During a three-year span, it’s likely that a special player distinguishes himself as an elite player prior to his third season, and from the moment the New York Jets made former Pittsburgh cornerback Darrelle Revis their first round pick (14th overall) in 2007, he’s done nothing but impress.
The No. 1 prospect in the Jets organization, Revis has been tremendously durable and productive in his first two seasons with the Jets. He’s started in 32 consecutive games and has improved in many areas in a short period of time. Named to his first Pro Bowl in 2008, Revis improved as a playmaker and saw his interception total rise to five; he had three interceptions as a rookie. But as his ball skills improved last year, he didn’t play as physical and his tackles were down. Some may wonder how Revis is still considered a prospect as he’s already made a Pro Bowl and is considered one of the top cornerbacks in the AFC. The fact is that he’s only 23 years old [he turns 24 on July 14th] and still has room for improvement. But he’s on the verge of superstardom and is a couple of years away from being the best cornerback in the league.
The Jets made a bold statement in 2009 when they traded three players [defensive end Kenyon Coleman, safety Abram Elam and quarterback Brett Ratliff] and two ‘09 draft picks [17th and 52nd] for the right to move up to the fifth pick overall and draft USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. And with that move, Sanchez immediately becomes a top-two prospect in the Jets organization. Sanchez enters a favorable situation where he’s the favorite to be the starter with a head coach in Rex Ryan who understands what it takes for a rookie quarterback to be successful from day one; a situation where he’s surrounded by a veteran offensive line and an above average supporting cast that will help his growth as a first-year player. In being the franchise quarterback of a team with a rich history comes pressure, and with Sanchez coming from the bright lights of LA into the media trenches of New York – the Jets couldn’t have found a better person to handle everything that comes down Broadway.
A player who will likely attract a lot of attention from Sanchez this season and become a key factor on offense for the Jets is second-year tight end Dustin Keller. In the mold of a young Tony Gonzalez, Keller brings a complete offensive game to the field. He’s a work in progress as a blocker, but he's a sure-handed receiver who can stretch the field. In his first season with the Jets, Keller played in all 16 games, starting six and caught 48 passes for 535 yards and three touchdowns. Keller is unique in the sense that he can play with his hand in the dirt, in the slot or split out wide. And that versatility, along with his chiseled frame and wide receiver speed, will make him a weapon that Sanchez will appreciate and leave opposing defensive coordinators searching for answers.
Searching for answers is a slogan that Jets fans are using this year when it comes to 2008 first round pick Vernon Gholston. Gholston was the sixth pick in the ’08 draft and struggled with the transition to linebacker after primarily playing defensive end at Ohio State. An action figure-like specimen, Gholston has the athleticism and intangibles to be a tremendous rush linebacker, but under Eric Mangini he didn’t comprehend the scheme and ultimately was being cast as a bust. Gholston played in 15 games, but didn’t start in any of them and only contributed 13 tackles. With Ryan bringing his aggressive defensive playbook from Baltimore – a defense that took another star collegian defensive end, Terrell Suggs, and made him into one of the premier rush linebackers in the NFL – there’s no reason why Gholston can’t develop in the same manner, especially with Calvin Pace being suspended for four games, which will potentially place Gholston in the starting lineup.
The Jets front office has to be thrilled with the maturation of the second-year surprise and fifth rated prospect in the organization, cornerback Dwight Lowery. A fourth round pick in ’08, Lowery, who had an outstanding junior campaign at San Jose State, struggled as a senior, and his stock plummeted in the draft. That fall in the draft was the Jets’ gain as they received a gifted playmaker that’s expected to compete with former Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard for the starting job opposite Revis this season. As a rookie, Lowery played in all 16 games, starting 10 and played outstanding defense finishing with 64 tackles and an interception. Moving forward, Lowery has to improve his hands, an area that was suspect in college, and if he’s able to do so, the tandem of Lowery and Revis should be fun to watch.
Four offensive players (wide receivers Chansi Stuckey and David Clowney, fullback Jehuu Caulcrick and rookie running back Shonn Greene) and one defensive player (linebacker David Harris) round out the top ten. Stuckey and Clowney will compete for the starting receiver role, which was vacated after the release of Laveranues Coles, opposite Jerricho Cotchery. Clowney appears to have the upper-hand for the outside job, as Stuckey is perfect for the slot. Caulcrick, a second-year tweener from Michigan State, is a big back who can be a change of pace, short-yardage runner for the Jets. And Greene is a rookie third rounder, who lacks elite speed but has great strength and ability between the tackles. Both players will compete for playing time in training camp.
Harris made a name for himself as a rookie when he recorded 24 tackles against the Washington Redskins in place of the injured Jonathan Vilma, and finished his rookie season with 127 tackles and five sacks. But in ’08, he struggled with injuries, which included a broken ankle that he suffered in the season finale. He only started 11 games last season and finished with 75 tackles and a sack. If he can stay healthy, Harris is another defender who will benefit from Ryan’s defensive scheme and should be an integral part of their success.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.