New York Jets: Marqise Lee

W2W4: Moment of truth for Jets

May, 8, 2014
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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.

Beckham, Lee: Receivers on Jets' radar

May, 7, 2014
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The hottest wide receiver in the draft not named Sammy Watkins is Odell Beckham Jr., who reportedly has multiple teams (including the New York Jets) trying to trade up for him. A not-so-hot receiver is Marqise Lee, whose disappointing season may have hurt his stock.

There they were Wednesday, standing about 50 feet apart during a pre-draft interview session in Lower Manhattan. They're believed to be on the Jets' target list, along with fellow receiver Brandin Cooks. There's a good chance Lee and Cooks will be available with the 18th pick -- if the Jets keep the 18th pick.

Lee could turn out to be a bargain at 18. Going into the 2013 season, the former USC star was projected as a top-10 pick, coming off a monster year (118 catches for 1,721 yards) in which he won the Biletnikof Award as the top receiver in the country. But he injured his knee, missed three games and was hampered in others.

"I wasn't able to do the things I did in the 2012 season," said Lee, who finished with only 57 receptions for 791 yards. "I was kind of restricted as far as movement-wise. It was something I couldn't control. If I could control it, I'd never be in a situation where people are having that debate, 'Is Marqise as good as he was in 2012?'"

The Jets have done a lot of homework on Lee. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg attended his pro day, and they had him to Florham Park to meet with team officials. As for Beckham, the Jets have plenty of intel on him. His former special-teams coach at LSU -- Thomas McGaughey -- is now the Jets' special teams coach. They got a chance to reminisce on his recent visit to the Jets' facility.

Asked if he expects McGaughey to lobby on his behalf, Beckham smiled. He'd rather stay out of the prediction business.

"Every team seems interested. They all say they're going to take you," he said. "You never really know who's looking at you."

Beckham passed on an opportunity to proclaim himself the best receiver in the draft, as others have done. Scouts are smitten with his NFL-ready skills, his explosiveness and fluidity as a route runner.

"My film speaks for itself," he said. "It's really all about what a team needs and what a team likes."

The Jets need a receiver. And, make no mistake, they like Beckham. A lot.

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."
Keyshawn JohnsonAP Photo/Wally SantanaKeyshawn Johnson is the last wide receiver drafted by the Jets who reached multiple Pro Bowls.
Many experts are calling this the deepest draft for wide receivers in recent memory. In theory, this should bode well for the receiver-needy New York Jets, who haven't drafted a star pass-catcher since Al Toon (only a slight exaggeration), but there's an alarming trend that could blow up the plan.

The bust rate at receiver is rising.

Because of changes in the college game, where wide-open, up-tempo passing attacks create distorted receiving statistics, it's not easy to pick a winner at wide receiver. What's more, the odds of finding an immediate impact player are remote. Of the last 12 receivers picked in the first round, dating to 2010, only one reached 1,000 yards in his rookie season -- the Cincinnati Bengals' A.J. Green.

Fans starved for offense probably will rejoice if the Jets select Odell Beckham Jr. or Brandin Cooks with the 18th pick, but it's important to keep expectations in the proper perspective. When it comes to receivers, it rarely happens overnight. Sometimes, it doesn't happen at all.

The proliferation in college passing puts the onus on NFL scouting departments to separate the real prospects from the faux prospects. It's a complicated task. Scouts have to weigh myriad factors, including style of offense, level of competition, the proficiency of the quarterback, etc.

Example: USC's Marqise Lee, who won the Biletnikoff Award in 2012 as the nation's top receiver, fell off dramatically last season. But how much of that can be attributed to instability at the quarterback position? He dropped 12 percent of the passes thrown to him, but was he hampered by a knee injury?

It goes both ways. Some teams may look at Cooks, who caught 128 passes for 1,730 yards at Oregon State, and decide he was a product of the system.

"There is no question, it's a different game," said Terry Bradway, the Jets' senior director of college scouting. "But the one thing we've tried to do -- and I think we get a little bit better at it every year -- is evaluate the player and the person. You try to tie them together as best you can, and I think that can give you a pretty good indicator of what kind of success they might have."

