Rex Ryan defends struggling rookie class

FLORHAM PARK, NJ – Rex Ryan went to bat for his rookie class on Wednesday, calling them an “A-plus” group despite their recent struggles.

“I mean, if that’s not an A-plus class, I don’t know what you’re looking for,” he said of the 2013 draft class, which has seen five rookie starters, including Dee Milliner, Sheldon Richardson, Geno Smith, Brian Winters and Tommy Bohanon.

Sheldon Richardson aside, all the Jets rookie starters have struggled this season, from Geno Smith on down to Tommy Bohanon.

All but Richardson, who is a rookie of the year candidate, have had their share of struggles, however, most notably Milliner and, of course, Smith.

But Ryan isn’t ready to give up on the youngsters just yet.

“For us to be critical of a draft class that has five starters in the National Football League, I think we’re being, I understand it’s the New York media, but this might be a little tough,” Ryan said. “This is a bit of a stretch, I think, to criticize this draft class. I think it’s as strong as I’ve ever seen.”

The merits of their starting status is debatable, however, as only Richardson seemed truly deserving coming out of training camp.

Smith won the starting quarterback job only after Mark Sanchez was injured in that infamous preseason game against the Giants. Milliner was essentially handed the job after missing most of camp due to injury. Winters beat out an embattled Vlad Duccasse and Bohanon started from day one.

Now, all four are struggling and the Jets, who have the seventh youngest team in the league with an average age of 25.6, are paying for it. They’re young, inexperienced and predictably inconsistent.

Smith leads the league in turnovers and has been benched for the equally inexperienced Matt Simms during two separate blowout losses. Putting things into even more painful perspective, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles could throw an interception on his next 50 pass attempts and still have a higher passer rating than Smith, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

Milliner, who stepped into the impossible-to-fill shoes of Darrelle Revis, has drawn the ire of Jets fans, struggling in coverage, misplaying balls in the air, missing tackles and getting benched for Darrin Walls on multiple occasions.

“I understand [Milliner] has had some struggles, I’m not making excuses for him but he’s a rookie corner,” said Ryan. “I don’t know any other rookie corners coming in the league, outside of maybe Revis, that jumped right in. I think we’ve been a little spoiled here with the corner play.”

Winters has also struggled in pass protection and Pro Football Focus recently rated Bohanon as the worst fullback in football. But Ryan isn’t worried.

“That’s okay, that doesn’t mean anything,” he said of the Milliner and Smith benchings. “We do things for different reasons or whatever but that doesn’t mean that these guys aren’t good picks. If they weren’t they wouldn’t have seen the field ever.”

Ryan maintains that all the playing time will ultimately benefit his rookies and the team moving forward.

“A lot of times when you have guys that come into the league, you’re going to make mistakes and all that stuff, but the best way to learn is to get out there and play. I think it bodes well for us in the future.”

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