1. Brandon Jenkins – DE, Florida State
My top “sleeper” pass rushing OLB is a name that should’ve and probably still could be placed with the “TOP” pass rushing options but isn’t for a legitimate reason of course. The 6’3 260 pound DE from Florida State was one of if not the best pass rusher in college football in 2011 and put together a solid season prior in 2010. During his 2010 campaign, Jenkins had 41 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and eight sacks and in 2010, he had 21.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. The talented pass rusher even started this past season off with the status quo with 3 tackles for losses and 1 sack before breaking his foot and being sidelined for the remainder of the 2012 season. Simply put; Jenkins is a perfect fit for a 3-4 based OLB as he’s too small for DE in a 4-3. Jenkins is undoubtedly a productive pass rusher who can beat the offensive tackle around the corner with his elite speed and quickness. He shows good effort at getting his hands up to tip passes when he can’t get to the quarterback before the pass is made. Jenkins is a special athlete but will scare some teams away in the early rounds because of his foot injury but the injury sustained by Jenkins isn’t a serious injury that will affect the way he places once it is healed and rehabbed. Simply put; I still love Jenkins as a top pass rushing prospect and I believe he’s worth a look between rounds 2-4 but his individual workouts and his performance at the NFL Combine this February will go a long way in showing scouts that he can contribute to a NFL defense.
2. Trent Murphy – DE, Stanford
The 6’6 255 pound linebacker out of Stanford really stood out on this Stanford team this season. Murphy is a physical linebacker who beats linemen with his power and surprisingly polished technique. Murphy is very quick and explosive and utilizes both very well when trying to get by as an edge-rusher. Murphy finished the “regular” college football season with a total of 55 tackles with 10 sacks, 18 tackles for a loss, four passes broken up, one interception and a forced fumble. Murphy clearly has the size, speed and attributes to play 3-4 OLB and has shown that he knows how to get after the QB. Murphy becomes great value between the 2nd-4th rounds for the Jets.
3. Travis Long – DE, Washington State
The 6’4 245 pound DE out of Washington State Long played a lot with his hands in the dirt at Washington State but over the past 2 seasons has discovered that he is a much better fit as a standup linebacker who can use his speed and athleticism to attack offenses in space. Long had three multi-sack games in the first four contests of the 2012 season. He totaled 61 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks, four passes batted, an interception and a forced fumble in 2012. Long did have a 10 sack season in 2010 so he very familiar with what it takes in getting to the QB. Long is certainly a sleeper project that can fit perfectly in this Rex Ryan defense in being allowed to utilize his athleticism on the edges to attack the QBs. Long is being compared to Texans’ linebackers Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed and seems to fit the mold as those 2 as well.
4. Quanterus Smith – DE, Western Kentucky
The 6’5 250 pound 2012 Sun Belt Defensive Player of The Year out of Western Kentucky. Smith is essentially a sack maestro as he fell just .5 sack short of the Sun Belt Conference sack record this season. Smith finished this season with 12.5 sacks and Smith led the nation with 1.25 sacks per game this past season as well. What’s most impressive about Smith’s 12.5 sacks this season is the fact that 11.5 of those sacks came in just three games. Smith even bested the vaunted Alabama O-line (more specifically stud Right Tackle DJ Fluker) and managed to sack Tide QB AJ McCarron 3 times in their week 2 matchup. Smith possesses that coveted edge speed that NFL DCs look for in edge pass rushers and he also utilizes his hands pretty effectively when getting around offensive tackles for pressures and sacks. Smith has a tall and thin frame, flexible hips, has an effective swim move, Initial punch can be lacking at times but his hands are generally active. He’s an unpredictable pass rusher who can get around the corner or shoot through gaps, leverages quarterback well, doesn’t often run past him.
His motor is consistent and seems to be able to keep his play at a high level all game which is immensely important on the next level. Smith’s season came to an end due to a torn ACL against Louisiana-Lafayette but despite the season ending injury, Smith had a very productive season and was consistently a disruptive force for Western Kentucky’s defense. Smith is a polished prospect with room to grow. His natural ability paired with his maturity of the game is enough to ensure a middle round pick despite injury question marks. If he can make a full recovery from the ACL injury there will be little to worry about. In his previous three seasons at Western Kentucky, Smith had not missed a game due to injury and is very reliable.
For the record I think the Jets are better off solidifying the OLB position by snatching a TOP pass rushing prospect in the 1st Round but if they decide not to for whatever reason, ALL is not lost and the Jets will have legitimate options when trying to address the thinning OLB position. No matter where you draft a prospect in the draft, nothing is a certainty and there will essentially be growing pains but Rex Ryan has shown the propensity to utilize talent effectively but haven’t had the luxury of having a young talented complete OLB incorporated in his defense and there is an opportunity this draft to acquire some legitimate talent at the pass rushing position.