A few weeks ago we were asked where the depth of the 2014 NFL Draft class aligns with the Jets needs. Our intent was to write a two-part article. The first would address the generalizations learned from a survey of the depth of the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft class, while the second took a more practical player-level approach. The more we wrote, the more we realized this was going to turn into a series.
Since we've already surveyed the depth of this draft, it's time to talk about the talent that's contained in this class. Read yesterday's article on cornerbacks here. Next up? Edge setters and edge rushers.
DEFENSIVE END / OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
Bassett's Baseless Projection: One pick used before the end of the sixth round. Expected special teams and backup work in 2014.
Three Names of Note: Jeremiah Attaochu (6'3" 253 lbs, Georgia Tech), Adrian Hubbard (6'6" 257 lbs, Alabama), Michael Sam (6'2" 261 lbs Missouri)
Analysis: In the last five years, during the lead up to the NFL Draft, experts love linking Rex Ryan to some of the top pass-rushing linebackers. Having coached in Baltimore in the halcyon days of Terrell Suggs and Adalius Thomas it is understandable. But year after year, Rex has never required the team to draft a pure outside linebacker -- in any round since Vernon Gholston was taken before Rex Ryan even arrived back in 2008. An argument can be made that Quinton Coples can fill the role, but so far he's best served with his hand in the dirt. Calvin Pace's continued presence this year only underscores the point. Ryan and his GMs have been happy to bring Calvin Pace back year after year to set the edge and stuff the run and provide upside to the pass rush when the play allows. If you don't understand the unheralded importance of Calvin Pace, read this.
With Wilkerson, Coples, Richardson and Harrison in place up front, the Jets don't need a top talent on the outside to make this defense work. They don't need a linebacker who can drop in coverage, sack the passer set the edge and stuff the run. The need someone who can maybe do two and half of those things. Last year Calvin Pace racked up 10 sacks for the first time in his career, largely because of him getting more opportunity to rush the quarterback due to the injury to Antwan Barnes and thanks to the double teams his defensive linemen faced. With 12 draft picks, there's no better year to use a middle to late round pick on a player whom the Jets might be able to groom for a season or two to eventually take over Calvin Pace's important role as the strong side (SAM) linebacker. The player need be willing to get dirty, not always seek out the glory stats of sacks, tackles for loss or even tackles. But what the edge-setter does is crucial to allowing a player like David Harris a clean (and likely almost certain) shot at the ballcarrier. It is Pace's job to set the edge by overpowering a blocking tight ends or linemen to effectively wall off the running back from bouncing the play outside, and redirecting the play back inside to the reading linebacker for a clean tackle.
Name Dropping: While names like Anthony Barr, Khalil Mack and Jadaveon Clowney dominate the headlines, it is the players later on that might provide the perfect complement for what the Jets need on defense. While we're sure the Jets would be happy to find a ready-made starter for the 2014 season to take over Calvin Pace's role without skipping a beat, the likelihood of that is very low. So considering that, look for the Jets to get serious about players between the fourth and sixth rounds where the Jets could find a diamond in the rough that will pair with their existing front seven. Should the Jets go after a Day Two prospect, it might mean that Calvin Pace's future is more clouded than we originally thought.
On the earlier side, Jeremiah Attaochu (projected 2nd or third round) has the long arms and range to make plays all over the field. He's quick off the snap and has showed improvement in the last few years at holding his assignments against the run. While Attaochu might yet be a little impatient, he's getting better as a edge-setter and run stopper. Will Clarke (3rd round) has shown some promise as both a pass rusher and run-stuffer during his time at West Virginia. While he might never be a top pass rusher, he's demonstrated strong anchoring skills to lock out blockers.
Adrian Hubbard (4th round) played at Alabama and is a jack of all trades. He has demonstrated good ability in tackling the ball carrier, dropping into coverage and in getting around the edge in pass situations. That said, he might be untested in doing the dirty work that a player like Pace does. Stanford's Josh Mauro (4th round) might be limited athletically but will hustle and has the grit along with quickness to to set the edge with long arms.
Michael Sam (5th - 6th round) has been a big storyline this offseason, but regardless could be a good fit for the Jets. Jets DL Sheldon Richardson has voiced his support of Sam and having played together at Mizzou knows how fierce a competitor Sam is. Sam has been knocked for his speed and his lack of ability to drop into coverage, but coverage is an overrated trait from outside linebackers in the Rex Ryan scheme. Sam might not be an edge setter for the Jets but his speed could allow him to be a perfect situational rusher. Sam could be a nice value pick late in the draft where the Jets have a handful of fifth and sixth rounders.