New York Jets: Kiko Alonso
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. posted his NFL all-rookie team , along with his picks for offensive and defensive rookies of the year. Most notably, he selected Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso over New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson as the top rookie on defense.
Alonso and Richardson are thought to be the top candidates for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, presented by the Associated Press.
Kiper's take: "If this were purely on per-play impact, I think Sheldon Richardson could back up his case as the best rookie overall, but I give Alonso a slight edge here based on his total impact. Alonso was third in the NFL in tackles and, perhaps just as impressive, was one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL, a significant bonus. Because of his ability to cover, Alonso never came off the field; he played nearly 1,200 snaps. Richardson might be a better player, but I give the season edge to Alonso."
Kiper placed two Jets on his all-rookie team -- Richardson and fullback Tommy Bohanon. Rex Ryan wouldn't agree with this list, as Kiper didn't include cornerback Dee Milliner. Obviously biased, Ryan believes Milliner was the top rookie cornerback. Kiper opted for Desmond Trufant of the Atlanta Falcons and Logan Ryan of the New England Patriots. For what it's worth, ProFootballFocus -- a stats-based web site -- ranked Trufant, Logan and Milliner as the No. 7-, No. 29- and No. 53-rated cornerbacks, respectively, based on at least 50-percent play time.
1. Committed to Geno?: Imagine this scenario: It's draft-night, 2014. The New York Jets own the 16th pick. Two quarterbacks, Marcus Mariota and Teddy Bridgewater, already are gone. But, lo and behold, Johnny Manziel still is on the board for the Jets. Draft drama doesn't get any better than this. Do they select one of the most exciting college football players in recent memory or do they stick with Geno Smith?
The Jets have a good feeling about Smith, but they want -- and need -- to see more over the final seven games. So far, there hasn't been enough evidence to convince them he's the real deal. He has given them two games of very good, three games of good enough and four games of awful. His QBR in losses is 8.6, the worst in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. (QBR is an ESPN rating system, 1 to 100.)
The clock is ticking. The Jets face some tough defenses down the stretch, so the game plans figure to be relatively conservative. That may make it tough to get a good and complete evaluation of Smith. The worst thing that could happen to them is finishing the season and still not having a clear-cut answer.
2. Namath likes Geno: Jets legend Joe Namath said he has seen "a nice improvement" from Smith since the preseason. What jumps out to Namath is that he thinks the rookie has become more decisive with his reads.
"Maybe I'm wishing because I want to believe it, but I think I see it," Namath told ESPN.com.
Namath said Smith "still makes the wrong decision from time to time, but that's going to happen. It's the nature of the position." The Hall-of-Fame quarterback, like a lot of people, has been impressed with Smith's mobility.
"He wasn’t a runner in college and still isn't a runner, per se," Namath said, "but having the ability to make that play when they need it, it has been big time in the wins."
3. An up-close look at Ed Reed: Naturally, the Jets believe that reports of Reed's demise are greatly exaggerated. What did you expect them to say after signing him? A closer look reveals that, as defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman noted, Reed wasn't tested too often in pass coverage with the Houston Texans. Whether that was because opponents were wary of Reed, as the Jets believe, is impossible to say.
Reed was targeted only three times, according to the stats-based web site ProFootball Focus. Those three targets resulted in three completions for 82 yards and a touchdown. His worst moment came in Week 5 against the San Francisco 49ers, when he allowed a 64-yard touchdown to TE Vernon Davis. Reed, playing his customary deep middle, looked old and slow on the play. He arrived late, took a bad angle and made a pathetic tackle attempt. I guess you can rationalize it by saying Davis makes a lot of safeties look bad.
The bigger concern might be Reed's tackling -- four missed tackles in seven games, per PFF. No doubt, Rex Ryan will try to keep Reed out of heavy-duty tackling situations, but you can't hide him all the time.
