By MICHAEL FAIRLIE //
It is incredibly difficult to come up with a truly accurate picture of what the New York Jets might do in the draft before we know what they are going to do in free agency. On top of that, the combine workouts are just starting today, so there will certainly be some fluctuation with draft stock between now and April 28th.
The combine workouts will provide teams with data to go along with several hours of college game film, and more importantly, the teams will get to sit down with players in order to get to know them better in the coming months. A player’s attitude and personality can go a long way with helping a team to decide whether or not to bring them aboard. And of course, the teams have people looking into the prospects’ backgrounds in search of red flags.
Being that the Jets only have six picks in the upcoming draft and a decent number of holes to be filled and/or positions to be upgraded, as well as the uncertainty of a lot of prospect’s final draft grades, I will do my best to address some of the team’s needs in my pre-combine, pre-free agency mock draft.
In my last article, Jets Have Needs To Fill In NFL Draft, I went over who I think the team is likely to re-sign and what positions are the highest priorities to fill in the draft. I am not taking into account what the team may or not do in the NFL free agency period, which unofficially starts on March 7th, as that is still up in the air. Who the team signs during that time will surely have an effect on who they choose in the draft, but we do not have that data to work with at this time.
So, with all that said, here is my mock draft:
ROUND 1 PICK 20: Leonard Floyd – OLB – Georgia – 6’4/235
Although he might not be the prototypical size for a 3-4 outside linebacker, Floyd would provide the Jets with the most explosive edge rusher since the days of John Abraham.
In his three years of playing in Georgia’s 3-4 scheme, he accumulated 17 sacks, 26 tackles for loss and 182 total tackles.
An incredibly tenacious player with a non-stop motor, Floyd attacks the edge with his pure speed and agility as well as his proficiency at shedding blockers with the use of his long reach, although he could use some fine-tuning with his block shedding when stepping up to the next level.
Weighing in around 235 pounds, he could also certainly use some work in an NFL weight room to add a little bulk, but too much weight might slow down his awesome speed off the edge.
Overall, Floyd has the potential to be a truly dynamic pass rusher in the NFL for years to come.
ROUND 2 PICK 51: Austin Johnson – NT – Penn State – 6’4/323
With the possible departure of Damon Harrison, the Jets could be in desperate need of a capable replacement at the NT position. Snacks does a lot more than just taking up space and occupying blockers, so the team will need someone to step in and at least provide some of what Harrison has given the team for the past few seasons.
Austin Johnson certainly has the potential to be that guy for the Jets. During his junior season in 2015, he had 78 total tackles, 6.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss.
A powerful run-stuffer with the ability to take on double teams and free up his linebackers to make plays, Johnson also has an outstanding capability to shed blockers as well as the vision to locate the ball carrier and deceptive pursuit skills for a man his size.
When he gets to the NFL, Austin will need to minimize his occasional inclination to rely too heavily on his strength to bull through blockers and work on his hand usage in finding his way through the offensive line. However, he has shown improvement in each of his three years of college ball and displayed the willingness to put in the work necessary to improve his game.
ROUND 3 PICK 83: Scooby Wright III – ILB – Arizona – 6’1/246
Assuming the Jets are able to re-sign Erin Henderson to play alongside David Harris, the team will have two starters at the position that are over the age of 30. They are going to need someone with youth to join the rotation with the potential of eventually taking over a starting role in the middle of their defense.
Although there are some question marks about his health due to a torn meniscus in his left knee that caused him to miss the majority of his junior season in 2015, Scooby Wright has late first round talent. He will need to be evaluated by NFL doctors at the combine to clear him medically, but if he gets the green light, Wright can be a heck of a player on the next level.
A relentless individual on the field, Scooby possesses the awareness and instincts to diagnose plays in the backfield along with the quickness and agility to avoid blockers on his way to the ball carrier.
Wright is a true tackling machine, accounting for 163 tackles and 29 tackles for loss during his sophomore season in 2014. He also had an amazing 14.5 sacks and six forced fumbles that season, earning him All-American honors as well as the Bednarik, Lombardi and Nagurski Awards.