A longtime personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he puts an emphasis on toughness and intelligence when evaluating wide receivers.

"Intangibles are important," he said. "You can't be dumb. In college, you can be as dumb as a box of rocks and still be good. In the NFL, if you're not mentally sharp, it slows your progress. I look at toughness, too. I'd never take a receiver unless he has toughness. If you have a Ferrari, you don't want it spending time in the garage."

He mentioned two former Jets, Keyshawn Johnson and Jerricho Cotchery, as examples of what he covets in a receiver. Neither was known for speed coming out of college, but they were smart and fearless, leading to long careers.

Size is important, too. If you look at some of the top young receivers -- Green, Julio Jones, Alshon Jeffery, Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant -- they're all taller than 6-foot-1. Of the top five prospects in this year's draft, only one tops the 6-1 mark -- Texas A&M's Mike Evans.

Nick Caserio, the New England Patriots' director of player personnel, said two aspects of the college game make it harder to evaluate receivers: The up-tempo style and the lack of press coverage. Teams run plays so frequently, he said, that receivers often return to the same spot and run the same play. Defenses stay vanilla with their coverages in an attempt to combat the pace of the offense. Caserio also said a "very small" number of teams use press coverage.

"The majority of the time, the defender is 5, 6, 7 yards off, so [the receiver] has free access into the defense [and] there’s less that he has to deal with at the line of scrimmage," he said. "Now you fast forward [to the NFL]. I would say the majority of the time you’re going to have a defender in your face at the line of scrimmage."

Some of the best receivers in the NFL were lesser-known players coming out of college. Of the top 20 wide receivers last season, based on number of receptions, only seven were first-round picks.

The Jets, of all teams, know how hard it can be to find a quality receiver. In 2012, they were so impressed with Stephen Hill that he received a mid-first-round grade on their draft board, prompting them to trade up in the second round. They figured his impressive size-speed ratio would compensate for his lack of experience in a pro-style offense. They figured wrong. Some in the organization were surprised by his inability to get off the line of scrimmage.

It's not just a Hill thing, it's a Jets thing. They've been trying for decades to find the next great receiver, but their strikeout rate is Dave Kingman-esque. Since Toon in 1985, they've drafted 28 receivers. Do you know how many have reached multiple Pro Bowls?

One.

Keyshawn.

Starting Thursday, the Jets will step into the batter's box again. Maybe, just maybe, they'll finally connect.
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.

Rubbing elbows with best of the best

May, 2, 2014
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Imagine schmoozing with Hall of Famers about the upcoming draft. Imagine attending skills clinics conducted by Jim Brown and Barry Sanders. These are among the activities that will occur Saturday and Sunday at the first Pro Football Hall of Fame fan fest at the I-X Center in Cleveland.

Several Hall of Famers will participate in the event, including New York Jets legend Joe Namath, Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann and Franco Harris. They will interact with the fans in a variety of events, from Q & As to chalk talks to autograph sessions. It's a cool idea, one that other sports Hall of Fames should copy.

Right now, the draft is on everybody's mind. While reporting a story last week on the 50-year anniversary of the epic 1964 NFL draft, I interviewed Hall of Famer Paul Warfield (he, too, will attend the fan fest), and we got around to talking about the wide receivers in next week's draft. Warfield is one of the greatest big-play receivers in history, so if he's willing to discuss young wideouts, I'm listening.

Warfield called Clemson's Sammy Watkins a "dynamic performer" and he said Texas A&M's Mike Evans is "awfully good," but the player he believes could surprise is USC's Marqise Lee.

"He's a little under the radar because he had a few minor injuries at USC, but he's a talented young man and can make big plays," Warfield said. "He's not quite the physical size of a Sammy Watkins in terms of body mass, and he's not as big as Evans, but I like him. Lee has a physical stature that resembles mine, around the 6-foot range.

