- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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Thoughts and observations on the New York Jets:
1. Rex being Rex: Rex Ryan went overboard by claiming the Jets' draft was the best in the NFL, giving it an A+ grade. Mind you, this is the same coach who once called Wayne Hunter the best backup tackle in the league. He should've said it has the potential to be the best draft, because it does. It has produced five starters, which is rare. In fact, no other team can say it has five draft picks that have started at least seven games, based on stats from ProFootball-Reference.com. No team has four picks that meet that criterion, and only five teams have three.
Judging on quantity, yes, it's a grade-A draft for the Jets, but the problem is that only one player -- defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson -- has proven he can play at a high level in the NFL. Cornerback Dee Milliner, quarterback Geno Smith and left guard Brian Winters are question marks, and fullback Tommy Bohanon is a serviceable player at best.
Obviously, there may have been ulterior motives for Ryan's gush fest -- praising his new boss, general manager John Idzik, and trying to infuse confidence in a couple of his embattled rookies, Milliner and Smith. I solicited an objective viewpoint. Here's an AFC personnel director, speaking on the condition of anonymity, assessing the Jets' draft:
"It's one thing to say five starters, but it's another thing to say they're playing well or with a winning performance. [Richardson] is a real good player, but the quarterback is struggling, [Milliner] is struggling and [Winters] has had his struggles, too. Two offensive linemen [Oday Aboushi and Will Campbell] don't even get a jersey, and [Bohanon] is an ordinary talent.
"With that said, they're young players and they all may develop in time, but they've taken some rookie lumps. I don't know yet about the cornerback and the quarterback. I think the guard has a chance, but this is probably too much, too fast for him. The offensive linemen are future developmentals and the fullback is what he is."
In my book, it's a B draft.
2. The big man speaks: On Wednesday morning, left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson received a standing ovation from his teammates. It came in response to an announcement by Ryan, who told a team meeting that Ferguson was about to become the first player in team history to start the first 125 games of his career.
Wednesday was an eventful day for Ferguson, who joined linebacker David Harris in addressing a players-only meeting, as first reported by the New York Post. That two of the most reserved players on the team became the point men illustrates two things: The situation is dire. The team lacks fiery leaders.
Harris didn't want to discuss what he told the team, and Ferguson wasn't around to comment. Ferguson is a man of few words, so a speech by him evokes memories of the old EF Hutton commercials. One player told me Ferguson's message stressed the importance of team over individuals, adding of the meeting: "Two guys stepped up to the plate, commanded the stage, said their piece and took on leadership roles, just to make sure that, 'Hey, this is where our mindset should be. We're in a rough spot right now, but we're not going to die. We're not going to throw in the towel, we're going to keep fighting.' "
3. Tribute to Brick: A 125-game streak is impressive. As a side note, Ferguson has missed only one snap in seven-plus years. He began in 2006 as a gangly rookie and developed into a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Former left guard Pete Kendall, who played alongside him in 2006, offered this recollection:
"We could tell he'd likely be successful, and it turns out we were right. It wasn't necessarily natural for him. He had to work at it. I think he struggled with his weight his rookie season, and there was an adjustment, learning to play in the Sunday league. But you could always see the ease with which he was able to move. You knew that with a tweak here and there, getting to understand how the pieces fit together, he'd turn out to be a very good player."
4. Special K: Don't get me wrong, I like Jeremy Kerley as a player, but it's not like Victor Cruz or Wes Welker is returning to the lineup, which is how it sounded all week in Florham Park. Kerley isn't a savior; he's a good role player on an offense desperate for something positive.
5. Welcome home, Chad: Former Jets quarterback Chad Pennington will lead the player-walk through the parking lot Sunday at MetLife Stadium. It's good to see that Pennington has reconnected with his old team, which kicked him to the curb when Brett Favre arrived in 2008. A lot of players would've carried a grudge forever. Pennington made an appearance two summers ago in training camp, but that was a favor to then-coordinator Tony Sparano, his former Miami Dolphins head coach.
6. Belichick and the Jets: Patriots coach Bill Belichick tweaked them last week, saying he habors nostalgic feelings for all his former teams -- except the Jets. No surprise there. We all know he hates the Jets, but he apparently hasn't shared that part of his past with his players. I mentioned Belichick's tweak to recently signed linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, who played with the Patriots from 2010 through last summer. Cunningham's response: "He coached with the Jets? I never knew that."
7. A tale of the rookie QBs: Smith and EJ Manuel commanded most of the attention before, during and after the draft, but the most impressive rookie quarterback is Mike Glennon of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was chosen in the third round, 34 spots after Smith. Playing in a dysfunctional environment for most of the year, Glennon has 13 touchdown passes, only five interceptions and a 90.3 passer rating. He's growing into the job; Smith is growing out of the job. The Jets spent a lot of time with Glennon before the draft (he was tutored by former Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien), but they obviously didn't like him as much as Smith.
8. What a tweet: When the Jets inform Kellen Winslow they have no intention of re-signing him for 2014, they should do it via Twitter. That would be poetic symmetry.
9. Rex-speak: This is what Ryan said the other day about offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg: "I think Marty is doing a terrific job. The numbers sometimes can be a little misleading. I think the job he's done and this staff, with some of the challenges we’ve faced, I think guys have done a great job."
This is what Ryan said 13 months ago about Sparano: "I’m happy with the job he’s done. I’m not happy with our results, but to say I’m going to pin that on Tony, there’s no way." A few weeks later, he fired Sparano.
This time, Ryan won't fire Mornhinweg. They'll either leave together or stay together.
10. Central castoffs: The Raiders opened some eyes last week by dressing 16 players who entered the league as undrafted free agents. The Jets weren't far behind with 13.