Draft Talk: RB's and OT's
By Doug Cantor
Jets Insider.com Draft Expert
January 24th, 2006
Gang Green fans have had to deal with a lot of misfortune this past season, more than we had to in almost a decade and with the number four pick in this year’s draft, speculation will run rampant over the next three months. There’s always a chance a top draft pick can be a bust, but any time you have an opportunity to draft one of the top four prospects in the nation, it gives you something to look at positively after such a horrendous season.
Talent is what it is, and if a top 5 pick lives up to expectations it can really be a thing of beauty. Look at players in recent years like WR Larry Fitzgerald, RB Ladainian Tomlinson, DE Julius Peppers, and WR Andre Johnson. These aren’t just great players, they’re game-changers. And that’s the great part about a top pick. On the other hand, there are talented college players such as the Jets DT Dewayne Robertson or Cowboys CB Terence Newman who just haven’t lived up to the hype.
So, Jets fans are left wondering who to draft. Plenty of names are being thrown around such as Ohio State LB AJ Hawk, Virginia’s OT D’Brickashaw Ferguson, and Memphis RB Deangelo Williams. Some are even saying USC QB Matt Leinart could drop to the Jets if Texas superstar QB Vince Young decides to declare.
The positions of need that are of utmost importance to the Jets this season are quarterback, running back, defensive tackle, outside linebacker, cornerback, tackle, and guard. Defensive end could also be a pressing need if John Abraham is not a Jet next year, but there’s no way to know so we’re not going to address defensive end in this article. Center could also be a need, but it’s not as immediate as the others as most would agree that Kevin Mawae still probably has a year or two of quality play left in him.
As of today, it’s looking more and more that the Jets will either be targeting a running back or an offensive tackle with their first round pick(s), so we’ll address those two this article. Position by position, and player by player, let’s take a look at the top 3 prospects at these positions. There is a very realistic possibility that the Jets could trade down, so I will address a few players that could fall after the 4th overall pick, which is why I’m addressing the top 3.
With Reggie Bush almost a certainty to be off the board by the time the Jets select, if they choose a running back they will have their choice between 3 top prospects. Laurence Maroney out of Minnesota, Deangelo Williams out of Memphis, and Lendale White out of Southern California. As of right now, Deangelo Williams is the consensus number 2 running back on most scouting boards, and White, after his spectacular Rose Bowl performance, has usurped Maroney on most scouting boards as the number 3 back in the nation and is making a strong run at what was Williams’ stronghold at the number 2 spot.
Lendale White, USC - One of the main concerns about White is that some are unsure if he can carry the full load of an NFL running game and be a true “feature” back. First, there have actually been no signs that point to White not being able to carry the full load. The most common misconception about White right now is that he was "Reggie Bush's backup;" and this is false. Bush and White received an equal amount of carries this year and, in 4 games this year White had 19 or more carries. In all those games, White rushed for over 120 yards, each game averaging 7.9 yards per carry and totaling 11 touchdowns. Further, in 7 out of 13 games this year, White actually had more carries than Bush.
Bush's versatility and his ability to line up at receiver as well is why you saw Bush on the field more, because even when White was lined up in the backfield, Bush was lined up at receiver. Even so, White has been on the field more in many games as a blocker in the passing game even when Bush wasn't on the field as a receiver. His stock has been rising tremendously since his spectacular Rose Bowl performance, where for the most part, the Longhorn’s defense held Bush to a reasonable amount of yards in the running game (at least for a player of Bush’s character), but could not stop White no matter how hard they tried. White’s stat line in the biggest game of the year and possibly the most competitive national championship game of all time? 20 carries for 124 yards and 3 touchdowns, while averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
For the Jets, White would be a perfect fit. he’d bring a championship mentality to an offense that’s desperately struggling for an identity, similar to the mentality that Jon Vilma brought to the defense in 2004, and he’d be ready to start right off the bat due to his style of running that translates perfectly over to the NFL. And the one thing that White has in his favor is this; can you really go wrong with record setting USC running backs in the NFL?