"He can give you the short catches. I like receivers that have that capacity, that can be a factor on every play. I like receivers that can beat their man and make the possession catch. He has all those qualities. He can run by you or make the possession catch at any instance. There has been so much emphasis on Watkins and Evans. Marqise Lee is not an unknown, but he could be someone available that will help your team."

Lee almost certainly will be available for the Jets at pick No. 18. Will they agree with Warfield's assessment?

Jets draft preview: Wide receiver

April, 29, 2014
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This is the second installment in a position-by-position analysis of the New York Jets as they prepare for the draft:

Position: Wide receiver

Current personnel: Eric Decker (signed through 2018), Jeremy Kerley (2014), Stephen Hill (2015), David Nelson (2014), Jacoby Ford (2014), Clyde Gates (2014), Greg Salas (2014), Saalim Hakim (2015), Michael Campbell (2014), Dwight Jones (2016).

Projected starters: Decker, Kerley.

Newcomers: Decker, Ford.

Departures: Santonio Holmes (cut), Josh Cribbs (free agent).

Top salary-cap charge: Decker, $4 million.

Scouting report: We could provide a stream of negative statistics, underscoring the bleak state of the position, but that would be piling on at this point. Well, OK, just one: Kerley's 43 catches were the fewest by the Jets' leading receiver since 1979. They partially addressed the need in free agency, giving Decker a $7 million-a-year contract, but they don't have a reliable speed receiver on the perimeter. Hill was supposed to be that guy, but he hasn't put it together for a variety of reasons. They're in big trouble if they don't add a dynamic playmaker. Another factor to consider is the long-term outlook. Decker and Hill are the only veterans under contract in 2015, so building depth has to be a priority. It would be a shock if they don't draft at least two receivers.

Last WRs drafted: The Jets picked Hill (second round) and Jordan White (seventh) in 2012.

Potential targets: Assuming they stay put in the first round, the player to watch with the 18th pick is Odell Beckham Jr. (LSU), an all-around talent whose stock is creeping up. He has the skill set to catch passes on all three levels of the defense and he returns kicks. The Jets love his game and his character. Brandin Cooks (Oregon State) and Marqise Lee (USC) are possibilities, too. Cooks is the fastest of the three (he blazed the 40 in 4.33 seconds at the combine), but he's a shade under 5-10. Some scouts see him as a slot receiver. Lee is a fluid athlete, but he's coming off a pedestrian year filled with drops. He'd be a slight reach at 18. Because of the depth at the position, the Jets could find a quality receiver in the second or third round. Cody Latimer (Indiana) and Paul Richardson (Colorado) are nice-sized receivers that fit in a West Coast system. John Brown (Pittsburg State) is a late-round possibility.

Need rating (scale of 1 to 10): 10.

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
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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: The magic of Marqise

April, 5, 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.

USC's Marqise Lee is one of the wide receivers being mentioned as a possibility for the Jets with the 18th pick. Lee had a down year in 2013, but his full body of work is impressive. Consider: Quarterbacks completed 69.7 percent of their pass attempts, with 29 touchdowns and just one interception when targeting Lee in his career. The 29-to-1 ratio is crazy good. They averaged 10.3 yards every time that they targeted Lee.

Let's take it a step further. When targeting Lee on passes of 20 yards or longer, USC's quarterbacks compiled a 39.7 completion rate, with 14 touchdowns and no interceptions. But his catch percentage (receptions/targets) on those long passes dropped steadily, going from 58.3 (2011) to 40.0 (2012) to 15.8 (2013).

Sunday notes: The Jets' new reality-TV star

March, 16, 2014
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A few thoughts and observations on the New York Jets:

1. Reality bites: The irony of the Eric Decker signing is that general manager John Idzik, who has spent a year trying to eliminate the Jets' "Hard Knocks" image, took on a player with his own reality TV show. Decker and his wife, country singer Jessie James, are preparing for their second season on E!'s "Eric and Jessie: Game on." The season premiere is March 30. His former team, the Denver Broncos, said last year it had no problem with Decker doing the show. "To each his own," team exec John Elway said.

