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NFL draft painful, hopeful for Jets fans

File photo of Vernon Gholston, who the Jets

File photo of Vernon Gholston, who the Jets released after the 2010 season. Credit: AP

Blair Thomas. Vernon Gholston. Dewayne Robertson.

Their names roll off the tongues of Jets fans with ease -- not for their storied contributions to the franchise but for the years of wasted draft picks that litter the Jets' history, recent and not so recent.

This time of year ushers in a renewed sense of hope for the future for most NFL teams as they pore over extensive scouting reports on potential draftees. But April also inevitably conjures up painful memories of what could have been, especially for Jets fans.

While making ill-advised selections, the Jets ultimately missed out on game-changing players such as Dan Marino (for Ken O'Brien), Warren Sapp (for Kyle Brady) and Rob Gronkowski (for Kyle Wilson).

General manager Mike Tannenbaum prides himself on meticulous due diligence, leaving no stone unturned when it comes to finding the best fit for his franchise. But after missing the playoffs in 2011 and an offseason sideshow starring Tim Tebow, the Jets, who will pick at No. 16 Thursday, can't afford to squander their early-round picks.

"They have probably as many holes as any team that's considered a playoff team in the NFL right now," ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper said on a conference call this past week, citing the Jets' need for another defensive end/pass rusher, "upgrades" at right defensive tackle and outside linebacker, a running back and a wide receiver to complement Santonio Holmes.

It also doesn't help that Giants general manager Jerry Reese -- who shares Tannenbaum's philosophy of drafting talent over need (see Jason Pierre-Paul) -- has built a team that has won two Super Bowls in the past five seasons.

Tannenbaum's draft successes are well-documented: Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and David Harris. But so have been the general manager's busts.

Tannenbaum was candid about the mistakes in the team's predraft news conference Thursday.

"We all make mistakes. We're going to learn from ours," he said, speaking specifically of Gholston, who was selected sixth overall in 2008. "There [were] a lot of things we liked about Vernon -- his measurables, his production. Obviously, it didn't work out. Why it didn't? We've looked at that quite a bit.

"From where I sit in the world, it's most important that we learn from it and obviously do everything we can so it doesn't happen again."

Rex Ryan, who was hired as the Jets' coach in 2009, can't be blamed for selecting Gholston. Ryan did, however, have a hand in selecting cornerback Wilson (29th overall in 2010), offensive tackle Vladimir Ducasse, running back Bilal Powell, backup quarterback Greg McElroy and wide receiver Scotty McKnight.

But Ryan defended the organization's draft practices.

"Every team's made mistakes in the draft. Every one of them," Ryan said. "Whether you fall in love with a guy's measurables, maybe his intangibles, whatever it is, every team's made mistakes. And anybody that says they haven't isn't being realistic.

" . . . I think our team does a tremendous job of evaluating. I think our scouts do an excellent job of getting information, evaluating talent, and Mike Tannenbaum, when you look at his history, he's done an absolutely tremendous job of picking players. So I'm very confident in that . . . Hopefully, we'll find some guys that can really help us."

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