Deangelo Williams, Memphis - The talent that Williams has on White is his versatility. From the school that brought us Rams WR Isaac Bruce and Saints CB Mike McKenzie, Williams is a dynamic receiver out of the backfield, has been in the top two statistically in all-purpose yards since his sophomore year, and is very shifty in the open field. The truth is, Williams is a college prospect that has very few weaknesses. His one knock against him is the sheer number of times Memphis actually gave him the ball in his four years in the backfield. Although at first glance, that might sound like a good thing, it is not. The fact that Deangelo has had so many carries in his career is actually a negative, not a positive for him. There haven’t been too many running backs taken in the first round that have a career total like Williams’ of 968 carries. In comparison, other running backs who started for a majority of their college careers (and stayed their senior year) are; Deuce McAllister (616), Carnell Williams (621), Brian Westbrook (725), and DeShaun Foster (722). All of these backs aren’t within even 200 carries of Williams, and have suffered injury problems since being selected on the first day of the draft. (And by the way, I spent a half hour researching those stats, so humor me and let that marinate for a minute).
If the Jets select Williams, he, like White, would be our starter from day one and would be a great addition to the backfield. He’d add a dynamic receiving aspect, and would provide the offensive line, which will still be in rebuilding mode, some breathing room due to his patience and speed. He certainly has the ability to flourish behind an offensive line that isn’t the best, which he clearly demonstrated in his record-setting four years at Memphis.
Laurence Maroney, Minnesota - Maroney’s a great running back who’s flourished this year for the Golden Gophers as their lone feature back, taking over for Marion Barber III was drafted by Dallas last year. One difference is that he’s not a very patient runner. Put bluntly, Maroney is a running back who needs some time to develop into an every-down back in the NFL, and it might take a full season or two for that development to take place because as of right now he runs with his turbo jets switched on at all times.
I see Maroney’s first few seasons being similar to that of Detroit’s Kevin Jones, they’re roughly the same size (Jones was lighter when he came out of Virginia in case you’re looking it up right now) and also have the same weaknesses in their receiving abilities. And, like Jones, he’ll probably show flashes of future ability every few weeks, but not on a regular basis for a while.
For Gang Green, the good part is this; he’d be a perfect compliment to Cedric Houston, who has shown to be a very capable power back and can fight for short yardage. A speed back like Maroney who can get to the outside and turn the corner fast would be the perfect one-two punch. However, Maroney would obviously be the feature back in that tandem, due to the higher draft pick the Jets would have to use on him as well as the significantly higher paycheck he’d be earning.
In the 2004 season, the Jets had one of the best offensive lines it ever had, at least in terms of run blocking. The Pete Kendall signing was looking like one of Bradway’s best ever, and Mawae was invigorated so much that he earned another Pro Bowl appearance. Things were finally starting to work out in Gang Green’s favor.
Man oh man, what a difference a year makes, T Kareem McKenzie left to sign with the Giants, and Kendall showed none of the dominance that made him a fan-favorite in 2004. And let’s face it; T Jason Fabini clearly isn’t a starting caliber tackle anymore in this league. His play has gone downhill drastically the past two seasons, and with a fairly large salary that the Jets would have to pay him, it’s almost a certainty he won’t be back next year. McKenzie’s replacement, T Adrian Jones, though showing signs of being a good tackle for years to come, is probably not going to be the next Orlando Pace or Willie Roaf.
The Jets need one of two things, either a dominant prospect at left tackle who can come in and change the whole current attitude about the Jets’ offensive line, or an intimidating right tackle who will anchor the right side of the line and prevent defensive ends from injuring the quarterback. It’s certainly no coincidence that in a season where the Jets offensive line problems were as bad as they ever were, that they suffered injuries to 4 different quarterbacks at different points throughout the season, and that they had the 31st ranked rushing offense in the league, finishing only ahead of Arizona.