[+] EnlargeEric Decker
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliIt doesn't appear that new Jets receiver Eric Decker's reality show was a huge deterrent in the team's decision to sign him.
Privately, the organization wasn't thrilled, especially when Decker's impending free agency was mentioned in one of the early shows. It wasn't a distraction to the team because there were no cameras at the facility. Obviously, it didn't affect Decker, as he finished with 87 receptions for 1,288 yards. It was one if E!'s top-rated new shows, so they booked another season -- obviously, long before he signed his five-year, $36.25 million contract with the Jets. The network didn't waste any time jumping on the New York angle, releasing new promos: "New Team, New City (and coming soon), New Baby."

Some people wonder if Decker picked the Jets over the Indianapolis Colts because he wanted to raise the show's profile by playing in the No. 1 media market. He downplayed that notion, saying he picked the Jets with football in mind. As for his wife's input, Decker said, "She obviously wants what’s best for me in my profession. She spent a lot of time in New York with her career when she was younger, and she's excited again to have an opportunity to work now again and to be able to have some resources and things. I think that overall it is a great decision and place for us as a family and career wise."

Idzik isn't a show-biz kind of guy, and I find it hard to believe he likes the idea of a player having his own show. It creates the perception that he's bigger than the team. But in the end, the No. 1 reality was this: Idzik was willing to put aside any concerns to land their top-rated free-agent receiver. The GM hasn't been made available to comment on any of his signings.

2. Decker vs. Holmes: Not to pick on Santonio Holmes or anything, but ...

Decker produced five 100-yard receiving games last season, one more than Holmes managed in four years with the Jets. Decker is counting $4 million on this year's cap, $6.5 million less than Holmes would've counted. Just saying.

3. Strength in numbers: The Jets have six experienced wide receivers under contract, and they could add another two through free agency and the draft. Overkill? Not really. Teams always look beyond the current year when making personnel moves, and when the Jets look at 2015, they see only two of those six receivers under contract -- Decker and Stephen Hill. That's why stockpiling makes sense.

4. Go west, men: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg , accompanied by two members of the scouting department, attended two important pro days on the West Coast -- USC and Oregon State. The main attractions were wide receivers Marqise Lee and Brandin Cooks, respectively. In each case, the Jets' contingent spent private time with the players. It's not unusual for Mornhinweg to scout on the road. In fact, he attended Geno Smith's pro day last year, taking him out to dinner the night before. With the 18th pick, the Jets are thinking strongly about a receiver.

5. Revis Inc.: Darrelle Revis' contract with the New England Patriots sheds light into his thinking as a player/businessman. Technically, it's a two-year, $32 million deal, but the second year is bogus because of a $25 million cap charge. They added a second year for cap purposes and because Revis is hellbent on a $16 million-per-year average. Has been since 2010, when he staged his second holdout with the Jets. At the time, he proposed a 10-year, $160 million deal. He refused over the years to bend on the APY, finally finding a team (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) willing to pay it. Why $16 million? I think it goes back to Nnamdi Asomugha's $16 million-a-year deal from the Oakland Raiders in 2009. As soon as Revis surpassed Asomugha as the top cornerback, in the eyes of many, he considered $16 million his birthright.

For an interesting take on the Revis contract from the Patriots' perspective, check out ESPN.com colleague Mike Reiss.

6. California dreaming: The quarterback-needy Raiders are targeting two players likely to be released -- Matt Schaub and Mark Sanchez (in that order), according to a report by ESPN.com colleague Paul Gutierrez. Sanchez makes a lot of sense. Joey Clinkscales, the team's director of player personnel, is a former Jets executive and was heavily involved when they drafted Sanchez in 2009.

The Jets are running out of time to make a decision on Sanchez, who's due a $2 million roster bonus March 25. If they don't sign another quarterback (Michael Vick?) before then, what then? Do they turn to Sanchez, trying to get him to take a major pay cut? If Sanchez balks, he will be released -- unless the Jets pay the $2 million, buying more time. It's not Idzik's style to cut a player before his replacement is on the roster. It hurts leverage. If the Raiders want him badly enough, maybe they'd be willing to make a trade.

