We're going to take a break from the labor story unfolding in Washington D.C. to bring you the first edition of the Jets' draft watch -- a periodic update on the prospects that appear on the Jets' radar. This is the fifth annual watch list -- the first at ESPNNewYork.com -- and it will be updated through the April 28 draft.
Because the Jets are picking so low (30th), this isn't an easy proposition, but history will show that the watch list has racked up above-average grades for accuracy. No doubt, it will change in the coming weeks as new information becomes available, but don't under-estimate watch list 1.0 -- it had Darrelle Revis in 2007 and Vernon Gholston in 2008.
Anyway, here goes:
• NT Phil Taylor, Baylor, 6-3, 334 -- Kris Jenkins is gone (for now) and Sione Pouha, 32, isn't getting any younger. Taylor is a true nose tackle, and the position is in high demand because so many teams are using the 3-4. He isn't going to wow anybody as a push rusher (two sacks last season), but he's a rock against the run. He has some off-the-field baggage; he was thrown off the Penn State team for involvement in a fraternity fight. That'll make him perfect for the Jets.
• DE Cam Heyward, Ohio State, 6-5, 294 -- He's the son of the late running back Craig (Ironhead) Heyward. The Jets need a replacement for Shaun Ellis (free agent), and Heyward has the size to play the 5-technique in Rex Ryan's scheme and the versatility to slide inside in certain situations. He started four years (a rarity nowadays), recording 14 1/2 sacks. He's a great kid with a good motor. The big question is his elbow; he hurt it in the Sugar Bowl and underwent Tommy John surgery. He should be fine. After all, he's not playing quarterback.
• S Rahim Moore, UCLA, 6-0, 202 -- A big, big need for the Jets, who have only one safety under contract. Moore rocked in 2009, with 10 interceptions, but his production slipped last season. He's a classic ballhawk, a safety who could play "centerfield" in Ryan's Cover-1 scheme. On the downside, he's not the most reliable tackler, and there are few things in life that annoy Ryan more than a safety that can't tackle. (Hello, Kerry Rhodes.) But Moore is the best safety in a weak class, so if the Jets want to address the position in the draft, they'd have to take a hard look at him.
• OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA, 6-3, 254 -- Interesting prospect. Before the combine, he was widely regarded as a mid- to late-first-round prospect, but he stunk it up in Indianapolis -- a 4.81 40 and only 18 reps on the bench press. Of course, the combine can be over-rated (see Vernon Gholston). He needs to rebound in a big way at his Pro Day. Like his former teammate, Moore, Ayers made his name in '09, recording six sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. The numbers dropped to four and 10 last season, respectively. That said, Ayers is a speed rusher on the edge, another big need for the Jets.
• OLB Justin Houston, Georgia, 6-3, 270 -- You want production? He notched 10 sacks and 18.5 TFL in the killer SEC. You want speed? He impressed at the combine, running 4.62 at 270 pounds. You want scheme compatibility? Georgia switched to a 3-4 scheme last season, allowing Houston to play as a stand-up rusher -- the role he'd play with the Jets. He has tremendous burst, seemingly ideal for the Jets, but a trusted scout from another team told me, "I don't think he has the instrincts to play linebacker." The scout also questioned whether Houston has the passion and temperament to play for Ryan -- just one man's opinion.