Jets think long term

Selection of offensive linemen Ferguson, Mangold show team's commitment to future

May 01, 2006|By BILL ORDINE | BILL ORDINE,SUN REPORTER

One axiom about any NFL draft is that its overall quality and the ultimate winners and losers will not be known for three or four years.

However, what can be said for this year's draft is the team that approached it with the greatest commitment toward the long term was the New York Jets, who selected two of the best available offensive linemen with their two first-round selections.

While the weekend dramas revolved around the Houston Texans' decision to make defensive end Mario Williams the No. 1 pick over running back Reggie Bush and the three-way comparisons among the top quarterbacks, the Jets laid the foundation to be a consistent competitor in the AFC East.

Perhaps it's a reflection of a new Jets philosophy - they also have the league's youngest coach in 35-year-old Eric Mangini - but they resisted the temptation for quick fixes after a 4-12 season and appeared to draft for a more distant horizon. Offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold, taken with the No. 4 and No. 29 picks, will be keeping quarterbacks upright and healthy for years to come.

In the second round, the Jets did take a quarterback, Kellen Clemens, who can be groomed for two or three seasons while veterans Chad Pennington and Patrick Ramsey hold the fort.

Teams who, unlike the Jets, are already competitive but had good drafts because they filled areas of immediate need were the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the perennial contender New England Patriots. The Steelers traded up in the first round to get wide receiver Santonio Holmes to replace Antwaan Randle El, and the Patriots added a fistful of offensive skill players, including the best all-around running back Laurence Maroney and the fastest wide-out Chad Jackson.

The Patriots might have also drafted the heir to likely Hall of Fame kicker Adam Vinatieri, a free-agent loss, in Stephen Gostkowski, a fourth-rounder out of Memphis who was 16-for-17 on field-goal tries over 40 yards the past two seasons but less impressive on shorter tries.

Across the board, the AFC North appeared to be the division that got the strongest. Along with the Steelers filling some of the holes created by free agency defections, the Ravens and the Cleveland Browns improved markedly, and the Cincinnati Bengals shored up their defense.

The Ravens added bulk on both lines, but they needed a good draft to keep pace with rapidly improving Cleveland. The Browns took two players who project as solid starters, outside pass rusher Kamerion Wimbley, who has a chance to thrive in the Browns' 3-4 defense, and inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson from Maryland.

The New Orleans Saints - beneficiaries of the Texans' decision to take Williams - had a great draft simply because they got Bush, a player who has the potential to be greater than the sum of whatever he produces on the field. For a city and a sports franchise trying to recover from Hurricane Katrina, Bush represents hope to not only win games but also reclaim fans.

Teams that took the biggest risks were Houston, the Tennessee Titans and San Diego Chargers.

When a club takes a defensive end over an offensive weapon like Bush, it means the defender has to be better than just good; he has to be a difference-maker. At Williams' position, that translates into sacks - lots of them. Anything less than 12 or 15 a year will mean he was a bad pick relative to Bush, assuming the running back produces as well.

The Titans are in a perilous position with their No. 3 choice, quarterback Vince Young. Despite his obvious talents, Young is a long way from being NFL ready - far less so than the other two quarterbacks available, Matt Leinart who went to the Arizona Cardinals and Jay Cutler who was drafted by the Denver Broncos. And now it appears quite possible that alienated veteran Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair will get his wish and wind up in Baltimore.

So, Titans coach Jeff Fisher and offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who preferred Leinart and lost the draft debate to GM Floyd Reese, will be in the awkward spot of trying to fill in at quarterback, probably with Billy Volek, while Young is tutored in the pro game.

San Diego took a gamble with its first-round pick, 19th overall, choosing cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who has just one college start. Cromartie has all the so-called "measurables," height and speed, but he missed last season with a knee injury and left Florida State with eligibility remaining.

The drafts of the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills aren't adequately described by simply being called bad - they were utterly inexplicable.

The Bears, with the No. 2 defense in the NFL in 2005 but the No. 29 offense, drafted like they never intended to allow their offense on the field next season. Chicago took just one offensive player and that was a fullback in the sixth round.

The picks of Bills new general manager Marv Levy were a mystery.

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