7. Tony the recruiter: Former Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, now the Raiders' offensive-line coach, was instrumental in recruiting right tackle Austin Howard. Said Howard: "I really love his style of coaching. Once we got that call, it was honestly a no-brainer decision to get on the plane and make the trip out to Oakland.” Obviously, the five-year, $30 million contract had something to do with it, too. Sparano was a key Howard ally in the summer of 2012, when the Jets replaced Wayne Hunter.

8. A tale of two kickers: Nick Folk was the only kicker this year to receive a franchise-tag designation, which usually translates to a top-of-the-market contract. In Folk's case, his four-year deal is actually similar to what Dan Carpenter just landed from the Buffalo Bills -- at least in terms of first-year compensation. Folk gets $3.6 million in total compensation (the amount of the franchise tender), Carpenter scores $3.425 million. Carpenter was given a chance, albeit brief, to take Folk's job last preseason, but he lasted only a few days. Now he's making nearly as much as him.

9. DRC on ED: Came across this quote from Super Bowl week. Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was asked which of his team's receivers is the hardest to cover. His answer: Wes Welker. "Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are great receivers, but you can kind of break their moves down," he said. "Wes, he does too much." DRC could end up reunited with Decker.

10. Hurting at OLB: It didn't get any attention, but the Jets decided not to tender restricted free agent Garrett McIntyre, making him unrestricted. It would've cost them $1.4 million. It came as a surprise because McIntyre was a decent backup, good for about 20 defensive snaps per game. With Calvin Pace also an unrestricted free agent, the Jets are perilously thin at outside linebacker.

McShay's Mock 3.0 reax: Jets

March, 6, 2014
3/06/14
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In his latest mock draft , ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay predicts USC wide receiver Marqise Lee for the New York Jets, who own the 18th pick.

Lee was off the board for the Jets in McShay's previous mock draft (he had them taking Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks), but this time there's a run on defensive players from the 13th pick to the 17th, allowing Lee to fall. In this scenario, he'd be the third receiver selected, behind Clemson's Sammy Watkins (Oakland Raiders, No. 5) and Texas A&M's Mike Evans (Detroit Lions, No. 10). Interestingly, North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron still is there for the Jets, which would make for an interesting choice. Obviously, the decision could be based on how they address those needs in free agency.

If the Jets take Lee, they'd be looking past his disappointing 2013 season, betting that his 2012 performance (he won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver) is a better gauge of his talent. A similar situation unfolded in 2012. Defensive lineman Quinton Coples was a beast at North Carolina in 2010, but slipped the following year for a variety of reasons. He became a human pinata before the draft, with critics taking shots at him. The Jets chose him 16th overall. How's it working out? Too soon to say. Coples' physical talent is undeniable, but he has given credence to some of the pre-draft concerns by displaying a lukewarm motor at times. Lee's work ethic is said to be outstanding.

Receiver-needy Jets see the future

February, 23, 2014
2/23/14
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If your favorite team needs a wide receiver, like the New York Jets do, you've come to the right draft.

Most talent evaluators are calling this an exceptionally deep draft for receivers, a notion that was reinforced Sunday at the NFL scouting combine. It was speed day in Indianapolis -- the receivers, running backs and quarterbacks ran their 40s -- and the Jets had to walk away smiling at their scouting reports. If they can't find a quality wideout in the first or second round, something is wrong.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonMarqise Lee's 4.52 40 time could mean he'll still be around when the Jets draft in the first round.
Clemson's Sammy Watkins solidified his status as the top receiver, running an official 4.43 in the 40 -- a time that surprised no one. Texas A & M's Mike Evans, a shade under 6-5, helped himself with a 4.53. With so many receiver-needy teams in the top half of the first round, it would be a surprise if Watkins (a possible top-5 pick) and Evans last for the Jets at No. 18.

