New York Jets: Eric Ebron

W2W4: Moment of truth for Jets

May, 8, 2014
May 8
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If the extra two weeks of waiting made you anxious, imagine how the New York Jets feel. They've been waiting 16 months.

John Idzik's rebuilding plan, set in motion when he was hired in January 2013, is built largely around the draft -- this draft. He accumulated four compensatory picks and acquired a future pick from the Darrelle Revis trade, giving him a total of 12 selections -- tied with the St. Louis Rams for the most. Idzik was relatively conservative in free agency, using only about half the salary-cap space -- a tactic that raises the stakes even higher.

The fun starts Thursday night. The Jets own the 18th pick -- for now. What to watch for:

1. Biggest needs: The Jets need a lot of things, but cornerback should at the top of the list. Their pass defense was dreadful, allowing nearly 4,000 yards, and the only thing they did in free agency was replace a descending Antonio Cromartie with an injury-prone journeyman, Dimitri Patterson. Rex Ryan's defense is predicated on cornerback play, and his current secondary will get shredded against a "Missiles of October" schedule -- Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in a 12-day span. Idzik doled out $30 million in guarantees to sign outside free agents, with only $1 million going to the defense. As one longtime personnel executive said, "Feed the defense. The only way the Jets win is if they dominate on defense." Obviously, the other glaring need is wide receiver. If you need an explanation, you must have slept through last season.

2. Moving up: Yes, the Jets are interested in trading up, according to a league source. Presumably, their target is Odell Beckham Jr., a smooth, explosive and versatile wide receiver. If this is the plan, they'd better get ahead of the New York Giants (12), who also covet the former LSU star. Based on the draft value chart, they'd have to surrender a third-round pick and two fourth-rounders to switch places with the Tennessee Titans (11). You'd have to question the wisdom of such a move. It's a deep draft, and they could land a comparable player at 18. The Jets have eight tradable picks (compensatory selections can't be dealt), affording Idzik flexibility if he wants to step out of character and ... you know, be aggressive.

3. Names to watch: Wide receiver Brandin Cooks is a popular mock-draft choice for the Jets. Good prospect, solid character, but some scouts wonder if he can be more than a slot receiver because of his size (a shade under 5-foot-10). Wide receiver Marqise Lee also is in the conversation, but this would require a leap of faith, essentially betting he'd be the 2012 version and not the 2013 Lee. The top corners are Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert, although it's quite possible one or both could be gone. Dennard is the better scheme fit, but Gilbert has more upside because of his elite ball skills.

4. Outsider's view: This is how a rival personnel director sees the Jets' situation at 18: "They have two specific team needs -- wide receiver and cornerback. It's a tough decision, but it would be a more difficult decision if there was no value at those position at that point in the first round. But that won't be the case. There will be value at those spots. I also wouldn't dismiss the tight end (Eric Ebron). They're also living with two safeties (Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen) that are borderline starting caliber, so I wouldn't be surprised if they go Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor."

5. Perspective, please: As you're watching it unfold, remember this: The Jets aren't a couple of players away, or even one draft away, from being a legitimate championship contender. They finished a soft 8-8, and before you take issue with that description, consider this: They were outscored by 97 points, the largest negative point differential for a .500 or better team since the merger in 1970. This draft is just another step in the process, albeit a big step.
Despite an obvious tight end need, the New York Jets have expressed little interest in North Carolina's Eric Ebron, the consensus top tight end in the draft. Ebron said Wednesday he hasn't spoken to anyone in the Jets' organization other than linebacker Quinton Coples, a former college teammate.

Could it be a smokescreen? It's possible, but it would be an all-timer.

"As far as I know, they like me," Ebron said at a league-sponsored event in lower Manhattan. "That's every team. Every team likes me as an athlete."

It was previously reported that Ebron visited the Jets, but he was evasive and wouldn't confirm that. Being unnecessarily coy, he said only that he visited "New York" -- as he tweeted a few weeks ago, which fueled the speculation. If it's true that he's only had contact with Coples, it appears that his visit never took place -- unless, of course, Coples is running the draft.

Could it be that he visited the New York Giants? I'm not sure about that, but I can tell you the Giants probably won't take Ebron with the 12th pick. Chances are, he won't make it to the Jets at 18.

One thing about Ebron: He's not lacking for confidence. He's a self-proclaimed Vernon Davis wannabe, believing he can make the same impact as the San Francisco 49ers' star tight end.

"I watch his highlights, I watch his film, I watch everything Vernon Davis does and I mold it into Eric Ebron," he said.

Ebron described himself as a fun-loving person off the field. On the field, "I'm a beast, I'm an animal. It's like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

With the 18th pick, the Jets select ...

May, 7, 2014
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Hang in there, folks, only one more day to the draft. Here, I rank the top eight options for the New York Jets at 18, based on how I believe they have them rated on their board. Included are quotes from three people outside the organization -- two personnel executives and one scout, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity:

Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver, LSU: "If Sammy Watkins weren't in this draft, Beckham would be the top receiver. I think he's better than [Mike] Evans. ... He's a helluva prospect. He has size, speed, separation ability, route running. He can be an inside-outside guy. He has good to very good potential. He excites me. If I had him, I'd feel very good about the future of the position. You can move him around; he has versatility. He operates like an NFL receiver. He's NFL-ready. ... He's a pretty clean kid. No problems with his work ethic. This kid can play."

