Just as the 2000 National Football League Draft has paid huge dividends to the New York Jets, so to will the 2003 rendition prove likewise.
In 2000 the organization came away with a huge haul thanks to the controversial Keyshawn Johnson trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that resulted in an extra two first round selections, giving Gang Green a four-player bonanza. Those picks - John Abraham, Shaun Ellis, Chad Pennington, and Anthony Becht - have been cornerstones to the Jets successive playoff appearances, and should remain viable for the remainder of the decade. (Although Becht could be dealt on draft day.)
Once again a Jets wide receiver changing uniforms has proved controversial and perhaps bountiful. Make no mistake. Losing Laveranues Coles, a restricted free agent, to the Washington Redskins for the 13th overall pick must be justified. But I have every reason to believe that general manager Terry Bradway, coach Herman Edwards and the team braintrust, including Jesse Kaye, director of college scouting, will capitalize on the opportunity afforded them.
According to Bradway, this draft will be one to develop talent down the road. Not one to bring immediate results.
"If you look at our football team, we have solid starters at every position," said Bradway, at last Thursday's pre-draft press conference. "There isn't a position where a young guy is going to come in and take that job. Maybe eventually they will. What we are looking for out of this draft are not players who can come in and play every down, but players who can come in and play between 30 and 50 percent of the snaps, help on special teams, and then by the second year be in position where they can start."
The 13th pick, teamed with the Jets own 22nd selection, and coupled with four picks among the first 85 (and nine overall), should have a long-reaching and positive effect on the organization.
In this era of salary cap implications and free agency, the draft was, is and always will be the best way to build a football team.
That said the Jets must make these picks count. And they must start by addressing the defense with the two first round selections. Overall, the group needs an infusion of youth, speed, and tenacity. The current linebacking corps is long in the tooth, relatively slow, and devoid of depth. Having lost James Darling in free agency, the only dependable back-up is Jason Glenn. And the interior defensive line could use a much-needed shot in the arm.
Sure, I can understand the need to draft the ever-elusive BIG wide receiver early, but keep two things in mind: Coles was a third round pick in 2000 and this year's draft is deep in tall, physical wideouts. The second or third rounds seem more prudent.
Lastly, Curtis Conway is a lot better than people give him credit for. He's had the dubious distinction of working with 10 different quarterbacks spanning his entire 10-year career with the Chicago Bears and San Diego Chargers. He won't make people forget Coles but the position certainly won't lose much in the transition.
I have read various reports that the Jets will package both of their No. 1's for a chance to leap into the top 10 and grab Miami receiver Andre Johnson. While I understand Johnson's enormous talent and ceiling, I don't understand why the team would forgo its obvious defensive shortcomings.
Additionally, I have heard that the Jets would grab a defensive back in the second round, possibly Illinois corner back Eugene Wilson. Why? The secondary is perhaps the deepest and youngest of all the defensive positions. But I wouldn't be surprised if a DB is tabbed. One thing we have learned over the years is expect the unexpected from the Jets. All you have to do is go back to last year's surprise selection of Bryan Thomas.
If the Jets stand pat, a likely and wise scenario will be grabbing a defensive tackle at 13 and a linebacker at 22, or perhaps an offensive lineman such as Stanford's mammoth Kwame Harris or Iowa guard Eric Steinbach. Some draftniks have the Jets poised to tab Georgia's Boss Bailey with the first of their two first round picks. I don't see it. And forget Kentucky DT Dewayne Robertson being around. The Vikings are so hot for Robertson that he'll be gone by the seventh pick.
Another mock draft has Gang Green grabbing Penn State wide receiver Bryant Johnson with their 22nd pick. God I hope not. One thing we've learned over the years is that Nittany Lion skill players are injury prone and overrated as pro prospects. Does Blair Thomas ring a bell? KiJana Carter? Enough said.
That said, and barring a draft-day trade - and if things go to form - which they rarely ever do, I see the Jets taking Oklahoma State DT/DE Kevin Williams at No. 13. At 6-feet-4 inches, 308 pounds, the former Cowboys star runs a 4.82 40 and has wowed scouts with his combine workouts. With the second pick of the opening round, Bailey will be the man if he's still around. If not, E.J. Henderson of Maryland could get the call.
An intriguing pick could be Florida wideout Taylor Jacobs. Although he is listed at slightly over 6-feet, Jacobs is a burner and the thought of teaming him with Santana Moss as a deep threat is intriguing. Tennessee's Kelley Washington is a strong possibility, but his neck injury and attitude could present a problem. However, I see the New England Patriots taking Washington at No. 19 so it's a moot point.
If the Jets opt for an offensive lineman or wide receiver with the 22nd selection, they will need to address the linebacking position in the second round. Considering that scenario, Terry Pierce of Kansas State (6-1, 256, 4.87) should be in play. Pierce is a fluid athlete who possesses an exceptional ability to change direction and make plays. Another LB to keep an eye on is Chaun Thompson of West Texas A & M. Although the first two or three rounds might be to soon for him, Thompson's 4.56 speed and sensational upside make him worth taking in the early middle rounds.
Whatever happens, the Jets need to make this a draft to remember as well as one to erase the memory of Coles, Randy Thomas, Chad Morton, and John Hall turning in their green and white uniforms for burgundy and gold.
"We understand that we've lost some very good players," said Bradway. "We know what the reality is. But our plan is to move forward. Over the last two years we've built a winning program here. We've been criticized and we've been complimented. Every decision we make is scrutinized, and it should be. But the one thing I believe is that we have done things the right way."
Following is a short breakdown of the Jets needs by position:
Quarterbacks: With Pennington fully entrenched as the starter and Vinny Testaverde a couple of years from retirement, the Jets may look to draft a QB in the later rounds to compete with third-stringer Todd Husak.
Running backs: Lack of depth at fullback behind Jerald Sowell is a concern. Lamont Jordan is Curtis Martin's heir apparent. Wouldn't hurt to take a RB if one tickles the Jets fancy.
Receivers: Obvious need for a big, physical wideout.
Offensive line: Free-agent Tom Nütten will fill the void left by Randy Thomas. Jonathan Goodwin, J.P. Machado, and Chris Smith are intriguing prospects at the guard and tackle spots. But the team needs to address the center position and groom someone for Kevin Mawae. Drafting for depth is a must.
Defensive line: A gap-stuffing tackle that can pressure the QB is a must. Defensive end depth is another pressing concern. Especially if last year's first rounder, Bryan Thomas either (a) doesn't pan out or (b) he's converted to linebacker.
Linebackers: Perhaps the weakest link on the team and one that needs to be addressed several times in the draft.
Defensive backs: The strongest unit of the D. Selecting a corner or safety for depth and special teams couldn't hurt.
Special teams: I'm not sold on Doug Brien and Dan Stryzinski for the long haul. Heck, Brien couldn't kick in the kicker-friendly environs of the Metrodome. How is he going to handle the fabled gusts of Jets Stadium? The team took a long look at place-kickers and punters at the NFL Combine. If the team doesn't draft a specialty player, it will address those needs with college free agents.