Jets draft preview: Linebacker

April, 24, 2012
4/24/12
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This is the eighth part in a nine-part, position-by-position analysis, breaking down the Jets' needs and draft possibilities.

Position: Linebacker

Depth chart: David Harris, Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, Aaron Maybin, Josh Mauga, Nick Bellore, Garrett McIntyre, Eddie Jones, Ricky Sapp, Matt Berning.

Not under contract: N/A

Scouting Report: Stay tuned, folks, because there could be some significant news at linebacker. Even though they re-signed the venerable Thomas to a one-year contract -- he's coming back from Achilles' tendon surgery -- the Jets want to add another outside linebacker in the draft, possibly in the first round. This unit slowed down and got old last season, and it needs an influx of fresh blood.

The only edge rusher among the group is Maybin, a specialist not big enough to play every down in the base defense. Like Thomas, Pace ($3.1 million base) and Scott ($4.2 million) are on the wrong side of 30, but they're probably locked in because their '12 salaries are guaranteed. But the Jets have to take a long-term view of the position, knowing that Thomas, Scott and Pace all could be gone in 2013. It would be an upset they don't draft at least two linebackers -- one inside, one outside. The only building block is Harris, who's entering the second year of a four-year deal. Bellore and Mauga have some upside, but not enough to stop them from drafting an ILB.

The Last Time: The Jets haven't drafted a linebacker since Vernon Gholston in 2008. He was the sixth overall pick and failed to record a sack in three seasons, when the Jets finally sent him packing.

Potential Targets: The player atop their OLB wish list is Melvin Ingram (South Carolina), according to sources. He doesn't have prototypical size (6-foot-1 1/2, 264 pounds), but he plays with leverage and moves exceptionally well. Position versatility makes him an attractive prospect; he can play OLB, DE and ILB. He recorded 10 sacks, 15 knockdowns and 10.5 hurries, according to STATS. One personnel executive told me most of Ingram's pass-rush production came when he was used inside, stunting against a guard or center.

Other options are Courtney Upshaw (Alabama), Chandler Jones (Syracuse), Whitney Mercilus (Illinois) and Andre Branch (Clemson). Upshaw played 3-4 OLB in Nick Saban's pro-style defense, so he'd be less of a projection than Jones and Branch, both of whom were DEs in college. Upshaw (9.5 sacks), a power rusher, might be the safest pick among the three, but his ceiling is lower. Jones (4.5 sacks), Mercilus (16) and Branch (9.5) are better athletes with the potential to develop into very good edge rushers. In the second round, the Jets could consider the talented, but troubled Bruce Irvin (West Virginia).

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

Next: Secondary

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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