Florham Park, N.J.– The Lockout has been lifted, for now at least. But we still have awhile to go before games start being played, in the meantime fans were happy to digest the greatest offseason sporting event in the history of time.
The NFL Draft.
For Jets fans a lot of patience was required to have to wait for 29 other players to come off the board, but when it came time for that 30th pick the fans finally had something to cheer about for the first time since that disappointing game in Pittsburgh a few months back.
That pick was a New Jersey product, from Temple University, 6’4″ 315 pound defensive end, Muhammad Wilkerson.
And Wilkerson was not surprised in the least, saying, “I thought it was going to happen. I had a great visit when I went to visit the Jets and did the workout for them and when that 30th pick came around, I just had that feeling that they were going to pick me up.”
The 30th pick is always extremely hard to predict, but it seems (thanks to some reaches, trades and quarterback envy) the Jets lucked out and had one of their top targets fall right into their lap. The general consensus before the draft was that the Jets would be elated to get either Baylor’s Phil Taylor or Wilkerson, Taylor went to the Cleveland Browns, but Wilkerson was still there for the Jets to snatch and Rex Ryan couldn’t have been happier to rush to make the pick.
After the pick was made an absolutely giddy Ryan addressed the New York media saying, “Oh we definitely were excited about that (Wilkerson being available) and really with Muhammad being there, it’s interesting just watching the whole thing, I’m like ‘Oh yeah, turn it in, turn it in,’ but we’re really excited to have him here and obviously there’s a lot of good football players going to the teams in front of you and behind you, but we think this young man is really going to do some great things for us.”
As insanely happy as Ryan was, he was not alone.
Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum and vice president of college scouting Joey Clinkscales joined Ryan at the podium and they took turns gushing about how special of a player this kid is and what a great fit he should be for this Jets defense.
Wilkerson fills two of the Jets biggest needs in one player, he helps give them a boost in the pass rush and he gives the team much needed depth along the defensive line and the Jets higher-ups were thrilled to talk about just that.
“He was a guy we have identified for awhile, thinking he would come in and give us depth and versatility on the defensive line, 6’4″ 315 pounds. He had earned a single digit at Temple, which means he had a very successful offseason.” Tannenbaum said, when asked when they seriously started to consider picking Wilkerson.
Tannenbaum then went on to expand on an interesting connection to another recent Jets draft pick. “It’s interesting I had a really good talk with Al Golden (now the coach of Miami,) who coached him at Temple and Al was at Virginia with D’Brickashaw (Ferguson,) I thought they had a lot of the same, similar atrributes as far as work ethic, demeanor.
“I think he’s one of those players who, in Rex’s defense, is going to do whatever it takes to be successful and in building our team, this is something Rex and I have talked about the last few years, we feel like depth at the defensive line position was a concern, so to get somebody with his ability we’re really excited about that.”
As it got closer to the 30th pick a debate broke out in the media room about whether or not the Jets should draft Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers, who a month or two ago was projected to possibly be the number overall pick, but then he received the injury mark of death that sent him spiraling out of the first round with knee problems. Considering his ridiculous amount of talent many were thinking the Jets should roll the dice and draft Bowers, (I can’t lie, I got caught up in it too) but he is more of a 4-3 DE and the Jets felt Wilkerson was the better fit with their defense and rightfully so.
“I think, number one he (Bowers) is a outstanding player, I think Muhammad really fits what we want to do defensively.” Ryan said, “He’s a guy that can play head up on a tackle and kick back in, in passing situations over guards and centers, so really he was an outstanding fit for what we do defensively.”
One of the other reasons the Jets were so high on the kid is, well he is quite versatile of course. You don’t think Ryan would have it any other way do you?
“I don’t see him as a nose tackle, but this young man can play defensive end in our system and tackle as well, I see him as a possible three-down contributor for us, but we’ll see.” Ryan said, “He’s work ethic, you know, he’s going to have to come in here and earn his reps and everything else, but we think he’s going to be an outstanding player for us.”
Wilkerson agrees and he made sure to let Jets fans know he was here to play and be productive. Wilkerson said, “Pretty much just very versatile, I can move along the line (and) play any position (on the) defensive line. That’s a credit to Temple playing in a 4-3 and a 3-4. It helped me out and I can fit in with whatever they need to be done at any position.
“Pretty much just playing physical and playing strong, pretty much just be very destructive. At the end of the day I am just going to work hard every play.”
One of the concerns people have expressed about Wilkerson is the fact that he played in a smaller conference at Temple, but that clearly was no concern to Ryan. Ryan said, “No, I mean he went up against Penn State and all those other teams, you watch that game and you have no concerns.”
Ryan isn’t the only one who is worry free about the transition. Wilkerson sounds like one confident young man himself.
No wonder why Ryan likes him so much.
Wilkerson said, “I think it’s no problem. Guys are very successful now coming from the MAC. The talent level is just as good as any other conference. Coming into the National Football League, it wouldn’t concern me coming from the MAC.”
Clinkscales added, “Muhammad is great, he’s athletic, a guy like coach said can play a couple of positions. He had nine and a half sacks this year, I think 17 and a half for his career. Strong inside, great hands, we brought him in for our local day for the workouts and he performed well. So we were excited to get Muhammad.”
So what else is there to love about this kid? Obviously plenty if you let Ryan tell it.
“Well you love to have a pass-rusher, whether from the inside or outside and this young man certainly can do it, Mike already talked about his pass rush numbers and Joey did, so obviously he has a lot of production.” Ryan said, “When you look at that as an interior pass rusher, that’s hard to do. Clearly we’re excited about it, he’s got a huge wingspan, I think his arms are like 35 1/4″, that’s up there, that’s D’Brickashaw type arms so we’re excited about that from an inside pass rusher that’s really what you look for.”
Wilkerson knows what he is walking into, he knows the Jets defense is already among the league’s elite and he wants in. “That’s a tremendous defense that they have over there and I’m glad to be a part of it. I think I can come in and help the defense be even more destructive than it is.”
Being a Jersey kid, Wilkerson was asked if he grew up a Jets fan to which he said, “I didn’t grow up a Jets fan, but right now I am a Jet. I am proud. I’m happy.”
And now, like Ryan loves to say, it’s time for him to ‘play like a Jet.”
Tannenbaum said they listened to offers to both move up and down in the draft, but once they realized Wilkerson was likely to be there, they happily settled on him as their target.
The second and third round starts tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. and as of right now the Jets don’t have a second round pick, but with all the defensive talent still on the board (Ayers, Reed, etc. etc.) don’t be surprised if trader Mike does what he does best and works some draft magic to get the Jets back in the second round.
I realize Mel Kiper isn’t a lot of people’s favorite draft “guru” but Jets fans have to love this line he delivered after the Jets pick of Wilkerson. “You can make an argument that this is the best pick in the first round.” Jets fans have got to love that. Fans better make sure they don’t take Tannenbaum for granted, after all this franchise has come along way since the days of automatic draft day booing from Jets fans.