Eric Ebron, tight end, North Carolina: "He's talented. He's a legit pass-catching threat. He can defeat man or zone. He's not that big [6-foot-4 1/2, 250], but he's plenty fast. He has a high ceiling. ... For the Jets, he'd be complementary to [Jeff] Cumberland. You'd have your two-tight end sets locked in stone. He'd provide Marty Mornhinweg with flexibility. You'd have Cumberland in the running game [as a blocker], with Ebron giving you another threat in the passing game. ... I know people say he can't block, but he's not devoid of blocking skill. I think you can train him."

Darqueze Dennard, cornerback, Michigan State: "He'd be a good value at 18. ... He has average size [5-11, 199], but he has good strength. He's a physical kid. He can play press, he can play man. He's good in zone. He's instinctive. He's a pretty good tackler. ... I think he's a scheme fit for the Jets. He's consistent, dependable, a good No. 2 corner."

Brandin Cooks, wide receiver, Oregon State: "He's an outstanding athlete. He's sudden. He has quick explosion. He's a ball catcher, not a body catcher. He has good ball skills. He's not big [5-10], but he's a tough kid. He'll be a very good slot player. ... If you put him outside the numbers, you may have to scheme it up for him in terms of formations. He'll be a viable starter on the outside at some point, but he's a Day 1 starter in the slot. ... He's like a midget. To me, he's a luxury, a specialty-type player."

Justin Gilbert, cornerback, Oklahoma State: "He has good height [6-0], good length and good enough speed. His ball skills are terrific. You wish he were a little more physical. ... I think he fits [Rex Ryan's] defense and what he's trying to do. He'd be a good complement to Dee Milliner. I think Rex could teach him to be more physical."

Kyle Fuller, cornerback, Virginia Tech: "He's a good scheme fit for their defense. He can play that press-man that Rex likes. He's a real instinctive player. He's not as disciplined with some of his techniques as you'd like, so I think there would be a developmental stage. But, in their secondary, I think he could come in and compete for a starting job."

Bradley Roby, cornerback, Ohio State: "He's more talented, more of an athlete and more explosive than Dennard, but he's not as polished. ... You have to do your due diligence [with regard to off-the-field incidents]. It's a measured risk. There are some red flags in his background. Enough to omit him from your draft board? No, I don't think it's at that point, but you're measuring risk."

Marqise Lee, wide receiver, USC: "He had a better '12 than '13. I see him as a No. 2 receiver. He has good size [6-0], good speed and good hands -- not great hands. He had some drops last year. He has a lot of good qualities. Does he have a lot of great qualities? Maybe not, but he'll be a solid pro. ... We have him rated ahead of Cooks. He's just a better all-around player, a safer pick."
Four more days until the New York Jets are on the clock ...

1. The target list: It's impossible to predict the Jets' pick at No. 18 because so many things could happen in front of them, but I'm going to narrow the options and rank them based on interviews with scouts and talent evaluators. This is my ranking based on what I think the Jets should do, weighing their needs and the best players likely to be available:

a. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State: Coach Rex Ryan needs a man-to-man corner, and he's the best in the draft.

b. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech: A football player. Not the flashiest, but he can play Ryan's scheme.

c. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State: Picture a young Antonio Cromartie -- tremendous talent, but he's a finesse player.

d. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU: A fast, all-around receiver with return ability. Strong character.

e. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State: Speed is the offseason theme on offense, and Cooks is a blur.

f. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina: Has a high ceiling, but he doesn't block and there are questions about his attitude.

g. Marqise Lee, WR, USC: Coming off a mediocre year and lacks that extra gear.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDespite a shaky rookie year, the Jets have been quick to praise QB Geno Smith this offseason.
2. Double talk: The Jets are engaging in a ridiculous game of semantics with regard to the quarterback position. They refuse to say Geno Smith is the starter, but they talk about him as if he's the starter. They say Michael Vick is here to "push" Smith, adding they don't want to do anything to impede his progress. Sure sounds like a starter to me, except they're afraid to use the "S" word because it's not allowed in Idzik World. Ironically, the only person who uses it is Vick, who reiterated Saturday in an interview with NJ.com what he said on the day he signed in March: Smith is the starter. This may sound like a small thing, but it sends a mixed message, blurring the lines in a quarterback competition (are we allowed to call it that?) that could turn into a controversy.

3. Ulterior motives: The Jets have hosted at least three quarterbacks on pre-draft visits -- Jimmy Garoppolo, Tom Savage and Logan Thomas -- fueling speculation they could be in the market. Yes, they could be, but there's another reason for the interest: Gathering information for future use. Like every team, the Jets keep a dossier on each prospect. Some day, they may have to face Garappolo in a game, at which time they can refer to their notes on him. The New England Patriots are known for this practice.

"All those reports and the work that's done going into the draft, we look at that as the start of his library, and you will definitely tap into that as he progresses through his pro career," GM John Idzik said.

4. The Dirty Dozen: If the Jets wind up picking 12 players, it'll be their largest draft class since 1998 -- another 12-pick year. Quantity doesn't always ensure quality, as that '98 draft proved. Only one of the 12 players ended up starting in the NFL -- OT Jason Fabini (fourth round). The Jets were hurt by not having a first-round pick (sent to the Patriots as part of the Bill Parcells compensation package), but it still ranks as one of the worst drafts in team history. And there were a lot of smart people in the draft room -- Parcells, personnel director Dick Haley and three future GMs, Mike Tannenbaum, Scott Pioli and Trent Baalke. Like people always say, the draft is a crapshoot. The Jets still reached the AFC Championship Game, in large part, because they assembled one of the best free-agent classes in history -- Curtis Martin, Vinny Testaverde, Kevin Mawae and Bryan Cox.

