Friday, February 7, 2014
MVP replacements: New York Jets
By Rich Cimini
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.
So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.
Barring injury, the Jets don't have to worry about losing Muhammad Wilkerson anytime soon. He has one year remaining on his rookie contract, plus a fifth-year option the team is likely to exercise. In other words, they can control him through 2015. Good thing for the Jets, because Wilkerson is the best defensive player on a defensive-oriented team.
The Jets have picked a first-round defensive lineman in each of the last three drafts, so there's virtually no chance they will do it again. Still, you have to wonder how they'd replace Wilkerson in the event of a serious injury. That would be a problem because of his talent (obviously) and versatility. He can line up in any position on the line -- 3-4 end, 4-3 end and 4-3 tackle. There are packages in which he plays over the center.
Wilkerson's backup in 2013 was Leger Douzable, a career backup eligible for unrestricted free agency. He played well in a limited role and there's a chance he could move on, which would be a blow depth-wise. Sheldon Richardson, coming off a terrific rookie season, is another versatile lineman, but he's best suited to the interior. They're set at nose tackle with Damon Harrison and Kenrick Ellis.
So, basically, they don't have another Wilkerson or even a reasonable facsimile, especially if Douzable departs. Wilkerson wore down late in the season because he played so many snaps, so having a reliable backup is critical. But they will have to find that guy in free agency or the later rounds of the draft, because after taking Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and Richardson in consecutive first rounds, they've already invested plenty in one position. At 6-foot-5, 280 pounds, Coples has the Wilkerson body type (shy 25 pounds), but he just spent a year learning to play "rush" linebacker, so it would be a waste to make him learn another position.
Potential pick: Taylor Hart, DE, Oregon
Listed at 6-foot-6, 287 pounds, Hart doesn’t have great burst off the edge, but he’s got the versatility the Jets are looking for in a backup for Wilkerson. He can line up at 3-4 end, 4-3 end or 4-3 defensive tackle and could be flying under the radar. He broke his foot during a January workout; even though the injury isn’t considered serious, it robbed him of an opportunity to show what he can do at the Senior Bowl.
-- Steve Muench