April 25, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version
BY SEAN LAHMAN
April 25, 2005
Even for the most die-hard draftniks, the first round of the NFL draft on Saturday was long, tedious, and almost completely devoid of the suspense or excitement we have witnessed in recent years. This was especially true for fans of the Jets and the Giants who watched the draft live at the Jacob K. Javits Center; for the first time since 1975, neither team had a pick in the first round, forcing their fans to wait more than six hours before seeing their first selection.
By contrast, the lower reaches of the draft, which continued yesterday with Rounds 4-7, allowed the local teams to make modest yet important improvements. Both the Jets and the Giants had already moved to address their biggest needs before draft day, so they mostly used their draft picks to acquire players who will provide depth and might eventually compete for a starting job. One of the great things about the draft is that it provides a unique insight into how the coaching staff and front office are thinking, and the weekend said a lot about how the Jets and Giants feel about the players on the roster, and how they intend to address specific problems.
The Jets traded their first-round pick last week to acquire tight end Doug Jolley from the Oakland Raiders. In addition to filling their biggest hole, that deal gave them extra picks in the second and sixth rounds. The used the first of those picks to draft Mike Nugent, a kicker - yes, a kicker - out of Ohio State. Obviously the Jets were still stinging from Doug Brien's two missed field-goal attempts in the playoff loss to Pittsburgh. They were also concerned about Brien's short kickoffs and inability to hit field goals from 50 yards. Nugent will be an immediate improvement in both areas; he's an accurate kicker with a strong leg and an abundance of self-confidence. He's also just the third kicker in the last 25 years to be selected with one of the top 50 picks in draft (the Raiders selected Sebastian Janikowski 17th overall in 2000, and John Lee went to the Cardinals as the 32nd pick in 1986).
Nugent will contribute, but it's still a bizarre pick. A place-kicker was far from the Jets' biggest need, and any number of players still on the board could have made a bigger impact. The Jets didn't use a single pick on an offensive lineman, which is surprising given the departure of Kareem MacKenzie and the fact that three of their returning starters are in their mid-30s. It's hard to imagine Nugent helping the Jets more than players like OT Khalif Barnes and G Marcus Johnson would have.
With their next second-round pick, the Jets grabbed Clemson's Justin Miller. A cornerback with good speed and playmaking skills who can contribute immediately as a nickel back, Webster will also replace Santana Moss on punt returns. He was projected by most observers as a late first rounder, and the Jets were fortunate to find him still available with the 57th pick.
Defensive tackle Sione Pouha, on the other hand, seemed like a huge reach in the third round. A big run-stuffer who performs well in workouts and the weight room, Pouha was never able to transfer those skills onto the field. He was rated as a sixth- or seventh-round pick by most draft publications, and he's 26, having missed several years of college while doing missionary work. The departure of Jason Ferguson leaves the Jets with an immediate need in the middle of their run defense. But Pouha is a developmental project, not somebody who is likely to step in and play right away.
The safety position was obviously the Jets' primary concern on the second day of the draft, and the team traded up in the fourth round to select Kerry Rhodes out of Louisville. Rhodes is a free safety who could compete for a starting job with incumbent Jon McGraw. In the fifth round, the Jets selected Andre Maddox, a strong safety in college who will probably spend most of his time on special teams.
The Jets used their three late picks to provide some depth at the offensive skill positions. Cedric Houston is a powerful runner who can catch the ball out of the backfield and contribute as a blocker, though his history of injuries at Tennessee is a big concern. Joel Dreessen was a productive tight end at Colorado State, and while his small stature and lack of speed will make it difficult for him to stand out in the NFL, his ability to catch short and intermediate passes could make him an effective no. 2 tight end in the two tight-end sets favored by new Jets offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger. Wide receiver Harry Williams was a track star, but it is unclear what he offers besides speed.
As for the Giants, the selection of former LSU cornerback Corey Webster with their first pick reflects some uneasiness about incumbent starter Will Allen. He struggled in coverage at times last year, and is due to become a free agent at the end of the 2005 season. Webster has good size for a cornerback and has impressive man-to-man coverage skills. He'll play nickel back and push for a starting job.
Many observers thought the Giants would use their third or fourth-round pick to add a blocking tight end to lessen the load on Jeremy Shockey. Instead, they drafted Southern Illinois's Brandon Jacobs, a huge running back who could play a major role in protecting QB Eli Manning. In addition to his blocking skills, Jacobs is also the kind of tough physical runner they have sorely needed in short-yardage situations.
With their other two picks, the Giants addressed the lack of depth at defensive end. Michael Strahan will be 34 in November, and the injuries to Strahan and Keith Washington last season left the Giants with no choice but to add some depth at the position. Notre Dame's Justin Tuck is a pass-rushing specialist who should fit into the rotation right away. Eric Moore, the Giants' sixth-round pick, is more of a project, but he has the potential to develop into a good player.
A true evaluation of how well a team performed on draft day can't be offered overnight. All of the hard work by scouts and coaches can't prevent them from making a decision that looks great on draft day but lousy with the benefit of hindsight - after all, the Jets drafted Ken O'Brien ahead of Dan Marino, Blair Thomas ahead of Emmitt Smith, and Al Toon ahead of Jerry Rice. But based on what we know today, both the Jets and the Giants have to be feeling pretty good about the players they acquired this weekend. Neither team landed a superstar, but to win in the NFL these days, you need to fill roles and add depth in the middle rounds of the draft. At first glance, both New York teams appear to have done just that, and that's a reason for optimism at this point in the off-season.
April 25, 2005 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version