First and foremost, Scooby needs to prove that he is healthy. Additionally, he will need to work on his lower body strength and his tendency to sometimes get caught out of position, but he has all the tools to be a solid starting ILB in the NFL, given the proper conditioning and coaching.
ROUND 4 PICK 119: Jordan Howard – HB – Indiana – 6’1/230
It is highly unlikely that the Jets will be able to retain Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell in 2016, and there even a possibility that both of them could walk. Even if one of them stays they are going to need an NFL-ready back to share the load.
Jordan Howard of Indiana could definitely be a solid complement to the running game in 2016 with the potential to develop into a workhouse back. Running with reckless abandon, Howard has the pure power to break through tackles and gain significant yardage after contact.
Also incredibly agile and surprisingly fast for his size, he has the ability change direction quickly and hit the second level at full throttle. Blessed with exceptional vision and balance, Howard can swiftly locate openings in the defense and attack them with authority.
In order to stay on the field for third downs in the NFL, Howard will need to work on his pass protection and ability as a receiver, but he has shown improvement in those areas over the course of his college career, and with the proper tutelage he can continue that ascension.
ROUND 5 PICK 157: Pearce Slater – RT – San Diego State – 6’7/342
There is a good chance that Breno Giacomini will be handed his walking papers by the Jets in their attempt to clear more cap space as he dies not nearly justify his contract with his inconsistent play. Brent Qvale, who has impressed the coaching staff, is a possibility at the spot, but he is not even close to a sure bet.
With so many other pressing needs in the draft, it is quite possible that they will look to address the RT position in the last few rounds of the draft. An interesting option that should be available in the draft’s latter stages is San Diego State’s Pearce Slater.
A massive mountain of a man at 6’7, 342 pounds, Slater is a true mauler in the run game with a fierce edge to his game. He also displays unusual quickness and agility for such a mammoth along with the ability to ascend to the second level.
Sometimes way too reliant on his sheer strength, Slater has a tendency to wall-off defenders as opposed to following through with his leg drive and putting them on the ground. He is also taking a major step up in competition, which will require an adjustment period, but he projects as a dominant RT in classic mold of the position if given the time to progress.
ROUND 7 PICK 239: Jeff Driskel – QB – Louisiana Tech – 6’4/230
Hopeful to have Ryan Fitzpatrick back in the fold next season, the Jets already have their starter penciled in for at least the 2016 season, as long as they can come to a contract agreement.
In addition, Bryce Petty, their 4th round pick out of Baylor in 2014, is waiting for an opportunity to compete for the starting job in the near future. But although he has a lot of potential, he still needs a lot of development and is far from a lock to take over the job down the road. On top of that, Geno Smith appears to be on his way out by 2017 at the latest.
So it would make sense for the Jets to add another QB to the roster in the draft to possibly compete with Petty as the future of the franchise. Finding someone like that in the 7th round might not be ideal, but then again, Fitzpatrick was a 7th round pick.
One quarterback with the size, arm strength and athleticism to be worth a look at the end of the draft is Louisiana Tech’s Jeff Driskel.
After an extremely underwhelming start to his career in the SEC at the University of Florida, Driskel transferred to Louisiana Tech as a senior in 2015, where he turned everything around with a spectacular season in Conference USA. Jeff threw for 4,026 yards and 27 TD’s with eight INT’s and a 62.3% completion rate during his senior season.
On the positive side, Driskell sets up quickly and delivers the football to receivers with authority, excelling on short and underneath routes. He also displays a great arc and adequate accuracy on his deep throws, allowing receivers to catch up to the ball in stride. Although more comfortable in the pocket, Jeff has the ability to avoid pass rushers and scramble for decent yardage.
Driskell also has some areas that need work, as is expected for someone projected to go so late in the draft. He will put too much air under the ball on intermediate and deep routes at times and needs to work on the placement of his passes in general. Additionally, he played mostly out of the shotgun in college, much like Bryce Petty, and will need to adjust to the pro game.
While true that Driskell may be a gamble, but the 7th round is a good spot to make such a wager. He certainly has the tools to work with and is known for his leadership skills, so the Jets could do much worse at the end of the draft.
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: