LSU's Dwayne Bowe would be a great addition to the Jets WR corps.
In part I of this series, we explored the two most glaring weaknesses on the roster at the positions of guard and cornerback. In part II, weíre going to focus on two positions that though arenít as thin as the positions previously discussed, theyíre still positions that need to be addressed if this team is going to contend for a Super Bowl within the next few years.
To reiterate, what weíre looking for is smart, tough players who can step in and play immediately if needs be. Thatís what makes a Mangini player, and thatís what the fan base should expect out of this coach.
First, letís get something out of the way. Some who read this article might have a problem with these positions being addressed as weaknesses or positions of need. However with this knew coaching staff, itís high time this fan base stop accepting JAGís (Just Another Guy) at each position on the field. They must stop having expectations that theyíll be able to get the job done simply because theyíre on the field or the fact that they were able to make a NFL roster. The school that Mangini comes from says that any player at any time should be able to step on the field and play at a high level. Whether thatís due to injury or simply because the player currently on the field is underperforming, the fact remains that the player stepping in to fill the void should be capable of playing at the level that his coach demands of him. Thatís what this franchise will be demanding of its players from now on, and thatís what the fan base should be expecting from all players that grace the depth chart. And all the players on the depth chart at these positions do not fit this bill.
Now to the weaknesses:
Thatís right, you read correctly; wide receiver is a position of need and is also a slight weakness on the New York Jets.
WR turned out to be quite the blessing in 2006 for the Jets. In fact, itís fair to say that Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles were co-MVPís of this team as a whole. One canít even begin to count the amount of times that both receivers made game saving plays or clutch catches over the middle. Both put their bodies out there quite possibly like no other receiving tandem throughout the entire NFL, and proved to be the best receiving duo this franchise has had since the Keyshawn/Chrebet days.
That brings us to the 2007 New York Jets and what lies there on the depth chart at WR. Putting it bluntly, there isnít anything beyond the dynamic duo on the depth chart at WR. Justin McCareins is an overpaid underachiever who has done nothing but disappoint this franchise since we spent a 2nd round pick on him. Heís never had more than 4 touchdowns in a season in his 3 years here, never cracked so much as 60 receptions, and hasnít even sniffed a 1000 yard season. For a second round pick, this franchise expected (and deserved) a lot more. Letís not forget the fact that he showed up to last yearís training camp out of shape and in Manginiís doghouse right off the bat. The fact is this team must address McCareins the same way that they address any other player who doesnít produce, as a liability who wonít see playing time until he earns it, and not a member of the roster who should be counted upon.
Hybrid Brad Smith is a project, nothing more, nothing less. He showed nothing during the regular season in terms of talent as a pure WR, and until he shows it on the field, canít be counted upon to step up if Cotchery or Coles suffers an injury.
That brings us to our main concern for the WR position, and also as to why this is a position of need. Laveranues Coles will be 30 years old by the time this upcoming season is at a close. And letís be honest, Coles is no finesse receiver. Heís everything that Jet fans have come to love in this franchiseís great tradition of WRís; tough, physical receivers who play hurt and make every catch no matter what the cost. However, when a player takes the kind of pounding that he endures, and he happens to be your number one receiver, the possibility of injury must be taken seriously. One must assume the worst while trying to see where you would stand at the position should he happen to go down for any length of time. Would we be perfectly fine, good enough, or would that create a big enough hole that would leave us at severe risk of diminishing our current level of production?
And how much longer can Coles continue to play at this high level? One or two years? Possibly three at the most? And thatís assuming he stays healthy, which is a mighty big assumption when you consider how he plays with reckless abandon. So is it time to start grooming a successor, someone who can assume that position when Coles starts to fade?
Possible Prospects at WR:
Dwayne Bowe, LSU: Without question, Bowe is one of the most fascinating prospects in the draft with an almost endless upside. A leader on the field and a WR with all of the characteristics that not only permeate that of which make a Mangini player, but also that of which has come to characterize Jet receivers throughout the history of this franchise. Itís really hard to imagine the front office passing on Bowe if he fell to the 25th pick, he would most likely be the best available player on the board and also fits exactly what this team is looking for in its players. If youíre looking for a pro comparison when it comes to Bowe, heís almost a mirror image of Arizona Cardinals Pro Bowler Anquan Boldin. And if the Jets are going to get this player, itíll happen with their first rounder, thereís no way Bowe is falling out of the first.
