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The Jets have seen Sheldon Richardon, Damon Harrison, and Quinton Coples depart within the past few seasons. With the departure of Muhammad Wilkerson thought to be imminent, they suddenly find themselves in a position where they lack depth on the defensive interior.
In addition, a potentially promising pipeline of young depth hasn't really materialized. Deon Simon and Claude Pelon couldn't crack the rotation, and spent most of the year on the practice squad, while Lawrence Thomas became a full back. Leonard Williams will be back, but his 2017 season was arguably just as disappointing as Wilkerson's, and he might find that teams can more readily gameplan around him if he's not surrounded with the same kind of talent.
At nose tackle, Steve McLendon had a good year, but he's entering the last year of his contract, and he's already 32. So, the team will be looking for younger alternatives in the longer term. Simon will compete for time, and the team may bring back Mike Pennel, but they would realistically represent a downgrade.
The Jets are, therefore, likely to be in the market not only for depth and potential, but also for immediate contributors during the offseason. If this position is a draft priority, there are several candidates worth a look.
Michigan's Maurice Hurst is viewed as the best of this year's class at the moment, although next week's combine might change that. Hurst excels in using his hands to win matchups and cause disruption inside.
Other alternatives with good length who could be good five-technique options available on day two include Florida's Taven Bryan and USC's Rasheem Green. Green was essentially Williams' replacement at USC. Later on in the draft, Andrew Brown from Virginia and Alabama's Da'Shawn Hand could be value picks. Hand is talented, but needs to shake off character and production concerns.
For a more conventional interior force, Alabama's Da'Ron Payne and Stanford's Harrison Phillips represent two of the tougher defensive tackle matchups in this year's class. Both should be off the board on day two, and could even move into first-round consideration with a good combine.
In terms of nose tackles, Washington's Vita Vea is regarded as the top prospect, and most projections have him as a mid-to-late first-rounder. He's over 340 pounds, and has good quickness for his size. Virginia Tech's Tim Settle and UConn's Folorunso Fatusaki could be options later on. Fatusaki's stock has been rising since he impressed during postseason all-star games, but he's been consistently solid against the run over the past few years.
Back in 2015, Clemson's Grady Jarrett dropped all the way to the fifth round, where the Atlanta Falcons got themselves a bargain. Jarrett is now one of the best young defensive tackles in the NFL. The teams that passed on Jarrett were probably overreacting to the trend for defensive linemen with huge wingspans but, in recent years, players like Jarrett have led to a shift back towards short defensive linemen with good technique and power.
There are a few players of this type in this year's draft, although it may not be easy to predict where they might get drafted. Derek Nnadi from Florida State is one such option, Poona Ford from Texas is another. Later on, Sam Houston State's PJ Hall - the nation's leader in blocked kicks over the past four years - could be a sleeper.
The Jets run a lot of sub-packages where they have just two pass rushers on the line, and this could be a role where hybrid prospects with the ability to rush on the interior could fit. North Carolina State's Kentavius Street, Wake Forest's Duke Ejiofor and Miami's Chad Thomas are all edge defenders, who also show an ability to be productive on the interior. Washington's Hercules Mata'afa, who played defensive tackle all year despite being built more like an edge defender, could also be made for such a role.
Finally, in the later rounds, possibilities could include Kansas States Will Geary, another small and powerful player with a low center of gravity that could perhaps be converted into a Kelly Gregg-type. Alternatively, Nathan Shepherd from Fort Hays State is one of the best small school prospects this year.
Having spent four first-round picks since 2011 on interior linemen, the Jets wouldn't have been expecting to have defensive tackle as a major need heading into the 2018 offseason. However, that's the position they find themselves in. Depending on what they do in free agency, defensive tackle reinforcements could be a high priority.