With the NFL Draft less than a month away is time to start identifying players that could be a good fit for the New York Jets. Recently draft analyst Ron Pickett took the time to answer some questions about this year's outside linebacker class. For those of you that are not familiar with Ron, Mr. Pickett is a high school football coach and speed/agility trainer than has been doing extensive work in scouting and game film analysis.
Tyson: By now it is no secret that Rex Ryan is desperately seeking an explosive pass rusher. Do you think that the New York Jets would pull the trigger on a linebacker in the first round of the 2014 draft?
Ron: It's definitely a possibility although I think the top 2 or 3 guys will be off the board by then. If one of those guys drops, the Jets certainly could pull the trigger based on the grade that they have on that particular player. It all depends on how the prospects fall up until #18 when the Jets will have to choose the best player from a variety of team needs.
TR: Anthony Barr is player that has a broad range of evaluations. What is your take on Barr and his fit in Ryan's system?
RP: I have a late first, early second round grade on Barr. Anthony made his living being faster than the linemen in front of him in the Pac-12 and he does have an instinct of where the quarterback is and where he will be, which led to several strip sacks at UCLA. My concern with Barr is he is a bit of a "one-trick pony." He uses his speed rush too often and needs to learn different moves in order for him to be successful in the NFL. Scouts usually will look to see if a guy is a "pass rusher" or a blitzer." A pass rusher is able to consistently win the edge mixing up the way they get there (Bull Rush, Rip Move, Swim Move, spin moves, etc). A blitzer is someone who gets to the QB using football intelligence, but will only use one type of move. Barr is more of a blitzer than a pass rusher which could lead to him only playing on obvious passing downs. First round picks, especially if they are going to play for Rex Ryan need to be able to drop in coverage, blitz, stunt, and use many different moves to get to the QB. Barr's skill set currently isn't what Ryan would need in an OLB, but maybe he uses him as strictly a blitzer. Those types of guys can be found later in the draft.
TR: Khalil Mack is a guy that everyone is raving about. What is your analysis on Khalil and where do you think that he will be drafted?
RP: Although Mack played at a small school at Buffalo, it is evident he was consistently the best player on the field and that's what you want to see from a small school prospect. Mack is versatile enough to play 3-4 OLB or 4-3 defensive end making him an attractive top 5 pick in the 2014 draft. Mack is a competitor. He shows tremendous effort on every single play. Khalil is a guy with a relentless motor, impressive explosion on the snap, ability to use his hands, shows great flexibility and bend on the edge, and uses several different moves to get to the quarterback. I also feel that Mack is a bit underrated covering space. He has the athletic ability to do it, but wasn't asked to do it too often at Buffalo. Some draft experts say he lacks the ability to cover, but he wasn't asked to do it in college, and I don't doubt that he can, with coaching, in the NFL. Khalil is going to give some defensive coordinator crazy versatility to line him up all over the line of scrimmage or off the line as an OLB. Khalil Mack will be a sure fire top 5 pick.
TR: What are your thoughts on Ryan Shazier who seems to be a bit undersized at 6'1, 237 pounds?
RP: Shazier is an undersized outside linebacker. Being undersized doesn't mean he won't have a career in the NFL. Ryan has great acceleration and he's able to close really well. He can also drop into coverage and is fluid is his drop. The problem with Shazier is that he needs time to get stronger and learn to use his body to get off of blocks. Saying he needs time to get stronger doesn't mean he can't be plugged in day 1 and succeed. He may take some time on the field to find himself, but he can be a consistent player in the NFL. Too often on film, I saw him getting engulfed into a blocker and couldn't shed him. With proper coaching and a strict weight lifting program, Shazier will be just fine at OLB. The reason that Shazier is said to be a late round pick is because he is a hard worker on the field who has great football instincts and intelligence, which alone will lead to him being a top 3 tackler for whatever team drafts him. Ryan can also rush the passer well, showing great flexibility when blitzing off the edge. He will be a guy that may not show the flash that fans would like from a first round pick initially, but will have a solid career in the NFL.
TR: Kyle Van Noy is a guy that has several fans curious. Do you think Van Noy would be a fit with the Jets?
RP: Kyle Van Noy is not a flashy player. He doesn't do any one thing overly great. However, Van Noy does everything well. He's an extremely well rounded OLB and my favorite behind Mack and Clowney. The reason I am really high on Van Noy is I see what he can bring to a defense like Rex Ryan's. Van Noy has outstanding instincts on the field, tremendous reaction times, closes well on ball carriers, and extremely intelligent. He also shows an ability to get to the quarterback when he's asked to blitz and knows how to shed blocks and make tackles. The other reason Van Noy is high on my OLB list is because of his ability to cover. At the Senior Bowl, Van Noy showed an ability to cover slot receivers and tight ends, something the Jets have struggled to find an answer for. Kyle has fluid hips and great explosiveness and has the ability to stop on the dime and change direction. Even though Van Noy isn't the flashy type of OLB, he's going to be an outstanding pro. His versatility and knowledge of the game will force his coaches to play him immediately. I have referred to him as an OLB version of Luke Kuechly because of his solid form tackling and his ability to do everything well, but nothing that's overly flashy. Van Noy would fill two needs for a team like the Jets.
TR: Who are some of the linebackers that you have your eye on later in the draft?
RP: I think a guy to look out for in the first round or early second that we haven't spoken about is Demarcus Lawrence from Boise State. He has some traits that remind me of a slightly less athletic version of Von Miller. He's constantly in the backfield, he shows great flexibility and versatility as a pass rusher and uses his leverage really well. Jeremiah Attaochu from Georgia Tech is a guy who could fall to the Jets at 49. He's a very good pass rusher, with really long arms and a relentless motor. A guy I really like a little later (3rd round) is Christian Kirksey of Iowa. Kirksey is an underrated prospect who's biggest flaw is forgetting his gap responsibilities, which will be fixed in the NFL. Telvin Smith of Florida State is another intriguing guy later on. Smith needs to build on his frame, but he has great closing speed and covers a lot of ground. He is a sideline to sideline type of linebacker who needs some work as a rusher and a consistent weight training program. Some guys who have the size that Rex Ryan looks for in OLBs later in the draft include Jordan Tripp (Montana), Adrian Hubbard (Alabama), and Jonathan Newsome (Ball State).
TR: If the Jets do not select a backer in the draft do you think Coples, Pace, and the return of Antwan Barnes would suffice?
RP: I think Coples is due for a breakout season. The injured foot really hampered his progress in 2013, but once he was healthy he showed flashes of why the Jets took him in the first round in 2012. I don't think Pace will have the same type of productive season that he had last season, but he will be a good contributor and mentor for younger outside linebackers. The return of Antwan Barnes is the biggest question mark for the Jets. When he was healthy, the Jets defensive line was virtually impossible to block. Barnes off the edge freed up guys like Mo Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, who didn't get in the backfield as often when Barnes went down. However, I strongly believe the Jets will look towards the future and draft one, if not two, outside linebackers to replace Pace and Barnes in 2015. Perhaps a developmental OLB and a pure pass rusher could be the route the Jets decide to take at some point in this upcoming draft.
TR: Ron, once again thank you for your time. If you would like to talk about the draft or anything Jets you can contact Ron Pickett on Twitter: Pickett_Ron