Commentary

Gang must show Sanchez some love

Big-time playmaker -- wideout or running back -- should be priority for Jets at draft

Updated: April 23, 2012, 9:09 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

The New York Jets gave Mark Sanchez a pat on the rear and a contract extension, but they've yet to provide what he really needs: a better supporting cast.

The offense that collapsed at the end of last season is the offense that still resides in Florham Park, N.J., sans Plaxico Burress and LaDainian Tomlinson. If anything, the Jets have made it tougher on Sanchez, bringing in the phenomenon that is Tim Tebow to take some of his snaps when they shift to the Wildcat.

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireAlabama running back Trent Richardson might be the top player on the Jets' draft board.

The Jets say they want Sanchez to succeed, but they have a funny way of showing it.

Essentially, the Jets are telling us last season was Brian Schottenheimer's fault, because they haven't added any new players to the starting lineup. They replaced their old offensive coordinator with Tony Sparano, who preaches toughness and accountability and running the football, but that alone isn't going to get it done.

They need another playmaker, either a starting-caliber receiver who can stretch a defense or a home-run threat in the backfield. These two items should be on their priority list Thursday and Friday for the first three rounds of the NFL draft.

Right now, their offense is 3.8 yards and a cloud of dust, their average rush last season. That isn't going to scare the New England Patriots, and neither is Tebow.

To be a dominant running team, which is what the Jets want to be, you need a great offensive line (see: Jets, 2009) or a great running back who can make an average line look terrific. The Jets don't have either of those combinations.

The quick answer is Alabama running back Trent Richardson, who just might be the top player on the Jets' draft board. He's a once-every-five-years kind of prospect, but there's little chance he'll get past the fourth or fifth pick.

To trade up for Richardson, the Jets, picking 16th, would have to offer a blockbuster package. We're talking about next year's No. 1 pick, and there's no guarantee that would be enough to convince a team to drop into the mid-teens.

[+] EnlargeMichael Floyd
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireNotre Dame's Michael Floyd is the draft's best blocking receiver, according to the Jets.

If they can get Richardson without mortgaging their future -- shades of the Sanchez deal in 2009 -- the Jets should strongly consider it. Where's Eric Mangini when you need a sweetheart deal?

Beyond Richardson, the draft contains "pretty good depth" at the running-back position, according to Jets senior personnel executive Terry Bradway, who said they have eight or nine backs rated in the first five rounds.

The Jets can improve the running game by adding a vertical threat at receiver, a speedster who will dissuade defenses from overplaying the running game with eight-man fronts. They signed Oakland Raiders castoff Chaz Schilens, but he's more of a suspect than a prospect.

Santonio Holmes and tight end Dustin Keller are fine intermediate options, but even their opportunities were limited last season because the offense operated on a short field. Sanchez was terrible on throws of at least 21 yards (11-for-43, including six interceptions), in part because Burress was slower than a dial-up internet connection.

The draft includes two premier receivers, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon and Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, who could be available for the Jets.

Floyd is 6-foot-3, 220 pounds with 4.4 speed and, according to the Jets, he's the best blocking receiver. That attribute shouldn't be underestimated, considering their planned emphasis on the running game.

"If you're going to run the football and be successful, you've got to have some balance," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. "You've got have the threat of the pass. To me, if Michael Floyd is there, I think he would fit very well."

Joey Clinkscales, the Jets' vice president of college scouting, called Floyd a "supremely talented wide receiver." Problem is, he's had three alcohol-related arrests, including a DUI in 2011. Nevertheless, the Jets "would be excited to have [him]," according to Clinkscales.

Another receiver who has them excited is Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill, who impressed team officials on a recent visit to the facility. He has Calvin Johnson-like measureables: 6-4, 215 pounds and a sub-4.4 time in the 40. The downside is that he's an unpolished route runner, having played in a run-oriented offense.

Hill would be a reach at 16, but there's no way he'll last until the Jets' second-round pick (47th), so it probably would take some maneuvering to get him. If he develops, he'd be perfect in Sparano's passing game, which will include a vertical element.

The Jets have a lot of work to do on offense. They need a right tackle (no one is buying the spin about Wayne Hunter returning as the starter), a blocking tight end and maybe a left guard.

They've been curiously quiet in free agency, showing no inclination to build around Sanchez. But that didn't prevent Rex Ryan from saying recently, "I really think he's going to have an excellent year."

He's placing a lot of faith in Sparano. More talent wouldn't hurt, either.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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