The speculation will shift to USC's Marqise Lee, who did himself no favors by running a 4.52. A shade under 6-0, weighing 192 pounds, Lee was expected to run a sub-4.5. He'll get another shot at his pro day and private workouts. If he stays in the 4.5s, it could work to the Jets' benefit, perhaps ensuring he'd be there at 18. Everybody knows he can make plays -- he was the best receiver in the country in 2012 -- but teams obsess over 40 times.

Speed isn't always an accurate indicator of performance. The NFL Network threw out a cool stat (I hope I remember it correctly), noting that of the 15 receivers with the fastest 40 times in recent combines, only one (Mike Wallace) cracked the 1,000-yard mark in a season.

That said, a great 40 time is worth noting if there's on-the-field production to back it up. Such is the case with Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews, who raised his stock with an impressive combine. Not known for his speed, he ran a 4.46. The dude is 6-3 with the biggest hands (10.3 inches) of any receiver at the combine. Oh, and he's the all-time leading receiver in the SEC. What's not to like? He probably worked his way into the first round. I'm told the Jets were very impressed with him in their private interview.

Other notable 40s: Oregon State's Brandin Cooks is short at 5-9 3/4, but he ran 4.33, the fastest time for a receiver. LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. will draw first-round consideration after posting a 4.43. He also dazzled in various agility drills.

In case you're wondering, the fastest guy in Indianapolis Sunday was Kent State running back Dri Archer, who burned a 4.26 -- narrowly missing Chris Johnson's combine record (4.24).

Wake-up call: Combine, Day 5

February, 23, 2014
2/23/14
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On the schedule Sunday in Indianapolis:

New York Jets/Giants media availability: Completed.

Combine schedule: This is the most interesting day from an on-the-field perspective, because the so-called glamor positions -- quarterback, wide receiver and running back -- perform before NFL scouts and coaches. The players will be timed in the all-important 40-yard dash, and there will be agility stations and skill drills. The 40 always attracts the most interest. Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins said his goal is to run "something crazy, maybe break the combine record" -- a 4.24 by Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson. Two of the top three quarterback prospects, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater, have said they're not planning to throw at the combine. ... The defensive linemen and linebackers will have psychological testing, the bench press and team interviews. ... The defensive backs have measurements, medical exams, team interviews and a media session.

Players of interest: Both the Jets and Giants have a need at receiver, so this should be a compelling day. Watkins will be off the board by the time the Giants (12th) and Jets (18th) pick, but USC's Marqise Lee and Texas A&M's Mike Evans could be available for one or both teams. Lee was scheduled to meet Saturday with Jets officials; Watkins met with them Friday night. Evans, a former basketball player who measured a shade under 6-5, said, "There are a lot of great receivers in this draft, don't get me wrong, but I feel I'm the best one." ... With David Wilson's future uncertain, the Giants are in the market for a running back. There's no running-back value at No. 12, but there are second- and third-round candidates, including Auburn's Tre Mason, who claimed he's been running in the 4.3s. The stopwatch never lies; players do.

Wake-up call: Combine, Day 3

February, 21, 2014
2/21/14
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On the schedule for Friday in Indianapolis:

New York Giants/Jets media availability: New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin is scheduled to speak with reporters at 12:45 p.m. Among the topics sure to come up are his contract situation, new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo and his potential impact on Eli Manning, impending free agent Hakeem Nicks and plans to fix the offensive line. The New York Jets are finished with their formal media availability.

Combine schedule: Place-kickers and special-teamers work out for NFL personnel at Lucas Oil Stadium. They will join offensive linemen and tight ends for the bench press, psychological testing and team interviews. ... Quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs are measured, take medical exams, participate in team interviews and meet the media. ... Defensive linemen and linebackers arrive in town for a medical pre-exam and X-rays, plus an orientation and team interviews.

Players of interest: Because the Giants and Jets share a wide receiver need, the media sessions for Clemson's Sammy Watkins, USC's Marqise Lee and Texas A&M's Mike Evans will be of particular interest. But, make no mistake, the spotlight will belong to Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, arguably the most popular player in college football and the potential No. 1 overall pick. Manziel already has said he won't participate in throwing drills, saving them for a personal pro day, but he will be the headline of the day based simply on what he says.

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