Jets likely to target defense at No. 30
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Mike Tannenbaum has a tough time sitting still on draft day.
Whether it's trading up or down, or for future picks, the New York Jets general manager is as big a wheeler and dealer as there is in the NFL. So, the fact the team has almost as many draft picks this year as it has the last two combined might just be a temporary luxury.
"It's nice to have six picks for a change," vice president of college scouting Joey Clinkscales said with a smile before turning to Tannenbaum. "We'll see how long we have six picks."
Clinkscales and the rest of the Jets front office know better.
New York had four picks last year after a handful of deals, and ended up with just three the year before when Tannenbaum pulled off two big draft-day trades to move up and take quarterback Mark Sanchez at No. 5 overall and running back Shonn Greene two rounds later. New York has the 30th overall pick this time around and Tannenbaum said the Jets will have about 10 players in mind to take at that spot — if they stay there, of course.
"We've run a lot of different scenarios," Tannenbaum said. "Our guess is as good as anybody's. When you're at 30, there's going to be a few trades ahead of us. We try to be as prepared as possible, see if we can move up a few spots or back a few. I think you have to have a pretty good number to start with just because you're sitting at 30."
Tannenbaum has earned a reputation for being aggressive since becoming the Jets' general manager in 2006. Some of the team's most important players have come to New York through the draft as the result of trades, including Sanchez, Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, Dustin Keller and David Harris.
While preparing to make their picks, the Jets examine their depth chart with coach Rex Ryan and evaluate their needs.
"It's really more just checking the boxes off," Tannenbaum said. "If we can do that with three picks, great. If it's nine picks, that's fine. I don't think we're ever fixated on the number of picks. To me, I'm always thinking about solving the problem of the need."
After six of the seven picks the last two years were offensive players — cornerback Kyle Wilson, last year's first-round pick, the lone exception — it's likely the Jets will target a defensive lineman or a pass rusher to help Ryan's already-solid defense.
Ryan's defense was solid last season, but far from dominant, and a major culprit was not putting enough consistent pressure on quarterbacks. New York might hope Auburn's sack-happy Nick Fairley falls to them at No. 30 — or maybe a little higher if Tannenbaum can swing a deal — amid questions about his work ethic.
UCLA outside linebacker Akeem Ayers, Arizona defensive end-linebacker Brooks Reed, Ohio State defensive end-tackle Cam Heyward and Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson could also be options.
New York might also look at a run-stuffing defensive tackle to replace Kris Jenkins, who was released. While Sione Pouha has done a terrific job filling in the last two years when Jenkins was injured, the former third-round draft pick is 32. Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget and Baylor nose tackle Phil Taylor might be players the Jets target.
"We feel great about our process," Ryan said. "We feel great about our board, and we are excited about the draft."
Because of the lockout, teams haven't been able to fill holes through free agency, something the Jets have done a lot of to help them reach the AFC championship game the last two years. Tannenbaum has pulled off major trades — Jenkins, running back Thomas Jones, wide receiver Santonio Holmes and cornerback Antonio Cromartie — as well as big-name signings — right tackle Damien Woody, running back LaDainian Tomlinson, guard Alan Faneca and linebackers Calvin Pace and Jason Taylor during the last few offseasons.
"The longer I'm in this, the more you realize the only part you can control is the preparation," Tannenbaum said. "They're telling us we're going to draft now, so we're prepared for that."
The Jets have also benefited from finding unsigned free agents after the draft who have become key players, including right guard Brandon Moore, defensive lineman Mike DeVito and safety James Ihedigbo. Teams won't be able to sign any of those players, either, until the lockout is settled.
"Really our plan is once the draft is over," Tannenbaum said, "we'll wait to get more information of what we can do and when we can do it."
New York also has quite a few question marks they can only speculate about. Wide receivers Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith are scheduled to be free agents, as are Cromartie and defensive end Shaun Ellis.
"We're not sure what the rules are moving forward," Tannenbaum said. "How many of our guys eventually we'll be able to keep, it's hard to say."
Tannenbaum won't be able to trade players during the draft, either, as he has done in recent seasons; only draft spots can be dealt. That might make it seem as though Tannenbaum could be a bit handcuffed this year. No worries, he says.
"There's other ways to get creative, swapping picks, future years," he said. "If you're trying to solve a problem, you still have other clubs in the bag to use. You may not have your driver, and if you've ever seen me play golf, that's probably a good thing. You use your utility club, and you just figure out ways to solve problems."