For the first time since 35-year-old Vinny Testaverde took the Jets to the AFC title game in 1999 – a six turnover, 23-10 loss to Denver – the Jets have a chance to reach the Super Bowl. With a rookie coach and a rookie quarterback, no pundit on the planet predicted this in the preseason or even the start of the postseason. How have the Jets so quickly become a team that bottom feeders want to emulate? Building a defense first is obvious. Less obvious? General Manager Mike Tannenbaum’s dominant top two draft picks each of the last four years.
Tannenbaum ascended to GM in 2006. In the last four years, Tannenbaum’s first two picks in each draft have almost all found instant success. Seven of the eight have become major factors on the team. We’re defining “major factors” as a starter or significant contributor.
1st Round: Mark Sanchez (starting QB)
3rd Round: Shonn Greene (leading rusher this postseason)
1st Round: Vernon Gholston (the only bust; “sources” pinned this pick on Eric Mangini.)
1st Round: Dustin Keller (2nd on the team in receptions this season)
1st Round: Darrelle Revis (best corner in the league)
2nd Round: David Harris (team’s leading tackler)
1st Round: D’Brickashaw Ferguson (Pro-Bowler)
1st Round: Nick Mangold (Pro-Bowler)
As with other Jets’ fans, we’re incredibly optimistic that New York’s top three offensive weapons this postseason – Sanchez, Greene, and Keller – are all first or second year players. Their No. 2 and No. 3 receivers (Jerrico Cotchery and Brad Smith) were both draft picks. (The team’s leading rusher in the regular season, Thomas Jones, was acquired via trade.) One could say that the Jets are a No. 1 receiver away from being set offensively for the next five years.
Defensively, though, is clearly where the Jets’ excel, and where they are likely to go in the April draft. Assuming the team has written off Gholston, the Jets will have to look at a pass-rushing defensive end or a defensive back in the first round since safety Kerry Rhodes is unlikely to return.
(We were hot for Alabama corner Javier Arenas to pair with Revis earlier this season; less so after Jordan Shipley lit him up in the National Championship.)
The Jets’ late run has pushed them out of the 12-16 draft range and into the late 20s. Defensive ends who may or may not still be on the board: Jason Pierre-Paul of South Florida, Ricky Sapp of Clemson, Brandon Graham of Michigan, and Jerry Hughes of TCU. Has USC safety Taylor Mays fallen far enough for the Jets to have a crack at him?