The Big LeadThe Big Lead

How the Jets Can Improve Their Defense Targeting These Players in the Draft

The Jets defense under head coach Todd Bowles was embarrassingly bad last year, giving up 23 or more points in the final seven games of the season en route to being on the lower rung of almost every defensive category.

The Football Outsiders weighted DVOA had the Jets ranked 28th, and the pass rush was particularly bad (19th) for a defensive-minded coach. The Jets didn’t have a player among the Top 40 in sacks. They didn’t have anybody in the Top 20 in QB hits.

But as we saw with the Colts last year, and the Bears as well, the right draft picks combined with free agency can quickly turn around a team’s fortunes. The Colts hit draft home runs with Darius Leonard(36th in 2018) and Malik Hooker (15th in 2017) and the Bears nailed defensive stars in back-to-back drafts (Roquan Smith at 8 in 2018; Eddie Jackson at 112 in 2017). Both made the playoffs in 2018 and finished Top 5 in weighted DVOA.

If the Jets can duplicate that success in this draft, the playoffs are within reach in 2019.

There’s a clear need in the draft and free agency for players in the front seven, and at cornerback, especially if the Jets move on from Morris Claiborne. The only position they’re close to set at is safety, with Jamal Adams (6th in 2018) and Marcus Maye (only played six games due to injury).

Let’s be real: The Jets got lucky to get Sam Darnold in the 2018 draft. The Browns and Giants passed on him, and the Jets got their franchise QB. Can New York get lucky again in 2019?

For starters, the Kyler Murray measurements are a huge win for the Jets. Murray will be in high demand. When Dwyane Haskins slays the interview process, and you couple that with his dominant season in Columbus, we could be looking at a situation where if a team wants one of those QBs, they’re going to have to trade into the Top 5.

In a perfect world, the Jets will trade down an accumulate more picks. Here’s what they’re looking at now defensively. I’ll look at the offensive side after the Combine:

1st round, 3rd – If QBs go 1-2, the Jets will have to decide between Nick Bosa – who has been injured twice in four years – and Josh Allen, the edge rusher from Kentucky (17 sacks, 21.5 TFL last season). Too close to call, but it at this early stage I give a slight lean to Allen. A Dante Fowler/Josh Allen offseason in the front seven would be a grand slam. Here’s a name I think you’ll hear about this weekend at the Combine if the Jets are able to trade down and pick up a late 2nd round pick: Oshane Ximines, an edge rusher from Old Dominion. Longtime Jets fans will remember another small school defender they snagged in Round 3 in 2012 who panned out quite well: Demario Davis.

3rd round, 68th – If the Jets can’t trade down, this pick becomes more important than the 1st pick, because those are easier to hit than this. He’s firmly in the 2nd round right now, but let’s see how Dre'Mont Jones (DT, Ohio State) performs in Indy. Tough to see him slipping this far. In a good cornerback draft, Amani Oruwariye of Penn State had some buzz as a first rounder during the season, but is more likely to fall into the late 2nd/3rd round area. One player I’m overrating is probably New Mexico St. LB Terrill Hanks who can play inside or out, and I think after the Senior Bowl in the Combine, he’ll be firmly in this range. No need to panic just yet about starter Darron Lee, but after two seasons, he’s been a tad underwhelming at ILB. For some perspective, Deion Jones was taken by Atlanta 32 picks later and he’s already a star.

3rd round, 93rd – If you’re into the taller cornerbacks, Lonnie Johnson (Kentucky) is 6-foot-3. The Jets will definitely draft one, and perhaps two. They might even be active at the position in free agency, given the ugly ending to Trumaine Johnson’s season. Even if they retain Claiborne, there’s a need in the draft. Jamal Peters of Mississippi State stands out as being a DB who could go in this range.

4th round, 105th – Even if the Jets get an edge rusher at the top, and in free agency, they still need pass rushers. Gregg Williams runs an aggressive defense and is often at the top in blitz percentage. Ben Banogu started at UL-Monroe, transferred to Baylor, and was very effective off the edge (8.5 sacks in 2017 and 2018).

5th round, 140th – Jonathan Ledbetter was a highly-touted recruit who took two years to crack a loaded rotation, but was a captain as a senior. There are a slew of defensive ends who will be 6-foot-4, 280 at the Combine. Will Ledbetter’s athleticism stand out?

7th round, 217th – The Jets probably won’t draft a safety in 2019, but if you want to take a late-round flier on a talented winner, D'Cota Dixon of Wisconsin is undersized (5-foot-9) but plays bigger, and this a guy you need in the locker room.