All things considered, I liked to move to sign Reed. You can't beat the price. He signed for the veterans' minimum ($940,000), meaning he'll make $387,000 from the Jets over the final seven games. Former Washington Redskins GM Vinny Cerrato, who lives in the Baltimore area and has studied Reed closely, also gave it a thumb's up.
"You have to account for him because the guy has great instincts," Cerrato said. "He can add something because he's so smart back there, and he'll get you interceptions because he'll know where the ball is going. He's not going to tackle. Two games a year, he'll tackle. Otherwise, no."
4. Hey, that's Ed Reed: Like a lot of players on the team, Muhammad Wilkerson had heard the Reed rumors, but he didn't know it was a done deal until he saw Reed walk past him in the trainer's room. Wilkerson was getting his ankles taped, looked up and there he was, one of the best safeties in history.
"It makes the team, and it makes the defense that much better to have a leader like that in the locker room," Wilkerson said. "He's known for making big plays. I'm looking for more turnovers on the back end when people want to throw the ball deep."
The Jets have allowed eight pass plays of at least 45 yards. Another damning stat: The team has only five interceptions. The Jets could end up setting a team mark for futility. The low in a 16-game season is 11 interceptions. That happened three times, including last season.
5. Ulterior motive: Back in my cynical days, I would've said the Jets only signed Reed to upstage the New York Giants, who have rallied back to relevance with a three-game winning streak.
6. Slamming the door: Statistically, the Jets have the best run defense in the league, allowing a league-best 3.15 yards per attempt. Let's put that into perspective: Only five times since 2001 has a team produced a better mark -- the '06 Minnesota Vikings (2.83), the '07 Baltimore Ravens (2.84), the '10 Pittsburgh Steelers (3.02), the '04 Redskins (3.11) and the '07 Vikings (3.13).
Conclusion: The Jets are playing some serious run defense.
7. The rookie show: Sunday's game features two of the top candidates for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year -- Jets DT Sheldon Richardson and Buffalo Bills LB Kiko Alonso.
Alonso has been impressive -- four interceptions, two sacks and a team-high 52 solo tackles. Richardson, too, is having a terrific year -- 2.5 sacks, 30 solo tackles and one forced fumble. I asked Richardson if he believes he's a legitimate candidate.
"I'm only competing against rookies, so I guess I belong in that conversation," he said. "I'm glad people are talking about me, but we still have seven games left. Alonso is a good linebacker, so I have my work cut out for me."
8. Cromartie vs. Pettine: In the soon-to-be-released book, "Low Collision Crossers," which chronicles the 2011 Jets, author Nicholas Dawidoff writes that CB Antonio Cromartie cursed out then-defensive coordinator Mike Pettine in a meeting room. The passage:
As soon as Pettine left and the defense split into positional units, Cro said loudly that Pettine was ‘a high-school coach’ and declared he wasn’t ‘gonna take it’ from him.
This isn't surprising. As I've reported previously, Cromartie wasn't the only player who chafed under Pettine's leadership. Don't expect Cromartie and Pettine, the Bills' coordinator, to exchange a 'bro hug before or after the game.
9. A little of the old Rex: It never registered on the radar because of the Reed news, but I found it interesting that Ryan, in an unsolicited remark, said he's surprised the Bills are favored. First of all, coaches aren't supposed to pay attention to that stuff. Secondly, is it so outrageous that a 5-4 team is a road underdog against a division rival? With that little comment, Ryan told the world exactly how he feels his team stacks up against the struggling Bills, which may resonate in the Buffalo locker room.
10. The dunk heard 'round the globe: Remember William Bullard? Probably not. He's a former Texas A & M-Corpus Christi basketball player who tried out for the Jets in a 2008 minicamp. He was a 6-foot-5 wide receiver who didn't last long. These days, Bullard plays for the Harlem Globetrotters and he became an Internet sensation this week with a frightening dunk that could've been tragic. Check it out. Football might have been a safer career choice.