5. Gang of New Yorkers: New York isn't known as a football hotbed, but there are four intriguing defensive-line prospects from the area. The top guy is Staten Island's Dominique Easley (Florida), a first-round talent coming off his second ACL surgery. He held a late pro day and impressed scouts to the point where he could sneak into the second or third round. Other locals are Flushing's Jay Bromley (Syracuse), the Bronx's Caraun Reid (Princeton) and Nyack's Terrence Fede (Marist).

6. The truth hurts: Former Jets great Joe Klecko was on the money with his assessment of OLB Quinton Coples, whom he said "looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane." Coples has tested the patience of the coaches from the day he arrived, giving inconsistent effort. The talent is obvious, which explains the frustration level in the organization. He finished last season on an upswing (3.5 sacks in the last five games), so maybe he turned a corner. As for Klecko's comments about Muhammad Wilkerson, suggesting he doesn't give maximum effort on every play, I haven't heard anyone around the team question his motor.

7. Goodson soap opera: Coming off an ACL injury, and facing charges for gun possession, Mike Goodson's future with the team is murky. Remember, he still faces the possibility of another suspension; this time it would be for violating the league's personal-conduct policy. Idzik said they've approached this offseason with the idea that Goodson will be on the team. "We assume that Mike is a Jet," Idzik said. "We've always made that assumption." He has another court date, May 19. If they draft a running back, it could be curtains for Goodson.

8. Scouting shake-up: Last year's draft was widely considered a success, yet some of the unsung people who contributed -- a handful of area scouts -- were replaced. This will be Idzik's first draft with his scouting staff in place. For the record, the new scouts: Chris Prescott (Virginia to Louisiana), David Hinson (Midwest), Dave Boller (West) and Rick Courtright (national combine scout). Former player Aaron Glenn, who worked in pro personnel in 2012, became an area scout for the first time, working Texas to North Dakota.

9. Numbers game: Vick should be changing his number again in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

10. Richard the Reclusive: The last time an Alabama quarterback was drafted in the first round was ... you have to go back, back, back to Richard Todd in 1976 -- sixth overall by the Jets. The 38-year drought is "kind of sad," according to Todd, who is hoping AJ McCarron will end the slump (he won't). Todd doesn't do many interviews, so it was interesting to read his comments last week on his initial experience with the Jets.

"I was kind of thrown to the wolves when I was drafted," Todd told Alabama.com. "I thought I'd back up Joe (Namath) for two or three years and it took about two or three games, and I was kind of thrown into it. We threw the ball about six times a game my senior year (in the wishbone), so it was totally different.''

Two words, Richard: A.J. Duhe.

Jets draft preview: Tight end

May, 1, 2014
May 1
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This is the fourth installment in a position-by-position analysis of the New York Jets as they prepare for the draft:

Position: Tight end

Current personnel: Jeff Cumberland (signed through 2016), Zach Sudfeld (2015), Chris Pantale (2015).

Projected starter: Cumberland.

Departures: Kellen Winslow (free agent), Konrad Reuland (free agent).

Top salary-cap charge: Cumberland, $1.9 million.

Scouting report: Re-signing Cumberland was a good move, but they're not finished. Cumberland will give you 600 to 700 snaps a year, occasionally demonstrating the ability to penetrate a deep seam, but he's not the kind of tight end that can be flexed out. In fact, he caught only four passes last season when split out wide to the left or right, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Sudfeld shows some promise as a receiver, but he's still considered a project. Without a doubt, the Jets need to add more talent and more bodies. There's a reason why Marty Mornhinweg didn't use too many two-tight end packages last season.

The Last TE drafted: Hard to believe, but they haven't drafted a tight end since Dustin Keller (first round) in 2008.

Potential targets: The Jets have hosted the top five tight ends in the draft -- Eric Ebron (North Carolina), Jace Amaro (Texas A&M), Troy Niklas (Notre Dame), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington) and C.J. Fiedorowicz (Iowa). You don't have to be a detective to figure out what's going on here. The Jets will draft a tight end, maybe two. In the unlikely event that Ebron falls to the Jets at 18, it would be hard to pass. "He's that good," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. McShay said Ebron "has holes in his game" (some dropped passes, disinterested blocker), but he added that his pass-catching prowess is hard to ignore. Amaro and Seferian-Jenkins are projected as second-rounders. They're both big, athletic targets. Amaro set an NCAA record for most receiving yards in a season by a tight end (1,352). ASJ dominated in the red zone. His character needs to be checked out; he has a DUI arrest on his record. Fiedorowicz is a traditional 'Y' -- an in-line blocker, as is Niklas. A late-round possibility is Ted Bosler (Indiana).

Need rating (scale of 1 to 10): 10

Sunday notes: Jets' endless star search

April, 27, 2014
Apr 27
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Checking up on the New York Jets:

1. Woe-ffense: For too long, the Jets have been playing offense with hand-me-downs from other teams -- free-agent pick ups, trade acquisitions and an assortment of castoffs. The list is long: Brett Favre, Thomas Jones, LaDainian Tomlinson, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, etc. The Jets' best offensive player of this generation, Curtis Martin, came from the New England Patriots. Eric Decker, Chris Johnson and Michael Vick are the latest to join the recycled crowd, although Decker was a premium free agent. There's no law that says you can't build this way, but the lack of homegrown talent is both alarming an mind-boggling.

[+] EnlargeEric Ebron, Antonio Crawford
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsCould North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron be the homegrown skill player the Jets desperately need?
Try to wrap your brain around this: The last-drafted skill-position player to make the Pro Bowl on offense was wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, the first overall pick in 1996. As Keyshawn himself would say, "Come on, man!" They've drafted some "almosts" over the years, players such as Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene and Dustin Keller, but they never hit it big for various reasons. Santana Moss and Laveranues Coles made the Pro Bowl, but they did it with the Washington Redskins. The point is, the Jets never will escape also-ran status until they draft and develop their own stars. They should keep that in mind when they start drafting in 11 days.

