The NFL world descends upon Indianapolis this week for the annual Underwear Olympics in the run-up to the 2018 draft. The league’s Scouting Combine has morphed into a grand spectacle, but it will provide teams with valuable time to poke, prod and learn more about future potential investments.
The Jets, winners of 10 games in the past two seasons, have a litany of deficiencies that must be addressed in this pivotal season for the current regime. It’ll be like Heaven on Earth for general manager Mike Maccagnan, whose scouting chops will be put to the test in the most critical draft of his career.
Let’s put aside the quarterback prospects for now. Here are five other intriguing players that could help the Jets during the next phase of their rebuilding project.
1. NOTRE DAME G QUENTON NELSON
Reeling in prized free agent Kirk Cousins won’t mean a damn thing if he isn’t adequately protected. Nelson, arguably the best non-quarterback prospect in this draft, is a 6-5, 331-pound ball of nasty. Interior offensive linemen aren’t sexy picks, but Nelson has the skillset to be an anchor for the next decade. Nelson is the best guard prospect in memory. You think fellow Golden Domer Zack Martin is good? Well, this kid is projected to be even better. I can see new offensive line coach/run game coordinator Rick Dennison salivating right now at the possibility of getting this player. I’m not putting Nelson in Canton yet… but I’m tempted.
2. IOWA CB JOSH JACKSON
Ohio State’s Denzel Ward is getting top billing at his position (and he’s a damn good player despite being relatively short), but the Jets would be wise to explore the rangy 6-1 Jackson in a trade-down scenario. The converted wide receiver excelled in man coverage last season (and led the nation in interceptions), but there’s a bit of an unknown given his relatively short amount of time at cornerback. Jackson has the potential to be a star. Think about this possibility: Maccagnan signs Cousins, drafts Jackson AND picks up an additional premium pick. Hard to not like that scenario.
3. USC RB RONALD JONES II
Jeremy Bates comes from the Mike Shanahan School, which routinely churned out late-round RB gems, but Jones is a special talent that warrants a hard look on Day 2. Jones could be the home-run hitter that the Jets so desperately need. He also might be the best zone-blocking running back in this draft class, a one-cut slasher with the explosion to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Jones has drawn comparisons to Jamaal Charles, which should make folks on One Jets Drive giddy. There’s a thought that the 6-0, 200-pounder’s frame might not be able to withstand the rigors of a full load week in and week out, but I don’t care. Just look at Alvin Kamara, who ripped up the league in his first season despite only averaging 13 touches per game.
Jones, who had 20 total touchdowns last season, is an offensive weapon. And in case you were living in a cave in 2017, the Jets need offensive weapons.
4. IOWA CENTER JAMES DANIELS
The Jets want to upgrade at center in the worst way, so there’s a strong possibility that Maccagnan addresses it in free agency (see: Ryan Jensen and Weston Richburg). Otherwise, Daniels could be a second-day draft steal. On the surface, the 6-4, 295-pounder appears too light to make a difference at the next level, but remember that Dennison & Co. will want athletic, fluid players along the line in this zone-blocking scheme. Daniels, frankly, has the potential to be a difference maker right away in this system. He exhibited great movement skills in space in two seasons as the Hawkeyes center. He has the functional strength to be a top-end player in the Jets scheme.
5. LSU OLB ARDEN KEY
The mercurial pass rusher comes with a boatload of risk, but the payoff could be monumental. The Jets desperately need — and want — an edge pass rushing presence. Key was an ascending player as a true freshman and sophomore before off-field/personal issues surfaced that have given evaluators plenty of pause for concern. Two years ago, Key was a menace routinely causing havoc in the backfield (12 sacks, 14½ tackles for loss and 3 forced fumbles as a sophomore). Then, he left the football program for four months for personal reasons and had a disappointing 2017 campaign (four sacks and 5½ TFLs). He’s a first-round talent that might be available on Day 2, but are there simply too many red flags for the Jets to take a chance on him?
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