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 safety 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: Before we go into this year's safety class what was your take on the performance of Antonio Allen last year?
Ron Pickett: Antonio Allen was on his way to having a solid season. Antonio was playing the role of shutting down tight ends really well. Allen was playing with confidence, as well, but when the Jets signed Ed Reed, it pushed his development back a bit. Obviously he learned new safety skills from Ed Reed's knowledge of the game, but to me the best teacher is the game itself and he lost significant playing time when Reed came aboard. I think Allen will be fine, but he is a lean, lanky safety with adequate ball skills at best. He'll be a solid player, but would have to take significant steps in camp this year to prove he's more than just a serviceable safety.
TR: The signing of Dmitri Patterson gives the Jets a bit of flexibility as he plays the slot/nickel. Do you think Gang Green should consider moving Kyle Wilson to safety?
RP: I think it certainly could be in consideration, but if they were going to do that, it should start now. Wilson has the ability to cover slot receivers and has the ball skills to be able to play safety. I think the Jets may try to play Patterson as the outside corner (unless they draft a starting caliber cornerback) keeping Wilson in the position that made him successful last season. If they plan to bring in another corner and move Patterson inside and he gets hurt, do you move Kyle Wilson back to slot corner? That's the only part that concerns me about moving Wilson to safety.
TR: Many experts have Hasean Clinton-Dix ranked as the best safety in the draft. What is your evaluation of Hasean and where do you think he will be selected?
RP: Clinton-Dix is the top free safety in the draft. Hasean is such a sound safety covering ground and making plays on the ball. He's not afraid to diagnose a play and fly to the football. This is also one of his weaknesses, as he gets too aggressive at times, especially on play action passes or misdirection plays. The thing I really like about him is he isn't afraid to deliver a blow to a wide receiver. He had some questionable hits that were near targeting penalties, but that's the style of play he knows. I wish he would wrap up when he tackled instead of lower his shoulders because in the NFL if you don't wrap up, you're not tackling the top offensive playmakers. Clinton-Dix not a bad tackler, but that element of his game needs to be fixed. Due to his ability to cover and tremendous instincts and ball skills Clinton-Dix should go in the top 15 picks in this draft.
TR: Calvin Pryor is another name that keeps being mentioned as one of the top prospects his year. Your thoughts on Pryor and where he could get drafted?
RP: Calvin Pryor seems like he would fit the strong safety role in most modern defenses today. He is a hard-hitting safety who isn't afraid to throw his body at someone. His physical nature and his underrated ability to make plays on the ball intrigues scouts because he could be used many different ways in the NFL. The question with Pryor is will he get a lot of penalties for his aggressive nature of tackling. Calvin is such a heavy hitter that he could be flagged often in the NFL if he doesn't learn to tone that down in today's NFL game. The other concern with Pryor is will he be the next Bob Sanders and hit so hard he's always hurt, or will he be a shorter version of Eric Berry who could do a little bit of everything as a safety? Teams will have to decide if this is the type of player they want at 5'11 207lbs, I think he goes middle to late first round.
TR: LaMarcus Joyner is an intriguing player from Florida State. How do you think Joyner would fit in Rex Ryan's system?
RP: Joyner played cornerback and safety at Florida State but I think he'll be a nice strong safety in the NFL. He's not tall (only 5'8") but he's very physical and always has his nose in the tackle box in run support. The thing that scouts are excited about with Joyner is not only his ability to tackle, but his ability to close on wide receiver on pass plays. He is so quick to get out of his break and explode to the football. The issue with Joyner is his size. At 5'8" he is a very undersized player at the safety position, but sometimes that just doesn't matter to teams. They see a guy who is a big hitter, an explosive and fluid athlete, and ability to close on the ball as a very interesting player at the position. I don't think he fits the Jets system just because of his size.With the front 7 of the Jets being a strong as it was in 2013, they need safeties who have the ability to cover and I could see Joyner struggling against taller receivers and obviously tight ends as well.
TR: Many Jets fans are already pounding the table for Jimmie Ward. Your breakdown on his game?
RP: Jimmie Ward is a very well-rounded safety. He is a sound tackler who flies up from his position to make tackles in the run game, but also has outstanding instincts in the passing game. He covers a lot of ground quickly, and has great ball skills, which is what makes fans excited about him. Ward played at Northern Illinois so some scouts are concerned about competition level, but watching his film, he is the fastest and most explosive player on the field. That's really all I care about when watching smaller school players. Ward is a competitor, he takes great angles to make tackles and defend the pass. He has natural instincts that are a can't miss attribute for safeties. Jimmie did experience some trouble tackling bigger, more physical runners, but that won't scare scouts away. They know that in college safeties aren't usually putting a big emphasis on tackling, but more on coverage. Ward is going to be an excellent player on Sundays and some team in the 2nd round will be lucky to have him.
TR:Who are some players later in the draft that the Jets should keep an eye on?
RP: A guy I really like who's similar to Ward is Terrence Brooks from Florida State. Brooks, like Ward covers a lot of ground and can come up into the box and make tackles. Brooks has inconsistent ball skills, sometimes making unbelievably athletic interceptions and dropping easy ones, but he seemed to come up with interceptions in big spots quite often in 2013. Terrence has an ability to bait QBs into thinking there's a window to throw the ball that he can close up quickly. I really like him in the end of the 2nd round. A pure developmental safety that has most of the skills needed to play and start, in time, in the NFL is Ed Reynolds from Stanford. Reynolds moves so naturally, but takes a while to explode to the football, which could scare some scouts away. He is a reliable tackler in the open field and shows some good coverage ability, but he will need some time to develop. Other names to look for are Dion Bailer, USC, Jonathan Dowling, Western Kentucky, Ahmad Dixon, Baylor, and Brock Vareen(Patriot's Shane Vereen's brother) Minnesota
TR: Can you make an argument for the New York Jets taking a safety in the first round?
RP: I think if Clinton-Dix or Pryor are on still on the board at 18, the Jets will explore that option. More likely if Clinton-Dix is available than Pryor, but it's definitely in the realm of possibility. Again, it all depends what the Jets board looks like when they are on the clock and who's the best player available (or highest grade player) at a position of need at that current time. We'll know for sure May 8th.
TR: Ron, thank you for sharing your tremendous insight on the safety class.
If you would like to talk about the draft or anything Jets you can contact Ron Pickett on Twitter: Pickett_Ron