2. Dreaming of a tight end: The Jets really like North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron. They see him as a wide receiver/tight end hybrid that would be a matchup nightmare in a flexed position. Problem is, it's hard to imagine him falling to 18th. The Buffalo Bills (ninth) and New York Giants (12th) need a tight end and could take Ebron. If he gets past the Bills, what would it take to get ahead of the Giants? According to the draft value chart, the Jets would have to trade their third rounder and their two non-compensatory fourth-round picks to move up to the 11th spot, currently held by the Tennessee Titans. That's a lot to give up for a tight end.

2.a. Scouting term of the week: In a conference call with the NFL Nation reporters, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay used the term "buffet blocker." What is a buffet blocker? "He kind of picks and chooses when he wants to get interested," McShay said. In case you're wondering, he was referring to Ebron.

3. The Fab Four: If I had to select the four most likely picks for the Jets at 18, I'd say: wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Odell Beckham Jr., and cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert. That could change by draft day, of course, but that's what I'm hearing right now.

4. Don't forget the D: For those who believe the Jets absolutely must go heavy on offense in this draft, consider this: The Jets recorded sacks on only 4.6 percent of third-down dropbacks, the only team in the league under 6.5 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information. You know what that tells me? The "Sons of Anarchy" could use some help.

5. Q's time is now: The Jets made the no-brainer decision by exercising the fifth-year option for Muhammad Wilkerson ($6.97 million). Next year, the decision might not be so cut-and-dried with 2012 first-rounder Quinton Coples, who has yet to approach his potential. The fixed salary won't be set for another year, but they're looking at about $7 million for Coples. They're expecting big things this year from Coples, whose development was impeded last season with the switch to rush linebacker.

6. Double rejection: Rex Ryan is popular coach, evidenced by his fourth-place finish in a 2013 ESPN.com survey that asked players across the league to name the coach they'd most like to play for. But the notion all players are dying to play for Ryan and the Jets is a bit ridiculous. For instance: They were spurned by two free agents that took less money to play for other teams. Wide receiver Sidney Rice, who recently visited with the Jets, said he decided to return to the Seattle Seahawks (one year, $1.4 million) even though the Jets offered him more. Safety Kurt Coleman, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings (one year, $900,000) after visiting the Jets, said the Jets offered some guaranteed money. The Vikings didn't, but he opted for them anyway. Apparently, some players can resist Ryan's charm and the Jets' money.

7. Cornering the market: If the Jets don't pick a cornerback in the first round, I wouldn't be surprised if they explore the possibility of acquiring a veteran, perhaps in a trade. There has been speculation about the Dallas Cowboys trying to deal the disappointing Morris Claiborne, the sixth overall pick in 2012, but they'd take a major cap hit. Right now, his cap charge is $4.4 million, but it would explode to $9.6 million if they trade him, counting the bonus acceleration. The Cowboys would have to receive an offer they can't refuse to absorb that kind of hit.

8. From the what-if dept.: This never became public, but the Jets showed interest in wide receiver Julian Edelman during free agency. Ryan, in particular, was intrigued by the idea of stealing a weapon from the rival Patriots. Edelman ended up re-signing with the Patriots for $17 million over four years. Landing Edelman would've been quite a coup.

9. Sign of the times: In 2014, the Jets will pay kicker Nick Folk ($3.6 million) almost as much as running back Chris Johnson ($4 million), once regarded as one of the elite players in the league. It's a tale of two markets: Kicker salaries are increasing, running-back prices are plummeting.

10. Not what you think: I've heard coaches over the years say they prefer to face teams with new head coaches early in the season, figuring they still will be getting acclimated to new schemes. This may surprise you, but there's no evidence to suggest those particular teams are more vulnerable early in the season than late. Since 2000, new head coaches have a .453 winning percentage in the first month, followed by .427 in October, .455 in November and .451 in the final month, per ESPN Stats & Information. The Jets play three teams with new coaches, only one of which comes early -- the Detroit Lions (Sept. 28). They also have the Minnesota Vikings (Dec. 7) and Tennessee Titans (Dec. 14).

We're talking draft with Todd McShay

April, 24, 2014
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ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay spoke to NFL Nation reporters for an hour Thursday, discussing prospects, team needs and trends. A few takeaways that pertain to the New York Jets:

1. His top-rated wide receivers are (in order): Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks and Marqise Lee. He suspects that as many as 21 receivers could be picked in the first four rounds. Clearly, McShay believes there's a gap between Cooks and Lee. "Comparing him to Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks, he's fast -- Marqise Lee is -- but he's not quite as fast as we all thought," McShay said. "You saw it with his 40 time and, more importantly, when you go back and watch tape."

2. McShay can't envision any scenario in which tight end Eric Ebron slips into the middle of the first round. Too bad; he'd be a nice fit with the Jets (18th pick).

3. He said Darqueze Dennard is the top press corner in the draft, making him the best fit for the Jets, but McShay doesn't think he'll last to the 18th pick. In his latest mock, McShay picks Justin Gilbert for the Jets, but he second-guessed the selection, wondering if Gilbert is a scheme fit. "He's not very good at press," said McShay, describing Gilbert as a non-physical player. He doesn't sound like a Rex Ryan kind of corner, but would the Jets be willing to look past the shortcoming because of his elite playmaking skills?

