Jets get on board with trend at safety with Calvin Pryor
It wasn't all that long ago that safety was considered a "dime-a-dozen" position on defense. As far as coaches were concerned, you could get by with middling players down the middle of the field as long as you had quality cornerbacks and a decent pass rush.
Oh, sure, there were transcendent safeties such as converted cornerback Ronnie Lott, Steve Atwater and John Lynch, but the money position in the secondary has almost always been cornerback.
Since the increased use of the spread offense throughout the NFL, which has taken the passing game to unprecedented heights, safety has become one of the most important positions on the field.
Sure, corners still are in high demand, and great corners such as Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman are indispensable. Look no further than the Super Bowl champion Seahawks, who were dominant down the middle of the field with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
It was no accident, therefore, that safeties were a prime focus at the start of free agency, with Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward, Donte Whitner and Antoine Bethea all signing deals north of $21 million. Byrd earned a whopping $54 million from the Saints.
So consider that backdrop when assessing what the Jets did in the first round of the draft by selecting Louisville safety Calvin Pryor. The value of the position has increased exponentially in recent years, and Pryor's selection is a reflection of that trend. Consider that the Jets hadn't drafted a pure safety in the first round since Burgess Owens . . . in 1973. That's more than 40 years and seven presidents ago.
Rex Ryan has always coveted big-time players at safety. He coached Ed Reed with the Ravens and squeezed a handful of games out of Reed as an aging player last season with the Jets. Ryan also got the most out of LaRon Landry in his one season with the Jets in 2012 before Landry bolted for the Colts last year.
Now Ryan gets to work with one of the most promising young safeties to be drafted in recent years. Pryor is known as a big hitter -- he knocked an opponent out of the game in three straight games last season -- and he has good range in pass coverage. It's a rare combination.
Defenses have countered the spread offense with a strong pass rush, but also quality at the back end. Cornerback still is a preeminent position, but safety might be just as important.
It's no accident that second-year general manager John Idzik took a page out of his former team's playbook, giving the Jets the kind of presence at safety that he saw the Seahawks create with Thomas and Chancellor.
Both of those safeties were brilliant last season, particularly in the Super Bowl, where they demolished Peyton Manning's passing offense. Chancellor delivered some of the most punishing hits you'll see, and Thomas' pass coverage was spectacular.
"The Seattle Seahawks, they have a great secondary," Pryor said. "I believe when you're flying around like that and everyone's getting to the ball and just playing physical and having an impact on defense, you can create intimidation and put fear into opponents."
The Jets now have a promising young safety in Pryor and a good young corner in Dee Milliner, last year's first-rounder. It's a good start to building a strong nucleus in the secondary, and it's a good way to replace star cornerbacks Revis and Antonio Cromartie.
The Jets' second-round pick, Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro, is another in a growing list of pass-catching tight ends who have redefined the position from the earlier days of a close-to-the-line blocker and short-range receiver.
Amaro, at 6-5, 265 pounds, is a shade below first-round tight end Eric Ebron, who went to the Lions, but he can prove to be a reliable target for Geno Smith or Michael Vick, whoever wins the starting quarterback job.
Amaro might not be another Tony Gonzalez or Jimmy Graham, but he certainly can be a highly functional receiving tight end who figures prominently in the passing attack. The Jets still are in search of a legitimate No. 1 receiver to go with free agent Eric Decker, but Amaro gives offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg another legitimate arrow in his quiver.
Pryor and Amaro -- two players who fit into the new wave of players at their positions.
A good way for Idzik to continue the roster overhaul that has the Jets headed in the right direction.