Mike Maccagnan and the New York Jets 2017 NFL Draft Objective: Build the Defense
December 31, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes safety Malik Hooker (24) celebrates after intercepting a pass against the Clemson Tigers during the first half of the the 2016 CFP semifinal at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Stars on offense are nice, but fans yearn for defenses that keep teams in every game and in this NFL Draft the New York Jets should pounce.

The “Sack Exchange,” the “Sons of Anarchy” and “Revis Island” — the defensive stalwarts that have starred on the field for the New York Jets have been highlights in the organization’s history. Even the Super Bowl win with Joe Namath at the helm, was more of a defensive battle then an offensive onslaught.

The 2017 season is already in doubt, with many questions surrounding the offense. The starting quarterback position could come down to the flip of a coin as Josh McCown should play more mentor than savior. Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg are still works in progress with no definitive conclusion of their potential.

Brandon Marshall, Ryan Clady, Breno Giacomini and Nick Mangold have all departed, leaving large holes in an already depleted offense. The fate of Eric Decker and his $8.75 million salary cap hit is still to be determined. While Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson showed flashes of brilliance in a short window, they will need to consistently produce to make up for the loss of production with the Marshall release.

The Jets’ fanbase is not naïve. They know that a rebuild for Gang Green isn’t a one offseason fix. To rebuild properly, Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles must take what the offseason gives them. With a majority of the available money they had in free agency, they were able to sign Josh McCown, Morris Claiborne, Kelvin Beachum, Quinton Patton and a slew of reserve/future contracts.

Maccagnan avoided the temptation of making a major splash by signing a player of Russell Okung’s prowess, instead opting for quantity. This is the type of decision that could benefit the Jets long-term. Signing multiple short-term deals rather than a long-term deal for one player just makes sense for where the organization sits today.

If the New York Jets are going to find their next star, they need to start their search during this year’s draft. A draft that is rich in defensive talent, the Jets will have an opportunity to focus on building a feared eleven with depth.

When the draft kicks off on the Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia on Apr. 27, the Jets will possess the number six pick, prime real estate for Maccagnan to select the best available player or to slide back and obtain additional picks. Myles Garrett is the consensus number one prospect, and he could very well be selected in that spot.

Sep 12, 2015; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) runs in for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the North Carolina A&T Aggies at Kenan Memorial Stadium. The Tar Heels defeated North Carolina A&T Aggies 53-14. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

However, what happens next is anyone’s guess. For the first-time in recent memory, there are no elite left tackles to be had in the top five. There are mixed reviews of the three top quarterback prospects, DeShaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky and Deshone Kizer. One group that is not lacking in talent is the defensive back pool.

If there is to be the next Darrelle Revis in the 2017 draft class, the Jets will need a little luck and a lot of scouting analysis to find him. The rich talent pool at cornerback and safety will require the Jets to select one if not two of these prospects in the first three rounds to replace the active legend. To believe that Buster Skrine or Morris Claiborne can step up to be the “guy” would be foolish.

NCAA powerhouses such as Ohio State, Alabama and LSU offer up defensive back options with high ceilings to create a “No Fly Zone 2.0.” Marcus Lattimore, Malik Hooker, Marlon Humphrey and Jamal Adams could each be had with the number six pick in the draft. If the Jets pass on that opportunity, there should be no worries, as players like Jabrill Peppers, Sidney Jones and Jalen Tabor will be available later in the draft.

The Sheldon Richardson at linebacker experiment needs to come to an end, as well. With Mo Wilkerson and Leonard Williams set in their roles based on price and performance, Richardson is the odd man out. If there is interest in the trade market for Richardson, expect to see Maccagnan to actively try and move him just before or during the draft.

The first round in the last two drafts for Maccagnan have been fruitful with the selections of Leonard Williams and Darron Lee. Williams reached his first Pro Bowl in 2016, while Lee finished the season second in tackles to David Harris.

Though Harris seems ageless, the Jets may also be able to find his heir during the second or third day of the draft. What could rush the departure of Harris, would be if the Jets brass fell in love with Alabama’s hard hitting linebacker, Reuben Foster. Foster is about as ferocious of a hitter there is in the game and as a partner to Lee could create absolute havoc in both the run and passing game for the opposition.

For a team lacking star power the Jets could find their star in the defense. A Todd Bowles’ attacking defense with the talent to achieve his mission could set the stage for a 2018 NFL Draft where the offense becomes the focus. The primary need being a franchise quarterback in a draft where quarterback’s will receive better reviews than the 2017 class.

A defense first strategy could net the following players in the first three rounds:

  • Round 1 – Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
  • Round 2 – Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida
  • Round 3Tim Williams, DE/OLB, Alabama
  • Round 3 (Compensatory)Marcus Maye, S, Florida
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