4. McShay described cornerback Bradley Roby as "a classic boom-or-bust pick." Roby has been linked to the Jets in some mock drafts, including my most recent mock. "He could be the best DB in this class five years from now or he could wind up being another first-round cornerback that doesn’t pan out in the league because he didn’t do what he had to do mentally from a preparation standpoint," McShay said.

5. McShay was smitten with wide receiver Cody Latimer, whose stock has been rising for weeks. He watched five tapes of Latimer and was "blown away by his skill set." Latimer, who is 6-foot-2 and runs a 4.4 in the 40, could sneak into the bottom of the first round.

Sunday notes: The need for speed

April, 6, 2014
Apr 6
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A few thoughts and observations on the New York Jets:

1. With the 18th pick ...: The Jets still need receivers and there should be a few good ones available with their first-round pick. The three most commonly mentioned possibilities are LSU's Odell Beckham Jr., Oregon State's Brandin Cooks and USC's Marqise Lee. I asked ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. to give his take on which one would be the best fit for the Jets, and he said Beckham and Cooks.

"[Beckham], as a pure receiver, with his hands, his character, his attitude, his approach -- he’s outstanding," Kiper said. "Lee, you roll the dice a little. I don’t know if he’s as fast as they would want. ... In terms of just explosiveness, it would be Beckham or Cooks. Both can really fly. Beckham can be a No. 1, Cooks could be a great slot receiver. I see Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks as ideal fits for the Jets."

I think speed is really important to the Jets because ... well, there's a lack of it on offense. Also, after signing the big-bodied Eric Decker, they need a burner to complement him, allowing the shifty and elusive Jeremy Kerley to play the slot. They've done a lot of homework on Lee and Cooks. In fact, they dispatched offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to their pro days on the West Coast. Cooks is scheduled to take a pre-draft visit, as is Beckham. They have plenty of intel on Beckham, as new special-teams coach Thomas McGaughey spent the past three years on the LSU staff.

2. Mel's lucky seven: From Kiper's vantage point (and many scouts agree), there are seven elite players in the draft. "The Super Seven," Kiper said. In no particular order, they are: Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, linebacker Khalil Mack, offensive linemen Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan, and wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans. If I were the Houston Texans, holding the No. 1 pick, I'd take Clowney and never look back.

3. How the mighty are falling: In 15 months as general manager, John Idzik has parted ways with three of Mike Tannenbaum's nine first-round draft picks -- Darrelle Revis (trade), Dustin Keller (free agent) and Mark Sanchez (cut). Next on the hot seat is Kyle Wilson, who is entering the final year of his contract. They've already sent a message to Wilson, acquiring two slot corners -- Dimitri Patterson and Johnny Patrick. (They also lost one, Isaiah Trufant.) The activity has fueled speculation in league circles that Wilson is on the way out. That's premature -- the Jets aren't thinking that way -- but it'll be interesting to see how it shakes out if they draft a cornerback in the first or second round, a definite possibility.

"[Wilson] makes no plays," an AFC scout said.

In four seasons, mostly in the slot, Wilson has played in 2,195 defensive snaps and has made only six impact plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. He's a durable, hard-working player, but it's all about making plays. Clearly, the organization has added competition, so Wilson will have to raise his game if he wants to play out his contract in New York.

4. Raising the Barr: I think one of the most talked about players in the Jets' draft room will be UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr, who has the physical traits to be an outstanding speed-rusher -- and the Jets need one of those. Barr is projected to be picked in the 15 to 20 range, according to Kiper. The downside is that Barr was an H-Back until 2012, and the lack of experience on defense shows up despite impressive stats (10 sacks last season).

"He's a very intriguing guy," Kiper said. "There's a lot of polarization, a lot of mixed opinion. You can see the inexperience. You can see he doesn't always look like he understands how to play on the defensive side. He has a lot to learn, but he has a lot of talent."

My hunch: The Jets will pick a receiver or a corner at 18, maybe a tight end if North Carolina's Eric Ebron slips.

5. Ancient history: For what it's worth (probably not much at this point), the Jets really loved Chris Johnson in the 2008 draft. He ended up going 24th, 18 spots after Vernon Gholston and six spots ahead of where they traded up to pick Dustin Keller. Sorry about the Gholston reference; I know it causes agita among fans.

6. Potential Johnson fallout: If the Jets sign Johnson -- knowing Idzik's style, I'll believe it when I see it -- they'd have five veteran running backs. The most expendable player would be Mike Goodson, recovering from ACL surgery and still entangled in his legal issues. He's counting $1.3 million on the cap, and they could save $720,000 by releasing him. He also has a $650,000 roster bonus written into the contract, but it was restructured in such a way that he doesn't get the money unless he's on the roster, injured reserve or PUP for 16 games. Bottom line: They can cut him without much fuss or muss.

7. Pre-draft visits: Each team is allowed to conduct 30 visits with non-local prospects. We in the media tend to overplay these visits, looking for a quick headline. They don't always mean the team is interested. In some cases, the team could be looking for a specific piece of information on a player they didn't get a chance to interview on the scouting circuit. Teams also have been known to use pre-draft visits to feign interest in players, hoping to disguise their draft intentions. In most cases, though, the objective is to learn more about the players. The Jets learned a lot a few years ago, when a highly regarded prospect (sorry, can't use his name) fell asleep while waiting outside Tannenbaum's office. Obviously, that was a major turn-off. The player ended up being a first-round pick by an AFC East team, and he still plays for that team.

7.a. Speaking of visits ...: Some of the bigger names on the Jets' visit list are Beckham, Cooks, Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans, Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby.

