Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Jets could be cuckoo for KeKe
By Rich Cimini ESPNNewYork.com
The New York Jets haven't drafted a rush linebacker since -- brace yourselves -- Vernon Gholston in 2008.
It's time to get back on the horse.
If they don't find a way to harass the quarterback, the Revis-less secondary will get cut to pieces by the likes of Tom Brady and the non-AFC East quarterbacks on the schedule -- Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, et al.
The answer to the Jets' problem could be a guy named KeKe -- aka Barkevious Mingo, LSU's undersized speed rusher.
At 237 pounds, LSU's Barkevious Mingo wowed scouts at the combine with his athleticism.
He's got name. But does he have game?
Mingo isn't an easy prospect to evaluate. Many in the scouting community believe he's worthy of a top-15 selection -- and the Jets own the ninth and 13th selections. But if he's so talented, why did he have only 4 ½ sacks last season?
He claimed the modest production was scheme-related, insisting it's not an accurate reflection of his talent.
"Not at all," Mingo said Wednesday at a pre-draft event in Manhattan, adding the criticism bothers him "a little bit. But it's their opinion. They can say what they want."
The last player to produce a double-digit sack total for the Jets was John Abraham in 2005. In recent years, Rex Ryan has used his clever blitz schemes to create pressure, but there has been a steady decline in sacks.
Some believe Mingo could be a game-changer for the Jets. His style is predicated on speed, and anybody who watched the Jets last season knows they were driving below the speed limit.
"He'll be a major-league factor," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said of Mingo. "He gets from Point A to Point B lightning quick. ... If the Jets can get him at nine, that's a real value pick."
But is it?
It's about a $12 million guarantee for the ninth pick, so you have to be right. Mingo produced 15 sacks in his three-year career, only slightly better than Georgia's Jarvis Jones (14.5) racked up last season alone.
"His athletic talent didn't always marry to the production, and that's important," one AFC personnel executive said of Mingo, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Mingo's supporters point to a stat they believe best illustrates his effectiveness -- quarterback pressures (hurries and knockdowns). He tied for second-best in the SEC with 28, three behind Jones, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
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He also blew away scouts with his workout numbers. His 10-yard split time (1.57 seconds) was one of the best at the scouting combine, a reflection of his explosiveness. It was the same time recorded last year by Bruce Irvin, another undersized pass rusher taken 15th overall by the Seattle Seahawks.
The Jets were smitten with Irvin, who went on to a productive rookie year as a pass-rushing specialist. One of the men in the Seattle draft room -- John Idzik -- is now the Jets' general manager. Interesting.
But beware of workout warriors. The Jets learned the hard way in '08, falling hard for Gholston, a freakish athlete who lacked one important quality -- he wasn't a very good football player.
"Gholston was a big, lazy SOB," one NFC scout said. "He tested well, but never did anything. Mingo isn't like that. He's really good. He competes hard. He's smart. He's instinctive.
But, again, only 4 ½ sacks? It was a drop-off from eight in 2011.
There are theories behind the modest total. When facing mobile quarterbacks, the game plan required the outside rushers to contain instead of attack, according to Mingo.
"We didn't want those guys to get out on the edge," he said. "We wanted to contain them as much as possible."
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Some say Mingo played out of position as a 232-pound defensive end. In the NFL, he projects as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
But that's a dangerous word -- projects. He's never played linebacker before. It was the same deal with Gholston, a college defensive end converted to linebacker. He went three years without a sack.
Size matters when rushing the passer. In the past 10 seasons, only one player under 240 pounds reached double-digit sacks -- the Denver Broncos' Von Miller, who at 237 pounds recorded 14 sacks in 2011. Only five others over the past decade in the 240-250 range can be considered top pass-rushers -- Robert Mathis (245), Aaron Schobel (243), Jason Taylor (244), James Harrison (240) and Clay Matthews (247).
Mingo weighed 241 at the combine in February, but he was down to 237 at his pro day. At 6-foot-4, he should be able to carry 245, according to scouts.
Curiously, there has been almost no communication between Mingo and the Jets. There was no pre-draft visit and neither Ryan nor Idzik attended his pro day. That, of course, could be a smokescreen.
New York would be culture shock for Mingo, who was raised in West Monroe, La. This week is his first trip to the city.
"It's crazy, this is a crazy city," he said. "Times Square, taxi-cab rides ... it's like a NASCAR race on every block."
The Jets could use some of that on their defense.