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Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Updated: April 27, 1:17 AM ET
Jets' draft a big deal for Tannenbaum

By Rich Cimini
ESPNNewYork.com

This is a critical draft for ...

Go ahead, complete the sentence with your favorite team or your favorite team's general manager. They all fit, because in the NFL every draft is a big deal.

Occasionally, it's a really big deal -- which brings us to the New York Jets and GM Mike Tannenbaum, a team and an executive that have reached a crossroads.

After two lackluster drafts, after a disappointing season in which the roster's blemishes were exposed and after a New York Mets-like free agency, the Jets need a double-Q draft -- quality and quantity.

"I think in terms of the Jets, they have probably as many holes as any team that's considered a playoff team in the NFL right now," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said last week.

The reason for that is because they took a different approach in free agency. Usually big spenders, the Jets went bargain hunting, doling out one-year contracts to safety LaRon Landry and wide receiver Chaz Schilens. They made one of the biggest splashes -- quarterback Tim Tebow -- but it didn't cost them a whole lot of cash.

They still have more than $7 million in salary-cap space, fueling some speculation in league circles that owner Woody Johnson has tightened the purse strings. The result is the Jets are placing more emphasis on the draft than they have since 2006.

That year, they made 10 selections and came away with D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, Eric Smith, Brad Smith, Leon Washington and Drew Coleman. Tannenbaum, with then-coach Eric Mangini at his side, killed it. Ditto for 2007. They got trade-happy, dealing away picks as if they were Pez candy, but they landed defensive cornerstones Darrelle Revis and David Harris. They blew it in '08 with Vernon Gholston -- a Mangini-influenced decision.

In '09, with Rex Ryan in the coach's chair, they went all-in, trading up for Mark Sanchez -- a move that still can't be properly evaluated.

Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum
Mike Tannenbaum, right, has to make picks that will put Rex Ryan in the best position to succeed.

The bottom line is in the three drafts of the Ryan-Tannenbaum administration, the Jets have yet to select a Pro Bowl player. They got five starters in 13 picks, not bad, but they're still waiting for their first game-changer to emerge from that group.

The 13 selections, by the way, represent a league-low in that span -- three fewer than any other team, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only three of the 13 were defensive players; every other team had at least nine -- stunning, considering Ryan's background in defense.

Because of the low numbers, the Jets have depth issues at linebacker, safety and defensive end.

On offense, they still don't have a wide receiver to play opposite Santonio Holmes. They don't have a true No. 1 back, even though they've drafted three the last three years. They don't have an answer at right tackle, because Wayne Hunter struggled and Vladimir Ducasse, a former second-round pick, hasn't developed.

The good news is the Jets have 10 picks this year. Their draft is back-loaded, with six choices in the sixth and seventh rounds, but at least they have the resources to fill holes.

"We're just going to take the best football players," said Tannenbaum, who, as always, is open to wheeling and dealing.

With the 16th pick, the Jets are believed to be targeting South Carolina pass-rusher Melvin Ingram, Alabama safety Mark Barron, Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd and Stanford guard David DeCastro, whom they may consider a right tackle.

If they're all gone, Tannenbaum could pull a first -- trade down in the first round to take one of the second-tier pass-rushers.

Prediction: The theme that will emerge from the draft will be speed. The Jets have acknowledged they need to improve the overall speed on both sides of the ball. On offense, they managed one play longer than 41 yards last season. On defense, they allowed a 99-yard touchdown. Victor Cruz flashbacks, anyone?

The Jets need to emerge from this draft with at least three immediate contributors -- a pass-rusher, a receiver and a right tackle or safety. This is a chance for Tannenbaum and his scouting department to shine. The pressure is palpable, and already the prospect of change is in the air.

Joey Clinkscales, the vice president of college scouting, probably won't be back, ESPNNewYork.com reported Tuesday. If the Jets miss the playoffs for the second straight season, it could get bloody next January.

So, yes, this draft is a really big deal.