9. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia (6-2, 245)
The Jets are experiencing roster turbulence and new GM John Idzik has already begun a major cost-cutting job. The former Seahawks exec has chopped significant fat from the roster to create breathing room under the cap, while spending modestly in free agency.
Having watched Russell Wilson blossom into an immediate contributor as a Seahawks rookie last season, Idzik might be tempted to try to replicate the Seattle blueprint. However, with Rex Ryan’s future perhaps in doubt, I don’t see Idzik drafting a quarterback that may not fit into a new coach’s plans this high in the draft.
As long as he’s cutting and pasting in so many places, Idzik would be wise to go through with the best trade offer he can find that includes a first-round pick for rehabbing cornerback Darrelle Revis. At this point, the Jets need to reinvent themselves and having an All-Pro corner with high contract demands on board may be more of a hindrance than an asset.
Even though Mark Sanchez or David Garrard figures to be the Jets’ starting QB next season, Idzik and Ryan have to target defense with this pick. That’s why I have them drafting Jarvis Jones. Their 3-4 linebacking corps is woefully thin, and having Jones to flank a front line that includes recent first-round picks Muhammad Wilkerson (2011) and Quinton Coples (2012) gives a youthful and promising unit some needed speed off the edge, without sacrificing toughness against the run. Last season, Jones led the nation with 14.5 sacks, 24.5 tackles for a loss and seven forced fumbles.
Jones transferred to Georgia from USC, where he sustained a neck injury as a true freshman, and he entered the pre-draft period with a major health question. He has a spinal stenosis, a condition that has ended the careers of some players. At his best he offers the Jets a chance to regain some credibility on defense.
With New England’s Tom Brady still going strong, and Miami’s Ryan Tannehill showing immense promise as a rookie, the Jets' (6-10 in 2012) defense will be tested mightily within the AFC East. Gang Green’s manhood is on the clock.
Jones should transition smoothly from college to the Jets’ scheme because he played in a 3-4 at Georgia. From his OLB position he attacked offenses with quickness off the ball and a motor that did not quit. He’s strong and can mix it up in the run game in ways that belie his size.
In college, Jones was used primarily as a standup outside rusher, and his speed usually gave him an advantage over less talented opponents. He won’t be so fortunate in the NFL, especially since he showed few variations in his technique. However, at Georgia, he consistently got to the football and showed a strong work ethic by giving effort from snap to whistle. At 245 pounds, his endurance could be a problem over a long season, so Jones probably will need to add weight without sacrificing speed.
On April 25, we will see how much Jones’ spine condition will have affected his draft stock.
If Idzik and company are positively influenced by his recent medical reports, the two-time All-American could be a key defensive cog in the rebuilding of a Jet engine in need of essential parts.