Last year around this time everyone gave New York Jets General Manager John Idzik the benefit of the doubt when he entered the draft room and started selecting players for his future run with the team.
He had just been hired by the Jets a few months before the 2013 NFL Draft and he was still working with a staff that he didn’t fully assemble and in a system that he hadn’t completely overhauled.
But this year Idzik is “on the clock’’ in the parlance of NFL Draft day talk. And the expectation is that the man who came from Seattle will soon transform the Jets into the Seahawks East – a team that can contend and soon win a Super Bowl.
"Last year I didn't get into the benefit of scouting the college season with the Jets staff," Idzik said. "I came in in January and got the tail end, the bowl games, the combine. There was a little bit of a hybrid. You don't come in and create a system on the fly.
"This year we set the table back in May of last year. We brought some new scouts in and we went through the entire cycle together. There's definitely a higher comfort level this year."
Idzik came to the Jets after spending six years in the Seattle front office as the vice president of football administration. Now that he’s running his own show, it’s time to see just what he brought over from Seattle and whether that system can be duplicated with the Jets. For a team that seemed on the verge of making it to the Super Bowl a few years ago and then fell out of playoffs the last two seasons, the expectations are sky high.
What should help Idzik in his building process this year is the fact that he has four compensatory picks, which they accumulated by not signing any undrafted free agents last year. Idzik can use those four additional picks or he can use them to move up and down the draft board over the course of the three-day draft.
Terry Bradway, Jets senior director of college scouting and a holdover from the previous regime, gives Idzik high marks on his drafting acumen.
"He's thorough, he's detailed,’’ Bradway said. “Sometimes he might even get a little impatient. But the most important thing we have going on now is to get that draft board right, and he's got the ability to do that."
Idzik had mixed results from last year’s draft. The Jets selected cornerback Dee Miliner from Alabama. He was supposed to be the replacement for Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis, who was traded to Tampa Bay. But with all that pressure Miliner didn’t start making a serious contribution to the team until late in the season.
Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson was taken in the second round and quarterback Geno Smith was drafted in the third round. Both were impact players as Smith started the entire season, growing pains notwithstanding. And Richardson, who was the Defensive Rookie of the Year, blossomed into a front line defender with 3.5 sacks while starting in 15 of 16 games last season.
With the release of cornerback Antonio Cromartie and receiver Santonio Holmes, the Jets will definitely be looking for help at the cornerback and receiver position in the draft. Whether they feel they can get that value in the first round with that No. 18 pick is one of the biggest questions on the draft board. They picked up receiver Eric Decker in free agency and that should help ease some of the pressure, but they still need help on the outside and in the slot.
It’s unlikely that cornerback Justin Gilbert, a terrific cover corner and playmaker in the mold of Revis, will drop to No. 18 in first round. If he does that would be an easy pick for the Jets. The next best cornerback is Darqueze Dennard.
Big playmaking cornerbacks and safeties are at the cornerstone of the Seattle defense and if Idzik could add players like Gilbert or Dennard to the Jets secondary he will be well on his way to following the Seattle blueprint.
With Coach Rex Ryan controlling the direction of the draft before Idzik came aboard the Jets loaded up on defensive players in the early rounds and it has paid off tremendously as the Jets have built a defense that routinely finished atop the NFL standings the last four years. But they haven’t had the same kind of success on the offense as players like receiver Stephen Hill and running backs Bilal Powell haven’t broken through as front line starters.
The Jets have beefed up their offense through free agency, signing quarterback Michael Vick, running back Chris Johnson and receiver Decker. They will be looking for help on the offensive line and at tight end. If North Carolina tight Eric Ebron falls to No. 18, the Jets would be tempted to take him. He would definitely give Jets offensive coordinator Marty Morhingweig an additional weapon to go along with the crop of free agent pickups.
Starting this year, Idzik is on the clock for the Jets championship building project. Everybody will be keenly watching his performance in the Jets draft this year to see if he’ll be able to use what he learned in Seattle to get them to the Super Bowl within the next two years.