With free agency nine days away and the draft just around the corner, it’s never too early to start thinking about the 2007 NFL season. Despite a relatively lean free agent class, there are several standout players that should hit the market after Thursday’s franchise tag deadline. With over 20 million dollars in cap room and three picks in the first two rounds in April’s draft, the Jets should be in excellent position to add to their young core of talent.
Starting on offense, it would seem that the Jets are in desperate need for a running back, after using an uninspiring platoon of Leon Washington and Cedric Houston towards the end of the season. Kevan Barlow and Derrick Blaylock will most likely be cap causalities, and Curtis Martin will almost certainly retire, leaving the Jets in search of a feature back. Washington would be an ideal third-down option given his versatility and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s penchant for an innovative offensive gameplan. However, with the team’s first pick in the draft at No. 25 overall, the Jets will likely be out of range for Cal running back Marshawn Lynch, as either the Packers or the Giants will make a play for him at No. 16 and No. 20 respectively. That leaves Louisville’s Michael Bush, who in many regards, I actually prefer to Lynch.
Bush’s skill set would be an excellent complement to Washington’s shifty running style. At 6-3, 247 pounds, Bush is an absolute load to bring to the ground, and is without question the most powerful back in this year’s class. As a junior, Bush rushed for 1,143 yards and 23 touchdowns, while catching 21 balls for 253 yards, on his way to All-Big East honors. However, in his first game of 2006, after compiling 129 yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone, Bush broke his fibula and was sidelined for the remainder of the season, making him a potential steal in April’s draft.
The Jets need to be better on the ground in 2007, and Bush can provide the sort of power running game they desperately need. Given the lack of teams looking for running back help on the first day, I foresee Bush being available late in the second round, at which point the Jets should grab him with the 59th overall selection.
Of course, without an offensive line to run behind, all of this discussion about running backs is moot. However, the Jets have built the foundation of what could be one of the top lines in the league in the near future, as the drafting of D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold in the first round last year solidified the left tackle and center positions respectively. The Jets must remain proactive in revamping the rest of the unit, given the age of veteran left guard Pete Kendall, and the general incompetence of right guard Brandon Moore and right tackle Anthony Clement, the team’s only free agent starter.
I believe the Jets must bring two young players into the fold, allowing them to grow alongside Ferguson and Mangold. With one day still remaining for teams to franchise potential free agents, it is somewhat difficult to foresee which players will be available come March 2. However, it seems more likely with each passing day that the Chargers will not franchise left guard Kris Dielman, a player that would fit perfectly on the Jets young offensive unit.
Dielman, an undrafted free agent out of Indiana, has only four years of NFL experience under his belt and has somewhat quietly developed into one of the top guards in the league. At 6-4, 310 pounds, Dielman plays with an incredible mean streak, to the point where he has been known to aggravate the opposition. While he may have many suitors, Dielman could prove to be the most important acquisition of 2007.
Staying with the offensive line, the Jets should use the 37th overall pick, acquired from Washington in a draft day trade a year ago, to select its right guard or tackle of the future, with several players slated to be available early in the second round, including Tennessee’s Arron Sears, Auburn’s Ben Grubbs, Texas’ Justin Blalock and Northern Illinois’ Doug Free. Personally, I like Blalock, but he may be off the board late in the first round. While he played mostly tackle at Texas, he should be looked at as a guard in the NFL, possessing the size (6-4, 329 pounds) and strength to neutralize the interior. Sears would not be a bad alternative, as he has displayed the versatility in college to play anywhere along the line.
After addressing many of its needs on offense, New York should use its first rounder to bulk up the defensive line. However, the ultimate direction of that unit will depend on how the team views Dewayne Robertson. Drafted No. 4 overall in 2003, Robertson was viewed as a tackle in the 4-3 defense, while the Jets have since switched to a 3-4 upon the arrival of head coach Eric Mangini. Robertson served primarily as the nose tackle a season ago, but at 6-1, 317 pounds, he is slightly undersized for the position. Given the change in philosophy, Robertson played well in 2006 and should improve with more time to make adjustments. I think he can be a good nose tackle prospect, assuming he adds some muscle to his frame over the offseason.
With Shaun Ellis at left end, the Jets should draft Nebraska’s Adam Carriker with the 25th overall selection. Carriker is best suited as an end in the 3-4, due to his size (6-6, 295 pounds), power and lack of explosive pass-rush ability off the edge. He has a rare blend of athleticism to go along with his size, making him an ideal prospect for the Jets’ hybrid defensive schemes.
That being said, Carriker has the potential to be off the board when the Jets select, leaving N.C. State’s DeMarcus “Tank” Tyler as a possible alternative. Tyler is a pure nose tackle prospect, meaning Robertson would be forced to move to the outside. Regardless, the Jets will need to improve its defensive line, as I cannot live one more second with Kimo von Oelhoffen.
Granted, this offseason gameplan is somewhat conservative, due to the fact that there are a number of teams with the cap room to dip into the free agent market, headed by San Francisco with 37 million dollars to spend. However, the Jets will certainly have additional money to dish out, especially considering the impending release of wide receiver Justin McCareins and cornerback David Barrett, and the expected retirement of Curtis Martin. With the cornerback and linebacker positions still areas of concern, the Jets could choose to pursue Ravens outside linebacker Adalius Thomas and Bills cornerback Nate Clements. While both players would be fantastic fits in Mangini’s defense, the cost of each may become prohibitive, especially considering that both Bears linebacker Lance Briggs and Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel have already been taken off the market with the franchise tag.
Given the financial explosion that we are about to witness, primarily due to the plethora of cash around the league, spending wisely and upgrading the lines through the draft should be this offseason’s top priority.