Rex Ryan was defiant on the other end of the phone, again sounding like the larger-than-life character who became the Jets' coach four years ago. In the wake of the decision to trade Darrelle Revis, Ryan guaranteed on a Sunday night conference call that his beloved defense -- and the schemes that have defined his career -- will not falter in 2013.
"Make no mistake,'' Ryan said. " . . . We will play great defense.''
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But to be dominant, the Jets desperately need a standout pass rusher.
They have young, athletic pieces on their defensive line. Muhammad Wilkerson had a breakout season in 2012 and perhaps should have been a Pro Bowl selection. Last year's first-round pick, Quinton Coples, improved as the season went on and is expected to get more than his team-high 5 1/2 sacks. The recent re-signing of outside linebacker Calvin Pace brings back leadership and versatility, and the arrival of linebacker Antwan Barnes adds athleticism. But the Jets still need another big body to get after the quarterback.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Jets ranked 23rd, averaging a sack per every 17.8 dropbacks last season. Without the assurance of a healthy Revis shutting down the top receiver, the Jets need to secure size and speed in the front seven in Thursday night's draft.
This class of NFL hopefuls features several outstanding athletes, starting with Dion Jordan. The former Oregon defensive end/outside linebacker is projected to be a premier player in either a 3-4 or 4-3 front. But because of his skill set, he isn't expected to be on the board when the Jets pick ninth.
LSU's versatile Barkevious Mingo has been linked to the Jets in mock drafts. Mingo has rare speed and agility, and there's nothing Ryan needs more than an outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid. Some draft analysts have questioned whether his dip in production (4 1/2 sacks as a senior vs. eight as a junior). But stat lines don't always give the full picture.
"I look at him as a 3-4 outside linebacker, an attacker off the edge,'' ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. said. "I think he'd be a factor right away at that spot. He gets from Point A to Point B lightning quick.''
The Jets, who also possess the 13th overall pick (courtesy of the Revis trade to Tampa Bay), have needs at several positions. But selecting a player who consistently can get after the quarterback is a good place to start.