Jason Hill, Washington St: A pure speedster who might be just what this offense needs. Hill could be a pick of great value in the second or third round. He ran a 4.32 40 at the NFL combine and also has great hands. Hill fits the mold of this team in the fact that heís a pure athlete who performed well for the majority of his college career. Itís likely this team is on the verge of trying to acquire a home run threat to go along with the other weapons on offense, and Hill would be a perfect fit to that role.
Jacoby Jones, Lane: A definite possibility with a mid round pick for the Jets. Jones is in the mold of receivers like Marques Colston and even Jerricho Cotchery in the fact that heís fantastic after the catch when heís on the field. An outstanding D-II competitor, Jones is a superb all around athlete and is one of the top sleepers in this years draft.
Other possible WR upgrades and their draft projections:
Craig Davis, LSU (early-mid rounds), Steve Smith, USC (early rounds), Mike Walker, UCF, (mid rounds), Steve Breaston, Michigan (late rounds).
Hereís where things get interesting, as there might not be a more confusing area of the team heading into 2007.
First and foremost, we have Jonathan Vilma. Whether fans want to admit it or not, Vilma is still one of the best football players on this team, but that still doesnít change the fact that he looked lost at several points throughout the season, a result of the scheme switch that the entire defense was subjected to last season. Heís still the leader of this defense and still makes the calls on the field, but by the end of 2007 Vilma has to show that heís adjusting to the 3-4 better, otherwise itís a definite possibility that the team will have to start making plans for the future without him.
Next, we have Victor Hobson. One of the most pleasant surprises on the team last year, Hobson showed explosiveness and a mean streak in some of the blitz packages that Mangini and Sutton decided to run last year, and it seemed as though the 3-4 was a great fit for him. However, from several points of view, it also seems as though Hobson might be better on the inside. It would enable him to utilize his biggest strength, which is his tackling, and his larger body might help him take up blockers better. Though heís a tad on the short side, itís possible that we could see Mangini attempt to make Victor Hobson to Vilma what Mike Vrabel is to Tedy Bruschi. Donít forget though, Hobson is a free agent after this year and thereís been no reports of a possible contract extension just yet.
Bryan Thomas was possibly the best linebacker on the team last season. No other player had a bigger impact in the pass rush, and it was a collective sigh of relief to Jet fans everywhere that he was finally able to come through on the endless potential he showed several years ago at the scouting combine leading up to the draft. Further, the front office gave him a well deserved (and affordable) extension, which means that at least thereís one position locked up in the LB core.
Brad Kassell is what he is, a serviceable backup, but showed nothing in terms of being a future starter. Matt Chatham was a great contributor on special teams, but as a linebacker looked lost a good amount of the time. Anthony Schlegel isnít even worthy of being involved in any analysis pertaining to the LB situation on the Jets, unless weíre counting what the best practice squad players can bring to the table every week.
Possible prospects at LB:
Lamaar Woodley, OLB, Michigan: Almost exactly what one looks for in a 3-4 OLB. Woodley would fit in perfectly right off the bat with the Jets, heís a tough leader on the field and has a mean streak on top of it. Also capable of switching back and forth between DE and OLB, heís extremely quick off the ball and a great tackler. If Woodley is on the board when the Jets are on the clock in the 2nd round, look for them to take a shot on him. Heíd not only be the best available player left on the board, but heíd also fill a position of need.
Anthony Waters, ILB, Clemson: Possibly this writerís favorite prospect in the entire 2007 NFL Draft. Waters was an absolute stud at Clemson before going down with a torn ACL at the beginning of the 2006 season. Great motor with ideal size to play ILB in a 3-4 scheme, Waters would be a perfect fit on this team and an ideal pick for the Jets in the 3rd or 4th round.
Tim Shaw, OLB, Penn St: When you hear ďPenn StateĒ and ďlinebackerĒ going into this yearís draft, you immediately think of Paul Posluszny. That in itself is a major mistake. Shaw is quite possibly able to play either on the inside or outside, and like the two previously mentioned prospects, fits exactly what Eric Mangini looks for in a football player. Shaw looks fantastic on film and like Waters could be an excellent pickup in the mid rounds. Itís very possible that he could wind up being one of the biggest steals of the draft when all is said and done due to the fact that the majority of teams and scouts have focused their efforts on Posluszny rather than Shaw.
Other possible prospects at LB:
Quentin Moses, OLB, Georgia (early-mid rounds), Jay Moore, OLB, Nebraska (mid rounds), Zak DeOssie, ILB, Brown (mid-late rounds), Antwan Barnes, OLB, FIU
**Special thanks to Glenn Bernardi for his contributions to this article.