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Jets could use first pick on linebacker

Undated file photo of California linebacker Mychal Kendricks.

Undated file photo of California linebacker Mychal Kendricks. Photo Credit: AP

When Bart Scott directed an obscene gesture at a photographer on his way out of the locker room the day after the season finale, some speculated it would be his final move as a Jet. But after months without a peep from the usually outspoken linebacker, he finally surfaced three weeks ago to say he's "all in" for a fourth season under Rex Ryan.

Jets management seems to have made up (at least publicly) with Scott after granting him permission to explore a trade in February. But Scott's return highlights another issue facing the defense: yet another aging linebacker. Thursday's NFL draft provides several options if the Jets choose to go that route.

Boston College's Luke Kuechly is the top-rated inside linebacker, meaning he'll be off the board by the time the Jets pick 16th. If Melvin Ingram (who played linebacker before switching to defensive end at South Carolina) and outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw are snapped up, the Jets could shift their focus to inside linebackers Dont'a Hightower (Alabama) and Mychal Kendricks (California) and outside linebackers Shea McClellin (Boise State), Whitney Mercilus (Illinois), Lavonte David (Nebraska), Andre Branch (Clemson) and Zach Brown (North Carolina).

Hightower's flexibility could be a key. Though his natural fit is at inside linebacker, he was used in a three-point stance on passing downs periodically by Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban. Kendricks (5-11, 239) is small but versatile, like Hightower, and also played in a 3-4 base defense.

Some say McClellin might not be an immediate playmaker like Ingram, but his stock is rising. Mercilus, a junior, started only one year in college but has the size (6-3, 261) and burst to get after quarterbacks.

David (6-1, 233) is undersized, but his speed and cover skills would be an asset. Branch has room for improvement but is quick off the ball, with long arms and good body control. Brown, one of the most athletic linebackers of the bunch, visited the Jets, Bears, Lions and Titans. His speed (4.45 in the 40) could be the tipping point for teams willing to feature him on the inside.

It's anybody's guess which players will remain on the board long enough to be selected by the Jets in the first and second rounds, but any defensive help would be an upgrade. David Harris, 28, is in his prime, but Calvin Pace is 31 and Bryan Thomas, 32, still is recovering from Achilles tendon surgery last year.

Notes & quotes: Former Jets wide receiver Wesley Walker will announce the team's second-round pick, the league said.

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