2011 was a disappointing year for the New York Jets and coach Rex Ryan. Coming off of two straight AFC Championship appearances, the always confident Ryan saw his team take a step back and end the year at 8-8. If Ryan and GM Mike Tannenbaum are serious about dethroning the New England Patriots atop the AFC East, they will have their work cut out for them this offseason. The Jets enter free agency and the draft with minimal cap room (projected to be less than $2M under the cap) and a number of needs. Both their offense and defense need an infusion of talent and depth. Here's a look at the Jets' biggest needs:
New Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano needs to figure out exactly what he wants the identity of the offense to be. While Rex Ryan preaches "Ground and Pound," the Jets ran the ball only 43% of the time in 2011. Furthermore, the Jets running game was pretty inept. They ranked just 22nd in yards and 30th in yards per attempt. They have a few needs to improve if they want to get back to the solid running game that carried the team to the AFC Championship game in 2010:
RT: The offensive line will probably return 3 starters: D'Brickashaw Ferguson (LT), Nick Mangold (C) and Brandon Moore (RG). Matt Slauson (LG) was disappointing last year but figures to get another shot as a starter. However, right tackle was a huge problem for the Jets in 2011 as they struggled to replace 2010 starter Damien Woody. Wayne Hunter was terrible in both pass and run protection and has to be upgraded. The team probably doesn't have too much cap room to invest in the position, so an early draft pick could be used on a guy like Mike Adams, Levy Adcock, Andrew Datko or Bobby Massie.
RB: The Jets really need help at RB. LaDainian Tomlinson may or may not be back, and is a marginal player at this point in his career. Shonn Greene was thought to be a power back of the future but played soft and struggled to establish himself in the feature back role that Thomas Jones held for many years. Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell are fairly unknowns but neither figures to be the reliable chain-mover that the team needs. The Jets will probably miss out on Trent Richardson in the draft, but expect them to take a long look at the deep 2nd tier of backs. A guy like Chris Polk, Doug Martin, Isaiah Pead or Bernard Pierce could interest the team in the early/mid rounds. The Jets could also take a shot in the 1st round at a "flashier" guy like the explosive David Wilson or Lamar Miller.
TE: Dustin Keller is a good receiving target, but is lacking in the run game. Look for the Jets to try to add a TE - either a younger developmental TE like Michael Egnew or George Bryan or a young veteran like Houston Texans' free agent Joel Dreessen.
The Jets needs on offense aren't limited to the running game. Their passing attack needs to be overhauled:
QB: The Jets are probably stuck with Mark Sanchez for better or worse in 2012. They don't have the money to bring in Peyton Manning despite the rumors to the contrary. However, the team would benefit from bringing in a legitimate backup who could push Sanchez. Current backup Mark Brunell is probably headed for retirement and neither Greg McElroy nor Kevin O'Connell figure to be ready to step in next year (or ever). A veteran like David Garrard (who wants to return to the league) or Shaun Hill could interest New York, as could a young castoff like Brady Quinn or Drew Stanton.
WR: Santonio Holmes will supposedly be back, for better or worse, in 2012. The rest of the Jets WR corps is unsettled. Jeremy Kerley looked like a decent #3 or #4 guy but the team has no #2 option and little depth. Plaxico Burress is likely to move on so the Jets will have to address the position in either free agency or the draft (probably both). Because of their cap situation, the team seems unlikely to be in the market for Mike Wallace, Brandon Lloyd or even Robert Meachem. A less established young veteran like the troubled Jerome Simpson, Early Doucet or Josh Morgan could work. If the Jets go WR in the draft, a taller target like Juron Criner, small school guy Brian Quick or Mohamed Sanu could be in the mix.
On defense, the Jets have bigger holes but fewer overall needs:
S: The Jets safeties were a huge liability in 2011. Jim Leonhard and Eric Smith both struggled at times and Brodney Pool reportedly had problems learning the defense. Pool and Leonhard (coming off of major surgery) are both unsigned and won't be priorities to re-sign., The Jets figure to be in the market for a medium priced veteran like Mike Adams and at least one safety in the draft. Mark Barron could be a good fit as could Markelle Martin, who plays with the aggressiveness that Ryan covets. If the Jets can free up some cap space, expect their aggressive front office to try to nab Tyvon Branch or Reggie Nelson.
OLB: Aaron Maybin was a revelation as a scrap heap pickup, notching 6 sacks in limited duty. However, his limitations in the run game probably leave him as a situational player going forward. Long time starter Bryan Thomas is 33, unsigned and coming off of a torn Achilles tendon. Pre-season star Jamaal Westerman has never lived up to the praise heaped upon him by Rex Ryan. A veteran like Ahmad Brooks could go a long way in fortifying the Jets edge rush. If Kamerion Wimbley is cut by the Raiders (a questionable rumor), he could be in play as well. The Jets figure to take an OLB early in the draft. Cam Johnson, Vinny Curry, Andre Branch and Chandler Jones could be targets. Calvin Pace is steady but unspectacular and probably not in the team's long-term plans. The Jets need a serious infusion of youth and talent at this position.
ILB: Bart Scott is old, expensive and declining. He's a Ryan favorite but could be an early casualty in the offseason. The Jets could be interested in drafting the mercurial Vontaze Burfict, a guy some feel could be a star with a tough and smart coach like Ryan. Dont'a Hightower is a 1st round option as well, although it's more likely the Jets wait until Day 2 to address the position. James-Michael Johnson, Mychal Kendricks or Bobby Wagner could be 2nd or 3rd round targets.
DL: Atop the Jets to-do list is to re-sign reliable NT Sione Pouha. However, he is 33 and the Jets might not have the money to bring him back. Kenrick Ellis probably isn't ready to take over full time, so the Jets could be in the market for a stop gap veteran if Pouha leaves. Depth at DE is also an issue that could be addressed later in the draft or with backup quality veterans.
Read more of my work at: http://pick256.wordpress.com/
Follow me on Twitter @Pick_256