Michigan DE Lamarr Woodley and California RB Marshawn Lynch.
Canít run the ball, canít stop the run. Itís the classic NFL dilemma; how can you properly utilize your own running game while at the same time stopping the oppositions?
Itís no coincidence that out of all of the division leaders after this week, 6 out of 8 teams are in the top half of the league in guarding against the run. Itís also no coincidence that the Jets inability to close out games directly correlates to the fact that they have the 3rd worst rushing defense in the league.
The worst belongs to the Colts, and, well, theyíve got Peyton Manning. So they get a pass for now.
On the offensive side, the running game has improved. The Jets went from the bottom of the league in rushing offense to now 13th in the league, and rookie Leon Washington has been the biggest reason why this jump has taken place. Heís had 2-100 yard games in the time of that leap, and also has become a favorite among fantasy owners who were fortunate to pick him up off the waiver wire.
Now the question is; is Lightning Leon the answer?
Further, when are the Jets finally going to hold an offense to under 100 yards rushing?
Itís the classic NFL playoff dilemma, everything starts and ends with the quarterback position, but wins and losses usually come down to how well you can run the ball and how well you can stop the run.
The Jets this year are the quintessential example of this dilemma. On one side youíve got Chad Pennington, who started off the year red hot, is most likely the front runner for Comeback Player of the Year if the Jets finish with at least a record of 8-8, and has shocked Jet nation like only a few expected. Behind him, youíve got the young gunslinger in Kellen Clemens, a quarterback who Jet fans seem to be in love with as their general of the future, and a player who the coaching staff favors for his leadership skills, which became apparent during this yearís training camp.
The Jets started off the season having what most in football regarded as the worst quarterback situation in the league, and the coaching staff turned it into one of the most secure. Theyíve got a proven veteran being backed up by a young, blue chip hotshot. It doesnít get much better than that. Youíve really got to give Mangini and Co. a ton of credit for bringing security to what seemed like a doomed position, at least for this season.
They get absolutely no credit however, for failing to prepare the defense week in and week out to guard against the run. You can point the finger at whom ever you like, but the fact is something is very wrong with not only the coaching, but also the personnel that the Jets are currently putting on the field.
So what rookies should the Jets have in their sites as of right now? Whatís the cure? Is there a savior amidst the college ranks who the Jets can build a new run defense around? Or should they be looking for a sure fire replacement for Curtis Martin?
It wasnít too long ago that the Jets had similar problems in their run defense with Marvin Jones and Mo Lewis edging towards retirement. The Jets helped put a stop to this by drafting a stud middle linebacker out of the University of Miami by the name of Jonathon Vilma.
Is there another player who can have such an impact for gang green defensively?
The problem is that the Jets most glaring need is at the nose tackle position. Letís face it, Dewayne Robertson isnít a nose tackle and he never will be. Heís made his share of plays this year, but NT in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme is an unsung position. Their job is to take up blockers in order to let the linebackers make plays, and Robertson has not been able to do that this year. San Diego and Pittsburgh are classic examples of how the almost the entire scheme revolves around what their ďmountain menĒ are able to do in the trenches.
Herein lies the dilemma; there arenít any blue-chip prospects this year capable of playing NT in a 3-4 scheme. Youíve got Alan Branch, a junior out of Michigan, whoís being groomed as the next ďmountain manĒ for the 2007 draft. However not only are scouts starting to discuss the fact that heís too tall to play the nose in a 3-4, but also itís not even a foregone conclusion that heíll declare, as Michigan athletes arenít known for leaving school early.
This leaves the Jets with 4 glaring weaknesses if you discount the nose tackle position; guard, cornerback, outside linebacker, and running back. 2-100 yard performances just arenít enough to convince the front office that they should abandon searching for a running back in the off-season. The NFL is about consistency, and Leon needs to show some, especially since heís currently in the shadow of the king of consistency in Curtis Martin.
In Part I of this mid-season review, weíre going to be taking a look at 3 running backs and 3 outside linebackers that are under the Jets radar right now. Itís about this time of year that the draft begins to swing into full effect; the college season is winding down and prospects are establishing themselves as favorites or disappointments, and itís time we start looking at these players.
(Just a fore note, in a 3-4, many defensive ends wind up being drafted to play outside linebacker in this particular scheme. Thus, a few of the OLB prospects are currently DEís for their respective colleges).
Iíd also like to point out that Iím leaving Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson, the consensus number one running back expected to declare for the draft, out of this analysis as Iíd like to focus on a few other prospects.
