Thu, 28 May 2020

Edge Draft Preview: Top Rushers Who Could Fall the Jets' Way

New York Jets
01 Apr 2020, 17:56 GMT+10

Another draft, another quest for the next John Abraham.

Since Abe's departure after the 2005 season, the Jets have tried to find the next menacer of opposing quarterbacks up and down drafts - Vernon Gholston in '08, Quinton Coples in '12, Lorenzo Mauldin in '15, Jordan Jenkins in '16, Dylan Donahue in '17.

Only Jenkins, not a true edge rusher but a productive pro at OLB with team-leading sack numbers the past two years, has stuck around. But he and the D could use a partner in crime.

Yet general manager Joe Douglas and the Jets, with needs also on the offensive line, wide receiver and cornerback, may or may not be able to address this position high in this year's draft. But if they are so inclined, they'll find three of the next four pass rushers likely available when they pick 11th overall.

The one they won't find is Chase Young of Ohio State. The 6'5", 264-pound end from Ohio State is draft evaluators' consensus top pick among edge candidates, a likely No. 2 overall choice to Washington and even a top pick of the draft for some to go to Cincinnati.

Young's three-year totals at OSU say a lot: 30.5 sacks, 40.5 tackles for loss, 9 forced fumbles, 8 pass defenses. But last year's junior campaign says even more. His 16.5 sacks and 1.38 sacks/game led the nation, his 21.0 TFLs and 1.75 TFLs/game were in the top four, and his six FFs were second. He was an AP first-round All-American, winner of the Bednarick, Hendricks and Nagurski awards and a rare Maxwell award finalist as a defensive player. He's a rare specimen awaiting a pro coaching staff to add more to his arsenal.

K'Lavon Chaisson (his first name is pronounced (KAY-luh-vahn) sounds like the solid No. 2 edge rusher in the draft. The 6'3", 254-pound LSU linebacker garnered All-SEC first-team honors last year with a team-leading 13.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks for the national-champion Tigers. One trouble is that was pretty much his one big season. He had modest freshman success and lost virtually all of '18 to a torn ACL in the season opener. But he's got agility, intelligence and edge ingredients that get him plucked from the draft right around that 11th pick of the Green & White.

Yetur Gross-Matos (6'5", 266) appears to be an end on the rise and a potential pick in the second half of Round 1. With his athleticism, spin move and "violent hands," he forced his way into the Penn State record book along with the likes of Bruce Clark, LaVar Arrington and Aaron Maybin (a Jet of promise for a short while in 2011-12) with 20 tackles for loss in his 2018 season. In his last two Nittany Lions seasons he combined for 17 sacks and 34.5 TFLs.

A.J. Epenesa is a top athlete who growing up in Illinois was a three-time HS All-American while wearing No. 99 to emulate J.J. Watt, as well as a 1,000-point scorer in basketball and a two-time state titlist in the discus. As a 6'5", 275-pounder at UI, he went from 4.5 to 10.5 to 11.5 sacks in his three Hawkeyes seasons. He has weaknesses in his game but also has shown he can produce.

Here are a half-dozen more edge rushers the Jets could be looking at in Rounds 2-4 (Picks 48, 68, 79 and 120):

Julian Okwara, Notre Dame (6'4", 252) - Followed his brother Romeo to Notre Dame and is now set to step up to the NFL as Romeo did in going to Lions. Julian, described as long-limbed and athletic and with a closing burst, had his best Irish season in 2018 with 8.0 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. Those numbers fell off to 5.0 sacks and 7.0 TFLs in nine games last year before he suffered a broken leg.

Curtis Weaver, Boise State (6'2", 265) - Not highly explosive yet highly productive as standup LB/DE for the school with the blue field - 34.0 sacks and 47.5 TFLs in three seasons at Boise. Last year was named Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year and AP second-team All-American.

Terrell Lewis, Alabama (6'5", 262) - Lost all or most of two seasons with the Tide due to injuries but finished on the upward trend last year with 11.5 TFLs and six sacks as a redshirt junior. Has interesting physical traits to work with but will need this year and next offseason to improve his size and strength.

Jonathan Greenard, Florida (6'3", 263) - Showed LB skills at two schools, Louisville from 2015-17 (7.0 sacks in '17), then Florida after transferring (10 sacks, 16 TFLs, 4 PDs in '19). Missed '18 with a bad right wrist injury that he still hesitates to fire out with.

Zach Baun, Wisconsin (6'2", 238) - Came to UW as a QB/LB out of HS but settled in on defense and began a rise up the Badgers' 'backer ranks. As a red-shirt senior last year he tallied 12.5 sacks and 19.5 TFLs - both in the top 10 nationally - plus 2 FFs and an INT-return TD. Lost '17 to foot injury. Has speed and explosiveness, lacks size.

Alton Robinson, Syracuse (6'3", 264) - A Texan who faced a robbery charge coming out of HS, which was dismissed but sent him from Texas to NE Oklahoma A&M to Syracuse. Has exciting tools but is he only a designated edge?

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