Jets draft could go any direction

April 24, 2009 9:24:36 PM PDT
The first draft pick in Rex Ryan's tenure as coach of the New York Jets could be a franchise quarterback. Or a field-stretching wide receiver.

Or a blocking tight end.

Or maybe yet another new piece for a revamped defense.

In other words, your guess as to how the Jets will use the 17th overall pick is as good as anyone else's. And that includes Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum, or so they say.

"We are going to try to let the board, as much as possible, dictate what we do," Tannenbaum said, repeating his annual draft-time mantra. "You just never know who is going to go."

The presumption is the Jets will focus heavily on offense, with quarterbacks Mark Sanchez of Southern California and Josh Freeman of Kansas State, and wide receivers Percy Harvin of Florida and Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland potential top targets.

"You can presume anything you want," Ryan said with a laugh.

The only signings this offseason for Brian Schottenheimer's offense were bringing back fullback Tony Richardson and guard Brandon Moore. Meanwhile, the Jets added linebacker Bart Scott, safety Jim Leonhard, cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Donald Strickland, and defensive linemen Marques Douglas and Howard Green through free agency and trades.

"If it happens to be that clearly the best player on the board is a defensive player, Brian is going to go crazy," Ryan said, "but we've got to be fair to our football team and let's get the best guy."

The Jets' most glaring weakness is at quarterback, with Kellen Clemens, Brett Ratliff and Erik Ainge left to compete for the starting job after Brett Favre retired. The three have thrown a total of 256 passes in the NFL - all by Clemens - but Ryan and Tannenbaum have repeatedly said they're comfortable going into camp with an open competition among the guys already on the roster.

"When they have had a chance to perform, they have performed well," Tannenbaum said. "It hasn't been a lot - Kellen, eight starts, and Brett in the preseason - but they've earned the right to compete for the job and that's all it is."

Some believe that could all just be a smoke screen to try to throw off teams who suspect the Jets have more than just a passing interest in Sanchez or Freeman.

"I think they are both talented players and they both bring different things to the table," said Joey Clinkscales, New York's vice president of college scouting. "I think Sanchez is a fantastic leader. He's played in Los Angeles, which is like the 33rd NFL team, and he's led that team. I think Freeman is a guy who is physically gifted. He has a big arm. He hasn't had as much success at Kansas State as maybe Sanchez did at USC, but he's a very talented, athletic quarterback."

The Jets, who have six picks, will likely have to trade up, something they haven't shied from in the past, to have a shot at Sanchez.

"If he's there, does the phone ring?" Tannenbaum said. "Can we move up? Can we move back? We'll take all those factors and do what's best for the team."

And that might be adding a wide receiver, especially after losing Laveranues Coles to free agency. After Jerricho Cotchery, the Jets have a mostly unproven group that includes Chansi Stuckey, Brad Smith and David Clowney.

Harvin would provide a small - he's 5-foot-11 - but speedy threat, but he had durability issues at Florida. Meanwhile, Heyward-Bey is 6-2 and would give New York some much-needed size and speed, but he has been knocked for too many dropped passes.

Going for a running back to complement Thomas Jones and Leon Washington isn't out of the question. Jones, who led the AFC in rushing last season, will be 31 this year and Washington is considered too valuable on special teams to be an every-down back. New York could end up giving a long look at Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells, Georgia's Knowshon Moreno or even Connecticut's Donald Brown.

The Jets could also use a blocking tight end after allowing Chris Baker to sign with New England. Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew could still be around at No. 17.

"I think he's a fantastic talent, he's big, he's athletic, he can catch the ball, he can block," Clinkscales said. "Those are all attributes that if I was his size, I would love to have."

And, there are a number of defensive players Ryan might like to add to an already vastly improved squad. The Jets could use some depth on the defensive line and at linebacker, so LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson, Mississippi tackle Peria Jerry or even Connor Barwin, who played defensive end, linebacker and tight end at Cincinnati, could be attractive fits.

"Our goal going into (the draft) was to try to give ourselves as much flexibility as possible," Tannenbaum said. "And some of the work we've done as an organization up to this point hopefully will allow us to do that."