8. Hanging with the cool kids: The Jets are the 16th-most popular team among the major sports, according to Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight.com blog -- now part of ESPN. How does he arrive at that conclusion? His definition of popularity is based on the number of Google searches. The New York Yankees (5.83 million) and Boston Red Sox (5.69 million) lead the way. The top NFL team is the Dallas Cowboys (4.45 million), followed by the Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Bears, New York Giants, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings and Jets.

Daily draft dish: New age tight ends

April, 4, 2014
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Every morning, from now until draft day (May 8), we'll provide a draft factoid, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information. We'll keep it New York Jets-centric, sticking to team needs, possible selections, trends, etc.

The teams that draft North Carolina's Eric Ebron and Texas Tech's Jace Amaro, the top pass-catching tight ends, will be getting hybrid talents that represent the new trend at the position. Of their 188 combined receptions last season, 87 percent came when they were lined up in the slot or split out as a wide receiver. In other words, they're not 'Y' tight ends -- the traditional, in-line variety.

Let's get specific: Ebron caught 49 of his 62 passes from the slot or split out. He also averaged 8.7 yards after the catch, the best of any top-10 prospect at the position. Amaro made 97 of his 106 receptions from the slot or split out -- and a good chunk of them were clutch. In fact, he led the FBS with 31 third-down receptions that resulted in a first down or a touchdown.

The Jets most definitely need a pass-catching tight end.

Scouting combine: Final thoughts

February, 25, 2014
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The NFL scouting combine wraps up Tuesday with on-field workouts for the defensive backs. We'll take this opportunity to put a bow on the combine, recapping it from a New York Jets' perspective:

1. Good hands people: This is one of those years where the Jets' top need marries with the strength of the draft. Everybody knows they want to rebuild at wide receiver, and the combine reinforced the widespread belief that receiver is perhaps the deepest position. Nearly all of the top wideouts performed well in drills, with Mike Evans (Texas A&M), Brandin Cooks (Oregon State), Odell Beckham Jr. (LSU) and Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt) helping themselves the most. The Jets should be able to get a quality wideout with the 18th pick if they opt to go that route. The abundance of receivers could impact how they approach free agency.

2. Thin at tight end: The Jets may have to think twice about filling their tight-end need in the draft. North Carolina's Eric Ebron solidified his standing as the top tight end with a strong performance, but some of the other top prospects were limited by injuries. For players such as Jace Amaro (Texas Tech) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington), it means their pro days will carry greater importance. It's not a terribly deep position anyway.

3. Sanchez saga: The Jets met with Mark Sanchez's reps to discuss the quarterback's future. Nothing was settled, but Sanchez will be rehabbing in New Jersey this week, giving the Jets a chance to monitor his surgically-repaired throwing shoulder. One source said the chances of Sanchez returning are about 20 to 30 percent. Obviously, he'd have to accept a large pay cut. Look for this to play out until March 25, when a $2 million roster bonus is due -- or until they find his replacement.

4. Higher salary cap: The Jets aren't facing a cap squeeze, but it's always nice to have extra flexibility. The combine began with one report projecting the cap would increase to $130 million, up from $123 million last year. Then came another report saying it would be $132 million. The final number will be announced in the coming days. Either way, the Jets will have the ability to be aggressive in free agency. It'll be a departure from last year, when they were forced to bargain-shop.

5. Meet and greet: Teams were permitted to conduct 60 formal interviews at the combine. The Jets met with many of the top players, including Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles, but don't put too much stock in these sitdowns. It's called due diligence. They will conduct hundreds of player interviews by draft day. In some cases, the combine interview is just a starting point. Example: The Jets weren't blown away by Geno Smith last year, but they scheduled a follow-up on the eve of his pro day. That's when they became more comfortable with him.

Ebron headlines impressive TE group

February, 22, 2014
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Both the New York Jets and New York Giants are in the market for a tight end. They saw some good ones Saturday at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, including an impressive performance by North Carolina's Eric Ebron, the consensus No. 1 tight end in the draft.

Ebron checked in at 6-foot-4 3/8, 250 pounds and blazed the 40 in 4.6 seconds, the second-fastest time among his position group. He has big hands (10 inches) and did 24 reps on the bench press, which is considered average. Simply put, he has all the right measurables. Texas Tech's Jace Amaro, another potential first-round pick, didn't run as well as Ebron at 4.74 seconds, but he's a big man -- 6-foot-5 3/8, 265 pounds. He had the smallest hands of all the tight ends (nine inches), which could be a concern for teams.

Here's a list of the top-10 40 times for the tight ends:

1. A.C. Leonard, Tennessee State: 4.50

2. Eric Ebron, North Carolina: 4.60

3. Colt Lyerla, Oregon: 4.61

4. Trey Burton, Florida: 4.62

5. Jace Amaro, Texas Tech: 4.74

6. Reggie Jordan, Missouri Western: 4.77

7. Anthony Denham, Utah: 4.77

8. Jake Murphy, Utah: 4.79

9. Arthur Lynch, Georgia: 4.82

10. Marcel Jensen, Fresno State: 4.85

Ebron draws interest from Jets, Giants

February, 21, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The New York Jets and New York Giants have the hots for the same player -- Eric Ebron, North Carolina's ultra-athletic tight end.

If they both covet Ebron, the advantage goes to the Giants, who own the 12th overall pick -- six spots ahead of the Jets in the first round.

The Giants are so intrigued by Ebron (6-4, 250 pounds) that general manager Jerry Reese and vice president of player evaluation Marc Ross scouted him during the season and filed reports. The team's top two decision-makers don't do that unless there's a high degree of interest in a player. Ebron scored high grades and will be a consideration with the 12th pick.

