Every January, right around Super Bowl Sunday, I take a walk over to my vast collection of sports videos and riffle through them, each one a link to my childhood, searching for one in particular.
There, neatly tucked to the side, the box emblazoned in green magic marker, it waits like a dear old friend: Super Bowl III, Jets 16-Colts 7. The actual NBC broadcast replete with Curt Gowdy doing play-by-play and cigarette commercials, of all things.
While fans of the 49ers, Cowboys, Steelers, Patriots, Broncos, Packers, Buccaneers, and every other NFL team who has won a Super Bowl since Jan. 12, 1969, have gotten to revel in watching their gridiron heroes battle for the Lombardi Trophy, I, like the rest of Jets Nation, must turn back the clock and watch a game I never saw until I bought the tape on eBay about four years ago.
Oh, the anguish. Oh, the pain. When will it end?
The healing process usually begins every April during the NFL Draft. It is a time to forget past transgressions and peer into the future, hoping one day, finally, that the pieces will all fall in place and the confetti will litter our beloved Gang Green as they walk off the field triumphant as Super Bowl champions.
Despite the quick-fix advantages of free agency, the draft is the blueprint for a championship-caliber football team.
Which brings me to Saturday’s draft. We all know this is the most important draft in the Herm Edwards-Terry Bradway regime. That said, it is imperative that the organization doesn’t lose sight of the task at hand. The only draft Bradway and Co. can gloat about is 2001, which reaped Santana Moss, Kareem McKenzie, Lamont Jordan, and Jamie Henderson, who may never play again after his near-fatal motorcycle crash.
The Jets have two primary needs: restock and revitalize the back seven of the defense and rebuild the interior offensive line. In other words, linebackers, defensive backs, and guards must be the primary objective. Those areas were neglected by the organization because they felt secure with the incumbent veterans. We all know how that has played out. And Henderson’s uncertainty makes an already thin secondary thinner.
There must be no surprise picks of wide receivers in the first round. There must be no reaches (see Bryan Thomas), and there must be no panicking. Draft for need, not the best available athlete. Plain and simple.
The Jets own 10 picks (1, 3, two 4’s, 5, 6, and four 7’s), but only two on Saturday, following the trade of a second round selection (10th pick) to the Tennessee Titans for wide receiver Justin McCareins. The team’s first and third round picks should be no-brainers: linebacker and cornerback/safety. But it’s on Sunday that Bradway and Co. will earn their paychecks. Organizations that can spot talent in the fourth through seventh rounds are those that thrive.
Unfortunately, the Jets have not done well in this area over the past three years. No second-day picks are starters. Furthermore, only two Bradway draftees have made significant contributions as starters: Moss and McKenzie. The book is still out on Dewayne Robertson, Victor Hobson, and Jon McGraw as front-line performers. Tight end Chris Baker has been expected to push Anthony Becht, but to no avail.
From all indications, the objects of affection are cornerbacks Dunta Robinson of South Carolina and DeAngelo Hall of Virginia Tech, as well as Miami linebackers Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams. Derrick Strait, the talented corner from Oklahoma, is another possibility.
As appealing as Miami tight end Kellen Winslow and his college teammate, safety Sean Taylor, are, their chances of slipping to New York at No. 12 are beyond slim. The Jets don’t have the resources to trade up to steal them. Packaging Jordan in a deal is absurd. God forbid something happens to Curtis Martin, who will be the starting running back? B.J. Askew? Ian Smart?
However, Jordan, an unrestricted free agent, could sadly be dangled for the right price. If that happens – rumors persist that the running back-starved Detroit Lions, who own the sixth pick, might be a willing partner – the Jets would be better off moving up high enough to take Taylor, a Hall of Fame-caliber player.
Some feel there’s a better chance of the Jets trading down than trading up in the opening round. If that happens, then the Jets will tab one of the remaining Hurricane linebackers or Strait.
Depending on how things shake out, there are several intriguing prospects that might be available in the later rounds. Let’s say, for arguments sake that the Jets trade down in round one and take Strait. That would mean taking a linebacker in the third round. West Virginia’s Grant Wiley (6’, 230), Southern Mississippi’s Rod Davis (6’2, 238) and Roderick Royal of McNeese State (6’1, 239) are tackling machines who can also get to the quarterback. At OLB, LSU’s Eric Alexander (6’2, 223), Florida State’s Michael Boulware (6’2, 227), and Jorge Cordova of Nevada (6-1, 237) would be welcomed additions.
If the Jets tab a linebacker at No. 12, then Florida’s Keiwan Ratliff (5’10, 193) – if he’s still around in the third round – would be a welcomed player in a depleted secondary. The ball-hawking corner swiped nine balls last season for the Gators. He is underrated for a proven commodity.
Another player who could fly under the radar is South Florida safety J.R. Reed (5’10, 201), who amassed 300-plus tackles and 18 interceptions in three seasons. The Jets missed out on the real John Lynch, but could have a carbon copy in the fifth round or later.
At guard, LSU’s Stephen Peterman could be a steal. The linchpin of the Tigers championship offensive line, Peterman has been inexplicably left off many draftniks top 10 lists. He and Kevin Mawae would have much to talk about in the huddle. Sean Locklear (6-3˝, 300) of N.C. State, who allowed just 1.5 sacks in two years, should be around in the third or fourth rounds.
I just hope that Bradway, Edwards and the rest of the organization finally realize pro football is not about mediocrity. They’ve been burned by free agency and have blown up the defense twice in three years. The time has come to build from within, build to win, and build to last.
The ring is the thing.