1.Lamaar Woodley, DE, Michigan: Among Michiganís simply amazing draft class theyíre going to produce this year, especially from their stellar defense, Woodley is one of the elite prospects to emerge from this class. At 6í2, 268 lbs, heís being looked upon by many scouts as an ideal OLB to play in a 3-4 scheme. He currently has 11 sacks on the year, which included stretch against Penn St, Iowa, and Northwestern where he recorded 2 sacks per game in 3 games straight. Bottom line, with the way things look right now, the Jets will be drafting somewhere between 15 and 20 in the first round, and not only is Woodley an almost perfect fit for the 3-4, but heís also being projected as of right now to be available in this spot. If I were to predict a favorite for the Jetsí first round pick as of right now, Iíd put my money on Woodley as being #1 on the Jets radar if theyíre realistic as to where theyíll be drafting.
2. Quentin Moses, DE, Georgia: At 6í5, 252 lbs, Moses was looked at as possibly the best DE prospect by a few scouts going into the season after recording 11 Ĺ sacks his junior year for the Bulldogs. Sadly, itís looking like he might not even accumulate half that total when all is said and done during his senior campaign. The Georgia coaching staff has attributed this to the fact that Moses is seeing a lot more double teams than he did last season, as well as the fact that teams are using max protection in several different ways to guard against Moses. Moses, like Woodley, is being looked at as a perfect fit to be a speed rusher in a 3-4 scheme. He was also recently named a semi-finalist for the Bednarik award, given to the Outstanding Defensive Player of the Year; and the Rotary Lombardi award, awarded to the best lineman (offensive or defensive), who best exemplifies the spirit of Vince Lombardi on top of their outstanding play.
3. Gaines Adams, DE, Clemson: Itís unlikely that the Jets will be in a position to get Adams, heís being projected as a certified top ten, maybe even top five pick. However if for some reason the Jets collapse during the second half of the season, Adams could very well be the Jets best option. Though scouts are saying he needs to gain some weight and he might serve better as a defensive end in a 4-3, you simply can not deny his athleticism and his ability to get to the ball. The fact is Adams is a stud when it comes to rushing the passer off the edge, and he could very well function as a 3-4 speed rusher if heís utilized properly. The bottom line is, come time next April, Adams could very well have established himself as the best defensive player in the draft.
Other players to watch out for: Tim Crowder, Texas; Adam Carriker, Nebraska; Dan Bazuin, Central Michigan.
1.Marshawn Lynch, RB, Cal: If thereís one back Iíd compare Lynch to, itís Tiki Barber, hands down. You know how when you watch Tiki Barber sometimes, and it looks like he isnít running that fast, yet somehow heís faking defenders out of their cleats and outrunning the secondary? Thatís Marshawn Lynch in a nutshell. He could very well be the best running back in this draft. Vision and agility are the two most important aspects for any running back prospect, and Lynch is second to none in both areas. Itís very likely that Lynch will be a top ten pick, and with the stellar senior campaign heís been putting together as well pure talent heís showed, the Jets would be very foolish to pass on Lynch if he managed to fall into their laps. Lynch is a junior though, but he is expected to declare.
2. Kenny Irons, RB, Auburn: You just canít go wrong with Auburn running backs over the past few years. With a track record of Rudi Johnson, Cadillac Williams, and Ronnie Brown, the school has produced its share of studs in recent drafts. Of course we canít forget the best of the best when it comes to the Tigers, the immortal Bo Jackson.
But back to Irons, he appears to be the smartest running back in this draft. He always seems to make the right choice at his point of attack on a defender, and he always seems to choose the right hole to burst through when the line opens one up for him. Heís not looked at as having the greatest speed in the draft, but letís face it, when youíre playing in the Meadowlands in December, speed is usually the last concern for the New York fans. We want someone who can move the chains, pound the defense and not fumble, something Curtis Martin did so well. Irons could very well be that player.
3. Michael Bush, RB, Louisville: 2006 was a tremendously disappointing year for Bush. In what was supposed to be a season where he campaigned to be a certified top five graded pick, he broke his leg in early September in a brutal looking injury against Kentucky. The fact remains however, that up until that injury, we hadnít seen a running back of Bushís ability at his size (6í3, 240 lbs) since the likes of Earl Campbell or Erik Dickerson (though Dickerson was lighter). Yes, he might be that good, and you have to have seen him at his best to believe it. Football fans simply havenít seen a back this big that was as fast and agile as Bush literally in decades. And the advantage in regards to Bush that the Jets have is that not only is his leg supposed to heal back to 100% come draft time, but itís likely that his absence during his senior year could very well cause him to fall down in the first round. Itís very likely that the Jets would have a shot at drafting Bush, and they might be very smart in doing so.
Other players to watch out for: Kenneth Darby, Arkansas; Jon Cornish, Kansas; Tony Hunt, Penn St; Ronnie McGill, North Carolina
Stay tuned for Part II, where weíll review the elite guards in the nation as well as the cornerbacks.