The Giants have a glaring need, as do the Jets, who would love to pair Ebron with Jeff Cumberland, a free agent-to-be whom they're trying to re-sign.

Ebron (62 catches, 973 yards, three touchdowns last season) is the consensus top tight end in the draft, ahead of Texas Tech's Jace Amaro, whom the Giants interviewed Thursday night at the scouting combine. Ebron is a new-breed tight end, meaning he can split out as a receiver, creating a mismatch. He once said his speed is "illegal," and he told reporters that he can't be jammed at the line of scrimmage. College opponents didn't try, he said.

"I think why teams don't press me is because they can't," he said. "I will not be pressed at the line of scrimmage. That's a prideful thing of mine. It'd be best to leave the play to cover y'alls' back."

Ebron said he patterns his game after Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers. Why?

"Because [of the] similarities," he said, comparing himself to one of the best. "His speed, he's powerful, he's very strong at the line of scrimmage. Love everything about him."

Ebron isn't shy on confidence. Asked to describe his play, he replied, "Fast. I play fast. I'm a little bit faster than most."

Scouts are eager to see his time in the 40. Ebron is far from a finished product. His blocking needs work, he's had some drops and some question his toughness over the middle. But the tight end position has changed, and the good ones are deployed like wide receivers.

"I just do different things than other tight ends do," Ebron said. "If you watch film you'll probably say the same thing."

Wake-up call: Combine, Day 2

February, 20, 2014
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On the schedule for Thursday in Indianapolis:

New York Jets/Giants media availability: New York Jets coach Rex Ryan (2:45 p.m.) and general manager John Idzik (3 p.m.) are scheduled for news conferences. The hot topics will be the futures of Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie; the draft and free agency; and the organization's first public comment on former Missouri DE Michael Sam. The New York Giants' media availability begins Friday.

Combine schedule: Placekickers, special teamers, offensive linemen and tight ends will undergo medical exams, measurements and team interviews. They also will be available to the media. ... Quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs arrive in town. They will have a medical pre-exam, X-rays, orientation and team interviews.

Players of interest: The Jets (18th overall pick) and Giants (12th) both have a need at tight end, so North Carolina's Eric Ebron -- the consensus top player at the position -- will be a focal point among the New York reporters. Ebron has the ability to light up the combine -- on and off the field. He's confident and entertaining, once bragging that his speed should be "illegal." He will be asked about his weight in light of a recent report that he put on extra pounds in an effort to become a better blocker. ... The Giants need help at offensive tackle, so Thursday's media session will offer a chance to meet first-round possibilities, namely Michigan's Taylor Lewan. We know how the Giants love those Big 10 linemen.

Sunday notes: Would Jets embrace Sam?

February, 16, 2014
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Catching up with the New York Jets:

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Debby Wong/USA TODAY SportsThe Jets didn't handle the Tim Tebow circus particularly well, so how would they handle prospect Michael Sam?
1. Welcome mat? Curiously, the Jets' players were relatively quiet on Twitter when Michael Sam made his announcement last Sunday. How would they feel about an openly gay player on their team? Sheldon Richardson spoke highly of Sam, his former college teammate, in a TV interview. Another player, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told me, "Besides the amount of media, you're dealing with some guys who might not be comfortable with it. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC, so, obviously, the guy can play some ball. At the end of the day, it's all about playing football. If we could use him, I don't see why not. I think we'd welcome him. We know he's a heckuva player."

As the player noted, the media factor would be significant. Anybody who doesn't think it wouldn't be a distraction is fooling themselves. Some teams handle distractions well; some don't. The Jets didn't exactly stage a clinic during the Tim Tebow circus in 2012. The team has yet to comment on Sam, but general manager John Idzik and Rex Ryan will address the media Thursday at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.

1a. Not a Jets fan: Six days ago, I examined the possibility of whether the Jets might be interested in Michael Sam. Maybe the question should be, why should Sam be interested in the Jets? A Sam acquaintance -- Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of OutSports.com -- doesn't think the Jets would be a good landing spot for Sam. Zeigler, who was involved with Sam's agents and publicists in the strategic planning of his announcement, trashed the Jets and other teams in an interview with a CBS radio affiliate in Washington, D.C.

“He can work on any team with decent leadership,” Zeigler said. “I pray to God he doesn’t end up on the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Jets or the Washington Redskins. I think those three teams -- they have poor leadership, but most of the other teams in the NFL have guys -- the coaching staff, the front office and locker room -- who are equipped to deal with this.”

2. Under the microscope: Aside from the social and cultural aspect to the story, Sam's football skills will be under intense scrutiny, starting this week at the combine. He'll generate more attention than any middle-round projection in history. Many scouts will be looking to see if he has the athleticism to make the conversion from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. One NFC scout, who watched Sam closely at the Senior Bowl, doesn't think he can do it.

"He's not a linebacker," the scout said. "He doesn't have the instincts or the movement skills. ... He's a tenacious, tough kid, but he's not a space guy."

The scout also was surprised to see Sam play defensive end in the Senior Bowl game after practicing primarily at linebacker during the week. He took that as a sign that Sam doesn't feel comfortable at linebacker. If the Jets agree with the assessment that he can't play linebacker, it's hard to imagine them drafting a defensive end whose size (6-1 5/8, 255 pounds) isn't a fit in their scheme. Besides, they don't have a pressing need for an edge player.

The scout also said "there's no question in my mind" that Sam's sexual orientation will have an impact on his draft position. "I know it's the 21st century, but you still have people who were brought up a certain way," he said. "Forget about the coaches and administrators, what about the players? You have to think twice about putting the player in your locker room."

