amaro, who is also more an H-Back, is coming off of season-ending shoulder surgery, and needs a lot of work on his concentration as a receiver. Jeff Cumberland is likely to be cut and although the team has some camp bodies in Brandon Bostick, Zach Sudfeld and Adrien Robinson, none of them are close to proven commodities.
Then we come to the cornerback position, where the Jets decided to part ways with Antonio Cromartie, opening up the starting spot opposite Darrelle Revis. Luckily, the team already has Marcus Williams on the roster who performed admirably in his limited action in 2015 after a rookie season in which he started eight games. He has the makings of a solid second corner in the league and should be given a legitimate chance to win the job in camp.
Also having Buster Skrine, one of the better nickel corners in the league, and still developing youngsters Dexter McDougle and Dee Milliner, the position is not a top priority.
Darrin Walls, who has done a solid job filling in on the outside in his four years with the team, could be brought back for another year, but none of that means that the Jets should not at least look at the position in the draft. Revis is still a top corner, but he is definitely not going to get younger as time goes on.
On top of all of those stated needs, it would not hurt the Jets to start looking for the eventual replacements of D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. Ferguson is not the player he used to be and Mangold will not hold on forever. But with only six picks in the upcoming draft at the current time, the Jets will have to pick and choose what positions to address in the selection process.
After a bounce back 10-6 season, which would normally earn a team a Wild Card spot in the playoffs, the Jets still have a lot of work to do. They have an incredibly talented roster with its share of star players, but they are certainly not without their holes and positions that could use an upgrade. They also have a number of key players over the age of 30 and need to set the foundation for the future of the franchise.
The NFL Draft is what makes and breaks teams in the long run, so it is imperative that Mike Maccagnan and the Jets scouting staff are on top of their game once April 28th rolls around.
They cannot fill every hole and make every upgrade in the draft alone, and they are sure to focus on fixing some positions in free agency, but what they do in the draft that will determine the direction of the team moving forward.
You can read my Jets Pre-Combine Mock Draft article from 2/24/16 by clicking below:
You can read my article from 2/19/16 on NYJetsNews.Com about a few options for the Jets in the 1st Round of NFL Draft by clicking below: