The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?
To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.
Today, we continue PFR’s Impact Rookie series with his insight on the New York Jets’ draft class:
It has been a strange off-season for the Jets, as they seem to be taking a disregard to their recent past, holding the contract line firmly on 2015 starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and one of the best defensive linemen in the game in Muhammad Wilkerson. They failed to impress with their “temporary” solution to the Fitzpatrick stand-off by using their second-round draft pick to snatch Penn State erratic signal-caller, Christian Hackenberg.
Even if Fitzpatrick had signed, the Jets were going to look at addressing their future at quarterback anyway, as their starter in 2015 has had a journeyman’s like career to date. Still, they fail to impress Jets fans with the addition of Hackenberg, if it means that Fitzpatrick will turn into a training camp stalemate. They can’t be serious about turning the reins over to Geno Smith, could they?
Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has been talking up Smith, citing his maturity, but his obvious lack of leadership skills (see last season’s locker room debacle) and marginal performances to date makes Jets faithful hope that Gailey can create magic in the huddle this season. One option not talked about often is the development of 2015 third round pick, Bryce Petty. Still, like Hackenberg, he is still unproven at the professional level, leaving the Jets to ponder if they want to risk a season as a playoff observer or come to some kind of solution with the Fitzpatrick situation.
While the Jets did not address their quarterback situation in the way that many fans would have liked, they did pick up some interesting talents at other positions in this year’s draft.
First Round – Darron Lee, LB (Ohio State, No. 20 overall)
It is not etched in stone where Lee will line up for the Jets, but hailed by The NFL Draft Report the “best defensive playmaker in the 2016 draft,” the Jets are certain to find a role quickly for their first round pick. For now, he’s listed behind Erin Henderson at right inside linebacker. Beyond that, veteran and inside starter David Harris might be looking for employment elsewhere in 2017, if Lee progresses as quickly as expected.
Henderson moves into the lineup, at least temporarily, after the Jets let Demario Davis leave in free agency despite finishing second on the team with 90 tackles last year. Still, it will not be long before he cedes playing time to Lee. Another player greatly affected by Lee’s arrival is San Francisco cast-off, Bruce Carter, who was brought in to play the nickel package. With Lee’s cornerback-like speed, Carter will have to sit while Lee performs in that alignment.
Some draft analysts stated that Lee was a “work in progress” and “did not excite” in 2015 like he did in 2014 during the Buckeyes’ national championship march. Unknown to many scouts, at the time, but Lee was playing with a lower leg injury during the first half of his sophomore campaign. With several Buckeyes suspended earlier in the year, the strong-side linebacker felt that even on one leg, he needed to be out on the field.
Lee recovered just in time – for the late season tough part of the schedule. He recorded at least seven tackles with one stop behind the line of scrimmage and one quarterback pressure in each of his final four appearances. While he delivered 66 tackles (36 solos) for his final season at Ohio State, it is how he compiled those statistics that were even more impressive.
On 53 plays he made vs. the running game, Lee limited his opponents to an average gain of a minuscule 0.68 yards per attempt. The longest gain vs. the linebacker was a 9-yard scamper. He delivered eleven crunching third-down stops and another on a fourth-down play vs. those ball carriers, posting fourteen of those tackles inside the red zone, including four on goal-line stands. In addition to taking down thirteen runners for losses, ten more were tackled at the line of scrimmage for no gain. He also made five touchdown-saving tackles after runners broke free from other Ohio State defenders in 2015.