There are several top prospects at tackle this year as this draft is very deep in the position, and, considering information from several top sources, as of right now it’s safe to conclude that the top 3 prospects are Virginia’s D’Brickashaw Ferguson, USC’s Winston Justice, and Auburn’s Marcus McNeil. Miami’s Eric Winston is also being touted as a top prospect as well, and his stock has been rising in the past few weeks, but on the majority of scouting and draft boards these 3 prospects are still ahead of Winston.
D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Virginia – Hands down the number 1 prospect this year. He’s drawn nation-wide comparisons to former NFL great and hall of fame member Anthony Munoz. Questions about his size lead to concerns about his run blocking ability, but one can’t deny his sheer ability to dominate in pass blocking. Which, at the left tackle position, because they protect a quarterback’s blind side (the majority of teams have right-handed quarterbacks), is the most important aspect of their game. Ferguson started at Virginia for four years, and displayed the type of quickness and agility that has lead him to securing himself at least a top 10 pick and, very realistically, maybe even a top 5 pick. With Ferguson, it’s not so much a question of whether he’ll be a dominant left tackle, but whether or not he’ll improve his run blocking skills enough in the course of his career so much that he’d warrant consideration for the hall of fame. He is the first pure left tackle with this much potential to come out of college since possibly Orlando Pace. Players like Robert Gallery do not hold up in comparison because he had experience at right tackle in college, and other players like Mike Williams were prospects did not show the same type of potential in their technique that Ferguson has in his four years at Virginia. The bottom line is, there’s a difference between good left tackles in the NFL, and “game-changing” left tackles in the NFL. Willie Roaf, Jon Ogden, and Orlando Pace are game-changers because defenses have to plan the way they address the offense around them. Adrian Jones can be a good tackle in this league, but it’s not looking like he’s going to turn out to be a game-changer. Thus, with Gang Green in a rebuilding stage on the offensive side of the ball, it might be in the Jets’ best interest to start anew with what could be a dominant force on the line for years to come.
Winston Justice, USC – Boy, USC keeps churning them out don’t they? Justice could be one of five players from USC this year being drafted in the first round along with Bush, White, Leinart, and safety Darnell Bing. After missing the entire 2004 season because of a student conduct violation, Justice returned in 2005 with a vengeance and was the anchor on what will go down as one of the greatest college offensive lines ever to take the field. He played right tackle his entire career at USC, but remember, Matt Leinart was a left-armed quarterback, thus, it was Justice who was protecting Leinart’s blind side through his two Heisman campaigns.
On the negative side, he showed some signs of rust this year from being out an entire season, and there are concerns about his speed. At some points during this season, Justice just flat-out got beat around the corner by defensive ends. He is a dominant run blocker, and might take a few seasons to really get the hang of things as he is going to have to develop the explosiveness that a tackle like Ferguson already possesses, but one simply can not deny the ability. If the Jets drafted him, he’d most likely be starting at right tackle for his first few seasons.
Marcus McNeil, Auburn– When your team has serious problems in its run blocking, it’s hard to argue against drafting the leader of an offensive line that has been the center-piece of one of the most successful running games in college football the past 4 seasons. McNeil is an absolute monster; at 6’9 and almost 340 pounds, he has been an absolute stud in college and can play either right or left tackle. There are criticisms that he plays too upright at some times and also in regards to his basic blocking techniques, but one simply can’t ignore the intangibles. He’s possibly the most complete tackle coming out in this year’s draft, and his future is limitless if he decides to work hard. Some say he can get lazy and lose focus at times, but the right type of coach can fix that aspect. McNeil could be a perfect fit for the Jets, as he could start at right tackle for his first season while Jones held down the left side, then make the switch to the left side whenever coaches felt he was ready to.
As such, it’s a sad thing to say, but the Jets picked the right year to be weak in the run game and in their offensive line, because this is one year where it’s going to be extremely hard not to fix that problem in a draft so deep in both of those areas.
Next: Part II, where we’ll review the quarterbacks and defensive tackles.