3. Double-E: The pre-draft speculation has focused on the Jets' need at wide receiver, but let's not forget, their tight-end depth chart is almost barren. Word is they're very intrigued by North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron. Projected as a mid-first-round pick, Ebron will be linked to the Jets in plenty of mock drafts over the next 2 1/2 months. He's the kind of pass-catching threat they need, but there are some questions. "I don't think he's tough enough to run down the seam and catch the ball in the middle," an AFC personnel executive said. "Is he a great athlete? Yes. Does he have good hands? Yes. Can he catch the ball in traffic? I don't think so." Ebron is the kind of athlete that will wow evaluators at the combine and workouts, but teams will have to rely on game tape to determine if the toughness questions are accurate.

4. The Idzik way: Under general manager John Idzik, the Jets have tweaked some of their player-scouting methods. Terry Bradway, the team's senior director of college scouting, told the team web site, "We're putting a huge emphasis on the person and the character issues, both football and personal. We've done that in the past, but there's an added emphasis." Holding true to that philosophy, they didn't take any significant gambles in last year's draft -- at least not in terms character questions.

5. Say hello to T-Mac: There hasn't been much written about new Jets special teams coach Thomas McGaughey (the team hasn't made him available to the media), but I talked to someone who worked with him on an NFL team and the feedback was positive. He was described to me as, "A really sharp guy ... a straight shooter ... takes a lot of pride in his work." McGaughey (pronounced: Mc-GAY-hee) spent the last three seasons as LSU's special-teams coach. His insight into SEC players will be valuable during the pre-draft evaluation process. Remember this name: Odell Beckham, Jr. He was a top receiver/kick returner for LSU, and McGaughey is said to be very high on him. A postscript on McGaughey: He interviewed with the Jets in 2008, when Mike Westhoff took a medical leave of absence.

6. Down on Geno: Former longtime Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, who interviewed for the Jets' job last season, offers an insightful quarterback analysis on sidelineview.com. Grading players on a nine-point scale, the way teams grade college players on their draft board, Angelo rates Geno Smith as the 29th quarterback. He puts Smith in the 6.0-6.4 grouping, which he describes as: "Can start and compete with him with a good supporting cast and quality coaching, but lacks something, i.e., arm talent (strength or accuracy), poise, instincts. Not good enough. To win with him 2 of the 3 of the phases have to be dominate or surround him with high caliber players."

Commenting specifically on Smith, Angelo says, "Got a lot of playing time, which may have helped him or hurt him. Too many interceptions and negative plays. His numbers were terrible. His progress will depend on his learning from this year’s struggles. Otherwise, defensive coordinators will have a field day with him. Quarterbacks make a living from the neck on up, not the neck on down." I agree. We know Smith has the physical talent; now we'll see how well he can process what he learned last season.

7. Brown and green: The Cleveland Browns' dysfunction (clown car, anyone?) reminds me of the turn-of-the-century Jets. In a span of 364 days, from Jan. 3, 2000 to Dec. 31, 2000, they saw three head coaches quit -- Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick and Al Groh. Ah, memories. The Browns are on their third coach and third GM in three years. Former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is a promising, young coach, but you wonder if he'll get swallowed up by the Browns' ineptitude.

Examining team needs: Tight end

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
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Prepare for an overhaul.

The New York Jets' most experienced tight ends, Jeff Cumberland and Kellen (Boston Market) Winslow, are headed to free agency. Winslow won't be back. Behind them, the Jets have Zach Sudfeld and Konrad Reuland, coming off major knee surgery. In other words, it's time to send up an S.O.S. signal.

[+] EnlargeJeff Cumberland
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsRetaining Jeff Cumberland, a free agent, might be the best value for the Jets.
You look around the league and you see so many young, athletic tight ends playing integral roles in the passing game. The Jets went the other way last season, de-emphasizing the tight end. In fact, they ran only 206 plays with two or more tight ends, 29th in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Their tight ends combined for only 63 receptions. It's time for some fresh blood.

Projected offseason plan: They need two immediate contributors. In an ideal world, it would be a pass-catching tight end and a thumper at the point of attack. Geno Smith needs a reliable target, especially in the red zone.

Free agency: Assuming Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints) lands the franchise tag, it's a thin market with no impact receivers. Jermichael Finley (Green Bay Packers) is young and talented, but he's a risk, coming off spinal-fusion surgery. Maybe the Jets can approach him with a one-year, prove-it contract. Another top receiver is Dennis Pitta (Baltimore Ravens), but he missed most of last season with a hip injury. The Jets had a high draft grade on former first-round pick Brandon Pettigrew (Detroit Lions) when he came out in 2009, but his receiving numbers have fallen off. He was used last season mostly as a blocker; he'd certainly add some punch at the line of scrimmage, but he won't threaten the seam as a receiver. Former first-rounder Jermaine Gresham (Cincinnati Bengals) might be a thought if he's released. All things considered, the best value might be Cumberland, a decent two-way tight end. If they can retain him for $2 million-to-$3 million a year, and add a threat in the draft, they'd be OK at the position.

Draft: It's not a deep crop. You're talking about five or six draftable tight ends. The consensus top choice if Eric Ebron (North Carolina), a 6-4 pass catcher who could come off the board in the middle of the first round. He'd be hard to pass up with the 18th pick. He averaged nearly 16 yards per reception last season, and he can move around the formation, creating matchup advantages. Jace Amaro (Texas Tech) was a pass-catching machine, catching 106 passes for 1,352 yards last season. At 6-5, he has terrific size. The knock on him is that he's a one-year wonder. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. Insider has Amaro going to the New England Patriots at No. 29. Figures, right?

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