The New York Jets entered the draft with just a handful of picks in large part due to trades over the past twelve months. They left the event with four new players after draft day maneuvers. Cornerbacks were a necessity for the team as were replacements for veterans who were soon to be shoved off.
The team was targeting cornerbacks in round one and Kareem Jackson was at the top of the list. Yet when the Texans swiped the Alabama junior in the 20th slot, much earlier than most thought, the Jets thought they would be locked out of the position and turned their attention towards the offensive line. As we reported prior to the start of round two, the Jets worked the phones and were speaking with the highest rated blocker on their board as the 29th pick neared. When the Green Bay Packers selected Bryan Bulaga then the Baltimore Ravens traded out of the first round, the cornerback position was back in play for the team. Eventually they landed Kyle Wilson, but it took a while to make the choice as the team had to talk themselves out of an offensive lineman at that point. Wilson is a solid athlete with good ball skills. He improved his game over the course of the ’09 season then watched his draft stock take off during Senior Bowl week. Why did Wilson, who most rated as the second cornerback in the draft, end up being the fourth player at his position selected? Several reasons. Wilson does not have the natural size of Jackson or Devin McCourty, nor does he have the upside of either player. He’s still a terrific prospect that could develop into a starter down the road. He also brings the element of return specialist, which is added value.
The Jets held their breath and were relieved when Vladimir Ducasse, the player they were set to select in the first frame, fell into their laps in round two. The franchise hopes Ducasse replaces Alan Faneca, who was soon cut by the team. It’s more than a hope, it’ll be a necessity for a franchise that was 30 minutes away from the Super Bowl just four months ago. Ducasse’s talent was obvious to us prior to the 2008 season and a year ago we rated him as the third best small school prospect in the nation. He has the size and athleticism to develop into a starter at the next level. That said we don’t think he’s NFL ready at this point and it could be a struggle for Ducasse over the seasons initial two months.
At the top of round four the Jets came away with a steal when they selected USC running back Joe McKnight. The drafting of McKnight would quickly spell the end of Leon Washington’s career with the Jets as the former All-Pro return specialist was traded just hours later. There are many similarities between McKnight and the player he’s set to replace. Coming out of Florida State, Washington was branded as an underachiever and fell to the fourth round- ditto for McKnight. Both were considered situational third down backs that would be asked to serve double duty as return specialists. Washington was brilliant in that capacity- the Jets will need much the same from his replacement. At the top of his game McKnight was one of the more creative ball carriers in the country. He’s elusive and incredibly quick. The Jets need McKnight to produce right out of the gate in a variety of roles and he has the physical skills to get the job done. But the question is does he have the heart to compete?
One round later the Jets traded Washington plus a seventh round selection to Seattle for the 139th pick of the draft then chose fullback John Conner. While the team wants to line-up a replacement for the aging Toni Richardson this choice was a bit of a head scratcher. Conner was not rated as the top fullback in the draft by many, including ourselves, as we graded Rashawn Jackson higher. Conner is not a bad choice but considering some of the needs the team had on the defensive line and at safety coupled with the available talent still on the board (Cam Thomas, Robert Johnson, Austen Lane) this choice would have been better served at a spot other than fullback.
Overview: All too often outsiders grade a team’s draft based on one player, or as it is known, the one player draft. Yet when a team has just four picks this becomes a little more justified. Under the circumstances the player that will make or break this draft, at least in the short term, is Vladimir Ducasse. If the UMass product ably replaces veteran Alan Faneca and the Jets compete for a spot in the Super Bowl then this draft will be viewed as a success. On the other hand if the offensive line, which has been a strength for this team the past two seasons, struggles and the weak link is left guard, cutting Faneca with the hopes he would be replaced by Ducasse, the Jets will be heavily criticized.